I am not going to risk the danger of wearying the reader with a long account of the voyage to Constantinople, already worn threadbare by book-making tourists. It was a very interesting one, and, as I am a good sailor, I had not [Pg 83]even the temporary horrors of sea-sickness to mar it. The weather, although cold, was fine, and the sea good-humouredly calm, and I enjoyed the voyage amazingly. And as day by day we drew nearer to the scene of action, my doubts of success grew less and less, until I had a conviction of the rightness of the step I had taken, which would have carried me buoyantly through any difficulties.

On the way, of course, I was called up from my berth at an unreasonable hour to gaze upon the Cape of St. Vincent, and expected to feel duly impressed when the long bay where Trafalgar’s fight was won came in view, with the white convent walls on the cliffs above bathed in the early sunlight. I never failed to take an almost childish interest in the signals which passed between the “Hollander” and the fleet of vessels whose sails whitened the track to and from the Crimea, trying to puzzle out the language these children of the ocean spoke in their hurried course, and wondering whether any, or what sufficiently important thing could happen which would warrant their stopping on their busy way.

We spent a short time at Gibraltar, and you may imagine that I was soon on shore making the best use of the few hours’ reprieve granted to the “Hollander’s” weary engines. I had an idea that I should do better alone, so I declined all offers of companionship, and selecting a brisk young fellow from the mob of cicerones who offered their services, saw more of the art of fortification in an hour or so than I could understand in as many years. The pleasure was rather fatiguing, and I was not sorry to return to the market-place, where I stood curiously watching its strange and motley population. While so engaged, I heard [Pg 84]for the first time an exclamation which became familiar enough to me afterwards.

“Why, bless my soul, old fellow, if this is not our good old Mother Seacole!” I turned round, and saw two officers, whose features, set in a broad frame of Crimean beard, I had some difficulty in recognising. But I soon remembered that they were two of the 48th, who had been often in my house at Kingston. Glad were the kind-hearted fellows, and not a little surprised withal, to meet their old hostess in the market-place of Gibraltar, bound for the scene of action which they had left invalided; and it was not long before we were talking old times over some wine—Spanish, I suppose—but it was very nasty.

“And you are going to the front, old lady—you, of all people in the world?”

“Why not, my sons?—won’t they be glad to have me there?”

“By Jove! yes, mother,” answered one, an Irishman. “It isn’t many women—God bless them!—we’ve had to spoil us out there. But it’s not the place even for you, who know what hardship is. You’ll never get a roof to cover you at Balaclava, nor on the road either.” So they rattled on, telling me of the difficulties that were in store for me. But they could not shake my resolution.

“Do you think I shall be of any use to you when I get there?”


“Then I’ll go, were the place a hundred times worse than you describe it. Can’t I rig up a hut with the packing-cases, and sleep, if need be, on straw, like Margery Daw?”

[Pg 85]So they laughed, and drank success to me, and to our next meeting; for, although they were going home invalided, the brave fellows’ hearts were with their companions, for all the hardships they had passed through.

We stopped at Malta also, where, of course, I landed, and stared about me, and submitted to be robbed by the lazy Maltese with all a traveller’s resignation. Here, also, I met friends—some medical officers who had known me in Kingston; and one of them, Dr. F——, lately arrived from Scutari, gave me, when he heard my plans, a letter of introduction to Miss Nightingale, then hard at work, evoking order out of confusion, and bravely resisting the despotism of death, at the hospital of Scutari.

So on, past beautiful islands and shores, until we are steaming against a swift current, and an adverse wind, between two tower-crested promontories of rock, which they tell me stand in Europe and in Asia, and are connected with some pretty tale of love in days long gone by. Ah! travel where a woman may, in the New World, or the Old, she meets this old, old tale everywhere. It is the one bond of sympathy which I have found existing in three quarters of the world alike. So on, until the cable rattles over the windlass, as the good ship’s anchor plunges down fathoms deep into the blue waters of the Bosphorus—her voyage ended.

I do not think that Constantinople impressed me so much as I had expected; and I thought its streets would match those of Navy Bay not unfairly. The caicques, also, of which I had ample experience—for I spent six days here, wandering about Pera and Stamboul in the daytime, and returning to the “Hollander” at nightfall—might [Pg 86]be made more safe and commodious for stout ladies, even if the process interfered a little with their ornament. Time and trouble combined have left me with a well-filled-out, portly form—the envy of many an angular Yankee female—and, more than once, it was in no slight danger of becoming too intimately acquainted with the temperature of the Bosphorus. But I will do the Turkish boatmen the justice to say that they were as politely careful of my safety as their astonishment and regard for the well-being of their caicques (which they appear to love as an Arab does his horse, or an Esquimaux his dogs, and for the same reason perhaps) would admit. Somewhat surprised, also, seemed the cunning-eyed Greeks, who throng the streets of Pera, at the unprotected Creole woman, who took Constantinople so coolly (it would require something more to surprise her); while the grave English raised their eyebrows wonderingly, and the more vivacious French shrugged their pliant shoulders into the strangest contortions. I accepted it all as a compliment to a stout female tourist, neatly dressed in a red or yellow dress, a plain shawl of some other colour, and a simple straw wide-awake, with bright red streamers. I flatter myself that I woke up sundry sleepy-eyed Turks, who seemed to think that the great object of life was to avoid showing surprise at anything; while the Turkish women gathered around me, and jabbered about me, in the most flattering manner.

How I ever succeeded in getting Mr. Day’s letters from the Post-office, Constantinople, puzzles me now; but I did—and I shall ever regard my success as one of the great triumphs of my life. Their contents were not very [Pg 87]cheering. He gave a very dreary account of Balaclava and of camp life, and almost dissuaded me from continuing my journey; but his last letter ended by giving me instructions as to the purchases I had best make, if I still determined upon making the adventure; so I forgot all the rest, and busied myself in laying in the stores he recommended.

But I found time, before I left the “Hollander,” to charter a crazy caicque, to carry me to Scutari, intending to present Dr. F——’s letter to Miss Nightingale.

It was afternoon when the boatmen set me down in safety at the landing-place of Scutari, and I walked up the slight ascent, to the great dull-looking hospital. Thinking of the many noble fellows who had been borne, or had painfully crept along this path, only to die within that dreary building, I felt rather dull; and directly I entered the hospital, and came upon the long wards of sufferers, lying there so quiet and still, a rush of tears came to my eyes, and blotted out the sight for a few minutes. But I soon felt at home, and looked about me with great interest. The men were, many of them, very quiet. Some of the convalescent formed themselves into little groups around one who read a newspaper; others had books in their hands, or by their side, where they had fallen when slumber overtook the readers, while hospital orderlies moved to and fro, and now and then the female nurses, in their quiet uniform, passed noiselessly on some mission of kindness.

I was fortunate enough to find an old acquaintance, who accompanied me through the wards, and rendered it unnecessary for me to trouble the busy nurses. This was an old 97th man—a Sergeant T——, whom I had known in [Pg 88]Kingston, and who was slowly recovering from an attack of dysentery, and making himself of use here until the doctors should let him go back and have another “shy at the Rooshians.” He is very glad to meet me, and tells me his history very socially, and takes me to the bedsides of some comrades, who had also known me at Up-Park Camp. My poor fellows! how their eyes glisten when they light upon an old friend’s face in these Turkish barracks—put to so sad a use, three thousand miles from home. Here is one of them—“hurt in the trenches,” says the Sergeant, with shaven bandaged head, and bright, restless, Irish eyes, who hallooes out, “Mother Seacole! Mother Seacole!” in such an excited tone of voice; and when he has shaken hands a score of times, falls back upon his pillow very wearily. But I sit by his side, and try to cheer him with talk about the future, when he shall grow well, and see home, and hear them all thank him for what he has been helping to do, so that he grows all right in a few minutes; but, hearing that I am on the way to the front, gets excited again; for, you see, illness and weakness make these strong men as children, not least in the patient unmurmuring resignation with which they suffer. I think my Irish friend had an indistinct idea of a “muddle” somewhere, which had kept him for weeks on salt meat and biscuit, until it gave him the “scurvy,” for he is very anxious that I should take over plenty of vegetables, of every sort. “And, oh! mother!”—and it is strange to hear his almost plaintive tone as he urges this—“take them plenty of eggs, mother; we never saw eggs over there.”

At some slight risk of giving offence, I cannot resist the temptation of lending a helping hand here and [Pg 89]there—replacing a slipped bandage, or easing a stiff one. But I do not think any one was offended; and one doctor, who had with some surprise and, at first, alarm on his face, watched me replace a bandage, which was giving pain, said, very kindly, when I had finished, “Thank you, ma’am.”

One thought never left my mind as I walked through the fearful miles of suffering in that great hospital. If it is so here, what must it not be at the scene of war—on the spot where the poor fellows are stricken down by pestilence or Russian bullets, and days and nights of agony must be passed before a woman’s hand can dress their wounds. And I felt happy in the conviction that I must be useful three or four days nearer to their pressing wants than this.

It was growing late before I felt tired, or thought of leaving Scutari, and Dr. S——, another Jamaica friend, who had kindly borne me company for the last half-hour agreed with me that the caicque was not the safest conveyance by night on the Bosphorus, and recommended me to present my letter to Miss Nightingale, and perhaps a lodging for the night could be found for me. So, still under the Sergeant’s patient guidance, we thread our way through passages and corridors, all used as sick-wards, until we reach the corner tower of the building, in which are the nurses’ quarters.

I think Mrs. B——, who saw me, felt more surprise than she could politely show (I never found women so quick to understand me as the men) when I handed her Dr. F——’s kind letter respecting me, and apologized for troubling Miss Nightingale. There is that in the Doctor’s letter (he had been much at Scutari) which prevents my request being refused, and I am asked to wait until Miss [Pg 90]Nightingale, whose every moment is valuable, can see me. Meanwhile Mrs. B. questions me very kindly, but with the same look of curiosity and surprise.

What object has Mrs. Seacole in coming out? This is the purport of her questions. And I say, frankly, to be of use somewhere; for other considerations I had not, until necessity forced them upon me. Willingly, had they accepted me, I would have worked for the wounded, in return for bread and water. I fancy Mrs. B—— thought that I sought for employment at Scutari, for she said, very kindly—

“Miss Nightingale has the entire management of our hospital staff, but I do not think that any vacancy—”

“Excuse me, ma’am,” I interrupt her with, “but I am bound for the front in a few days;” and my questioner leaves me, more surprised than ever. The room I waited in was used as a kitchen. Upon the stoves were cans of soup, broth, and arrow-root, while nurses passed in and out with noiseless tread and subdued manner. I thought many of them had that strange expression of the eyes which those who have gazed long on scenes of woe or horror seldom lose.

In half an hour’s time I am admitted to Miss Nightingale’s presence. A slight figure, in the nurses’ dress; with a pale, gentle, and withal firm face, resting lightly in the palm of one white hand, while the other supports the elbow—a position which gives to her countenance a keen inquiring expression, which is rather marked. Standing thus in repose, and yet keenly observant—the greatest sign of impatience at any time[B] a slight, perhaps unwitting [Pg 91]motion of the firmly planted right foot—was Florence Nightingale—that Englishwoman whose name shall never die, but sound like music on the lips of British men until the hour of doom.

She has read Dr. F——’s letter, which lies on the table by her side, and asks, in her gentle but eminently practical and business-like way, “What do you want, Mrs. Seacole—anything that we can do for you? If it lies in my power, I shall be very happy.”

So I tell her of my dread of the night journey by caicque, and the improbability of my finding the “Hollander” in the dark; and, with some diffidence, threw myself upon the hospitality of Scutari, offering to nurse the sick for the night. Now unfortunately, for many reasons, room even for one in Scutari Hospital was at that time no easy matter to find; but at last a bed was discovered to be unoccupied at the hospital washerwomen’s quarters.

My experience of washerwomen, all the world over, is the same—that they are kind soft-hearted folks. Possibly the soap-suds they almost live in find their way into their hearts and tempers, and soften them. This Scutari washerwoman is no exception to the rule, and welcomes me most heartily. With her, also, are some invalid nurses; and after they have gone to bed, we spend some hours of the night talking over our adventures, and giving one another scraps of our respective biographies. I hadn’t long retired to my couch before I wished most heartily that we had continued our chat; for unbidden and most unwelcome companions took the washerwoman’s place, and persisted not only in dividing my bed, but my plump person also. Upon my word, I believe the fleas are the only industrious [Pg 92]creatures in all Turkey. Some of their relatives would seem to have migrated into Russia; for I found them in the Crimea equally prosperous and ubiquitous.

In the morning, a breakfast is sent to my mangled remains, and a kind message from Mrs. B——, having reference to how I spent the night. And, after an interview with some other medical men, whose acquaintance I had made in Jamaica, I shake hands with the soft-hearted washerwoman, up to her shoulders in soap-suds already, and start for the “Hollander.”


[B]Subsequently I saw much of Miss Nightingale, at Balaclava.


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