Florence Nightingale - Laura Richards

The Tasks of Peace

Now, the people of England had been on tiptoe for some days with eagerness, a waiting to welcome the heroine of the Crimea back to her native shores. They would give her such a reception as no one had ever yet had in that land of hospitality and welcomings. She should have bells and cannon and bonfires, processions and deputations and addresses—she should have everything that anybody could think of.

When they found that their heroine had slipped quietly through their fingers, as it were, and was back in her own peaceful home once more, people were sadly disappointed. They must give up the cannon and the bonfires; but at least they might have a glimpse of her! So hundreds of people crowded the roads and lanes about Lea Hurst, waiting and watching. An old lady living at the park gate told Mrs. Tooley: "I remember the crowds as if it was yesterday. It took me all my time to answer them. Folks came in carriages and on foot, and there was titled people among them, and a lot of soldiers, some of them without arms and legs, who had been nursed by Miss Florence in the hospital, and I remember one man who had been shot through both eyes coming and asking to see Miss Florence. But not ten out of the hundreds who came got a glimpse of her. If they wanted help about their pensions, they were told to put it down in writing, and Miss Florence's maid came with an answer. Of course she was willing to help everybody, but it stood to reason she could not receive them all; why, the park wouldn't have held all the folks that came, and besides, the old Squire wouldn't have his daughter made a staring stock of."

After the first disappointment—which after all was perfectly natural—all sensible people realized how weary Miss Nightingale must be after her tremendous labors, and how much she must need rest. All who knew her, too, knew that she never could abide public "demonstrations"; so they left her in peace, and began sending her things, to show their gratitude in a different way. The first gift of this kind she had received before she left the Crimea, from good Queen Victoria herself. This was "the Nightingale Jewel," as it is called; "a ruby-red enamel cross on a white field, encircled by a black band with the words: 'Blessed are the merciful.' The letters V. R.; surmounted by a crown in diamonds, are impressed upon the centre of the cross. Green enamel branches of palm, tipped with gold, form the framework of the shield, while around their stems is a riband of blue enamel, with the single word 'Crimea.' On the top are three brilliant stars of diamonds. On the back is an inscription written by the Queen."

Another gift received on the scene of her labors was a magnificent diamond bracelet sent her by the Sultan of Turkey.

I do not know of any more jewels; but two gifts that Miss Nightingale prized highly were a fine case of cutlery sent her by the workmen of Sheffield, each knife blade inscribed with the words "Presented to Florence Nightingale, 1857," and the silver-bound oak case inlaid with a representation of the Good Samaritan; and a beautiful pearl-inlaid writing desk, presented by her friends and neighbors near Lea Hurst.

All these things were very touching; still more touching were the letters that came from all over the country, thanking and blessing her for all she had done. Truly it was a happy home coming.

Miss Nightingale knew that she was very, very weary; she realized that she must have a long rest, but she little thought how long it must be. She, and all her friends, thought that after a few months she would be able to take up again the work she so loved, and become the active leader in introducing the new methods of nursing into England. But the months passed, and grew from few to many, and still her strength did not return. The next year, indeed, when the dreadful Indian Mutiny broke out, she wrote to her friend Lady Canning, wife of the Governor-General of India, offering to come at twenty-four hours' notice "if there was anything to do in her line of business"; but Lady Canning knew that she was not equal to such a task.

Slowly, gradually, the truth came to Florence Nightingale: she was never going to be strong or well again. Always delicate, the tremendous labors of the Crimea had been too much for her. While the work vent on, the frail body answered the call of the powerful will, the undaunted mind, the great heart; now that the task was finished, it sank down broken and exhausted. Truly, she had given her life, as much as any soldier who fought and died in the trenches or on the battlefield.

And what did she do when she finally came to realize this? Did she give up, and say, "My work on earth is done?" Not she! There may have been some dark hours, but the world has never heard of them. She never for an instant thought of giving up her work; she simply changed the methods of it. The poor tired body must stay in bed or on the sofa; very well! But the mind was not tired at all; the will was not weakened; the heart had not ceased to throb with love and compassion for the sick, the sorrowful, the suffering; the question was to find the way in which they could work with as little trouble as might be to their poor sick friend the body.

The way was soon found. Whether at Lea Hurst or in London (for she now spent a good deal of time in the great city, to be near the centre of things), her sick room became one of the busiest places in all England.

Schemes for army reform, for hospital reform, for reform in everything connected with the poor and the sick—all these must be brought to Miss Nightingale. All the soldiers in the country must write to her whenever they wanted anything, from a pension down to a wooden leg (to their honor be it said, however, that though she was o verwhelmed with begging letters from all parts of the country, not a soldier ever asked her for money). The Nightingale fund, now nearly fifty thousand pounds, was administered under her advice and direction, and the first Training School for Nurses organized and opened. The old incapable, ignorant nurse vanished, and the modern nurse, educated, methodical, clear-eyed and clear-headed, took her place quietly; one of the great changes of modern times was effected, and the hand that directed it was the same one that we have seen holding the lamp, or writing down the dying soldier's last words, in the Barrack Hospital at Scutari.

That slender hand wrote books with all the rest of its work. In the sick room as in the hospital, Miss Nightingale had no time to waste. Her "Hospital Notes" may be read to-day with the keenest interest by all who care to know more of that great story of the Crimean War; her "Notes on Nursing" became the handbook of the Nursing Reform, and ought to be in the hands of every nurse to-day as it was in 1860, when it was written. Nor in the hands of nurses only; I wish every girl and every boy who reads this story would try to find that slender, dingy volume in some library, and "read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest" its contents. They would know a good deal more than they do now. Well might Miss Nightingale write, in 1861: "I have passed the last four years between four walls, only varied to other four walls once a year; and I believe there is no prospect but of my health becoming ever worse and worse till the hour of my release. But I have never ceased, during one waking hour since my return to England five years ago, laboring for the welfare of the army at home, as I did abroad, and no hour have I given to friendship or amusement during that time, but all to work."

Drop a stone in the water and see how the circles spread, growing wider and wider. After a while you cannot see them, but you know that the motion you have started must go on and on till it whispers against the pebbles on the farther shore. So it is with a good deed or an evil one; we see its beginning; we cannot see what distant shore it may reach. So, no one will ever know the full amount of good that this noble woman has done. The Sanitary Commission of our own Civil War, the Red Cross which to-day counts its workers by thousands in every part of the civilized world, both owed their first impulse to the pebble dropped by Florence Nightingale—even her own life, given freely to suffering humanity.

I have never seen, but I like to think of the quiet room in London, where she lies to-day in the white beauty of her age. Nearly ninety years have passed since the little girl-baby woke to life among the blossoms of the City of Flowers; more than half a century has gone by since the Lady with the Lamp passed like light along the corridors of the Barrack Hospital; yet still Florence Nightingale lives and loves, still her thoughts go out in tenderness and compassion toward all who are "in trouble, sorrow, need, sickness, or any other adversity."

Let us think of that quiet room as one of the holy places of the earth; let us think of her, and take our leave of her, with loving and thankful hearts.