Page images
PDF
EPUB

and sanitation; nothing could be accomplished while the men lay in such a condition. And so the nurses were immediately set to work ripping up, renovating, replacing the soldiers' mattresses. Then the Lady-in-chief turned her attention to the matter of food. Nothing fitted to the needs of the patients had ever been provided—they had little more than the salt pork and biscuit which the soldiers in action ate. Often when wine or any other delicacy was provided for the sick, the orderlies in attendance upon them, themselves half starved, appropriated it. A kitchen was immediately set up under Miss Nightingale's supervision, and such things as the soldiers had not dreamed of were provided for them. One man wrote home, in delighted surprise, describing his day's rations. When a bowl of hot gruel was brought to him he thought “I'd best take it all, for it's all I'll get, and far better than I've been having;” but later, he says, “another nurse came with a cup of chicken broth—and wouldn't I drink it for her?' And then, in the afternoon came another 'begging me to eat just a little jelly.” The supplies which Miss Nightingale had brought with her were of inestimable value in eking out what was provided by the government. Later on a French cook, M. Sayer, a great admirer of Miss Nightingale, came out to Scutari and took charge of the kitchen there.

Another thing that hampered the nurses in their work was the inability to get clean clothing or bedding, and as soon as the kitchens were in working order, Miss Nightingale began to inquire into the laundry arrangements. The washing had been done by contract-or rather, it was supposed to be done by contract, and in reality was not done at all. A large empty building was secured, and a laundry was set up in it, many of the soldiers' widows and wives working in it and receiving fair pay for their services. The clothes and bedding of those who were suffering from infectious diseases were separated from those of the wounded soldiers—a thing that had not been done before. Another difficulty lay in the fact that the soldiers had no changes of clothing, but this Miss Nightingale remedied by buying for them shirts with her own money. In fact, she used her own fortune throughout most freely.

The early days at Scutari were crowded days for Miss Nightingale and her helpers. Sometimes, when new patients were being brought by hundreds from the battlefield, the Lady-in-chief stood for twenty hours dealing out supplies and issuing instructions. Much of the time she was hampered in her work by the difficulty of securing supplies. These were, in many cases, at hand, for the people of England, roused by the published accounts of conditions in the East, had been sending ship-loads of clothing, hospital accessories, and food; but the “red tape” often rendered these stores practically useless by making it impossible for any one to lay hands upon them when they were most needed. Sometimes Miss Nightingale, on her own authority, dispensed with official inspection and approval, promising to bear all the blame if those in charge of the stores were held to account.

But by no means all of Miss Nightingale's work was of this character. She spent much of her time, after the first rush was over, in looking after the most dangerous cases, showing absolutely no fear of fever or contagion. One writer in The Times said: “Wherever there is disease in its most dangerous form, and the hand of the spoiler distressingly

[graphic][ocr errors][merged small]

nigh, there is this incomparable woman sure to be seen. Her benignant presence is an influence for good comfort even among the struggles of expiring nature. She is a ministering angel without any exaggeration in these hospitals, and as her slender form glides quietly along each corridor, every poor fellow's face softens with gratitude at the sight of her. When all the medical officers have retired for the night, and silence and darkness have settled down upon those miles of prostrate sick, she may be observed alone, with a little lamp in her hands, making her solitary rounds."

It was this picture of the Lady-in-chief moving softly about through the shadows with her lamp shaded by her hand, which gave rise to Longfellow's poem that bestowed upon her the popular name of “the lady with the lamp.”

“Thus thought I, as by night I read
Of the great army of the dead,

The trenches cold and damp,
The starved and frozen camp,

“The wounded from the battle-plain,
In dreary hospitals of pain,

The cheerless corridors,
The cold and stony floors.

“Lo! in that home of misery
A lady with a lamp I see

Pass through the glimmering gloom,
And Ait from room to room.

"And slow, as in a dream of bliss,
The speechless sufferer turns to kiss

Her shadow, as it falls
Upon the darkening walls.

“A Lady with a Lamp shall stand
In the great history of the land,

A noble type of good,
Heroic womanhood."

Nor did Longfellow need to make use of poetic license in speaking of the soldiers as kissing her shadow. One poor convalescent said, “To see her pass was happiness. As she passed the beds she would nod to one and smile at many more; but she could not do it to all, you know. We lay there by hundreds; but we could kiss her shadow as it fell, and lay our heads upon the pillow again content.' This affectionate admiration was felt by all the soldiers; and these men, many of them of the roughest, coarsest type, were softened by the appearance among them of this refined and delicate woman. “Before she came," wrote one soldier, “there was such cussing and swearing as you never heard; but after she came, it was as holy as a church.”

Incredible as it may seem, Miss Nightingale had not, by all her efforts and all her success, silenced the voice of criticism in England. There were those who said, and said openly, that she was doing the soldiers more harm than good! The only reason they could allege for such statements was the old one of the Catholic sisters; Miss Nightingale must be a Catholic, they said, or she would never have chosen Sisters of Mercy to help her. And what harm might she not work, when she had softened the soldiers by her ministration, by drawing them from the established to the Roman Church? Her friends indignantly denied such charges, and the denial was taken up by the press. Indeed, as time went on and the work of the heroic women at Scutari became better known, no one dared speak a word against them, and all were anxious to have a part in their glorious work. From queen to peasant, English women were

« PreviousContinue »