To his great relief, Jack had heard, early in the afternoon, that the 33d had not been hotly engaged, and that his brother was unwounded. The two young officers of the 30th, who had, a few hours before, been spending the evening so merrily in the tent, had both fallen, as had many of the friends in the brigade of Guards whose acquaintance he had made on board the “Ripon,” and in the regiments which, being encamped near by the sailors, he had come to know.
Midshipmen are not given to moralizing, but it was not in human nature that the lads, as they gathered in their tent that evening, should not talk over the sudden change which so few hours had wrought. The future of the siege, too, was discussed, and it was agreed that they were fixed where they were for the winter.
The prospect was a dreary one, for if they had had so many discomforts to endure hitherto, what would it be during the next four months on that bleak plateau? For themselves, however, they were indifferent in this respect, as it was already known the party on shore would be shortly relieved.
THE GREAT STORM
Two days after the battle of Inkerman, the party of sailors who manned the batteries before Sebastopol were relieved by a fresh set from on board the men-of-war. Some of those who had been away at the front returned on board ship, while others, among whom was Jack Archer, were ordered to join the camp at the marine heights above Balaklava, to fill the places of some men invalided on board ship.
The change was, in some respects, an agreeable one; in others, the reverse. The position was very high and exposed to wind; but, on the other hand, the men, being able to obtain materials at Balaklava, had constructed warm shelters. The ravines below were well wooded, and they were consequently enabled to keep up cheerful fires; whereas at the front the supply of fuel barely sufficed to cook the food, and was almost useless for any purposes of warmth. There was far less privation here, for Balaklava lay within twenty minutes’ walk, and stores of all kinds could be bought on board the ships. There was, too, an entire absence of the heavy and continuous work in the wet trenches. The great drawback to the position was, indeed, the absence of excitement and change, and the quiet seemed almost preternatural after the almost continual boom of cannon at the front.
Jack was pleased to find his chum Hawtry on duty at the height.
“This is a grand view, Hawtry,” he said, as he stood at the edge of the cliff the morning after his arrival.