After the day’s work was done, the midshipmen often got leave ashore, and enjoyed the scene of bustle and confusion which reigned there. Enormous numbers of pack animals and bullock-carts were at work, and even at this early period of the campaign the immense superiority of the French arrangements over the English was manifest. This was but natural, as the French, like other European nations, had been in the habit in time of peace of regarding the army as a machine which might be required for war, and had therefore kept the commissariat, transport, and other arrangements in a state of efficiency. In England, upon the other hand, the army had been entirely neglected, and had been made the subject of miserable, petty economy in all its branches, and the consequence was that war found us wholly unprepared, except that we possessed an army of seasoned soldiers such as, in the nature of things under the new regulations, England will never see again.
On going ashore the midshipmen would sometimes ramble away to the camp, sometimes stroll through the town, and amuse themselves by chaffing the grave Turkish shopkeepers, by watching the English and French soldiers staggering along with drunken gravity, sometimes with their arms round each other’s necks, or by kissing their hands airily to the veiled figures, of whom they got dim glimpses through the closely-latticed windows. The upper part of the town was inhabited principally by Greeks, whose sympathies were, for the most part, with the Russians, and who were as quarrelsome and turbulent as the Turks were placid and good-natured.
One evening Hawtry and Jack had obtained leave to be out later than usual, as they had been asked to dine with some of the officers of the Coldstreams whom they had met on board the “Ripon.” The meal was a rough one, for the country had been completely eaten up by this immense accession of strangers. Still, the caterer had succeeded in procuring some tough fowls in addition to the ration beef, and as these were washed down by champagne, there was no reason to grumble.
The boys spent a merry evening, and started at half-past ten for the town. This was already quiet, and for the most part asleep, when they reached it. A few officers, who had been dining with the various generals who had their headquarters there, or with friends on board ship, were the sole people in the streets, although from some of the closed windows of the drinking-shops in the Greek quarter came sounds of singing and noise, for every one was earning high wages, and the place was full of Maltese, Alexandrians, Smyrniotes, and, indeed, the riff-raff of all the Mediterranean cities, who had flocked to the scene of action to make money as petty traders, hucksters, camp-followers, mule-drivers, or commissariat-laborers.
As they were passing through a dark and silent street they suddenly heard a sound of shouting and the clash of weapons, the fall of heavy bodies, and the tramping of feet. Then a window was dashed open, a voice shouted, “Help!” and then the strife continued as before.