Very quietly the boats left the “Falcon’s” side. They rowed abreast and close to each other, in order that the first lieutenant could give orders to Mr. Pascoe in a low tone. The men were ordered to row quietly, and to avoid any splashing or throwing up of water. It was a longer row than they had expected, and it was evident that the master, deceived by the uncertain light, had brought the vessel up at a point considerably farther from the shore than he had intended. As they got well in the bay they could see no lights in the village ahead; but an occasional gleam near the points at either side showed that the men in the batteries were awake and active. As the boat neared the shore the men rowed, according to the first lieutenant’s orders, more and more gently, and at last, when the line of beach ahead became distinctly visible, the order was given to lie upon their oars. All listened intently, and then Mr. Hethcote put on his helm so that the boat which had still some way on it drifted even closer to the launch.
“Do you hear anything, Mr. Pascoe?”
“I don’t know, sir. I don’t seem to make out any distinct sound, but there certainly appears to be some sort of murmur in the air.”
“So I think, too.”
Again they listened.
“I don’t know, sir,” Jack whispered in Mr. Pascoe’s ear, “but I fancy that at times I see a faint light right along behind those trees. It is very faint, but sometimes their outline seems clearer than at others.”
Mr. Pascoe repeated in a low voice to Mr. Hethcote what Jack had remarked.
“I fancied so once or twice myself,” he said. “There,” he added suddenly, “that is the neigh of a horse. However, there may be horses anywhere. Now we will paddle slowly on. Lay within a boat’s length of the shore, Mr. Pascoe, keep the gun trained on the village, and let the men hold their arms in readiness.”
In another minute the gig’s bow grated on the beach. “Quietly, lads,” the first lieutenant said. “Step into the water without splashing. Then follow me as quickly as you can.”
The beach was a sandy one, and the footsteps of the sailors were almost noiseless as they stole towards the village. The place seemed hushed in quiet, but just as they entered the little street a figure standing in the shade of a house rather larger than the rest, stepped forward and challenged, bringing, as he did so, his musket to the present. An instant later he fired, just as the words, “A Russian sentry,” broke from the first lieutenant’s lips. Almost simultaneously three or four other shots were fired at points along the beach. A rocket whizzed high in the air from each side of the bay, a bugle sounded the alarm, voices of command were heard, and, as if by enchantment, a chaos of sounds followed the deep silence which had before reigned, and from every house armed men poured out.
“Steady, lads, steady!” Mr. Hethcote shouted. “Fall back steadily. Keep together, don’t fire a shot till you get to the boat; then give them a volley and jump on board. Now, retire at the double.”