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AN IMPERIAL VISIT. TAE fact of the Emperor of the French and his consort having gone to sojourn at Dieppe, seems to have turned the heads of various towns in the north of France. « Of course they will coine to us!” argued Boulogne; Calais repeated the same, and Dunkerque echoed it. It was known, or supposed, that his Imperial Majesty would visit the Camp at St. Omer: “A good opportunity," put in Calais and Dunkerque, “ for his visiting us." Boulogne took it into its head-nobody is able to find out upon what grounds—that Monday, the 5th September, was the day fixed by the Emperor and Empress for their arrival in that town from Dieppe by sea. No end of preparations were made to receive them: people flocked into Boulogne from miles round: the streets were crowded as with a fair : the whole day was passed on the tip-toe of agitated expectation: and behold! the Imperial pair were quietly remaining at Dieppe, having no idea they were expected elsewhere.
Other towns, meanwhile, were voting large sums of money, and levying contributions on their inhabitants to amass them, for the purpose of making preparations for the Emperor's reception. But when it was known that their Majesties had returned to Paris from Dieppe, fears arose that the sanguine expectations had been indulged in vain. Soon, however, telegraphic despatches arrived from the Emperor, to the effect that upon his approaching visit to the Helfaut-Camp at St. Omer, he would gratify them all ; and the embellishing processes went on with undiminished ardour.
In no town were the loyal feelings, to judge by the preparations, more extensively displayed than in Dunkerque. For many weeks, various alterations and arrangements had been going on at the Sous Préfecture. Two bedrooms and dressing-rooms had been luxuriously fitted up for the Emperor and Empress; for, it was taken for granted that if they came at all to the town, they would sleep in it. The municipal council had met, and decided upon the manner of the reception; a committee had been formed to superintend the decorations of the streets; and nothing was heard, thought, or dreamt of in the city, but the arrival of their Ma. jesties.
A sudden damper came to it. It was announced, upon authority, that the Empress would not make one in the royal tour. The Dunkerque ladies were au désespoir. Twenty of these French-Flemish dames, and twenty demoiselles, had been fixed upon to form the Empress's “court” during her stay, and the unwelcome news that no Empress was to come, and that there would be no court to form, drove them nearly wild. They rushed to the Sous Préfecture.
Is it true ?” they gasped. “ Mon Dieu, oui ! on craint que c'est vrai,” responded the wife of the Sous Préfet.
" And all our expensive new dresses !” murmured the dames. “They'll be quite useless to us! We can never hope for any other occasion of wearing them. Court dresses in Dunkerque! ma foi ! Point d'espérance !”
“ Our lovely white costumes and our wreaths and our flowers!” laNov.-VOL. XCIX. NO. cccxcv.
mented, with tears in their eyes, the demoiselles, who were to have been the demoiselles d'honneur. " What was the use of having the dresses, if we are not to use them ?”
“ Can't we form a court for the Emperor, if her Majesty does not come?" uttered one, in the very excess of desperation.
It was a bright idea. A few of the more calm-thinking hesitated; but who could long think calmly in such a dilemma ? So it was decided that the suggestion should be acted upon, and the Emperor furnished on his arrival (to his probable unbounded astonishment) with a court of ladies and maids of honour. But in the midst of the perplexity, there arrived down another despatch.
“ The Empress was coming."
On went the preparations : nothing could equal the activity of the town; nothing exceed its importance and bustle; and the hopes of the dames and the demoiselles were again exalted into the seventh heaven. The ball, on the evening of the eventful day, was to be on a scale of unusual magnificence. The theatre, where it was to take place, was in active preparation ; the pit was boarded over on a level with the stage; a flight of steps, leading to the centre box, from the arena, was constructed, the box was removed, and a dais erected, on which were placed two luxurious fauteuils, the letter N, emblazoned on the one, E, on the other. Everybody expected an invitation to the ball, and everybody got it-all the French and all the English. There was some consternation and discussion as to how the invited were to get in--if they all went : invitations being out, it was declared, for 3000, and the theatre holding, at a cram, 1200. “Don't go in flounces to your robes, especially of lace,” echoed one lady to another; "they'll get torn to atoms in the crush.” And the advice was good.
Monday, the 26th of September, was the day fixed upon by the Emperor to be in Dunkerque. Four days previously, the decorations in the streets were commenced. Such a waste of time and money! No two streets were to be alike. A double line of poles, or masts, in the streets, with flags and streamers flying-to erect which poles, the pavement had to be partially taken up-were the first symptoms that gladdened the eyes of the curious pedestrians. Some of the poles were painted white and grey; some were completely covered with evergreens; others only partially so; a few with green branches and white calico, mixed, and twisted round. There were some streets that presented quite a succession of green bowers--wherever all the trees and the boughs and the shrubs came from, remains a puzzle yet : green wreaths and festoons and flowers were drooped from pole to pole, and across the street from window to window; whole trees were transplanted for the occasion ; and large street-chandeliers, peculiar to Dunkerque, composed of little pieces of thick glass, which wave and rattle pleasantly in the breeze, were suspended in the streets. The air was a perfect mass of flags, mostly of the tri-colour, not only flying from the poles and the cords and the festoons, but waving from every window. From three or four houses inhabited by loyal Englishmen, the glorious British flag, large and powerful, towered conspicuously. The Place Jean Bart, the Place, par excellence, of Dunkerque, intended itself to be especially elegant. Tri-coloured draperies of calico, blue, white, and red, were hung completely round it, on the walls of the houses: flags flew in abundance, and coloured lamps were with them, side by side. No end of eagles, in all the colours of the rainbow, and as brazen as gilt could make them, were hoisted atop of the houses and at the corners of streets. A beautiful triumphal arch, with a colossal eagle for its summit, was erected on the Place, at the commencement of the street leading to the Park: it looked like a shifting scene in a playhouse. Close by it waved an enormous flag or banner, green, with gold stars, the handsomest, people said, amongst the flags. From the top of the high tower, opposite the Grande Eglise, streamed out four or six long lines of little flags, carried out to a considerable distavce, almost at a right angle, and there fastened to the ground. It had a wonderfully pretty effect, extending out like wings. What with the flags and the house draperies, the calico consumed must have been a quantity that never yet was consumed in any town before, and probably never will be again : for one street alone, and that not a very long one, 3000 metres were used ; and French metres, remember, are longer than English yards. At the end of the Rue de l'Eglise, leading on to the port, the fishermen erected a triumphal arch, the component parts of the structure being barrels and fishing-nets. On the port where the Emperor would proceed to view the new works, was another archway, raised by the harbour workmen; and this was constructed of wheelbarrows, shovels, and pumps ; not your household yard-pumps, but chain-pumps : streamers of which were brought down and fastened out on either side, after the manner of the flags from the tower. It looked capital, and so the Emperor thought.
Sunday, the 25th, was a most bustling day, as it always is in France, and the workmen were busy with their preparations in all parts of the town. But a gloom hung around, for the day was cold, windy, and pouring wet. In spite of the pretty streets, and the green shrubs, and the draperies, and the clusters of coloured lamps, and the fine arches, and the chandeliers, and the flags, and the streamers, everybody looked glum ; for, with this weather, what pleasure would there be on the morrow?
The Emperor and Empress had arrived that morning at St. Omer, from Lille, and many people flocked from Dunkerque to see them. They rode to the camp at Helfaut in a close carriage. The Emperor mounted a superb charger to review the troops ; the Empress, with two of her ladies, remained in the carriage. Crowds upon crowds rushed to the camp, and enjoyed themselves there on foot, ladies as well as gentlemen, the rain coming down in torrents, and the slop knee deep. A worse day could not be imagined. Shoes were lost in the mud and abandoned'; boots had to be cut off the foot piecemeal, and dresses and bonnets, the greater portion of them, will never go on again. “Never mind ourselves,” cried the excited and loyal spectators ; “if we are wet, the Emperor's dripping-look at him!” Why could not the people keep in the carriages that conveyed them thither? inquires the English reader. Because the camp is situated on the plateau of a high and lofty hill, what many would call a mountain ; the ascent to which is somewhat formidable; and French hired horses, and French hired vehicles, and French hired coachmen, not being cast in the adventurous mould, they flatly refused to go up it. So they remained comfortably at the bottom, and the company they had conveyed thither toiled to the top on foot, and walked about the field till the rain streamed off them in buckets, and they were soaked through and through-like so many geese. The St. Omer doctors, and those of the neighbouring towns, have been called out since to no end of cases of rheumatism. “Why did you stay there in such weather?” was asked of a lady who had formed one of a party of several. “Because everybody else did,” was the doleful reply, “though I thought we were all catching our deaths."
But, to return to Dunkerque. Independently of the rain, another cause arose to damp the general ardour. The wind, which had been desperately high all day, increased violently towards Sunday evening; from about seven or eight o'clock, it increased with every hour and every minute. The town went to bed at its usual time, but not to sleep: there were few eyes closed in Dunkerque that night, for it was one of terror. Scarcely has a storm of wind been heard more violent. Little children flew shivering into their parents' rooms for protection, as windows were blown in. Heads of families rose, and visited the different parts of their houses several times in the night, expecting to see the panes of glass in shatters on the floors. Numbers upon numbers never attempted to sleep, but got up in the morning from their rocking beds, unrefreshed as they had sought them the previous night. Bricks were hurled from chimneys, trees torn up by the roots, shutters and windows rent from their fastenings: scarcely, in the remembrance of the oldest inhabitant of Dunkerque, has such a hurricane been known. With the going down of the morning tide the storm a little abated, but it still blew awfully.
Out went the people into the streets, and oh! what a sight the unfortunate decorations presented! It was nothing but a scene of desolation. The house-draperies had nearly all disappeared, nobody knew where, unless into the air, like balloons; a few torn odds and ends were clinging round the chimneys, here and there, and flapping away in the wind; the houses were stained blue and red where the draperies had been, for the rain had soaked out their colours ; the eagles had come down on the wing; some of the flags fluttered in ribbons, like a furious cat-o'-ninetails; the leaves were torn off the once lovely green boughs, and were whirling about in the air like a storm of snow, whilst the streets, from the heaps settled down on them, looked like a forest in autumn; the festoons were blown to pieces; the greater part of the triumphal arches were destroyed; the much-admired barrel-arch had demolished itself, with a noise and fury seldom heard before, to the excessive terror of the neighbouring houses, who said they had thought “ the street was coming down;" and the beautiful triumphal arch leading to the Park was a heap of ruins, its colossal eagle lying on the ground with its head off, and its gilt wings gone away.
Some of the disasters could not be remedied, for time pressed, and the wind was still in its tantrums, as an English lad phrased it; but all that could be done, was done ; and in the more sheltered streets, through which the cortège would pass, little real damage had been effected. Fortunately the rain kept off.
But the people, from another cause, felt angry and vexed. The town had gone to an enormous expense ; it really had ; and rumours had oozed out, two or three days before, that the Imperial pair, instead of remaining a night in the town, dining at the Préfecture and "assisting" at the ball,
would only stay three hours. The people refused to believe it, and the mayor went up to Lille to represent the circumstances of the case to the Emperor, and to entreat their Majesties to prolong their intended stay. He was most graciously received, and invited to dine at the royal table ; but, upon his return to Dunkerque, brought word that the Emperor's arrangements having been decided upon, he could not change them, and that three hours must be the limit of his stay in Dunkerque. What a disappointment! everybody cried. And what a useless expense has been gone to! everybody thought.
The Imperial train was to arrive at half-past eleven, but long before that hour every window in the line of procession was crammed. Troops in their gay uniform were pouring up to the railway station, the music of their fine bands echoing around; conspicuous for their attire marched the sapeurs-pompiers in their brazen helmets ; bodies of decorated men, deputations from the neighbouring towns, followed; the municipal council of Dunkerque loomed by, in all the grandeur of their official robes ; walking with them was a lady, decorated with two medals, for services rendered formerly in the town; old soldiers of the Empire; ancient sailors; children of the public institutions, all advanced; the Imperial carriages, which had arrived the previous evening, followed, in the midst of an escort; and not the least picturesque of the different objects was a deputation of fishwomen, bearing aloft a net, containing a fish made of silver. They were charmingly attired in their peculiar holiday costume ; their light, clear-looking caps spotless as snow, their gold ornaments, and long pendent earrings; and their dresses, mostly of chintz, looped up in festoons like a court lady's of former times, displayed petticoats of damask moreen, some blue, some red, and other colours.
The royal train punctually arrived, the ringing of bells and firing of cannon announced it; and, the various forms and ceremonies usual upon such an occasion having been gone through between the authorities and their sovereign, the Emperor and Empress made their state entrance into the town. It was a gracious act, on that fearfully windy day, to use an open carriage, leaving the close ones to their attendants. Louis Napoleon seemed excessively cool, scarcely noticing the admiring crowds through which he passed, but the Empress bowed repeatedly. She looked pale and tired, but so far as a hasty view of one in a carriage, and with her veil down, may be trusted, she has a most pleasing expression of countenance, and is very beautiful. She was handsomely, but plainly, attired in a silk dress with flounces, a warm shawl, and a fancy-straw bonnet. The Emperor was of course in uniform; and he looked, in his cocked hat, as unlike his portraits as he could well look. There was little cheering; and perhaps that may account for the Emperor's froideur: I think the people were so pre-occupied, looking for the Empress, that they did not recollect to cheer. The cortège proceeded at a slow pace to the Sous Préfecture, which was made the mairie and the Imperial Palais for the day. It is situated close to the Place du Théâtre, and its approach was one scene of banners, arches, and flags. As the Imperial carriage was turning in at its gates, an English lady at an adjoining window called out, in her own tongue, “ Long live the Emperor !" and Louis Napoleon looked laughingly up, nodded, and bowed.
Meanwhile the dames and the demoiselles d'honneur had arrived at the