The midshipmen found the journey dreary and uninteresting in the extreme.
After leaving the Crimea the country became a dead flat; which, though bright in summer, with a wide expanse of waving grain, was inexpressibly mournful and monotonous as it lay under its wide covering of snow. Here and there, far across the plain, could be seen the low, flat-roofed huts of a Russian village, or the massively-built abode of some rich landed proprietor.
Scarce a tree broke the monotony of the wide plain, and the creaking of the carts and the shouts of the drivers seemed strangely loud as they rose in the dense silence of the plain.
From the first day of starting, the midshipmen set themselves to learn something of the language. The idea was Jack’s and he pointed out to Hawtry, who was rather disinclined to take the trouble, that it would in the first place give them something to think about, and be an amusement on the line of march; in the second, it would render their captivity less dull, and, lastly, it would facilitate their escape if they should determine to make the attempt.
As they walked, therefore, alongside their friend the doctor, they asked him the names of every object around them, and soon learned the Russian words for all common objects. The verbs were more difficult, but thanks occasionally to the doctor (who spoke French) joining them at their encampment at night, they soon learned the sentences most commonly in use.
As they had nothing else to do or to think about, their progress was rapid, and by the end of a month they were able to make themselves understood in conversations upon simple matters.
They had been much disappointed, when, upon leaving the Crimea, the convoy had kept on north instead of turning west; for they had hoped that Odessa would have been their place of captivity.
It was a large and flourishing town, with a considerable foreign population, and, being on the sea, might have offered them opportunities for escape. The Russians, however, had fears that the allied fleets might make an attack upon the place, and for this reason, such few prisoners as fell into their hands were sent inland.
The journeys each day averaged from twelve to fifteen miles, twelve, however, being the more ordinary distance. The sky was generally clear and bright, for when the morning was rough and the snow fell, the convoy remained in its halting-place.
The cold was by no means excessive during the day, and although the snow was deep and heavy, there was no difficulty in keeping up with the convoy, as the pace of the bullocks was little over a mile and a half an hour. At night they were snug enough, for the doctor had adapted an empty wagon as their sleeping-place, and this, with a deep bed of straw at the bottom, blankets hung at the sides and others laid over the top, constituted as comfortable a shelter as could be desired.