Description of the Waterloo carriage (continued)Its interior and peculiar contrivancesBrought to England and exhibited at the London Museum.
THE interior of the carriage is even more interesting than the exterior. Glancing within, we immediately find ourselves in closer touch with things personal to the great Emperor.
We find therein provision for a couple of passengers only. Here are two deep and roomy seats, divided by a tall movable arm-rest, offering the occupants unusual freedom and comfort. Confronting these seats, set high up on the front of the vehicle, are a pair of windows affording each traveller a full view of the driver and of the road and country beyond. Beneath these are displayed those objects of interest which have so readily engrossed the attention of many mil-lions of visitors who, during the century past, have been moved to inspect the carriage.
Opposite to that seat usually occupied by Napoleon that is to say, the one on the offside, following our rule of the roadthere hangs a brass handle which is apparently attached merely to a simple shallow drawer. An easy pull at this reveals a strong and well-appointed writing-desk, capable of being withdrawn far out of its recess. This action, with the aid of a writing-slope that unfolds from the top, enables the desk to span the space between the front of the carriage and the seat, thus giving to its occupant all the facility and convenience desirable for carrying on a correspondence at leisure.
Nor is this the only accommodation the desk pro-vides. Some time after the carriage had changed ownership it was found that an extra pull withdrew the desk still farther from its aperture, and upon this being done a secret compartment was discovered behind it, in which were found jewels and money of great value.
On the right side of this desk, fitted into a narrow but deep recess, there rests a long, wedge-shaped box made to hold a goodly supply of those quills of which Napoleon was so uncommonly prodigal.
Below these fittings, and readily engaging attention, is a large cloth-covered door, hinged to open towards the middle of the carriage, so that when butting against the arm-rest of the seat it divides the lower portion of the interior into two separate parts. When so placed it exposes a large cavity constituting the lower part or foot of a sleeping compartment, the seat of the coach serving for the head, and the space between being bridged by a plank or board. In this cavity were found all the necessary things for making up a complete and comfortable bed.
On the near side of the front interior, placed immediately under the window, is a shallow rack made to take small things such as sealing-wax, wafers, paper-knife, etc., the receptacle being furnished with a wooden flap and catch to enclose it. Underneath this is a large and strongly made drawer that pulls out endways. In it many things were discovered which were in immediate use before the capture of the coach, among them several pieces of a silver service containing articles of food remaining from a meal.
Below this again there is an opening, which has never boasted of a door to enclose it. At the bottom of it a brass-bound rest, or table, has been fitted between grooves so that it may be drawn out, or pushed in, as occasion required. This also forms a bridge to unite the recess with the seat facing it, so as to provide a second sleeping compartment when found necessary.
On the inside of the doors hang heavy cloth lapels covering large square pockets, edged with broad gold-coloured gimp braid speckled with blue spots. On the outer side of each seat is a deep hole, both of which contained a loaded pistol ready at hand in case of emergency.
Well above and running across the back of the seats is a half-circle recess serving as a gun-rack, forming a strange protrusion viewed from the outside of the coach.
An oil lamp, which at best could have yielded but a feeble light, takes up the customary position in the centre at the back of the carriage.
The interior is lined throughout with a dark blue cloth, in colour and texture similar to that used at the present day for the same purpose.
A fairly reliable inventory of things found in the carriage on the night it was captured has been handed down to us, and the following is a copy :
A beautifully constructed and marvellously well-appointed nécessaire, comprising some seventy pieces, a few in solid gold and many mounted in the same metal (a present from Marie Louise to Napoleon on the eve of his departure for the Russian campaign of 1812, and designed and carried out under her immediate supervision).
Several parts of a solid silver service, engraved with the Imperial arms.
A large silver chronometer.
A green velvet cap.
A mahogany liquor case, containing two leather-covered bottles, one filled with rum and the other holding a small quantity of sweet wine.
A pair of spurs.
Two fine merino mattresses.
An assortment of the finest bed and other linen. Many toilet requisites, among them a cake of Windsor soap.
A steel camp bedstead, still in position on the carriage, in the case made to hold it under the boot. A uniform, sword, and cocked hat.
A rich and costly Imperial robe.
A handsome diamond head-dress, or tiara.
A pair of pistols, loaded, found in recesses at side of seats.
Many gold medals with Napoleon’s portrait and name engraved upon them.
An article devoid of intrinsic value, but nevertheless possessing an exceptional interestnamely, a musket-ball flattened out to the shape of a thin medal, found carefully put by in the secret drawer at the back of the desk; a missile, maybe, that ended the days of a friend, or one possibly that endangered Napoleon’s own life.
A considerable number of mounted and unmounted diamonds found secreted in various parts of the carriage, three hundred of these stones alone being discovered in the above-mentioned nécessaire.
The jewels and other articles easy of acquisition fell, for the most part, to the lot of Major von Keller’s men of the 15th Prussian Infantry Regiment of the Line, which was that night under the command of General Count Gneisenau.
The coach was drawn by a team of six of the finest brown Normandy horses, four driven by the coachman, the leaders under the control of a postilion.
When the coach was overtaken by the Prussiansthat is to say, about a quarter-past eleven at night, outside the town of Jenappethe postilion and the leaders were killed outright, whilst the coachman, severely wounded, was left for dead upon the road. Recovering from his many woundsone of which en-tailed the loss of his right arm he was induced by Major von Keller himself to come over to this country with the coach and horses. These were exhibited, as a very special attraction for the Christmas holidays of 1815, at the London Museum (then but recently opened by Mr. Bullock) in Piccadilly, a house of entertainment that was soon to be known to future generations as the Egyptian Hall.
And now for a century has this old war-coach been held up for the inspection of the passer-by, and, in its turn, has been the dumb witness of many a fleeting and touching episode. For as it stood have not time and men passed on? Has it not beheld many a young gallant, with the honours of the campaign fresh upon him, recounting to wife and child the story of that last great battle that closed the Empire of the first Napoleon; many a veteran son of Mars telling his grown sons how that great day was won; many a kindly warrior gently helping his children’s children to mount the steps and learn how on that day old “Boney” was made to fly, and nearly got caught in the act?
But those to whom the old coach must have brought back so many vivid memories of that famous victory, and who had the greatest right to enter it, have them-selves moved on; and now its doors have been fastened up and the old chariot encased for secure keeping, not indeed against the ravages of time, but, with regret it must be said, safe away from the hands of those who would not scruple to despoil it.