Without further delay Allison began his song, one very popular at that time. There was no occasion for him to use his authority as president in the infliction of fines, for every one in turn, when called upon, did his best, and the choruses were heard over the whole of the naval camp.
“Hullo! What’s all this noise about?” said a cheery voice presently, as a head was put through the opening of the tent.
The midshipmen all jumped to their feet.
“We are having a jollification, sir,” Allison said, “on the things Archer brought up from Balaklava yesterday. Are we making too much noise, sir?”
“Not a bit, lads,” the first lieutenant said. “It’s cheerful to hear you. It isn’t much enjoyment that we get on this bleak plateau. Well, good-night. You mustn’t keep it up after ‘lights out,’ you know.”
“That’s something like a first lieutenant,” Allison said, when Mr. Hethcote had retired. “Most of them look as if they’d swallowed a ramrod, and treat middies as if they were the dust of the earth. I’m quite sure that a man who is genial and nice gets his work done ever so much better than do those stand-off fellows. I see in your camp,” he said to the officers, “colonels and majors standing and chatting to the young officers just as pleasantly and freely as a party of gentlemen on shore. Why the captain of a ship should hold himself as if he were a little god, is a thing I have never been able to make out. I’m sure you fellows obey orders on parade none the less promptly and readily because the colonel has been chatting with you in the mess-room half an hour before. But don’t let us waste time. Archer, it’s your turn for a song.”
And so merrily the hours passed away, until it was time to break up and put out the lights. And as the young fellows laughed and sung, while the mist and rain came down pitilessly outside, they little thought what was preparing for the morrow, or dreamed that the churches in Sebastopol were crowded with Russian soldiers praying the saints to give them victory on the morrow, and to aid them to drive the enemies of the Czar into the sea.
It was soon after five in the morning when the pickets of the second division, keeping such watch as they were able in the misty light, while the rain fell steadily and thickly, dimly perceived a gray mass moving up the hill from the road at the end of the harbor. Although this point was greatly exposed to attack, nothing had been done to strengthen the position. A few lines of earthworks, a dozen guns in batteries, would have made the place secure from a sudden attack. But not a sod had been turned, and the steep hillside lay bare and open to the advance of an enemy.
Although taken by surprise, and wholly ignorant of the strength of the force opposed to them, the pickets stood their ground, but before the heavy masses of men clambering up the hill, they could do nothing, and were forced to fall back, contesting every foot.