You are listening to the cannon of the siege train

In this manner we all sat ruminating upon schemes of vengeance, when our
little boy came running in to tell us that Mr. Burchell was approaching
at the other end of the field. It is easier to conceive than describe
the complicated sensations which we felt from the pain of a recent
injury and the pleasure of approaching vengeance.—VICAR OF WAKEFIELD.

It was fully three weeks after the affair of the Belbeck river, when I
found myself sharing Jack Studhome’s quarters in Balaclava, after duly
reporting myself to Colonel Beverley, and making special inquiries for
Berkeley, who had already procured a few days’ sick leave, prior to
returning to Britain on “urgent private affairs,” and was not with his
regiment, but was very snug on board his own yacht, which for his
convenience had come all the way from Cowes to Balaclava harbour.

“Leave—leave already—when we have barely broken ground before
Sebastopol!” I exclaimed, with profound disgust.

“Already,” said Studhome, with a grim smile, as he twisted up a
cigarette, a luxury unknown to the “gentlemen of England” until
introduced by returned Crimeans. “You may remember that I went home
from India on sick leave, just before that Rangoon business.”

“That was annoying.”

“Not at all—I thought it would be a stupid concern, and I had a heavy
book on the Oaks.”

“But you were, of course, ill.”

“What a Griff! Those who get home on sick leave are always in the best
health. It is just like the ’urgent private affairs’ of those who have
swell friends in high places. Uncles who are grooms of the backstairs,
and aunts who are ladies of the bedchamber. Take care of Dowb, you
know, and Dowb will take deuced good care of himself.”

“Home to England!” I was almost stupefied with rage at the prospect of
his escaping the speedy vengeance I had schemed out for him, after
Studhome told me that he had had the daring effrontery to accuse me of
shooting my own horse!

“But now, Newton,” said Jack, “for to-night, at least, not a word about
Berkeley. The colonel, Travers, Wilford, the paymaster, Jocelyn, and
Harry Scarlett are all coming here to sup with us jollily, in honour of
your safe return, providing their own plates and spoons, of course. I
omitted Scriven, because he is Berkeley’s particular chum. To-morrow
I’ll get a boat and board his yacht. Confound the fellow! we must
parade him—we must have him out now?”

“Or I shall shoot him in front of the line!” said I, grinding my teeth.

“Your Russian uniform would be quite in keeping with so melodramatic a
situation. By Jove, you are a figure!” exclaimed Jack, turning me
round, and surveying my Tambrov uniform with more amusement than
admiration; but his own “turn out” was the most comical of the two, for
the kind of work undergone since we landed had made serious alterations
in the gay uniforms of our troops.

Studhome had not enjoyed the luxury of washing his hands, perhaps, for a
week; and as for shaving, that was never thought of now. All our
officers had disembarked in their full uniforms. They had marched,
fought, and slept in them; the lace was frayed, the gorgeous
box-epaulettes all crushed, broken, and torn; the coats and trousers
were a mass of mud; shakos and regulation caps had all disappeared, or,
at least, the fez, the turban, the shawl, and the wide-awake were
rapidly replacing them.

Every officer had a canvas havresack wherein to carry those edibles he
was lucky enough to beg, borrow, or find; a revolver, with belt and
pouch, was strapped to his waist, and all had become bronzed, hairy,
gaunt, and brigand-like in visage and expression. “Oh for the mantle of
Fortunatus,” says one in his letters, “to place such an officer all at
once into his London haunts, and among the old familiar faces. Put him
down in Pall Mall, or Piccadilly, or on the swelling carpets of the
Junior United Service!”

Such was the aspect of Lionel Beverley, that tall and stately soldier,
and polished English gentleman; of Frank Jocelyn, our lisping dandy; of
the usually clean-shaven M’Goldrick, our quaint old Scotch paymaster; of
dashing young Sir Harry Scarlett, and all the rest of our once splendid
lancer mess, most of whom came crowding into Jack’s very queer bunk at
Balaclava, to welcome me back among them, and hear the story of my
adventures since I fell among the Russians.

Seated on boxes, chests, the camp bed, and even on the floor, they
jested, laughed, and smoked, while the din of the distant cannonade told
how the work of death was going on ceaselessly at Sebastopol.

“We are now, Norcliff, fairly in for the business of the siege,” said
the colonel.

“Ugh! and a jolly and lucrative business it is likely to prove,” added
the paymaster, with a grimace.

“Welcome back, Norcliff, old fellow!” said Travers, shaking me warmly by
the hand; “we must look up a kit for you somehow, and a remount too.
Beverley has a second horse; but I think its tail was eaten off by
Scarlett’s bay mare when the corn fell short.”

“Our horses have no nosebags. Those infernal red-tape-worms in London
are doing their best to destroy us,” said Sir Harry Scarlett.

“Are Sir Nigel’s suspicions to be right, after all?” thought I.

“You forget my Arab horse—my spoil from the enemy.”

“Well, gentlemen,” said Studhome, who had been uncorking several
bottles, “you shall sup _à la carte_. I have a hare which is being
jugged in that identical warming-pan which we picked up at Eskel; two
golden plovers and a gallant bustard are being stewed with it. I shot
the latter; the hare was caught by Travers’ Kurdistan dog—a rough brute,
like your Scotch staghounds, M’Goldrick. That is my kitchen,” he added,
pointing to a hole before the tent, in which some ashes were
smouldering. “This is true Crimean fashion. Make a hole as a grate,
and when you have aught to put in your kettle light a fire under it.
’Dost like the picture?’ But here come the viands!”

The stew, which had been prepared by Pitblado and Studhome’s servant
(both of whom officiated in their stablejackets), was certainly savoury
enough in odour, though not quite such as we might have welcomed at the
home mess-table. It steamed and spattered bravely in two large tin
dishes; and with their contents, and some biscuits of Trieste flour from
the bakery-ship _Abundance_ (on board which twenty thousand pounds of
bread were made daily, and yet the army starved), a piece of cheese,
some fruit, and several bottles of Bass, sherry, and brandy, we resolved
to make a night of it.

“’Od, it’s a queer mess, this!” said that constitutional grumbler,
M’Goldrick, as he fished away with his fork. “I doubt whether the
mastodon or the megatherium of antediluvian times would have faced it.
What do you call this, Studhome?”

“Come, don’t mock the blessings of war, most learned Scot! That is the
gizzard of a wild bustard. Help yourself and pass the sherry.
Pitblado, uncork the Bass.”

“Wood is frightfully scarce here,” said Travers. “Our fellows seized
and burnt all the tent-poles and pegs of Hadji Mehmet’s regiment of Bono
Johnnies, and old Raglan made a devil of a row about it.”

“We are put to odd shifts, certainly,” added the colonel, laughing; “and
it is seldom a supper like this comes our way, Norcliff. The green
coffee, pounded between two stones, is not the worst thing we have to
encounter; for, after it is pounded, we have no fuel wherewith to boil
it, and men are actually flogged for taking dry-wood from the beach. We
must do our best to keep ourselves alive, though the Russians and
red-tapists are doing theirs to make an end of us.”

“I have actually been thinking of turning Tartar, and speculating
seriously on the merits of horseflesh,” said Scarlett, as he tore away
at a drumstick of the bustard. “I suppose you know that the chargers of
the Heavies are dying like sheep with the rot?”

“Now, M’Goldrick, pass the bottle, will you!” said Jack. “By Jove! you
Scotchmen are such slow fellows!”

“Slow or fast,” growled the paymaster, “I don’t know how in this war you
would get on without us. You have the two Dundases, Charley Napier, Sir
George Cathcart, two Campbells—Sir John and Sir Colin—Jamie Simpson, and
Sir George Browne.”

“Anything you like; but pass the wine from right to left,” said the
jovial adjutant, who began to sing—

Right about went horse and foot,
Artillery and all,
And as the devil left the house,
They tumbled through the wall,
When
They saw our light dragoons,
With their long swords, boldly riding,
Whack! fol de rol, &c.

Amid this kind of merriment and banter, we heard ever and anon the
thunder of the heavy guns from the batteries of Sebastopol, as they
fired on the lines where our brave troops were working to get under
cover—working with old spades and mattocks, which the Iron Duke had sent
home as unserviceable from Spain—and I felt saddened by the idea that
every boom which pealed in the distance was, perhaps, the knell of at
least one human soul. I had other thoughts that made me grave and
stern.

No letters had reached me from home; nor had anything come, save an old
_Punch_ or two, addressed in my uncle’s handwriting. Even Cora was
forgetting me!

My blood was boiling against Berkeley. A long debt of cowardly wrong
was about to be paid off, if he did not elude me by a hasty departure on
leave. The clear grey eye of the colonel was fixed on me at times. He
knew my thoughts; but he and the others, with the intuitive delicacy
peculiar to well-educated and highly-bred men, forbore to speak of
Berkeley, and the grave obligation which they were aware I was about to
clear off in a manner that had become unusual now.

“You are listening to the cannon of the siege train,” said Beverley.
“We cavalry are in clover here, when compared to our poor infantry, who
are potting the Russians like partridges, from amid the mud of the
trenches.”

“Mud, thickened by blood, and fragments of shot and shell—a veritable
Slough of Despond!” added the paymaster.

“There, in the rifle-pits, our advanced parties have fired till the
grooves of their barrels are lined with lead, and their aching shoulders
are black and blue with the kicking of the butt.”

“Yes, colonel; and if any one wishes to study the theory of sounds and
atmospheric effects, my wigwam in the cavalry quarter is the very
place,” said Studhome. “Boom! there goes that Lancaster gun again. It
must be playing old gooseberry with the Russians by moonlight. Only
think of ten-inch shells, fired at point-blank range! I was up this
morning at the trenches, and saw a long sixty-eight pounder from the
_Terrible_ brought into position by the blue-jackets, to bear on a heavy
gun on the left embrasure of the Mamelon. It was trained by a naval
officer—a fine young fellow. The practice he made was perfect! The
first shot tore away the left of the embrasure; the second struck the
great gun full on the muzzle, shattering it, and then the eyes of the
young officer flashed with delight! ’Bravo, my lads! load he again!’ he
exclaimed; and with the third shot he dismounted the gun completely.
Lord Raglan then telegraphed to fire the sixty-eight every half hour,
and effectually breach the Mamelon.”

“But before the order came, a shot struck our brave young sailor, and
killed him on the spot,” added the Colonel.

“His fall was sudden, and his interment as rapid as his demise,” said
Studhome; “he was buried beside the gun.”

“Poor fellow!” observed the Colonel, thoughtfully; “few would like to
die thus. Yet that which was his fate to-day may be mine or yours
to-morrow. This idea makes the memory, the heart, go home. We number
those who love us there, and those whom we love. Their faces come
before us, and their voices fall again on the ear. Little expressions
and little episodes come vividly to mind. Shall we ever see them again,
those home circles—those loved and treasured ones! Well, well; every
bullet has its billet—duty is duty—(another old saw), and the first
obligation of a soldier is obedience. And so we console ourselves, and
hope on for the best, drowning dull care in the bottle, or boldly
treading him under foot.”

The poor Colonel’s words often came back to memory long after he led us
to that terrible charge through the Valley of Death!

Thus their conversation and anecdotes were all connected with the great
siege then in progress; but after they had all retired, Studhome and I
reverted, all at once, to the matter which was uppermost in my mind—the
punishment of Berkeley.

“Take a caulker of cognac, Norcliff, and then turn in. Keep your head
and your hand cool. I’ll take a boat for his yacht after _reveillez_
to-morrow, and though he has got sick leave for a few days, he is not so
sick that he can’t hold a pistol.”

“Arrange this for me, Jack, and you shall win my lasting gratitude,”
said I, fervently.

Jack shook me warmly by the hand, and then we betook us to our not
over-luxurious couches for the night.

When I awoke in the morning, Studhome had mounted and ridden off to the
harbour.

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