Summer was fairly advanced before the British Hotel was anything like finished; indeed, it never was completed, and when we left the Hill, a year later, it still wanted shutters. But long before that time Spring Hill had gained a great reputation. Of course, I have nothing to do with what occurred in the camp, although I could not help hearing a great deal about it. Mismanagement and privation there might have been, but my business was to make things right in my sphere, and whatever confusion, and disorder existed elsewhere, comfort and order were always to be found at Spring Hill. When there was no sun elsewhere, some few gleams—so its grateful visitors said—always seemed to have stayed behind, to cheer the weary soldiers that gathered in the British Hotel. And, perhaps, as my kind friend Punch said, after all these things had become pleasant memories of the past.

[Pg 114]“The cold without gave a zest, no doubt,To the welcome warmth within;But her smile, good old soul, lent heat to the coal,And power to the pannikin.”

Let me, in a few words, describe the British Hotel. It was acknowledged by all to be the most complete thing there. It cost no less than £800. The buildings and yards took up at least an acre of ground, and were as perfect as we could make them. The hotel and storehouse consisted of a long iron room, with counters, closets, and shelves; above it was another low room, used by us for storing our goods, and above this floated a large union-jack. Attached to this building was a little kitchen, not unlike a ship’s caboose—all stoves and shelves. In addition to the iron house were two wooden houses, with sleeping apartments for myself and Mr. Day, out-houses for our servants, a canteen for the soldiery, and a large enclosed yard for our stock, full of stables, low huts, and sties. Everything, although rough and unpolished, was comfortable and warm; and there was a completeness about the whole which won general admiration. The reader may judge of the manner in which we had stocked the interior of our store from the remark, often repeated by the officers, that you might get everything at Mother Seacole’s, from an anchor down to a needle.

In addition, we had for our transport service four carts, and as many horses and mules as could be kept from the thieves. To reckon upon being in possession of these, at any future time, was impossible; we have more than once seen a fair stud stabled at night-time, and on the following morning been compelled to borrow cattle [Pg 115]from the Land Transport camp, to fetch our things up from Balaclava.

But it must not be supposed that my domestic difficulties came to an end with the completion of the hotel. True, I was in a better position to bear the Crimean cold and rain, but my other foes were as busy as ever they had been on the beach at Balaclava. Thieves, biped and quadruped, human and animal, troubled me more than ever; and perhaps the most difficult to deal with were the least dangerous. The Crimean rats, for instance, who had the appetites of London aldermen, and were as little dainty as hungry schoolboys. Whether they had left Sebastopol, guided by the instinct which leads their kindred in other parts of the world to forsake sinking ships, or because the garrison rations offended their palates, or whether they had patriotically emigrated, to make war against the English larders, I do not pretend to guess; but, whatever was their motive, it drew them in great abundance to Spring Hill. They occasionally did us damage, in a single night, to the tune of two or three pounds—wasting what they could not devour. You could keep nothing sacred from their strong teeth. When hard pressed they more than once attacked the live sheep; and at last they went so far as to nibble one of our black cooks, Francis, who slept among the flour barrels. On the following morning he came to me, his eyes rolling angrily, and his white teeth gleaming, to show me a mangled finger, which they had bitten, and ask me to dress it. He made a great fuss; and a few mornings later he came in a violent passion this time, and gave me instant notice to quit my service, although we were paying him two [Pg 116]pounds a week, with board and rations. This time the rats had, it appeared, been bolder, and attacked his head, in a spot where its natural armour, the wool, was thinnest, and the silly fellow had a notion that the souls of the slain Russian soldiers had entered the bodies of the rats, and made vengeful war upon their late enemies. Driven to such an extremity, I made up my mind to scour the camp, in search of a cat, and, after a long day’s hunt, I came to the conclusion that the tale of Whittington was by no means an improbable one. Indeed, had a brisk young fellow with a cat, of even ordinary skill in its profession, made their appearance at Spring Hill, I would gladly have put them in the way—of laying the foundation, at least—of a fortune. At last I found a benefactor, in the Guards’ camp, in Colonel D——, of the Coldstreams, who kindly promised me a great pet, well known in the camp, and perhaps by some who may read these pages, by the name of Pinkie. Pinkie was then helping a brother officer to clear his hut, but on the following day a Guardsman brought the noble fellow down. He lived in clover for a few days, but he had an English cat-like attachment for his old house, and despite the abundance of game, Pinkie soon stole away to his old master’s quarters, three miles off. More than once the men brought him back to me, but the attractions of Spring Hill were never strong enough to detain him long with me.

From the human thieves that surrounded Spring Hill I had to stand as sharp a siege as the Russians had in that poor city against which we heard the guns thundering daily; while the most cunning and desperate sorties were often made upon the most exposed parts of my defences, [Pg 117]and sometimes with success. Scores of the keenest eyes and hundreds of the sharpest fingers in the world were always ready to take advantage of the least oversight. I had to keep two boys, whose chief occupation was to watch the officers’ horses, tied up to the doorposts of the British Hotel. Before I adopted this safeguard, more than one officer would leave his horse for a few minutes, and on his return find it gone to the neighbourhood of the Naval Brigade, or the horse-fair at Kamiesch. My old friends, the Zouaves, soon found me out at Spring Hill, and the wiry, light-fingered, fighting-loving gentry spent much of their leisure there. Those confounded trowsers of theirs offered conveniences of stowage-room which they made rare use of. Nothing was too small, and few things too unwieldy, to ride in them; like the pockets of clown in a pantomime, they could accommodate a well-grown baby or a pound of sausages equally well. I have a firm conviction that they stuffed turkeys, geese, and fowls into them, and I positively know that my only respectable teapot travelled off in the same conveyance, while I detected one little fellow, who had tied them down tight at his ankles, stowing away some pounds of tea and coffee mixed. Some officers, who were present, cut the cords, and, holding up the little scamp by the neck, shook his trowsers empty amid shouts of laughter.

Our live stock, from the horses and mules down to the geese and fowls, suffered terribly. Although we kept a sharp look-out by day, and paid a man five shillings a night as watchman, our losses were very great. During the time we were in the Crimea we lost over a score of horses, four mules, eighty goats, many sheep, pigs, and [Pg 118]poultry, by thieving alone. We missed in a single night forty goats and seven sheep, and on Mr. Day’s going to head-quarters with intelligence of the disaster, they told him that Lord Raglan had recently received forty sheep from Asia, all of which had disappeared in the same manner. The geese, turkeys, and fowls vanished by scores. We found out afterwards that the watchman paid to guard the sheep, used to kill a few occasionally. As he represented them to have died a natural death during the night, he got permission to bury them, instead of which he sold them. King Frost claimed his share of our stock too, and on one December night, of the winter of 1855, killed no less than forty sheep. It is all very well to smile at these things now, but at the time they were heartrending enough, and helped, if they did not cause, the ruin which eventually overtook the firm of Seacole and Day. The determination and zeal which besiegers and besieged showed with respect to a poor pig, which was quietly and unconsciously fattening in its sty, are worthy of record.

Fresh pork, in the spring of 1855, was certainly one of those luxuries not easily obtainable in that part of the Crimea to which the British army was confined, and when it became known that Mother Seacole had purchased a promising young porker from one of the ships in Balaclava, and that, brave woman! she had formed the courageous resolution of fattening it for her favourites, the excitement among the frequenters of Spring Hill was very great. I could laugh heartily now, when I think of the amount of persuasion and courting I stood out for before I bound myself how its four legs were to be disposed of. I learnt more at that time of the trials and privileges of authority [Pg 119]than I am ever likely to experience again. Upon my word, I think if the poor thing had possessed as many legs as my editor tells me somebody called the Hydra (with whom my readers are perhaps more familiar than I am) had heads, I should have found candidates for them. As it was, the contest for those I had to bestow was very keen, and the lucky individuals who were favoured by me looked after their interests most carefully. One of them, to render mistake or misunderstanding impossible, entered my promise in my day-book. The reader will perhaps smile at the following important memorandum in the gallant officer’s writing:—

“Memorandum that Mrs. Seacole did this day, in the presence of Major A—— and Lieutenant W——, promise Captain H——, R.A., a leg of the pig.”

Now it was well known that many greedy eyes and fingers were directed towards the plump fellow, and considerable interest was manifested in the result of the struggle, “Mrs. Seacole versus Thievery.” I think they had some confidence in me, and that I was the favourite; but there was a large field against me, which found its backers also; and many a bet was laughingly laid on the ultimate fate of the unconscious porker.

I baffled many a knavish trick to gain possession of the fine fellow; but, after all, I lost him in the middle of the day, when I thought the boldest rogues would not have run the risk. The shouts and laughter of some officers who were riding down from the front first informed me of my loss. Up they rode, calling out—“Mother Seacole! old lady! quick!—the pig’s gone!”

I rushed out, injured woman that I was, and saw it all [Pg 120]at a glance. But that my straw wide-awake was in the way, I could have torn my hair in my vexation. I rushed to the sty, found the nest warm, and with prompt decision prepared for speedy pursuit. Back I came to the horsemen, calling out—“Off with you, my sons!—they can’t have got very far away yet. Do your best to save my bacon!”

Delighted with the fun, the horsemen dispersed, laughing and shouting—“Stole away! hark away!” while I ran indoors, turned out all my available body-guard, and started in pursuit also. Not half a mile off we soon saw a horseman wave his cap; and starting off into a run, came to a little hollow, where the poor panting animal and two Greek thieves had been run down. The Provost-marshal took the latter in hand willingly, and Piggy was brought home in triumph. But those who had pork expectancies, hearing of the adventure, grew so seriously alarmed at the narrow escape, that they petitioned me to run so desperate a hazard no longer; and the poor thing was killed on the following day, and distributed according to promise. A certain portion was reserved for sausages, which, fried with mashed potatoes, were quite the rage at the British Hotel for some days. Some pork was also sent to head-quarters, with an account of the dangers we ran from thieves. It drew the following kind acknowledgment from General B——:


My dear Mrs. Seacole,—I am very much obliged to you indeed for your pork. I have spoken to Colonel P—— as to the police of your neighbourhood, and he will see what arrangement can be made for the general protection [Pg 121]of that line of road. When the high-road is finished, you will be better off. Let me know at the time of any depredations that are committed, and we will try and protect you.—I am, faithfully yours,

“M. L. B——.”

For the truth was—although I can laugh at my fears now—I was often most horribly frightened at Spring Hill; and there was cause for it too. My washerwoman, who, with her family, lived not half a mile from us, was with me one day, and carried off some things for the wash. On the following morning I was horrified to learn that she, her father, husband, and children—in all, seven—had been most foully murdered during the night: only one of the whole family recovered from her wounds, and lived to tell the tale. It created a great sensation at the time, and caused me to pass many a sleepless night, for the murderers were never discovered.

Whilst I am upon the subject of Crimean thievery, I may as well exhaust it without paying any regard to the chronological order of my reminiscences. I have before mentioned what I suffered from the French. One day I caught one of our allies in my kitchen, robbing me in the most ungrateful manner. He had met with an accident near Spring Hill (I believe he belonged to a French regiment lent to assist the English in road-making), and had been doctored by me; and now I found him filling his pockets, before taking “French” leave of us. My black man, Francis, pulled from his pockets a yet warm fowl, and other provisions. We kicked him off the premises, and he found refuge with some men of the Army Works Corps, who pitied him and gave him shelter. He woke [Pg 122]them in the middle of the night, laying hands rather clumsily on everything that was removeable; and in the morning they brought him to me, to ask what they should do with him. Unluckily for him, a French officer of rank happened to be in the store, who, on hearing our tale, packed him off to his regiment. I gathered from the expression of the officer’s face, and the dread legible upon the culprit’s, that it might be some considerable time before his itch for breaking the eighth commandment could be again indulged in.

The trouble I underwent respecting a useful black mare, for which Mr. Day had given thirty guineas, and which carried me beautifully, was immense. Before it had been many weeks in our store it was gone—whither, I failed to discover. Keeping my eyes wide open, however, I saw “Angelina”—so I christened her—coming quietly down the hill, carrying an elderly naval officer. I was ready to receive the unconscious couple, and soon made my claim good. Of course, the officer was not to blame. He had bought it of a sailor, who in his turn had purchased the animal of a messmate, who of course had obtained it from another, and so on; but eventually it returned to its old quarters, where it only remained about a fortnight. I grew tired of looking for Angelina, and had given her up, when one day she turned up, in capital condition, in the possession of a French officer of Chasseurs. But nothing I could say to the Frenchman would induce him to take the view of the matter I wished, but had no right to enforce. He had bought the horse at Kamiesch, and intended to keep it. We grew hot at last; and our dispute drew out so large an audience that the Frenchman took alarm, and tried to [Pg 123]make off. I held on to Angelina for a little while; but at last the mare broke away from me, as Tam o’ Shanter’s Maggie did from the witches (I don’t mean that she left me even her tail), and vanished in a cloud of dust. It was the last I ever saw of Angelina.

More than once the Crimean thievery reduced us to woeful straits. To a Greek, returning to Constantinople, we entrusted (after the murder of our washerwoman) two trunks, containing “things for the wash,” which he was to bring back as soon as possible. But neither upon Greek, trunks, nor their contents did we ever set eyes again. It was a serious loss. The best part of our table-cloths and other domestic linen, all my clothes, except two suits, and all of Mr. Day’s linen vanished, and had to be replaced as best we could by fresh purchases from Kamiesch and Kadikoi.

Perhaps the most ridiculous shift I was ever put to by the Crimean thieves happened when we rose one morning and found the greater part of our stud missing. I had, in the course of the day, urgent occasion to ride over to the French camp on the Tchernaya; the only animal available for my transport was an old grey mare, who had contracted some equine disease of which I do not know the name, but which gave her considerable resemblance to a dog suffering from the mange. Now, go to the French camp I must; to borrow a horse was impossible, and something must be done with the grey. Suddenly one of those happy thoughts, which sometimes help us over our greatest difficulties, entered into my scheming brains. Could I not conceal the poor mare’s worst blemishes. Her colour was grey; would not a thick coating of flour from my dredger make all right? There was no time to be lost; the remedy [Pg 124]was administered successfully, and off I started; but, alas! the wind was high and swept the skirts of my riding habit so determinedly against the side of the poor beast, that before long its false coat was transferred to the dark cloth, and my innocent ruse exposed. The French are proverbially and really a polite and considerate nation, but I never heard more hearty peals of laughter from any sides than those which conveyed to me the horrible assurance that my scheme had unhappily failed.


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Women's Autobiography Copyright © by dixonk is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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