“Great St. Nicholas!”
Tsar Alexander I (1801-1825) was fond of talking long walks alone, wearing a only the simplest officer’s uniform. One cold morning he chanced to walk a considerable distance from the palace in St. Petersburg – several miles in fact, and found himself a little fatigued. Rather than walk back again, he hailed a sledge.
“My good man, take me to the Imperial Palace.”
Not realizing with whom he was speaking, the man replied, “I will take you as near as I can, sir, but the guards will not allow us to approach the gates.” With that, he whipped up the little pony drawing the sledge, and off they went. Soon they had arrived with a short distance of the palace, and the man pulled in the reins, and brought the sledge to a halt. “We can go no further, sir.”
“Very good,” said the Emperor, jumping down from the sledge. Then, not having any money – after all, like most sovereigns he never carried any – Alexander added, “Wait here and I will send someone to pay you.”
“No, no!” replied the man, that will not do! Your comrades often make that same promise, but the always forget to keep it. I will give no more credit. If you have not got the money, leave something with me until you get it.”
Smiling, the Emperor unfastened his cloak and threw it into the sledge, “Here, take this,” he said, and then walked off towards the palace gate.
Needless to say, the Alexander had no trouble gaining entry to his own palace. Seeking out his valet, he told the man to give 50 rubles – an enormous sum – to the sledge driver who had his cloak. When the valet went into the street, he found a score of sledges, all awaiting a fare.
When he asked, “Which of you carried the Emperor?”, no one answered. So he said, “Is there any one of you who was left a cloak?” At that, the man who had given the Emperor a ride spoke, “An officer left a cloak with me, sir.”
“Very good, give it to me,” said the valet, “and here are 50 rubles for your troubles.”
“Great St. Nicholas!,” cried the man, who could not believe his good fortune.
Now it chanced, that on that very afternoon, the Emperor was to attend a grand review of the troops stationed in the capital. And it went splendidly. Afterwards, Alexander called together the commanders of the local regiments.
“I am much pleased with the fine appearance and excellent discipline of your troops,” he said. But tell your officers, from me, that they made me submit to the humiliation of leaving my cloak in pledge for my honesty.” At that, there was a bit of a stir among the assembled officers. After a short pause, the emperor went on to say, “I assure you, the sledge driver who brought me home refused to trust me because, he said, my comrades, often ‘forgot’ to pay him.”
Apparently the hint worked, for thereafter none of the sledge drivers was ever again stiffed by one of the Emperor’s comrades.
The Fickle Miss Kessler
During the 1890s, Nicholas Kessler, an immigrant from Luxembourg, was a very prosperous brewer and brick maker in Helena, Montana. A member of the Montana National Guard, when the Spanish-American War broke out, he volunteered, and was shortly commanding the1st Montana, which was dispatched to the Philippines. While in the Philippines, Kessler became friendly with Capt. William B. Cochran, of the 24th Infantry. After the war, Cochran – who oddly was nicknamed “Ed” – was by chance stationed at Ft. Harrison, in Montana, near the Kessler residence, and the two resumed their friendship. The good colonel had a very attractive daughter named Mathilde – “Tillie” to her friends and family – and Cochran was quite taken by her.
Now Mathilde – “Tillie” – attended a finishing school in New York, “Miss Ely’s Seminary.” While in the Big Apple, she ran into fellow-Montanan Albert Raleigh, a childhood friend. The handsome, wealthy young graduate of VMI was working as a cartoonist for The New York World. The two fell in love, and became engaged. They traveled to Montana to secure Col. Kessler’s blessing. But Tillie’s father had serious reservations about Raleigh. In fact, he hated the guy. Kessler’s health was deteriorating, and so he wrote a will in which he not only disinherited Tillie in the event she married Raleigh, but also stipulated that neither of her brothers would inherit either, thus insuring their support in the struggle to deny Tillie’s hand to Raleigh. Kessler also stipulated that should Tillie wed Ed Cochran everyone would profit very nicely.
Faced with her father’s adamant opposition to her match with Raleigh (not to mention the possible loss of all that money), Tillie wavered. Disgusted, Raleigh left for New York. Shortly afterwards, Tillie and Capt. Cochran agreed to tie the knot. A party was arranged at which the engagement was to be announced to family and friends. Meanwhile, Raleigh had returned to Montana for a short visit with his family. On the very morning of the day on which Tillie’s engagement party was to be held, Tillie went shopping in downtown Helena; and who should she meet but Raleigh! Within hours the two were married in a local photography shop by a friendly justice of the peace. Tillie then went home to inform her family. Brothers Charles and Frederick, seeing their fortunes slipping away, acted promptly. They locked Tillie up in her room. Guests arriving at the Kessler home that evening for the engagement party were curtly informed that the prospective “Mrs. Cochran” had become the legal “Mrs. Raleigh.” When Albert Raleigh showed up, Charles chased him off. Cochran sought Raleigh out, and challenged him a duel, which the latter accepted, a fatal encounter only being avoid by the intervention of some level headed friends. Raleigh left for New York.
Tillie soon secured an annulment on the grounds of “temporary insanity.” Shortly afterwards the former Mrs. Raleigh – now again Miss Kessler – married William B. Cochran. The match was a fruitful one, the couple having two daughters. Cochran himself had a satisfactory career in the Army, rising to temporary brigadier general during World War I, though not getting overseas, and then retiring as a colonel in 1922.
Note: The Kessler Brewery continued in the family for many years, surviving Prohibition by producing “near beer.” It went out of business in the 1950s, unable to compete with the national brands. In the 1980s a micro-brewery in Helena produced under the Kessler label, but it too went out of business several years ago. Oddly, the original Kessler brewery still stands, having survived earthquakes, Montana winters, and decades of neglect, perhaps a testimony to the Kessler bricks with which it was built.