Page:Once a Week Jul - Dec 1859.pdf/132

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August 13, 1869.]



From the days of the Patriarch Joseph down to those in which we, “the latest seed of time,” have the hap to live, there have been prisoners released, or escaped, to end their days in liberty and honour. Plenty of them have left to posterity the record of their wrongs. Some in song; some in slip-slop; some in words that burn; some in twaddle so anti-phlogistic as well-nigh to make the yawning reader curse the hour of their liberation. There are, too, names enough of saints in the dismal calendar of prisoners to fling a halo of interest round the mere name of captive. Captives, be it observed, not gaol-birds—I speak without thought of Newgate or petty larceny, Dick Turpin or Jack Sheppard. It may be that the brightest luminaries of that hagiology emerged from the darkness of captivity, only to flash for a moment in the eyes of men, ere they set for ever upon the scaffold. But there are plenty of stars, of no contemptible magnitude, whose light has come forth to shine undimmed by the damps of the dungeon. Galileo, Tasso, Lovelace, the Prophet Daniel, Lavallette, Baron Trench, the seven bishops, Silvio Pellico—(I have no turn for chronological arrangement)—all managed, somehow or other, to get safely out of durance, and die peaceably in their beds. His Imperial Majesty Louis Napoleon III. spent some portion of his existence in the solitude of Ham. The Baron Poerio is—long may he remain so—an escaped prisoner.

Paulò minora—so am I. And it happened in this wise:—

In the year 1847, in the reign of that constitutional French monarch who subsequently retired into private life and a foreign country under the unassuming appellation of Mr. Smith, I was in my youth, and in my first travel, on the Rhine. Youth, first travel, and the Rhine! Let the reader of experience be grateful, that even on such texts, I abstain from preaching.

At Wiesbaden. And at Wiesbaden it happened—no matter how—that I found it necessary to take steps to replenish an exhaust—wanted money, in short. And so, with letters of credit in hand, I betook myself to the bureau of M. Junius Merlé, named in that document as the correspondent of the London bankers who undertook the charge of keeping my modest “account.”

My name is—let me see. For the purposes of this narrative my name is Temple, Henry Temple. I am going to lie a little in the matter of names, but, upon my honour, I stop there: all beyond shall be true as gospel. To those who know me, even my pseudonyms will be transparent enough. To those who don’t, no matter.

M. Junius Merlé sat behind his counter expectant of custom. Except in the great capitals, bankers’ establishments on the continent are, as travellers know, rarely mounted on the same scale to which we are accustomed at home; and in M. Merlé’s bureau, which comprised a space of some twelve feet square, there was no appearance or symptom of a clerk, unless, indeed, Madame Merlé, who sat quietly knitting behind the farthest corner of the same (and only) counter, was to be suspected, from what followed, of occasionally assisting her better half in that capacity.

There is, for us English, no disguising our nationality, were we ever so disposed. Before I had got out three syllables of the French harangue, carefully prepared for the exposition of my necessities, M. Merlé was down upon me with a few words of indifferent but polite English, and holding out his hand for my letter of credit.

No. 7.