Full its glory on me streaming

Wrapped in my cloak and blanket, I had fallen into an uneasy slumber,
close by a fragment of ruined wall, the boundary, perhaps, of a deserted
Tartar garden, when I was roused by Sergeant Stapylton of my troop.

“I beg pardon, sir, for disturbing you,” said he, in an apologetic way;
“but as I was returning from the river side with water for some of the
wounded horses, I passed a Frenchwoman, as I take her to be, dying to
all appearance, and thought, as she can’t be left where she is, that if
you would come and speak to her——”

“Of course,” said I, springing up; “where is she?”

“Near a grove of olive trees—just a pistol-shot or so beyond our
advanced sentries. You can pass me to the front, sir, as your guide.”

Leaving the sleeping group of my brother officers, I accompanied
Stapylton, with stiffened joints and chattering teeth. The morning was
yet dark, but a red streak of light above the hilly ground that rose
between our left flank and the Perekop road, showed where the dawn was
about to break. All was still around me. Save the occasional neigh of
a horse, scarcely a sound broke the silence of that place, where so many
thousands of our soldiers were sleeping, or dozing as men may do, after
reflecting that the night which was passing away might be their last in
the land of the living, and that the coming day must find them face to
face with danger, and—death! On the chill breeze of the September
morning, I could hear the rush of the Bulganak over its stony bed,
between which and our bivouac could be traced the line of our cavalry
vedettes, seated, cloaked, in their saddles, with carbine on thigh, and
the advanced sentinels, muffled in their great coats, standing
motionless, with “ordered arms,” and their faces turned to the
southward, where all knew the enemy lay. Passing through the Light
Brigade, where each man slept beside his horse, I stumbled over a
sleeper, in whom I recognized a medical officer, and asked him to
accompany us, which he did readily; and, guided by Stapylton, we
proceeded towards the grove of olive trees.

As we quitted the bivouac, the medical officer said—”You perceive that
vapour which is rising so steadily from the ground?”

“Yes,” said I, with an irrepressible shudder; “I saw enough of it at
Varna.”

“You are right,” he continued, in a low and impressive voice; “that
pale, blue, fetid vapour is the cholera mist—always a bad sign. We
shall have many cases on our lists ere sunset to-morrow, and Heaven
knows they are full enough already. Nearly all the women and children
of my regiment were buried on the roadside yesterday. A sick
Frenchwoman, I think you said, sergeant?” he observed, recurring to the
business in hand.

“Yes, sir,” replied Stapylton, saluting.

“Strange! What should bring her here? The French are at present far
away on our right, and in the rear. I presume you have heard of what
took place this evening, Captain Norcliff?”

“Where?”

“At head-quarters.”

“The little post-house on the Bulganak, where Lord Raglan passes the
night?”

“Exactly. Marshal St. Arnaud, attended by Colonel Trochier, of the
imperial army, rode up there to concert the plan of an attack to-morrow.
So, whatever it is, our part in the play of to-morrow is already
assigned us; and now, sergeant, your Frenchwoman.”

“Is here, sir, to speak for herself, if she can, poor thing.”

Close by the grove of olive trees, with a coarse blanket spread over
her, lay the woman of whom Stapylton had spoken.

“Cholera!” said the surgeon, as he turned down the blanket, and knelt
beside her; “cholera, and in the last stages, too. No pulse can be felt,
the extremities cold and rigid, the face ghastly, the strength
exhausted. I can be of no use here,” he added to me, in a low voice.
“A little time and all will be over.”

From my hunting flask he poured a little brandy between the lips of the
sufferer, who proved to be a _soeur de charité_, by her white coif and
black serge dress; and, on drawing nearer, imagine what were my
sensations on recognising, through the twilight of the coming day, the
pale and convulsed features of Sister Archange—of Mademoiselle de
Chaverondier! An exclamation of sorrow and astonishment burst from me.
All the memory of her kindness when I lay sick in the house of the
Armenian merchant at Varna; all her singleness of heart; all her purity
and self-devotion; all the memory of her story, and of her own happy
home amid the mountains of Beaujolais, and how and why she had devoted
herself to Heaven and acts of charity; all her simple belief in magic
and miracles, with her child-like love and piety; her regard for her
brother Claude, the gallant officer of Canrobert’s regiment, his wife,
Cecile Montallé, and the cruel Lucrece, whose revenge wrought all their
sorrow—all the memory of these things, I say, rushed upon me like a
flood, as I stood, bewildered, by the side of the dying girl—dying like
an outcast in that wild and savage place—and they deeply moved me. To
leave her to die thus, untended and uncared for, was impossible. Yet
what was to be done? How was I to succour her? Already the trumpets of
the cavalry, and the ringing bugles of the infantry, were sounding the
“rouse” and the “assembly,” and the army was getting rapidly under
arms—all the more rapidly that there were no tents to strike and no
baggage to pack. Each man fell into the ranks on the ground where he
had slept; the cavalry were mounting, the artillery were tracing their
horses and limbering up, and long ere the Bay of Kalamita glittered in
the rising sun, the whole British army was on the move towards the Alma.

My friend the surgeon, finding that he could do no more—that he had,
perhaps, patients enough elsewhere—suggested, ere he departed, that she
might be put into one of the _kabitkas_ of the ambulance corps; but, as
he assured me that she could not live above an hour, I despatched
Stapylton to explain the matter to Colonel Beverley; and in a few
minutes he returned with Pitblado, Lanty O’Regan, my groom, and four
other lancers and our horses, and with permission for me “to look after
my sick friend; but, at all risks, not to be ten minutes’ march behind
the rear guard, as General Bosquet’s division was already advancing
rapidly on our right flank, and the French sister might be more properly
handed over to her own people.”

We lifted her into the olive thicket, out of the way of the passing
troops; for already our advanced guard, under Lord Cardigan—”Prince
Albert’s Own,” with their blue jackets and scarlet pelisses covered with
glittering lace, and the 13th Light Dragoons—were once more splashing
through the Bulganak, laughing and joking merrily, as if it were a fox
that was to break cover in the Lincolnshire fens, and not the hordes of
the southern and western Russias that were before them. By means of
three barrel-hoops and a horse-sheet, we improvised something like that
which the French term a day-tent, to hide her and her sufferings. Then
the idea occurred to me as to what I could do if she survived beyond the
time allotted to us by the colonel. Could I leave her in that wild
place to die alone, and to lie unburied, save by the wolves and birds of
prey? Alas! a very brief time now resolved all my doubts and fears. A
little way apart from us, a silent and sympathetic group, my seven
lancers stood, each by his horse’s head, leaning on his lance, and
awaiting me. If they conversed, it was in half whispers, for they
sincerely pitied the girl, those French sisters of charity being the
admiration of the whole army. I was bathing her lips with some diluted
brandy, when she fully, and for the first time, recognised me. Then a
little smile of joy passed over her ghastly face, and she began to
speak, painfully, huskily, and at long intervals.

“It is my turn now; but I am dying, you see, _mon frère_,” said she,
“dying. Many of my sisters have died in the camp—but—but few thus.”

“Few, indeed,” said I, in a low, sad voice.

“In ardent prayers for the repose of my soul you find no solace. I say
not this upbraidingly, yet the mortuary chants of the ’Dies Iræ’ and the
’De Profundis’ will never be said for me, because I die—die thus!” she
said, in a low and piercing voice, as she closed her eyes.

Perplexity was now added to my sorrow, for I knew not what the poor girl
wished or meant; but I implored her to tell me how she came to be left
thus alone and in illness. In the night when, asleep and weary, she had
fallen unseen from a French ambulance cart, some scouting Cossacks had
found and carried her off in mocking triumph; but, on finding that the
deadly pestilence had seized her, they barbarously flung her into the
Bulganak. She had crept ashore, and was making her way to our bivouac,
when the progress of her illness became so rapid and destroying that she
was reduced to the condition in which Stapylton found her. Such was the
short story she told me, in long and painful intervals, her voice being
at times so low that I had to place my ear close to her lips.




“And now,” she added, with a divine smile, which brought back much of
the wonderful beauty of her face, “I am so glad—so happy that I shall
die!”

“Why, _ma soeur_?”

“Lest I should live longer; because, in doing so, I could scarcely fail
in some way to offend heaven,” replied the poor girl. “I confessed me
two days ago—I die in peace, and forgive those Cossaques—_mon ami_—_mon
frère_, I should say—you will close my eyes—you will see me
buried—promise me that you will!”

I could only answer her by my tears; and strange it seemed that all
around the thicket where this solemn scene was acting, and when the
spirit of this good being was hovering between eternity and time, the
thousands of our army, horse, foot, and artillery, with ammunition and
stores, were pouring past in the bright morning sunshine, towards the
passage of the Bulganak.

All around was instinct with the glitter and bustle of martial life; but
within that olive grove was death, sublime humility, and suffering.

“Are you in pain now?” I asked, as this thought occurred to me.

“Oh, no—pain is long since passed away. If I could but live till three
in the afternoon, I could then die more than ever happily.”

“Why at three?”

“For at that time our Blessed Lord yielded up his soul on Calvary!” said
she, with a voice of enthusiasm, while a strange brightness seemed to
pass over all her face.

As she turned restlessly her eyes fell upon Sergeant Stapylton and the
lancers, and beckoning them forward, she bestowed her blessing on each;
and they listened with bowed heads, and took off their caps. I was
deeply moved, and drew a pace or two aside.

“Heaven has always been so good to me,” she muttered, in broken English,
as the sergeant placed his cloak as a pillow under her head; “because,
as you must know, _messieurs les soldats_, my mother dedicated me to
heaven, and I am a child of the Holy Virgin.”

Poor Stapylton, a worthy but stolid John Bull, looked rather bewildered
by this information; but my Irish groom understood her.

“Thrue for you, miss,” said Lanty, wiping his eyes with the worsted
tassels of his yellow sash. “Oh, it’s fast she’s goin’ to glory, the
poor cratur. Oh, never a ha’porth she thinks of herself; but it is us
she’s prayin’ for, boys.”

“Other souls than mine shall pass away to-day, for ere nightfall a great
battle is to be fought—I know that.”

At that moment, through an opening in the olive trees, we saw a regiment
of infantry marching past in close column of subdivisions, with the band
in front, colours flying, and bayonets gleaming in the sun. It was our
88th, of gallant memory, with Colonel Shirley riding at the head of the
column, and the drums and fifes made the blue welkin ring to the air of
“The Young May Moon.” She looked wistfully at the defiling ranks; there
was so much of life there, so much of death here! Then, clasping her
white hands, which were so thin and tremulous, and, closing her eyes,
she began to repeat a little prayer in Latin, for those who were to fall
on both sides—the Russians as well as the English.

Of that prayer I can only remember a single sentence—

“_O clementissime Jesu, amator animarum, lava in sanguine Tuo peccatores
totius mundi, nunc positos in agoniâ et hodie morituros._”[*]

[*] “O most merciful Jesus, lover of souls, wash in Thy blood the
sinners of the whole world who are now in their agony and are to die
this day!”

Then, whispering something of her “mother who was in heaven, kneeling
for her before the Mother of God,” the pure spirit of this French girl
passed out into the black night of eternity. We stood for a time
silent, and nothing roused us but our rear-guard defiling to the front
from the right of troops, and then the orders of the colonel recurred to
me. Were I to live a thousand years I shall never forget the calm and
soothing, yet sorrowful, impression made upon me by this poor girl’s
death. I closed her eyes, and their long, dark lashes fell over the
pale cheek, from which they never more would rise, and she lay under the
poor horse-rug, looking so calm, with a peaceful and beautiful
expression on her sweet dead face. Her hands were now folded on her
breast; her black ebony crucifix had fallen from them; but Lanty O’Regan
replaced it gently, and kindly closed the stiffening fingers round it,
and there was a big sob in Lanty’s throat as he did so. Death brought
back all the strange loveliness of other days to Sister Archange; and I
could not behold her lying there, looking so peaceful, so white and
still, without feeling my heart very full indeed. For when I saw so
much self-devotion, poverty, and charity united with peace and goodwill
to all mankind—to Christian and Osmanli, to friend and foe alike—it
seemed to me truly that of such as she was the kingdom of God. I kissed
the dead girl’s forehead as we drew the horse-rug over her, and prepared
for her interment, as we had not a moment to lose.

The soil was soft, and we had only our sword-blades and hands to dig
with; but we contrived to scoop a hole about three feet deep.
Reverently, as if she had been their sister, my comrades laid her in it,
and then we heaped the mould above her. She lies in that little thicket
of olives, about a mile from Bulganak, and sleeps in what is called
unconsecrated earth; though the ashes of that sister of charity might
bring a blessing on the city of the Sultan. We now mounted, put our
horses to full speed, and soon passing our rear-guard, came up with our
brigade, and rejoined the regiment. By this time the whole army was on
the march to force the position of the Alma, and already our right flank
was almost united to the left of the French column under General
Bosquet, as the allies advanced together.

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