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Chambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) online

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' My wife came as usual at six o'clock to dine with me, accom-
panied by a female relation. When we were alone, she said :
' There no longer remains a hope for us but in one plan, which I
am going to propose. You must leave this at eight o'clock in my
clothes, along with my cousin, and go in my sedan-chair to such a
street ; Monsieur Baudus will have a cabriolet in waiting, to conduct
you to a retreat he has secured for you, where you will remain in
safety till you can quit the country." I listened and looked at her
in silence. Her voice was so firm, and her aspect so calm, she
seemed so persuaded of success, that I hesitated to reply ; and yet
her project appeared to me sheer madness, and I was obliged at
last to tell her so. At the first word she interrupted me. "No
objections," said she; "your death will be mine; so do not reject
my proposal. My conviction of its success is deep, for God, I feel,
sustains me."

' In vain did I urge the innumerable jailers who surrounded her


every night when she left, the turnkey who always handed her to
her chair, the impossibility of so disguising myself as to deceive
them ; and, above all, my invincible reluctance to leave her in the
hands of miscreants who, in their first rage at my escape, might
actually maltreat her. I was forced to leave off, her increasing
paleness and agitation precluding all remonstrance. I could only
pacify her by a seeming consent, remarking, however, that if success
could be looked for in such a wild scheme, it could only be by
stationing the cabriolet much nearer to the prison, as, in the course
of nearly an hour's journey, a sedan-chair could not fail to be over-
taken, nor could I perform the distance on foot in women's garb
without similar danger.

These considerations induced her to agree to defer till next day
(the last I had to call my own) the execution of her plan ; and
exacting my solemn promise then to make the attempt, she left me ?
in some degree quieted and comforted.'


The plan of escape proposed by Madam Lavalette was not new
in the annals of female devotedness. The same means had been
successfully employed by the Countess of Nithsdale to aid the
escape of her husband from the Tower of London, on the night
preceding that designed for his execution (February 23, 1716).*
Whether Madame Lavalette was acquainted with the particulars of
this heroic incident, is unknown : they were not at least likely to be
remembered on the present occasion by the functionaries of the
conciergerie, and hence the plan of escape had all the benefit of
being new and unexpected.

Lavalette himself, however, had serious misgivings as to the pro-
priety of so hazardous a project. 'The more,' says he, 'I reflected
on the scheme suggested for my escape by my wife, the more hope-
less did it appear. Not only was she taller than myself, but her
figure was slight and agile ; while I, greatly as confinement had
reduced me, was still too much the reverse for the jailers, who saw
both daily, to be taken in. And then I was so thoroughly prepared
to die ! I had so often, and at length so firmly rehearsed the cruel
drama, even to the dreary journey in the cart, and the last offices
of the executioner ; and now I was to mingle a possible burlesque
with all this tragedy, most likely to be retaken in my woman's
disguise, nay, perhaps exposed in it to the derision of the public !
But, on the other hand, my poor wife, so happy, so secure in the
success of her project, to refuse my concurrence in it would be to
kill her.

' While lost in these tormenting conflicts, she arrived, and after
communicating to me the distressing results of some other unavail-

* See Tract, ' Last Earl of Derwentwater.'


ing efforts she had been making on royal clemency and ministerial
sympathy, she said : " I am coming as usual to dine with you.
Keep up your courage, for we shall require it all ! As for myself,"
added she, with a deep sigh of exhaustion, "I feel I have just
strength left for four-and-twenty hours, and not one moment longer,
I am so thoroughly worn out ! " Poor thing ! her hours of energy
and consciousness were indeed numbered !

' I had gone through a sad scene in taking leave, as I thought,,
of my daughter (who had been brought to me the day before by
the porteress of her convent), when, to my surprise, she reappeared,
along with her mother. " I have bethought me," said she, " that you
had better have our child to accompany you. She will do more
punctually as I desire."

' My wife had put on over her dress a merino pelisse, richly lined
with fur, which she used to wear in coming home from balls, and
had brought in her bag a black silk petticoat. Having sent the
child out of hearing, she said to me rapidly in a whisper : " These
will suffice to disguise you perfectly. I could have wished to add
a veil, but having, unfortunately, not been in the habit of wearing
one, it is out of the question now. Be sure, before going into the
outer room, to draw on these gloves, and put my handkerchief to
your face. Walk veiy slowly, leaning on Josephine, and take care
to stoop as you go out at these low doors, for if they should catch
the feathers of your bonnet, all would be lost. The jailers will be
as usual in the ante-room, and remember the turnkey always hands
me out. The chair to-day will be drawn up close to the staircase.
Monsieur Baudus will meet you very soon, and point out your
hiding-place. God guide and protect you, my dearest husband !
But oh, be sure and mind my directions, and keep calm ! Give me
your hand ; I wish to feel your pulse. Now, feel mine, and see how
quietly it beats ; there is not the slightest quickness." Poor thing !
I ascertained she was in a strong fever ! " Nor, above all," added
she, " no giving way to our feelings ; we should be ruined." I could
not, however, forbear giving her my wedding ring, on the pretext
that if stopped, it might help to betray me.

' She now called back her daughter. " Listen well, my child,"
said she, " to what I am going to say, as I shall ask you to repeat it.
I shall leave this evening at seven instead of eight o'clock. Keep
behind me in going out, as you know the doors are narrow ; but
when we come into the outer hall, take care to be on my left, the
side the turnkey comes on to hand me out, which I hate. When
we are beyond the grating, and going up the outer stair, then come
to my right, that the odious gendarmes at the guardhouse may not
come and stare under my bonnet, as they always try to do. Do
you understand me?" The dear girl rehearsed her lesson very

' One or two friends who had dropped in with the kindest



intentions, but whose emotions would have been fatal to the firmness
of the parties, had to be got rid of ere dinner was served ; and, more
perplexing still, a poor old nurse of Madame Lavalette's, who had
been left waiting outside, but whom grief and the heat of the stove
had upset, was to be allowed to sit in the room, and yet be kept in
ignorance of the scheme, which the slightest alarm or indiscretion
on her part might have betrayed.

' This dinner, which might prove my last upon earth, was very
frightful. The morsels stuck in our throats, and not a word was
exchanged ; and thus nearly an hour had to be spent. Three-
quarters past six at length struck, and my wife rung for the faithful
valet, whose services I had dispensed with, that he might attend
her. She spoke a few words to him in a whisper, and then added
aloud : " Take care that the chairmen are at hand ; I am just
coming." And when he was gone, turning to me : " Now you must
be dressed."

' For want of a dressing-room, I had luckily made them place a
large screen in my apartment, behind which we now retired, and
while my dear wife made my toilet with equal quickness and
dexterity, she kept saying : " Mind you stoop your head at the doors ;
be sure and walk slowly through the hall, like a person worn out
with suffering." In three minutes my disguise was complete, and
we were back into the room ; and Emilie said to her daughter :
" What do you think of your papa?" An incredulous smile was the
poor child's only answer. 'But seriously, my dear, will he do?"
" Not very badly," said she, on seeing me walk a few steps before
her ; but her head sunk on her breast, and her dejected tone
betrayed her apprehensions. Not a word more was spoken till I
was close to the door. I then said to Emilie : " The turnkey looks
in every evening as soon as he has seen you off. Take care and
remain until then behind the screen, and make a noise by moving
about some of the things : he will conclude all right, and give me
the few minutes indispensable for my getting clear away." She
understood me, and as I put forth my hand to ring the bell, I gently-
pressed her arm : we exchanged looks : " Adieu ! " said she, lifting
up her eyes to heaven. Had we ventured on an embrace, all would
have been lost.

'The jailer's step was now heard. Emilie sprung behind the
screen the door opened : I passed out first, next my daughter, then
the old nurse. On coming to the door leading from the passage to
the outer room, I had at the same time to lift my foot and stoop my
head, to prevent the catching of my feathers no easy matter : but I
succeeded ; and had now to face in this large room a file of five
seated jailers ranged along the wall. I held my handkerchief to my
eyes of course, and expected my daughter to come, as directed, on
my left ; but in her flurry the poor child took the right, thus leaving
the jailer at liberty to hand me out as usual. He laid his hand on


my arm, evidently much moved (for he concluded we had taken an
eternal leave of each other), and said : " You leave early to-night,
madam ?" It has been said that my child and I gave way to
screams and sobs. So far from that, we durst not so much as
indulge in a sigh. At length I got to the further end, where, night
and day, sat a jailer in a huge arm-chair, in a space sufficiently
contracted to allow him to place his two hands on the keys of two
doors ; one an iron grating, the other (the outer one), called the
first wicket. This man looked at me, but did not open. I had to
put my hand through the bars to hurry him. At length he turned
his two keys, and we were out ! And now, recollecting herself, my
daughter took my right arm. We had twelve steps of a stair to go
up to get at the court where the chair waited ; and at the foot of
them was the guardhouse, where twenty soldiers, with an officer at
their head, stood within three steps of me, to see Madame Lavalette
pass ! My foot was at length on the last step, and I got into the
sedan, which was close by. But not a chairman was there not a
servant ! only my daughter and the old woman standing beside it,
and a sentry not six feet off, immovable on his post, staring at me.
My first surprise was giving way to violent agitation : I felt my eyes
fixed like a basilisk's on that sentry's musket, which, at the smallest
noise or difficulty, I should certainly have sprung on, and used it
against any one who offered to take me. This dreadful suspense
may haved lasted some two minutes, which to me appeared the length
of a night. At length I heard the voice of Bonneville, my valet,
whispering to me : " One of the bearers has failed me, but I have
found another ! "

' I then felt myself caught up, the chair crossed the court, and we
went down a street or two. When it was set down, the door opened,
and my friend Baudus offering me his arm, said aloud : " Madam,
you know you have a visit to make to the president." I got
out, and he pointed to a cabriolet which stood a short way off
down a little dark street. I sprang into it, and the driver said to
me : " Hand me my whip." I sought it in vain ; it had fallen.
" Never mind," said my companion, giving the reins a shake, which
set off the horses at a round trot. As I passed, I caught sight of my
daughter Josephine standing on the quay, with her hands joined,
praying for me with all her soul before getting into the chair ; which,
as I had predicted, was quickly overtaken, and finding her only in
it, was allowed to proceed.

' Beginning to breathe at length, when we had driven a long way,
I had time to look at my coachman, and what was my astonishment
to recognise the Count de Chassenon, whom I little thought of seeing
in that capacity. "Is that you?" asked I in unfeigned surprise.
" Yes ; and you have at your back four well-loaded pistols, which I
hope you will use in case of need." " Not I, indeed ; I have no
mind to involve you in ruin ! " " Well, then, I suppose I must shew



you the example, and woe to whoever attempts to stop us!" We
drove on to the Boulevard Neuf, where we stopped, and I displayed
my handkerchief, as agreed, on the apron of the cab ; having, by
the way, got rid of all my female paraphernalia, and slipped on a
.groom's frock, with a round laced livery hat. Monsieur Baudus
soon joined us : I took leave of the good count, and modestly
followed in the wake of my new master. It was now past eight ;
the rain fell in torrents ; the night was dark ; and nothing could be
more lonely than this part of the town. It was with the greatest
difficulty I could keep pace with Monsieur Baudus before I lost one
of my shoes, which did not mend matters. We met several gen-
darmes at full gallop, little aware that he whom they were probably
in quest of was so near them ! At length, after an hour's march,
worn out with fatigue, and with one foot bare, we came to a large
mansion. " I am going in here," said Monsieur Baudus ; " and
while I engage the porter in conversation, slip into the courtyard ;
you will find a staircase on the left ; go up it to the highest story.
At the end of a dark passage to the right is a pile of firewood; stand
behind it, and wait." I grew dizzy, and almost sunk on seeing
Monsieur Baudus knock at the very door of the minister for foreign
-affairs the Duke de Richelieu ! But while the porter let him in,
I passed on quickly. " Where is that man going?" cried the porter.
" Oh, 'tis only my servant." I found the staircase and everything
else as directed, and was no sooner on the appointed spot, than I
heard the rustling of a gown ; my arm was gently taken ; I was
pushed into a room, and the door closed upon me.'

Lavalette was now concealed in what was in all probability the
least suspected place in Paris the house of the minister of foreign
affairs. For an asylum under this roof he was indebted to the
gratitude of Madame de Brisson, the wife of the cashier. M. de
Brisson, it appears, had been proscribed at the first revolution for
voting against the king's death, and was two years in hiding, along
with his wife, among the Vosges, a cluster of mountains on the east
of France. Here they received so much kindness from the inhabit-
ants, that Madame de Brisson made a vow to save, if ever in her
power, a person similarly circumstanced. She now had it in her
power to afford a shelter to Lavalette, and nobly did she redeem her
vow. Every comfort, down to the minutest luxuries of the toilet (so
acceptable to a prisoner long deprived of them), had been provided
by this lady's thoughtful kindness ; even the felt slippers in which
alone he was to dare to move about, and the profusion of books and
wax-lights, which were to compensate to a studious man for the
necessity of keeping his windows carefully closed all day. When
the shades of night permitted him to open them, it was often to hear
street-criers bawling forth proclamations, of which he could some-
times catch little more than his own name, threatening with the
utmost penalties of the law all landlords or lodgers who might be


giving him a harbour ; and truly, considering not only the dangers
to which their generous conduct in his behalf was exposing his
benefactors, but the fearful risk to all involved, in a nephew (who
slept next room to him) and a couple of faithful servants being
necessarily in the secret, it may be imagined that Lavalette's was
not a bed of roses. His meals had to be literally purloined from
their own table by Madame de Brisson, who, on some refreshment
not habitually consumed by the family being requested by her
prisoner, was obliged to remind him of the recapture and death
on the scaffold of Monsieur de Montmorine, from the trifling
circumstance of some chicken bones being found near the door of
his landlady a woman too poor to indulge in such dainties. She
was, however, able to afford him the more substantial alleviation
of hearing that, spite of proclamations, at which every one laughed,
his escape was the subject of rejoicing all over Paris; that Madame
Lavalette was extolled to the skies, and every possible allusion to
her conduct at the theatre received with rapturous applause.

It is now time to return to that interesting woman, whose agitating
suspense after her husband's departure may be easily conceived. No
sooner was Lavalette beyond the gates, than the jailer peeped as
usual into the room, and hearing some one behind the screen, went
out. He returned, however, in five minutes, and still seeing no one,
bethought him of pushing aside a leaf of the screen, and at sight of
Madame Lavalette, gave a loud cry, and ran towards the door. She
flew to prevent him, and, in her despair, kept such fast hold of his coat
that he left part of it in her hands. ' You have ruined me, madam!-'
he exclaimed in a rage, and extricating himself by a desperate
effort, and calling out as he went along : 'The prisoner has escaped!'
he ran, tearing his hair like a madman, to the prefect of police.

The intelligence of Lavalette's escape, hastily communicated to
the prefect, spread universal surprise. Indignant at the trick which
had been played, the prefect, who was officially responsible for the
safety of the prisoner, instantly ordered the widest and most minute
search to be made to recover the lost captive. Gendarmes galloped
about in all directions, and every suspicious-looking individual was
seized. Cafe's, hotels, and all places of public resort were visited.
Every supposed lurking-place was searched. The pursuit continued
all night, and domiciliary visits of the strictest kind were made, not
only at the house of every acquaintance of the count, but of all who
had ever held official connection with him. The effort was vain.
Clever as the police of Paris unquestionably are, they were completely
baffled on this memorable occasion. To intercept a possible flight
to the country, the barriers were closed, and no one was permitted to
pass without undergoing a personal scrutiny. All, however, would
not do. Lavalette, safe in the house of the minister of foreign
affairs, who little knew what guest he entertained, continued undis-
covered ; and all Paris chuckled to see the police fairly at fault.


Defeated in their attempts to recover the fugitive, the police and
other authorities meanly revenged themselves on Madame Lavalette,
who for some time remained in an agony of suspense with respect to
the fate of her husband. From the brutal insults of the enraged
jailers, she was rescued by the arrival of the attorney-general, but
only to be exposed to a set of formal interrogatories and reproaches
from that functionary. In the eye of the law, she had been guilty at
most of a misdemeanour, for which a severe punishment could not
properly be inflicted. By the orders of the attorney-general, however,
she was treated with unbecoming disrespect and severity ; and being
at the time in a poor state of health, this treatment was not only a
sore aggravation of her immediate distresses, bodily and mental, but
laid the foundation of complaints which afterwards unsettled her

Instead of throwing open to this magnanimous woman the doors
of the prison she had hallowed, her confinement was, for six weeks,
as close and rigorous as that of the worst criminals. She was
subjected to the nuisance of being within hearing of the reprobate of
her own sex, while no female attendant was allowed her save a jailer;
not a line was she permitted either to despatch or receive, and
therefore a continual prey to anxieties on her husband's account,
which, at every change of sentries, made her start up, concluding
they were bringing him back, and for twenty-five nights wholly
deprived her of sleep. Fortunately for her husband, he was kept
in ignorance of these distressing details, and taught to believe that,
though subject to restraint, she was enjoying every comfort under
the roof of the wifet)f the prefect of police.

To him we must now return. In consequence of the unabated
vigilance of the authorities, the friends of Lavalette were anxious
to get him conveyed, if possible, beyond the barriers, and thence out
of France. Several plans of escape from the country were suggested,
without success. One, to escape in the suite of a Russian general,
failed, from the dread inspired, by hearing the name of Lavalette, of
himself being sent to Siberia. Another, more promising, to join a
Bavarian battalion quitting Paris, whose commandant, a friend of
Prince Eugene, would have earned praise instead of blame by con-
niving at it, was frustrated by the surveillance naturally enough
exercised by the police over both men and officers of this suspected
corps. At length, on the eighteenth day of his seclusion, Monsieur
Baudus, in a transport of joy, announced to Lavalette his probable
escape through the co-operation of Englishmen.

The political sentiments of some then in Paris had been too
openly declared, against the execution of Marshal Ney especially, to
make sounding them a matter of difficulty; and the office being
undertaken by some French ladies of rank and the most amiable
character, had all the success anticipated with Mr Michael Bruce
in the first instance, and through him, with yet more efficient


coadjutors, General Sir Robert Wilson, and Captain Hutchinson of
the Guards. It was humanely resolved by these gentlemen that
Lavalette should, if possible, escape from France by wearing the
uniform of a British officer. This plan, which was accordingly put
in execution, is described as follows by Sir Robert in a letter to
Earl Grey, which was intercepted on its way to England, and led to
the subsequent trial and imprisonment of the parties engaged.

' It was agreed,' says Sir Robert, ' that the fugitive, wearing, as
well as myself, the British uniform, should accompany me beyond
the barriers in an English cab ; that I should have a fresh horse
stationed at La Chapelle, and from thence get on to Compiegne,
where I was to be joined by my own carriage, in which Lavalette
and I would proceed by Mons to Cambrai. At my request, and on
my responsibility, I easily procured passports from Lord Stewart for
General Wallis and Colonel Losack ; names which we made choice
of, because their initials corresponded with the real ones. On their
being taken to be signed at the Foreign Office, one of the secretaries
took it in his head to ask who Colonel Losack was, when Hutchinson
coolly answered : " Oh, the son of the admiral." Bruce now found
out that the brigade of his cousin, General Brisbane, was at
Compiegne, and that his aide-de-camp was to leave Paris next day
with his horses and baggage. With this young man, reluctantly as
we involved him in the affair, it was agreed that he should provide
for us a place where an individual, desirous of avoiding publicity,
might remain perdit a few hours at Compiegne a precaution which
proved of the greatest use.

' Bruce next procured Lavalette's measure, and a uniform was
ordered as if for a quarter-master of the Guards ; but the regimental
tailor happening to observe that it was for a very stout gentleman,
and, moreover, that it had not been taken by a professional snip, the
parties got alarmed, and fell on the plan of borrowing for the expedi-
tion the coat of a strapping brother-guardsman a very young man,
whom they persuaded it was wanted to assist in an elopement.'

It is not the least curious of the many odd features of this remark-
able escape, that on Lavalette proceeding under cloud of night the
previous evening to Captain Hutchinson's lodgings in the Rue de
Hilder, he only exchanged one lion's den for another, having for a
neighbour under the same roof the very judge who had presided at
his trial! He was there met by Mr Bruce (whom he had once or
twice seen at the queen of Holland's) and Sir Robert Wilson, who,

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) → online text (page 47 of 58)