By W. TERRISS.
I HAD just returned from a long voyage, when I was a lad of tender years of age, and being invited by a wealthy but eccentric relative, to join him in a trip to the country, I gladly accepted the offer. We started from Paddington, my uncle engaging a special saloon carriage, which, unhappily for us, as the sequel will show, was one of those occasionally used by the Royal Family, gorgeous as to its exterior, and bearing the royal arms.
I was wearing my uniform of a midship-man at the time, and was at first highly delighted with the unusual excitement caused by our carriage whenever we entered a
station; but the interest in us and our proceedings became at length so marked that
we began to feel somewhat uneasy, and we endeavoured, but in vain, to find some solution to the mystery — every hat being raised as we entered a station, and rounds of cheering heard when we moved off — what could it, in Heaven’s name, mean?
On arriving at our destination, Weston-super-Mare, amazement reached its climax —
the station being crammed with a fashionable assemblage, our reception by the officials being simply overpowering. Dazed and bewildered, we entered a carriage, and drove at once to the Bath Hotel, surrounded and followed by an enthusiastic crowd. As I bowed frequently in acknowledgment of this mysterious and unaccountable greeting, the cheers and shouting were redoubled, and I sank back in blushing confusion, wondering what on earth my uncle or myself had done to merit such a princely reception.
It was not until the next morning that we were enlightened by one of the doctors of the town, who had occasion to call at the hotel. The royal saloon carriage was the fatal cause, and carrying, as it did, a young midshipman in uniform, rumour at once proclaimed him no other than His Royal Highness Prince Alfred, travelling, of course, with his tutor. Explanations ensued, and the doctor promised to do his best to disabuse the expectant public of their mistake.
But it wouldn’t do. Royalty didn’t visit Weston-super-Mare every day; and the wish
being father to the thought, the wave of credulity swept reason and common-sense
away, and what was only a strong suspicion before, now became a certainty. A large
crowd surrounded the hotel, and cries being raised for “the Prince — the Prince!”
I appeared upon the balcony, and with the nearest approach to a princely demeanour
that I could assume at so short a notice, I kept on bowing and smiling in response to
the cheering, until I suddenly disappeared, making a decidedly rapid and humiliating exit, for my uncle had hold of my coat-tail,and pulled me back into the room, telling me not to make a fool of myself. To show the extent to which the delusion spread, I may mention that the church bells were set ringing in honour (of what was termed) the auspicious event. A meeting of the leading men of the place was convened to discuss what shape a demonstration (in honour of the Royal visitor) should assume.
The excitement reached such a pitch at last, that the doctor and others considered it advisable for us to leave, to escape further annoyance, as when the truth became known, a corresponding reaction would set in. Before we had time, however, to order a carriage to drive us to the station, an enterprising fly proprietor placed at our disposal a barouche, attached to which were four resplendent grey tits, in which we started, and on our way to the terminus received a perfect ovation from the-assembled thousands, hats waving and handkerchiefs fluttering at all the windows as we-passed; and as we drove through High Street, a chemist with ultra patriotic feelings forced in at the window a large bottle of scent, with an accompanying note, which contents flattered me upon my long line of Royal ancestors; and another patriot forwarded to the hotel an immense bouquet, accompanied with a glowing and flattering epistle.
Having taken our tickets, we steamed, out of the station (which was crammed with people), the public outside grumbling in no measured tone at no Royal Prince being among them, and many still unwilling to believe that so extraordinary a mistake had been innocently made.
I have kept to this day the empty scent-bottle and amusing letter as a memento of a most extraordinary case of mistaken identity.
Since then many years have passed away, and I, too, have played many parts, but none of them have left such an abiding impression on my memory as when I was unintentionally cast for the leading part of Prince Alfred, and played it on the shortest possible notice. In the Bristol Times and Mirror of March 8, 1864,* there is an amusing column, headed, “An Extraordinary Case of Mistaken Identity.” It is based upon this incident, and the chief actor was myself.
*An Extraordinary Scene At Weston-super Mare.
Weston-super-Mare was yesterday under a strange influence, which made hundreds of the usually exceedingly wide-awake inhabitants the victims of mistaken identity. Early in the morning the startling intelligence was circulated that a Prince of the Royal blood had honoured the town with a visit! At a little before two o’clock yesterday (Tuesday) morning, on the arrival of the London mail at the railway station, the officials, with mingled feelings of astonishment and joy, observed that, attached to the train, was a saloon carriage, approximating in its exterior and interior fittings to the comfortable travelling houses which Royalty uses when on a railway journey.
This carriage had been started with the train from Paddington station, and conveyed a gentleman, his nephew (a lad, apparently about seventeen or eighteen years old), and a neat-looking valet. This was certainly an incident beyond the common run—a phase in the railway officials’ existence that undoubtedly does not occur every day. The passengers—who were they? Alighted from the train, the distinguished travellers proceeded at once to the Bath Hotel.
From its being without doubt a Royal train carriage in which the gentleman had arrived, the youngest of the party (the nephew), a good-looking young gentleman, was presumed—nay, stated unhesitatingly—to be no less a personage than His Royal Highness the Prince Alfred. The party went to bed, got up in the ordinary course, and were partaking of breakfast, when, to the extreme surprise of the valet, all sorts of inquiries were made as to the arrival of one of the Royal blood. The valet was astounded, and scarcely knew what reply to make, save to deny that the rumour was true. But this would not satisfy the inquirers, who were determined that a Prince was among them, and would not be convinced of their error.
During the morning rounds of one of our principal medical practitioners, he had occasion to call at the hotel to see a former patient. This gentleman had the good fortune to meet the senior of the party whose arrival had created so much excitement, and he was consulted as to what steps had best be taken to abuse the expectant public of their mistake. From that hour the news which before had been confided only to a favoured few spread rapidly over the town, that a member of the Royal Family was staying at the Bath Hotel. The authorities and the public were at once on the qui vive.
A small list of official personages, including magistrates, police, tradesmen, and members of other portions of the Great Western community, met, we understand, to discuss what shape a demonstration in honour of the Imperial visitors should assume. The doctor recommended that nothing at all should be done, as the occasion did not demand it, and requested that all inquirers should be told that they were entirely misinformed. It was subsequently arranged that, in order to escape further annoyance, the gentlemen should order a carriage to take them to the railway, prior to leaving by the 3.30 p.m. train. This carriage was ordered, and it was hoped that nothing more would be done in the matter; but no, a Royal visitor does not visit Weston-super-Mare every day, and it was too good an opportunity for future distinguishment to be lost The church bells were set a-ringing in honour of what was everywhere talked of as “the auspicious occasion,” and a spirited fly proprietor furnished a wonderful “turnout”—four spanking grey tits and a resplendent carriage, with two well-dressed postillions. This elaborate vehicle conveyed the distinguished persons to the railway station, the doctor being one of the party. In front of and around the approach to the station was congregated an immense crowd, the component and not over-select parts of which immediately surrounded the visitors and pressed forward to see “the Prince,” treading on their neighbours’ toes, elbowing them mercilessly, and taking particular care of themselves.
Our correspondent was informed that a chemist of ultra-patriotic feelings forwarded to the Bath Hotel a bottle of scent for “the Prince,” as a small but sincere mark of esteem, accompanying the same with an epistle couched in the most glowing terms, and complimenting His Royal Highness on his illustrious descent from a long and royal line of ancestors. When the party left the Bath Hotel for the railway station, numbers of people congregated, and in the most respectful manner bowed them out; and when going down the High Street, a shop lad threw into the carriage another scent bottle, crying with immense fervour, “Long live Prince Alfred!”