The sun soared over the gulf, where the water, covered with ships at anchor, and with sail- and row-boats in motion, played merrily in its warm and luminous rays. A light breeze, which scarcely shook the leaves of the stunted oak bushes that grew beside the signal station, filled the sails of the boats, and made the waves ripple softly. On the other side of the gulf Sebastopol was visible, unchanged, with its unfinished church, its column, its quay, the boulevard which cut the hill with a green band, the elegant library building, its little lakes of azure blue, with their forests of masts, its picturesque aqueducts, and, above all that, clouds of a bluish tint, formed by powder smoke, lighted up from time to time by the red flame of the firing. It was the same proud and beautiful Sebastopol, with its festal air, surrounded on one side by the yellow smoke-crowned hills, on the other by the sea, deep blue in color and sparkling brilliantly in the sun. At the horizon, where the smoke of a steamer traced a black line, white, narrow clouds were rising, precursors of a wind. Along the whole line of the fortifications, along the heights, especially on the left side, spurted out suddenly, torn by a visible flash, although it was broad daylight, plumes of thick white smoke, which, assuming various forms, extended, rose, and colored the sky with sombre tints. These jets of smoke came out on all sides—from the hills, from the hostile batteries, from the city—and flew toward the sky. The noise of the explosions shook the air with a continuous roar. Toward noon these smoke puffs became rarer and rarer, and the vibrations of the air strata became less frequent.
"'Do you know that the second bastion is no longer replying?' said the hussar officer on horseback, 'it is entirely demolished. It is terrible!'
"'Yes, and the Malakoff replies twice out of three times,' answered the one who was looking through the field-glass. 'This silence is driving me mad! They are firing straight on the Korniloff battery and that is not replying.'
"'There is a movement in the trenches; they are marching in close columns.'
"'Yes, I see it well,' said one of the sailors; 'they are advancing by columns. We must set the signal.'
"'But see, there—see! They are coming out of the trenches!'
"They could see, in fact, with the naked eye black spots going down from the hill into the ravine, and proceeding from the French batteries toward our bastions. In the foreground, in front of the former, black spots could be seen very near our lines. Suddenly, from different points of the bastion at the same time, spurted out the white plumes of the discharges, and, thanks to the wind, the noise of a lively fusillade could be heard, like the patter of a heavy rain against the windows. The black lines advanced, wrapped in a curtain of smoke, and came nearer. The fusillade increased in violence. The smoke burst out at shorter and shorter intervals, extended rapidly along the line in a single light, lilac-colored cloud, unrolling and enlarging itself by turns, furrowed here and there by flashes or rent by black points. All the noises mingled together in the tumult of one continued roar.
"'It is an assault,' said the officer, pale with emotion, handing his glass to the sailor.
"Cossacks and officers on horseback went along the road, preceding the commander-in-chief in his carriage, accompanied by his suite. Their faces expressed the painful emotion of expectation.
"'It is impossible that it is taken!' said the officer on horseback.
"'God in heaven—the flag! Look now!' cried the other, choked by emotion, turning away from the glass. 'The French flag is in the Malakoff mamelon!'"
It is thus that Tolstoi, the great Russian writer, describes the fall of Sebastopol, as he saw it. At the same moment that the French were taking the Malakoff redoubt, the British were storming the Redan, from which they had been so disastrously repulsed three months before. The flags of the allied armies floated over both forts, and in the night that followed the Russians marched silently out of the fallen city, leaving flames and desolation behind them.
The war was over. The good news sped to England, and the great guns of the Tower of London thundered out "Victory!"
"Victory!" answered every arsenal the country over. "Victory!" rang the bells in every village steeple. "Victory!" cried man, woman, and child throughout the length and breadth of the land. But mingled with the shouts of rejoicing was a deeper note, one of thankfulness that the cruel war was done, and peace come at last.
In these happy days Miss Nightingale's name was on all lips. What did not England owe to her, the heroic woman who had offered her life, and had all but lost it, for the soldiers of her country? What should England do to show her gratitude? People were on fire to do something, make some return to Florence Nightingale for her devoted services. From the Queen to the cottager, all were asking: "What shall we do for her?"
It was decided to consult her friends, the Sidney Herberts, as to the shape that a testimonial of the country's love and gratitude should take in order to be acceptable to Miss Nightingale. Mrs. Herbert, being asked, replied: "There is but one testimonial which would be accepted by Miss Nightingale. The one wish of her heart has long been to found a hospital in London and to work it on her own system of unpaid nursing, and I have suggested to all who have asked my advice in this matter to pay any sums that they may feel disposed to give, or that they may be able to collect, into Messrs. Coutts' Bank, where a subscription list for the purpose is about to be opened, to be called the 'Nightingale Hospital Fund,' the sum subscribed to be presented to her on her return home, which will enable her to carry out her object regarding the reform of the nursing system in England."
Here was something definite indeed. A committee was instantly formed—a wonderful committee, with "three dukes, nine other noblemen, the Lord Mayor, two judges, five right honorables, foremost naval and military officers, physicians, lawyers, London aldermen, dignitaries of the Church, dignitaries of nonconformist churches, twenty members of Parliament, and several eminent men of letters"; and the subscription was opened. How the money came pouring in! You would think no one had ever spent money before. The rich gave their thousands, the poor their pennies. There were fairs and concerts and entertainments of every description, to swell the Nightingale fund; but the offering that must have touched Miss Nightingale's heart most deeply was that of the soldiers and sailors of England. "The officers and men of nearly every regiment and many of the vessels contributed a day's pay." That meant more to her, I warrant, than any rich man's thousands.
Before a year had passed, the fund amounted to over forty thousand pounds; and there is no knowing how much higher it might have gone had not Miss Nightingale herself come home and stopped it.
That was enough, she said; if they wanted to give more money, they might give it to the sufferers from the floods in France.
But she did not come home at once; no indeed! The war might be over, but her work was not, and she would never leave it while anything remained undone. The war was over, but the hospitals, especially those of the Crimea itself, were still filled with sick and wounded soldiers, and until the formal peace was signed an "army of occupation" must still remain in the Crimea. Miss Nightingale knew well that idleness is the worst possible thing for soldiers (as for everyone); and while she cared for the sick and wounded, she took as much pains to provide employment and amusement for the rest. As soon as she had fully regained her strength, she returned to the Crimea as she had promised to do, set up two new camp hospitals, and established a staff of nurses, taking the charge of the whole nursing department upon herself. These new hospitals were on the heights above Balaklava, not far from where she had passed the days of her own desperate illness. She established herself in a hut close by the hospitals and the Sanatorium, and here she spent a second winter of hard work and exposure. It was bitter cold up there on the mountainside. The hut was not weather-proof, and they sometimes found their beds covered with snow in the morning; but they did not mind trifles like this.
"The sisters are all quite well and cheerful," writes Miss Nightingale; "thank God for it! They have made their hut look quite tidy, and put up with the cold and inconveniences with the utmost self-abnegation. Everything, even the ink, freezes in our hut every night."
In all weathers she rode or drove over the rough and perilous roads, often at great risk of life and limb. Her carriage being upset one day, and she and her attendant nurse injured, a friend had a carriage made on purpose for her, to be at once secure and comfortable.
It was "composed of wood battens framed on the outside and basketwork. In the interior it is lined with a sort of waterproof canvas. It has a fixed head on the hind part and a canopy running the full length, with curtains at the side to inclose the interior. The front driving seat removes, and thus the whole forms a sort of small tilted wagon with a welted frame, suspended on the back part on which to recline, and well padded round the sides. It is fitted with patent breaks to the hind wheels so as to let it go gently down the steep hills of the Turkish roads."
This curious carriage is still preserved at Lea Hurst. Miss Nightingale left it behind her when she returned to England, and it was about to be sold, with other abandoned articles, when our good friend M. Soyer heard of it; he instantly bought it, sent it to England, and afterwards had the pleasure of restoring it to its owner. She must have been amused, I think, but no doubt she was pleased, too, at the kindly thought.
But this comfortable carriage only increased her labors, in one way, for with it she went about more than ever. No weather was too severe, no snowstorm too furious, to keep her indoors; the men needed her and she must go to them. "She was known to stand for hours at the top of a bleak rocky mountain near the hospitals, giving her instructions while the snow was falling heavily. Then in the bleak dark night she would return down the perilous mountain road with no escort save the driver."
It was not only for the invalids that Miss Nightingale toiled through this second winter; much of her time was given to the convalescents and those who were on active duty. She established libraries, and little "reading huts," where the men could come and find the English magazines and papers, and a stock of cheerful, entertaining books, carefully chosen by the dear lady who knew so well what they liked. She got up lectures, too, and classes for those who wished to study this or that branch of learning; and she helped to establish a café at Inkerman, where the men could get hot coffee and chocolate and the like in the bitter winter weather. There really seems no end to the good and kind and lovely things she did. I must not forget one thing, which may seem small to some of you, but which was truly great in the amount of good that came from it. Ever since she first came out to Scutari, she had used all her influence to persuade the soldiers to write home regularly to their families. The sick lads in the hospital learned that if they would write a letter—just two or three lines, to tell mother or sister that they were alive and doing well—and would send it to the Lady-in-Chief, she would put a stamp on it and speed it on its way. So now, in all the little libraries and reading huts, there were pens, ink and paper, envelopes and stamps; and when Miss Nightingale looked in at one of these cheerful little gathering places, we may be sure that she asked Jim or Joe whether he had written to his mother this week, and bade him be sure not to forget it. Does this seem to you a small thing? Wait till you go away from home, and see what the letters that come from home mean to you; then multiply that by ten, and you will know partly, but not entirely, what your letters mean to those at home. It has always seemed to me that this was a very bright star in Miss Nightingale's crown of glory.
The soldier's wife and child, mother and sister, were always in her thoughts. Not only did she persuade the men to write home, but she used all her great influence to induce them to send home their pay to their families. At Scutari she had a money-order office of her own, and four afternoons in each month she devoted to receiving money from the soldiers who brought it to her, and forwarding it to England. It is estimated that about a thousand pounds was sent each month, in small sums of twenty or thirty shillings. "This money," says Miss Nightingale, "was literally so much rescued from the canteen and drunkenness."
After the fall of Sebastopol the British Government followed her example, and set up money-order offices in several places, with excellent results.
Sometimes it was Miss Nightingale herself who wrote home to the soldier's family; sad, sweet letters, telling how the husband or father had done his duty gallantly, and had died as a brave man should; giving his last messages, and inclosing the mementos he had left for them. To many a humble home these letters brought comfort and support in the hour of trial, and were treasured—are no doubt treasured to this day—like the relics of a blessed saint.
The Treaty of Peace was signed at Paris on March 30, 1856, and now all hearts in the Crimea turned toward home. One by one the hospitals were closed, as their inmates recovered strength; one by one the troopships were filled with soldiers—ragged, gaunt, hollow-eyed, yet gay and light-hearted as schoolboys—and started on the homeward voyage; yet still the Lady-in-Chief lingered. Not while one sick man remained would Florence Nightingale leave her post. Indeed, at the last moment she found a task that none but herself might have taken up. The troopships were gone; but here, on the camping ground before Sebastopol, were fifty or sixty poor women, left behind when their husbands' regiments had sailed, helpless and—I was going to say friendless, but nothing could be more untrue; for they gathered in their distress round the hut of the Lady-in-Chief, imploring her aid; and she soon had them on board a British ship, speeding home after the rest.
And now the end had come, and there was only one more thing to do, one more order to give; the result of that last order is seen to-day by all who visit that far-away land of the Crimea. On the mountain heights above Balaklava, on a peak not far from the Sanatorium where she labored and suffered, towers a great cross of white marble, shining like snow against the deep blue sky. This is the "Nightingale Cross," her own tribute to the brave men and the devoted nurses who died in the war. At the foot of the cross are these words:
"Lord have mercy upon us."
To every Englishman—nay, to everyone of any race who loves noble thoughts and noble deeds—this monument will always be a sacred and a venerable one.
In the spring of this year, Lord Ellesmere, speaking before Parliament, said:
"My Lords, the agony of that time has become a matter of history. The vegetation of two successive springs has obscured the vestiges of Balaklava and of Inkerman. Strong voices now answer to the roll call, and sturdy forms now cluster round the colors. The ranks are full, the hospitals are empty. The angel of mercy still lingers to the last on the scene of her labors; but her mission is all but accomplished. Those long arcades of Scutari, in which dying men sat up to catch the sound of her footstep or the flutter of her dress, and fell back on the pillow content to have seen her shadow as it passed, are now comparatively deserted. She may be thinking how to escape, as best she may, on her return, the demonstration of a nation's appreciation of the deeds and motives of Florence Nightingale."
This was precisely what the Lady-in-Chief was thinking. She meant to return to England as quietly as she left it; and she succeeded. The British Government begged her to accept a man-of-war as her own for the time being; she was much obliged, but would rather not. She went over to Scutari, saw the final closing of the hospitals there, and took a silent farewell of that place of many memories; then stepped quietly on board a French vessel, and sailed for France. A few days later—so the story goes—a lady quietly dressed in black, and closely veiled, entered the back door of Lea Hurst. The old butler saw the intruder, and hastened forward to stop her way—and it was "Miss Florence!"