The winter was very dull. Exchanges of shots continued daily between the north and south side, but with this exception hostilities were virtually suspended; the chief incident being a tremendous explosion of a magazine in the centre of the camp, shaking the country for miles away, and causing a loss to the French of six officers killed and thirteen wounded, and sixty-five men killed and 170 wounded, while seventeen English were killed, and sixty-nine wounded. No less than 250,000 pounds of gunpowder exploded, together with mounds of shells, carcasses and small ammunition. Hundreds of rockets rushed through the air, shells burst in all directions over the camp, and boxes of small ammunition exploded in every direction. The ships in the harbors of Balaklava and Kamiesch rocked under the explosion. Mules and horses seven or eight miles away broke loose and galloped across the country wild with fright, while a shower of fragments fell over a circle six miles in diameter.
On the last day of February the news came that an armistice had been concluded. The negotiations continued for some time before peace was finally signed. But the war was at an end, and a few days after the armistice was signed the “Falcon” was ordered to England, to the great delight of all on board, who were heartily sick of the long period of inaction.
The “Falcon” experienced pleasant weather until passing the Straits of Gibraltar. Then a heavy gale set in, and for many days she struggled with the tempest, whose fury was so great that for several hours she was in imminent danger of foundering.
At last, however, the weather cleared, and two days later the “Falcon” cast anchor at Spithead. The next day the crew were paid off, and the vessel taken into dock for much-needed repairs.
Jack’s father had already come down to Portsmouth, on the receipt of his letter announcing his arrival. The day after the ship was paid off they returned home, and Jack received a joyful greeting from his family. They found him wonderfully grown and aged during the two years of his absence. Whereas before he had promised to be short, he was now above middle height. His shoulders were broad and square, his face bronzed by sun and wind, and it was not till they heard his merry laugh that they quite recognized the Jack who had left them.
He soon went down to the town and looked up his former schoolfellows, and even called upon his old class-master, and ended a long chat by expressing his earnest hope that the boys at present in his form were better at their verses than he had been.
A month later Harry, who had quite recovered, joined the circle, having obtained leave, and the two young fellows were the heroes of a number of balls and parties given by the major and his friends to celebrate their return.