Florence Nightingale - Laura Richards

Little Florence

All the boys, and very likely some of the girls, who have got as far as this second chapter, will glance down the page, and exclaim: "Dolls!" Then they will add whatever is their favorite expression of scorn, and perhaps make a motion to lay the book down.

Wait a moment, girls, and boys too! I advise you to read on, and see what came in this case of playing with dolls.

There were a good many thousands of boys in England at that time, in the Twenties and Thirties, who might have been badly off when the terrible Fifties came, if Florence Nightingale had not played with her dolls. Read on, and see for yourselves!

Florence Nightingale loved her dolls dearly, and took the greatest possible care of them; and yet they were always delicate and given to sudden and alarming illnesses. A doll never knew when she might be told that she was very ill, and undressed and put to bed, though she might but just have got on her new frock. Then Mamma Florence would wait upon her tenderly, smoothing her pillow, bathing her forehead or rubbing her poor back, and bringing her all kinds of good things in the doll-house dishes. The doll might feel very much better the next day, and think it was time to get up and put on the new frock again; but she was very apt to have a relapse and go back to bed and gruel again, once at least, before she was allowed to recover entirely.

The truth is, Florence was born to be a nurse, and a sick doll was dearer to her than a strong and healthy one. So I fear her dolls would have been invalids most of the time if it had not been for Parthenope's little family, who often required their Aunt Florence's care. These dolls were very unlucky, or else their mamma was very careless; you can call it whichever you like. They were always tumbling down and breaking their heads, or losing arms and legs, or burning themselves at the nursery fire, or suffering from doll's consumption, that dreadful complaint otherwise known as loss of sawdust. When these things happened, Aunt Florence was called in as a matter of course; and she set the fractures, and salved the burns, and stopped the flow of sawdust, and proved herself in every way a most skillful nursery surgeon and physician.

So it was that unconsciously, and in play, Florence began her training for her life work. She was having lessons, of course; arithmetic, and all the other proper things. She and Parthe had a governess, and studied regularly, and had music and drawing lessons besides; and her father taught her to love English literature, and later opened to her the great doors marked Latin and Greek. Her mother, meantime, taught her all kinds of handiwork, and before she was twelve years old she could hem stitch, and seam and embroider. These things were all good, and very good; without them she could not have accomplished all she did; but in the years that were to come all the other learning was going to help that wonderful learning that began with nursing the sick dolls.

Soon she was to take another step in her profession. The little fingers grown so skillful by bandaging waxen and china arms and legs, were now to save a living, loving creature from death.

To every English child this story is a nursery tale. No doubt it is to many American children also, yet it is one that no one can ever tire of hearing, so I shall tell it again.

Much as Florence loved dolls, she loved animals better, and in her country homes she was surrounded by them. There was her dog, who hardly left her side when she was out of doors; there was her own pony on which she rode every day over dale and down; her sister's pony, too, and old Peggy, who was too old to work, and lived in a pleasant green paddock with nothing to do but amuse herself and crop grass all day long. Perhaps Peggy found this tiresome, for whenever she saw Florence at the gate she would toss her head and whinny and come trotting up to the gate. "Good morning, Peggy!" Florence would say. "Would you like an apple?"

"Hooonh!" Peggy would say. (Horses have no spelling books, and there is no exact rule as to how a whinny should be spelled. You may try any other way that looks to you more natural.)

"Then look for it!" Florence would reply. At this Peggy would sniff and snuff, and hunt round with her soft velvety nose till she found Florence's pocket, then delicately take out the apple and crunch it up, and whinny again, the second whinny meaning at once "Thank you!" and "More, please!" Horse language is a simple one compared to English, and has no grammar.

Well, one day Florence was riding her pony in company with her friend the vicar. This good man loved all living creatures, but there were few dearer to him than Florence Nightingale. They had the same tastes and feelings. Both loved to help and comfort all who were "in trouble, sorrow, need, sickness, or any other adversity." He had studied medicine before he became a clergyman, and so was able to tell her many things about the care of the sick and injured. Here was another teacher. I suppose everyone we know could teach us something good, if we were ready to learn.

As I said, Florence and the vicar were riding along on the green downs; and here I must stop again a moment to tell you what the downs are, for when I was a child I used to wonder. They are great rounded hills, covered with close, thick turf, like a velvet carpet. They spread in long smooth green billows, miles and miles of them, the slopes so gentle that it is delightful to drive or ride on them; only you must be careful not to go near the edge, where the green breaks off suddenly, and a white chalk cliff goes down, down, hundreds of feet, to the blue sea tossing and tumbling below. These are the white cliffs of England that you have so often read about.

Am I never going on with the story? Yes; have patience! there is plenty of time.

There were many sheep on the downs, and there was one special flock that Florence knew very well. It belonged to old Roger, a shepherd, who had often worked for her father. Roger and his good dog Cap were both friends of Florence's, and she was used to seeing them on the downs, the sheep in a more or less orderly compact flock, Cap guarding them and driving back any stragglers who went nibbling off toward the cliff edge.

But to-day there seemed no order anywhere. The sheep were scattered in twos and threes, straying hither and thither; and old Roger alone was trying to collect them, and apparently having a hard time of it.

The vicar saw his trouble, and rode up to him. "What is the matter, Roger?" he asked kindly. "Where is your dog?"

"The boys have been throwing stones at him, sir," replied the old man. "They have broken his leg, poor beast, and he will never be good for any thing again. I shall have to take a bit of cord and put an end to his misery."

"Oh!" cried Florence, who had ridden up with the vicar. "Poor Cap! Are you sure his leg is broken, Roger?"

"Yes, Miss, it's broke sure enough. He hasn't set foot to the ground since, and no one can't go anigh him but me. Best put him out of his pain, I says."

"No! no!" cried Florence. "Not till we have tried to help him. Where is he?"

"He's in the cottage, Missy, but you can do nothing for him, you'll find. Poor Cap's days is over. Ah; he were a good dog. Do everything but speak, he could, and went as near to that as a dumb beast could. I'll never get another like him."

While the old man lamented, Florence was looking eagerly in the face of the clergyman. He met her look with a smile and nod.

"We will go and see!" he said; and off they rode, leaving Roger shaking his head and calling to the sheep.

They soon reached the cottage. The door was fastened, and when they tried to open it a furious barking was heard within. A little boy came from the next cottage, bringing the key, which Roger had left there. They entered, and there lay Cap on the brick floor, helpless and weak, but still barking as hard as he could at what he supposed to be intruders. When he saw Florence and the little boy he stopped barking, and wagged his tail feebly; then he crawled from under the table where he lay, dragged himself to Florence's feet and looked up pitifully in her face. She knelt down by him, and soothed and petted and talked to him, while the good clergyman examined the injured leg. It was dreadfully swollen, and every touch was painful; but Cap knew well enough that the hands that hurt were trying to help him, and though he moaned and winced, he licked the hands and made no effort to draw the leg away.

"Is it broken?" asked Florence anxiously.

"No," said the vicar. "No bones are broken. There's no reason why Cap should not recover; all he needs is care and nursing."

Florence quietly laid down her riding whip and tucked up her sleeves. "What shall I do first?" she said.

"Well," said the vicar, "I think a hot compress is the thing." Florence looked puzzled; the dolls had never had hot compresses. "What is it?" she asked.

"Just a cloth wrung out in boiling water and laid on, changing it as it cools. Very simple, you see, Nurse Florence! The first thing is to light the fire."

That was soon done, with the aid of the boy, who hovered about, interested, but ignorant of surgery. On went the kettle, and soon it was boiling merrily; but where were the cloths for the compresses? Florence looked all about the room, but could see nothing save Roger's clean smock frock which hung against the door.

"This will do!" she cried. "Mamma will give him another."

The vicar nodded approval. Quickly she tore the frock into strips of suitable width and length; bade the boy fill a basin from the kettle, and then kneeling down beside the wounded dog, Florence Nightingale for the first time gave "first aid to the wounded."

As the heat drew out the inflammation and pain, Cap looked up at the little helper, all his simple dog heart shining in his eyes; the look sank into the child's heart and deepened the tenderness already there. Another step, and a great one, was taken on the blessed road she was to travel.

Florence came again the next day to bandage the leg; Cap got entirely well, and tended sheep for many a year after that; and old Roger was very grateful, and Mrs. Nightingale gave him a new smock frock, and everyone was happy; and that is the end of the story.