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DIVISION OF THE ROYAL GIFTS.

129

The royal gifts were divided by the purveyor-in-chief, among the different Eastern hospitals. Pickles were only allowed by the medical officers for the convalescent patients, for whom doubtless her Majesty intended them. Jam and treacle were used in all the wards; the latter many men preferred to butter; but the portion of the royal gifts which gave most delight were the chess, dominoes, and draughts.

The authorities of course informed her Majesty of the gratitude and delight with which her bounty had been received; but those official letters told her but a small part. We often wished the Queen could have once seen what we saw daily; the groups of men gathered round the table at those

games,

the extreme pleasure they gave them, the time they innocently employed, and the temptations of drink and idle company from which they kept them.

For ourselves, these royal gifts were not

VOL. II.

K

130

FIRES IN CONSTANTINOPLE,

without a peculiar pleasure, as it showed us plainly that her Majesty did not esteem common necessaries enough for her gallant army, but was determined that comforts, and even a few luxuries, should be poured upon them, and that she approved of our efforts to bring these to the men. Cheering to us in that far off land and amidst our many difficulties was the kind sympathy of our beloved Queen.

Every traveller to Constantinople has spoken of the frequent fires. I do not know whether they were more numerous than usual this summer ; but certainly they were almost incessant. People said that at times it was done on purpose, the Sultan wishing to destroy some of the dirty wooden houses ; but I think this is improbable. They generally occurred at night. We always knew they were going on by the firing of seven guns from the Turkish battery on the hill above Koulali. Sometimes we rose and looked, for the sight was

AN ALARM OF FIRE.

131

very fine; but at last they grew so frequent that they hardly roused us.

One night a discharge of cannon was heard. I had grown so used to it, that I concluded it was the first of the seven guns, and did not disturb myself. A noise in the house attracted my attention. I rose, and, going into the corridor, found the whole household assembled and gazing out of the corridor windows with looks of alarm. Apparently the General Hospital was on fire. Our first thought was for the Sisters of Mercy : the patients, we knew, would be carried to the Barrack Hospital; but the Sisters would be homeless.

Two of us dressed in haste, and went out. As we approached the foot of the hill, a body of troops rushed down. They perceived us, and a sergeant stopped to inform us that some gunpowder, kept in a shed not far from the General Hospital, had taken fire and exploded, which was the sound we heard.

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No danger had occurred, and no lives were lost, though, on the first alarm, all the troops, British and Turkish, were turned out; and the sergeant declared he was asleep, dreaming Sebastopol was taken, and when the sudden call came, he thought it was to summon him to the assault.

We hastened home to quell the anxiety of our companions; and the alarm over, the laughing began, as we who had been out declared they all looked like Turkish ladies in feridgees, sitting on the divan of the corridor.

When the day came, we went to congratulate the Sisters on their escape. They said they had been much alarmed, the explosion being so very near their apartments; and when they were awakened by the sudden noise, and immediately afterwards the tramp of the troops coming up the hill, one of them confessed she thought the Russians had come! at which we all laughed very much.

One morning when we came down to

A PALACE ON FIRE.

133

was.

prayers we saw a fire on the opposite coast. The villages are so thickly joined together that we could hardly distinguish where it

It was a palace of the Sultan, said to belong to the Sultan's sister. If it was this palace, one was not sorry to see it burnt down; for horrible traditions attach to the name of Asma, Sultan Mahmoud's sister; and, it is said, from underneath a low arch bodies were often seen to float into the Bosphorus from her palace.

Whether it was her palace or not, it was in flames, and in half-an-hour was destroyed, for it was of course built of wood, and a strong breeze blew from the Black Sea, and the work of devastation was rapid.

Many houses stood near whose owners were in great alarm. Next to them came a grove of cypresses, and a large villa beyond them stood higher up the hill. Curiously enough the flames did not touch the adjoining houses. We thought when

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