| Florence Nightingale|
|by Laura E. Richards|
|Inspiring story of Florence Nightingale from her earliest days as privileged daughter of an English squire to her role as Angel of the Crimea. Even as a young girl her nursing talents were evident as she doctored her dolls and ministered to sickly animals. With the training she received at hospitals on the Continent, she was ready when the call to the Crimea came. Facing unspeakable filth and disorganization, she and her staff of nurses cared for thousands of sick and wounded soldiers, earning their undying gratitude. Focuses on her preparation, her heroic and patriotic service during the Crimean war, and her life of service thereafter. Ages 11-14 |
O the long and dreary winter!
O the cold and cruel winter!
Ever thicker, thicker, thicker
Froze the ice on lake and river,
Ever deeper, deeper, deeper
Fell the snow o'er all the landscape,
Fell the covering snow, and drifted
Through the forest, round the village.
O the famine and the fever!
O the wasting of the famine!
O the blasting of the fever!
O the wailing of the children!
O the anguish of the women!
All the earth was sick and famished;
Hungry was the air around them,
Hungry was the sky above them,
And the hungry stars in heaven
Like the eyes of wolves glared at them!
"Hiawatha," by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
HE bad weather commenced about
November the 10th, and has continued
ever since. A winter campaign is
under no circumstances child's play; but
here, where the troops had no cantonments to
take shelter in, where large bodies were collected
in one spot, and where the want of sufficient fuel
soon made itself felt, it told with the greatest
severity upon the health, not of the British alone,
but of the French and Turkish troops. . . . To
the severity of the winter the whole army can
bear ample testimony. The troops have felt it in
all its intensity; and when it is considered that they
have been under canvas from ten to twelve months
—that they had no other shelter from the sun in
summer, and no other protection from wet and snow,
cold and tempestuous winds, such as have scarcely
been known even in this climate, in winter—and that
they passed from a life of total inactivity, already
assailed by deadly disease, to one of the greatest
possible exertion—it cannot be a matter of surprise
that a fearful sickness has prevailed throughout
their ranks, and that the men still suffer from
 it."—Lord Raglan to Lord Panmure, February, 1855.
After the battle of Inkerman, the allied armies
turned all their energies to the siege of Sebastopol,
the principal city of the Crimea. You will read
some day about this memorable siege, one of the
most famous in history, and about the prodigies of
valor performed by both besiegers and besieged; but
I can only touch briefly on those aspects of it which
are connected with my subject.
The winter of 1854-5 was, as Lord Raglan says,
one of unexampled severity, even in that land of
bitter winters. On November 14th a terrible
hurricane swept the country, bringing death and ruin to
Russians and allies alike. In Sebastopol itself
trees were torn up by the roots, buildings unroofed,
and much damage done; in the camps of the
besiegers things were even worse. Tents were torn in
shreds and swept away like dead leaves; not only
the soldiers' tents, but the great hospital marquees
were destroyed, and the sick and wounded left
exposed to bitter blast and freezing sleet. The
trenches were flooded; no fires could be lit, and
therefore no food cooked; and when the snowstorm
 came which followed the tempest, many a brave
fellow lay down famished and exhausted, and the
white blanket covered his last sleep.
In the harbor even more ruin was wrought, for
the ships were dashed about like broken toys that a
wilful child flings hither and thither. The Prince,
which had just arrived loaded with clothing,
medicines, stores of every description, went down with
all her precious freight; the Resolute was lost,
too, the principal ammunition ship of the army; and
other vessels loaded with hay for the horses, a
supply which would have fed them for twenty days.
This dreadful calamity was followed by day after
day of what the soldiers called "Inkerman weather,"
with heavy mists and low drizzling clouds; then
came bitter, killing frost, then snow, thaw, sleet,
frost again, and so round and round in a cruel circle;
and through every variation of weather the soldier's
bed was the earth, now deep in snow, now bare and
hard as iron, now thick with nauseous mud. All
day long the soldiers toiled in the trenches with
pick and spade, often under fire, always on the alert;
others on night duty, "five nights out of six, a
large proportion of them constantly under fire."
 Is it to be wondered at that plague and cholera
broke out in the camp of the besiegers, and that a
steady stream of poor wretches came creeping up
the hill at Scutari?
The Lady-in-Chief was ready for them. Thanks
to the Times fund and other subscriptions, she now
had ample provision for many days. Moreover, by
this winter time her influence so dominated the
hospital that not only was there no opposition to her
wishes, but everyone flew to carry them out. The
rough orderlies, who had growled and sworn at the
notion of a woman coming to order them about,
were now her slaves. Her unvarying courtesy, her
sweet and heavenly kindness, woke in many a rugged
breast feelings of which it had never dreamed; and
every man who worked for her was for the time
at least a knight and a gentleman. It was bitter,
hard work; she spared them no more than she spared
herself; but they labored as no rules of the service
had ever made them work. Through it all, not one of
them, orderlies or common soldiers, ever failed her
"in obedience, thoughtful attention, and considerate
delicacy." "Never," she herself says, "came from
any of them one word or one look which a
gentle-  man would not have used; and while paying this
humble tribute to humble courtesy, the tears come
into my eyes as I think how amidst scenes of
loathsome disease and death there arose above it all the
innate dignity, gentleness and chivalry of the men
(for never surely was chivalry so strikingly
exemplified), shining in the midst of what must be
considered as the lowest sinks of human misery, and
preventing instinctively the use of one expression
which could distress a gentlewoman."
If it was so with the orderlies, you can imagine
how it was with the poor fellows for whom she was
working. Every smile from her was a gift; every
word was a precious treasure to be stored away and
kept through life. They would do anything she
asked, for they knew she would do anything in her
power for them. When any specially painful
operation was to be performed (there was not always
chloroform enough, alas! and in any case it was
not given so freely in those days as it is now), the
Lady-in-Chief would come quietly into the operating
room and take her stand beside the patient; and
looking up into that calm, steadfast face, and
meeting the tender gaze of those pitying eyes that never
 flinched from any sight of pain or horror, he would
take courage and nerve himself to bear the pain,
since she was there to help him bear it.
"We call her the Angel of the Crimea," one
soldier wrote home. "Could bad men be bad in
the presence of an angel? Impossible!"
Another wrote: "Before she came there was
such cussin' and swearin' as you never heard; but
after she came it was as holy as a church."
And still another—perhaps our Highland lad of
the night vigil, perhaps another—wrote to his
people: "She would speak to one and another, and
nod and smile to many more; but she could not
do it to all, you know, for we lay there by hundreds;
but we could kiss her shadow as it fell, and lay our
heads on our pillows again content."
Miss Nightingale never wearied of bearing
testimony to the many virtues of the British soldier.
She loved to tell stories like the following
"I remember a sergeant who, on picket—the rest
of the picket killed, and himself battered about the
head-stumbled back to camp (before Sebastopol),
and on his way picked up a wounded man and
brought him on his shoulders to the lines, where he
 fell down insensible. When, after many hours, he
recovered his senses, I believe after trepanning, his
first words were to ask after his comrade: 'Is he alive?'
"'Comrade indeed! yes, he's alive—it's the
General!' At that moment the General, though badly
wounded, appeared at the bedside. 'Oh! General,
it was you, was it, I brought in? I'm so glad; I
didn't know your honor. But if I'd known it was
you, I'd have saved you all the same!'"
I must not leave the story of this winter without
telling of all that Miss Nightingale did for the
soldiers' wives. There were many of these poor
women, who had come out to this far country to
be near their husbands. There was no proper
provision for them, and Miss Nightingale found them
in a wretched condition, living in three or four
damp, dark rooms in the basement of the hospital.
Their clothes were worn out; they were
barefooted and bareheaded. We are told that "the
only privacy to be obtained was by hanging up
rags of clothes on lines. There, by the light of a
rushlight, the meals were taken, the sick attended,
and there the babies were born and nourished.
 There were twenty-two babies born from November
to December, and many more during the winter."
The Lady-in-Chief soon put an end to this state
of things. First she fed and clothed the women
from her own stores, and saw that the little babies
were made warm and comfortable. In January a
fever broke out among the women, owing to a
broken drain in the basement, and she found a
house near by, had it cleaned and furnished, and
persuaded the commandant to move the women into it.
All through the winter she helped these poor souls
in every way, employing some in the laundry,
finding situations for others in Constantinople, sending
widows home to England, helping to start a school
for the children. Altogether about five hundred
women were helped out of the miserable condition
in which she found them, and were enabled to earn
their own living honestly and respectably. Writing
of these times later, Miss Nightingale says: "When
the improvements in our system which the war must
suggest are discussed, let not the wife and child of
the soldier be forgotten."
 Another helper came out to Scutari in those
winter clays; a gallant Frenchman, M. Soyer, who
had been for years chef of one of the great London
clubs, and who knew all that there was to know
about cookery. He read the Times, and in
February, 1855, he wrote to the editor
"SIR: After carefully perusing the letter of your
correspondent, dated Scutari. . . . I perceive that,
though the kitchen under the superintendence of
Miss Nightingale affords so much relief, the system
of management at the large one in the Barrack
Hospital is far from being perfect. I propose
offering my services gratuitously, and proceeding direct
to Scutari at my own personal expense, to regulate
that important department, if the Government will
honor me with their confidence, and grant me the
full power of acting according to my knowledge
and experience in such matters."
It was April before M. Soyer reached Scutari.
He went at once to the Barrack Hospital, asked for
Miss Nightingale, and was received by her in her
office, which he calls "a sanctuary of benevolence."
They became friends at once, for each could help
the other and greatly desired to do so.
 "I must especially express my gratitude to Miss
Nightingale," says the good gentleman in his record
of the time, "who from her extraordinary
intelligence and the good organization of her kitchen
procured me every material for making a
commencement, and thus saved me at least one week's sheer
loss of time, as my model kitchen did not arrive
until Saturday last."
M. Soyer, on his side, brought all kinds of things
which Miss Nightingale rejoiced to see: new stoves,
new kinds of fuel, new appliances of many kinds
which, in the first months of her work, she could
never have hoped to see. He was full of energy,
of ingenuity, and a fine French gayety and
enthusiasm which must have been delightful to all the
brave and weary workers in the City of Pain. He
went everywhere, saw and examined everything;
and told of what he saw, in his own flowery, fiery
way. He told among other things how, coming
back one night from a gay evening in the doctors'
quarters, he was making his way through the
hospital wards to his own room, when, as he turned
the corner of a corridor, he came upon a scene which
made him stop and hold his breath. At the foot of
 one cot stood a nurse, holding a lighted lamp. Its
light fell on the sick man, who lay propped on
pillows, gasping for breath, and evidently near his
end. He was speaking, in hoarse and broken
murmurs; sitting beside him, bending near to catch the
painful utterances, was the Lady-in-Chief, pencil and
paper in hand, writing down the words as he spoke
them. Now the dying man fumbled beneath his
pillow, brought out a watch and some other small
objects, and laid them in her hand; then with a sigh
of relief, sank back content. It was two o'clock.
Miss Nightingale had been on her feet, very likely,
the whole day, perhaps had not even closed her eyes
in sleep; but word was brought to her that this man
was given up by the doctors, and had only a few
hours to live; and in a moment she was by his side,
to speak some final words of comfort, and to take
down his parting message to wife and children.
The kind-hearted Frenchman never forgot this
sight, yet it was one that might be seen any night in
the Barrack Hospital. No man should die alone and
uncomforted if Florence Nightingale and her women
could help it.
This is how M. Soyer describes our heroine:
 "She is rather high in stature, fair in complexion
and slim in person; her hair is brown, and is worn
quite plain; her physiognomy is most pleasing; her
eyes, of a bluish tint, speak volumes, and are always
sparkling with intelligence; her mouth is small and
well formed, while her lips act in unison, and make
known the impression of her heart—one seems the
reflex of the other. Her visage, as regards
expression, is very remarkable, and one can almost
anticipate by her countenance what she is about to say;
alternately, with matters of the most grave import,
a gentle smile passes radiantly over her countenance,
thus proving her evenness of temper; at other times,
when wit or a pleasantry prevails, the heroine is lost
in the happy, good-natured smile which pervades her
face, and you recognize only the charming woman.
"Her dress is generally of a grayish or black tint;
she wears a simple white cap, and often a rough
apron. In a word, her whole appearance is
religiously simple and unsophisticated. In conversation
no member of the fair sex can be more amiable and
gentle than Miss Nightingale. Removed from her
arduous and cavalierlike duties, which require the
nerve of a Hercules—and she possesses it when
re-  quired—she is Rachel
on the stage in both tragedy and comedy."
The long and dreary winter was over. The snow
was gone, and the birds sang once more among the
cypresses of Scutari, and sunned themselves, and
bathed and splashed in the marble basins at the foot
of the tombs; but there was no abatement of the
stream that crept up the hill to the hospital. No
frostbite now—I haven't told you about that,
because it is too dreadful for me to tell or for you to
hear—but no less sickness. Cholera was raging in
the camp before Sebastopol, and typhus, and
dysentery; the men were dying like flies. The dreaded
typhus crept into the hospital and attacked the
workers. Eight of the doctors were stricken down, seven
of whom died. "For a time there was only one
medical attendant in a fit state of health to wait
on the sick in the Barrack Hospital, and his
services were needed in twenty-four wards."
Next three of the devoted nurses were taken, two
dying of fever, the third of cholera. More and
 more severe grew the strain of work and anxiety for
Miss Nightingale, and those who watched her with
loving anxiety trembled. So fragile, so worn; such
a tremendous weight of care and responsibility on
those delicate shoulders! Is she not paler than
usual to-day? What would become of us if she—
Their fears were groundless; the time was not
yet. Tending the dying physicians as she had
tended their patients; walking, sad but steadfast,
behind the bier that bore her dear and devoted helpers
to the grave; adding each new burden to the rest,
and carrying all with unbroken calm, unwearying
patience; Florence Nightingale seemed to bear a
charmed life. There is no record of any single
instance, through that terrible winter and spring, of
her being unable to perform the duties she had
taken upon her. She might have said with Sir Galahad:
"My strength is as the strength of ten
Because my heart is pure."
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