Florence Nightingale - Laura Richards


Open the atlas once more at the map of Russia, and look downward from the Crimea, across the Black Sea toward the southwest. You see a narrow strait marked "Bosporus" leading from the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmora; and on either side of the strait a black dot, one marked "Constantinople," the other "Scutari." It is to Scutari that we are going, but we must not pass the other places without a word, for they are very famous. This is the land of story, and every foot of ground, every trickle of water, has its legend or fairy tale, or true story of sorrow or heroism.

Bosporus means "the cow's ford." It was named, the old story says, for Io, a beautiful maiden beloved of Zeus. To conceal her from the eyes of Hera, his jealous wife, Zeus turned Io into a snow-white heifer; but Hera, suspecting the truth, persuaded him to give the poor pretty creature to her. Then followed a sad time. Hera set Argus, a giant with a hundred eyes, to watch the heifer, lest she escape and regain her human form. The poor heifer-maiden was so unhappy that Zeus sent Hermes to set her free; and the cunning god told stories to Argus till he fell asleep, and then cut off his head, hundred eyes and all. Hera took the eyes and put them in the tail of her sacred peacock, and there they are to this day. Meantime Io ran away as fast as she could, but she could not escape the vengeance of the jealous goddess. Hera sent a gadfly after her, which stung her cruelly, and pursued her over land and sea. The poor creature fled wildly hither and thither; swam across the Ionian Sea, which has borne her name ever since; roamed over the whole breadth of what is now Turkey, and finally came to the narrow strait or ford between the two seas. Here she crossed again, and went on her weary way; and here again she left—not her own name, but that of the animal in whose form she suffered. Poor Io! one is glad to read that she was released at last, and given her woman's body again. True? No, the story is not true, but it is very famous. Those of you who care about moths will find another reminder of Io in the beautiful Satitir-nia Io, which is named for the Greek maiden and her cruel foe, Saturnia being another name for Hera or Juno.

The scenery along the banks of the Bosporus is so beautiful that whole books have been written about it. On either side are seven promontories and seven bays; indeed, it is almost a chain of seven lakes, connected by seven swift-rushing currents. The promontories are crowned with villages, towns, palaces, ruins, each with its own beauty, its own interest, its own story; but we cannot stay for these; we must go onward to where, at the lower end of the passage, with its long, narrow harbor, the Golden Horn, curling round it, lies Constantinople, the wonder-city.

Here indeed we must stop for a moment, for this is one of the most famous cities of history. In ancient days, when Rome was in her glory and long before, it was Byzantium that lay shining in the curve of the Golden Horn; Byzantium the rich, the powerful, the desired of all; fought over through successive generations by Persian, Greek, Gaul and Roman; conquered, liberated, conquered again. In the second century of our era it was besieged by the Roman emperor Severus, and after a heroic resistance lasting three years, was taken and laid waste by the conqueror. But the city sprang up again, more beautiful than ever, and a century and a half later the emperor Constantine made it the capital of the Roman Empire, and gave it his own name.

Constantinopolis, the City of Constantine ; so it became in the year 330, and so it remains to this clay, but not under the rule of Romans or their descendants.

"Blessed shall he be who shall take Constantinople!" So, three hundred years later, exclaimed Mohammed, the prophet and leader of men. His disciples and followers never forgot the saying, and many wars were fought, many desperate attempts made by the Mohammedans to win the wonder city. It was another Mohammed, not a prophet but a great soldier, surnamed the Conqueror, who finally conquered it, in 1453, after another tremendous siege, of which you will read in history. There is a terrible story about the entry of this savage conqueror into the city. It is said that its inhabitants, mostly Christians, though of various nationalities, took refuge in the great church of St. Sophia, and were there barbarously slaughtered by the ferocious Turks. In the south aisle of the church the dead lay piled in great heaps, and in over this dreadful rampart rode Mohammed on his war horse; and as he rode, he lifted his bloody right hand and smote one of the pillars, and there—so the story says— the mark may be seen to this day.

From that time to our own Constantinople has been the capital city of the Turkish Empire. Again, I wish I might tell you about at least a few of its many wonders, for I have seen some of them, but again I must hasten on.

The city is so great that it overflows in every direction; in fact, there are three cities in one: Stamboul, the central division, filling the tongue of land between the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmora; Galata, on the farther bank of the Horn; and Scutari, on the opposite shore of the Bosporus. It is to the last-named that we are going.

Although actually a suburb of Constantinople, Scutari is a town in itself, and a large and ancient one. In the earliest times of the great Persian monarchy, it was called Chrysopolis, the Golden City. Its present name means in Persian a courier who carries royal orders from station to station; that is because the place has always, from its earliest days, been a rendezvous for caravans, messengers, travelers of every description. Here Xenophon and his Greeks, returning from the war against Cyrus, halted for seven days while the soldiers disposed of the booty they had won in the campaign. Here, for hundreds of years, stood the three colossal statues, forty-eight feet high, erected by the Byzantians in honor of the Athenians, who had saved them from destruction at the hands of Philip the Lacedaemonian. Here, to-day, are mosques and convents, palaces and tombs, especially the last; for the burying ground of Scutari is one of the largest in the world, and its silent avenues hold, some say, twenty times as many dwellers as the gay and noisy streets of Stamboul.

It is a strange place, this great burying ground. Beside each tomb rises a cypress tree, tall and majestic. The tombs themselves are mostly pillars of marble, with a globe or ball on the top; and perched atop of this globe is in many cases a turban or a fez, carved in stone and painted in gay colors. This shows that a man lies beneath; the women's tombs are marked by a grapevine or a stem of lotus, also carved in marble. At foot of the column is a flat stone, hollowed out in the middle to form a small basin. Some of these basins are filled with flowers or perfumes; in others, the rain and dew make a pleasant bathing and drinking place for the birds who fly in great flocks about the quiet place.

Not far from this great cemetery is another place of burial, that of the English ; and this is laid out like a lovely garden, and watched and tended with loving care; for here rest the brave men who fell in this terrible war of the Crimea, or who wasted away in the great building that towers foursquare over all the neighborhood. We must look well at this building, the Barrack Hospital of Scutari, for this is what Florence Nightingale came so far to see. Through all the long, wearisome journey, I doubt whether she gave much heed to the beauties or the discomforts of the way. Her eves were set steadfastly forward, following her swift thoughts; and eyes and thoughts sought this one thing, this gaunt, bare building rising beside the new-made graves. Let us follow her and see what she found there.