"What did you do when you met the train-robber face to face?"
"I explained that I had been interviewed by the ticket-seller, the luggage-carriers, the dining-car waiters, and the sleeping-car porters and borrowed a dollar from him."
The Marquis St. André applied to Louvois, the war-minister of Louis XIV., for a place then vacant. Louvois having received some complaints against the marquis, refused to comply. The nobleman, somewhat nettled, said, rather hastily, "If I were to enter again into the service, I know what I would do."—"And pray what would you do?" inquired the minister in a furious tone. St. André recollected himself, and had the presence of mind to say, "I would take care to behave in such a manner, that your excellency should have nothing to reproach me with." Louvois, agreeably surprised at this reply, immediately granted his request.
An accomplished gentleman, when carving a tough goose, had the misfortune to send it entirely out of the dish, and into the lap of the lady next to him; on which he very coolly looked her full in the face, and with admirable gravity and calmness, said, "Madam, may I trouble you for that goose." In a case like this, a person must, necessarily, suffer so much, and be such an object of compassion to the company, that the kindest thing he can do is to appear as unmoved as possible.
Lord Peterborough was once taken by the mob for the duke of Marlborough (who was then in disgrace with them), and being about to be roughly treated by these friends to summary justice, he told them, "Gentlemen, I can convince you, by two reasons, that I am not the duke of Marlborough. In the first place, I have only five guineas in my pocket; and, in the second, they are heartily at your service." So throwing his purse amongst them, he got out of their hands, with loud huzzas and acclamations.
Napoleon sent for Fouché one day, in a great rage, told him that he was a fool, and not fit to be at the head of the police, as he was quite ignorant of what was passing. "Pardon me, Sire," said Fouché; "I know that your Majesty has my dismissal ready signed in your pocket." Napoleon changed his mind, and kept his Minister.
An unexampled instance of self-devotion and presence of mind was manifested by a maidservant, during the war in La Vendée. "The wife of Lepinai, a general in the Vendean army, was imprisoned at Nantes, and attended by a young girl, a native of Chatellerault, so faithfully attached to the service of her mistress that she had followed her to prison. One day the soldiers arrived to summon the prisoners who were destined to death: this faithful girl heard Madame Lepinai called, who had but an instant before retired to her chamber. Glad of the opportunity of saving the life of her beloved mistress, she presented herself, and answered to the name. The affectionate creature was instantly led away with the other prisoners, and precipitated among the waves of the Loire, in place of Madame Lepinai."
During the Revolution a priest took refuge in the house of a farmer. Some gendarmes having heard of it came one evening to the house. The whole family were gathered round the hearth, and among them was the priest, disguised as a servant. When the soldiers entered every one grew pale; they asked the farmer if there was not a priest concealed in the house. "Gentlemen," returned he, without losing his presence of mind, "you see very well there is no priest here; but one might conceal himself in the house without my knowledge; so I will not prevent you from doing your duty; search the house from cellar to garret." Then he said to the priest, "I say, Jacques, take your lantern and show these gentlemen everywhere; let them see every corner of the farm." The gendarmes made a minute inspection of the house, uttering many imprecations and many menaces against the priest, promising themselves to pay him well for the trouble he had cost them, if they succeeded in discovering him. Seeing their search was useless, they prepared to leave. As they were going the farmer said, "Pray gentlemen, remember the boy." They gave the disguised priest a small coin, and thanking him for his civility took their leave.
A housemaid in Upper Grosvenor Street, London, going to the cellar for a draught of ale, after the family had retired to bed, glided silently in without a candle. As she was feeling about for the cask, she put her hand upon something which she immediately perceived to be the head of a man. The girl, with great fortitude and presence of mind, forebore to cry out, but said, in a tone of impatience, "That stupid creature, Betty, is always putting the mops in the way." She then went on to the cask, quietly drew her beer, retired from the cellar, fastened the door, and then alarmed the house. The man was taken; and afterwards declared, that the maid was entirely indebted to her presence of mind for her life, for had she cried out, he would instantly have murdered her: but as he firmly believed she mistook his head for a mop, particularly as she had drawn the beer after she had felt it, he let her go without injury.
When the attempt was made upon the life of George III., by Margaret Nicholson, who attempted to stab him as he was going to St. James's to hold a levee, a council was ordered to be held as soon as the levee was over. The Marquess del Campo, the Spanish ambassador, being apprised of that circumstance, and knowing that the council would detain the king in town three or four hours beyond the usual time, took post horses, and set off for Windsor. Alighting at the castle, he called upon a lady there with whom he was acquainted. The queen, finding that the king did not return at the usual time, and understanding that the marquess was in the palace, sent to ask him if he had been at the levee. He replied that he had, and that he had left his majesty in perfect health, going to council. When the king arrived, he, of course, told her majesty the extraordinary occurrence of the morning. The queen expressed great surprise that the Marquess del Campo, who had been nearly three hours in the palace, had not mentioned the subject to her; he was then sent for, when he told their majesties, that finding upon his arrival at the castle, that no rumour of the attempt upon the life of his majesty had reached the queen, he did not think it expedient to apprise her of it till his majesty's arrival gave full assurance of his safety; but, at the same time, fearing that some incorrect and alarming reports might be brought down, he deemed it right to remain in the palace, in order in that case, to be able to remove all apprehensions from her majesty's mind, by acquainting her with the real facts. The king, taking the ambassador graciously by the hand, complimented him on his presence of mind, and assured him, that he scarcely knew a man in the world to whom he was so much obliged.