Of the fleet of transports and merchantmen which, trim and in good order, had lain in the bay the afternoon before, some half-dozen only had weathered the hurricane. The “City of London” alone had succeeded in steaming out to sea when the gale began. The “Jason” and a few others had ridden to their anchors through the night. The rest of the fleet had been destroyed, victims to the incompetence and pig-headedness of the naval officer in charge of the harbor. That there was ample room for all within it, was proved by the fact that, later on, a far larger number of ships than that which was present on the day of the gale lay comfortably within it.
The largest ship lost was the “Prince,” with whom nearly 300 men went down. Even inside the harbor vessels dragged their anchors and drifted ashore, so terrible was the gale, which, indeed, was declared by old sailors and by the inhabitants of the town to be the most violent that they ever experienced. Enormous quantities of stores of all kinds, which would have been of immense service to the troops in the winter, were lost in the gale, and even in the camps on shore the destruction was very great.
“That arm of yours always seems to be getting itself damaged, Jack,” Hawtry said next morning, as he came into the hut. “You put it in the way of a bullet last time, and now you’ve got it smashed up. How do you feel altogether?”
“I am awfully bruised, Dick, black and blue all over, and so stiff I can hardly move.”
“That’s just my case,” Dick said, “though, as you see, I can move. The doctor’s been feeling me all over this morning, and he said it was lucky I was a boy and my bones were soft, for if I had been a man, I should have been smashed up all over. As to my elbows and my knees, and all the projecting parts of me, I haven’t got a bit of skin on them, and my uniform is cut absolutely to ribbons. However, old boy, we did a good night’s work. We saved sixteen lives, we got no end of credit, and the chief says he shall send a report in to the Admiral; so we shall be mentioned in despatches, and it will help us for promotion when we have passed. The bay is a wonderful sight. The shores are strewn with floating timber, bales of stores, compressed hay, and all sorts of things. Fellows who have been down to the town told me that lots of the houses have been damaged, roofs blown away, and those gingerbread-looking balconies smashed off. As for the camps, even with a glass there is not a single tent to be seen standing on the plateau. The gale has made a clean sweep of them. What a night the soldiers must have had! I am put on the sick list for a few days so I shall be able to be with you. That’s good news, isn’t it?”
“Wonderfully good,” Jack laughed, “as if I haven’t enough of your jaw at other times. And how long do you suppose I shall be before I am out?”