Below at his feet lay a great fleet of transports. To the left the cliffs stretched away, wild and precipitous, rising to heights far greater than the point at which they stood, some 600 feet above the sea. On his right the hill sloped gradually down to the old Genoese castle, and then sharply to the harbor, in which lay several men-of-war. In Balaklava, lines of wooden huts had been erected for a hospital, and their felt-covered roofs contrasted with the red tiles of the Tartar houses, and with the white walls and tower of the church. Along the valley at the foot of the harbor long lines of arabas and pack-animals, looking like mere specks from the point where the lads were standing, could be seen making their way to the front; while seven miles distant, on the plateau above Sebastopol, rose, like countless white dots, the tents of the Allied Army. Turning still farther round, they saw the undulating plain across which the light cavalry had charged upon the Russian guns, while standing boldly against the sky was the lofty table-land extending from above the village of Inkerman, right across the line of sight to the point known as Mackenzie Heights, from a farm belonging to an Englishman situated there. On these heights were encamped a large body of Russian troops.
“It’s a splendid view, Dick,” Jack Archer said; “but,” he added, turning to look at the fleet of transports again, “I shouldn’t like to be on board one of those ships if it came on to blow. It must be a rocky bottom and no holding-ground.”
“That’s what every one is saying, Jack. No one can make out why they don’t let them all go inside. Of course they could not all unload at once, but there is room for them to shelter, if laid in tiers, as they would be in a crowded port. Yes, if we get a storm, and they say in the Black Sea they do have terrific gales during the winter, I fear we shall have a terrible business here.”
Two days later they had a taste of what a storm in the Black Sea was. On the afternoon of Friday, the 10th, the wind got up, blowing straight into the bay. Very rapidly the sea rose. As dusk came on the sailors on the marine heights gathered on the edge of the cliff, and looked anxiously down upon the sea. Already great waves were tumbling in, dashing against the foot of the cliff, and sending clouds of spray half-way up to the old castle, 200 feet above them. The ships were laboring heavily, tugging and straining on their cables. From the funnels of the steamers volumes of black smoke were pouring, showing that they were getting up steam to keep the screws or paddles going, and relieve the strain upon their anchors.
“I wouldn’t be aboard one of them craft,” an old sailor said, “not for enough money to find me in grog and ’bacca for the rest of my life. If the gale gets stronger, half them ships will be ashore afore morning, and if they do, God help those on board!”