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OP TIJE ADVENTURES OF H. MASERS DE LA TUDE, Who was thirty-five Years confined in various
FRENCH STATE PRISONS. MR. HENRY MASERS de la TUDE was the son of a knight of the order of St. Lewis, who, in the year 1733, was made king's lieutenant of Sedan. At the age of twenty-three he was sent to Paris to complete bis mathematical studies, in order to qualify him for some post in the army; but falling in company with a set of rash young men, who were plotting the destruction of Madame de Pompadour, the favourite mistress of Lewis XV. he was induced to form a project, which laid the foundation of all his future miseries.
From no other motive, as he pretepds in his memoirs, than that of doing the marchioness a good office, he repaired to Versailles, and acquainted her, that he had seen a parcel, addressed to her, put into the post-office, which he had reason to believe was designed for her destruction, and cautioned her to be particularly on her guard. She politely expressed her gratitude; and, as soon as the parcel arrived (which had been put into the post-office by himself), the effects of its contents were tried on several animals, when no harm resulting, she judged him to be an impostor, and had him committed to the Bastile, on the list of May, 1749.
In the beginning of September following he was removed to the castle of Vincennes; where, being indulged by the lieutenant-governor with the privilege of walking two hours a day in the garden, he made use of the following means to effect his escape. Two turnkeys usually attended him, one of whom waited in the garden, and the other conducted bim down stairs from his room. Having formed his project, he for several days together descended a little faster than the turnkey, who, as he always found him by the side of his companion in the garden, took no notice of this manoeuvre. Observing this, and taking a favourable opportunity, he tripped as fast as possible down the flight of steps, and shutting the bottom door of the staircase, advanced boldly to the garden-gate, where a sentinel was posted by way of security.
The vigilance of this man, as well as that of several others, who were placed on the opposite side of the drawbridge, he eluded, by pretending to enquire for a person who was just gone that way; but, after having obtained his liberty in this artful manner, he was imprudent enough, through the advice of a friend, to: surrender himself up again to the king, trusting that the artless confidence of an innocent man would not be abused. He was, nevertheless, reconducted to the Bastile, where he was closely confined for eighteen months in one of the most dismal dungeons of that prison. At the expiration of that term he was taken from this horrid situation, and put into another room, with a prisoner named D’Alégre, who was likewise detained by Madame de Pompadour.
Both he and his companion had been long taught to expect, with patience, the disgrace of the marchioness; but, with the unfortunate, days are as tedious as years, and it is no wonder that they should turn their thoughts towards regaining their liberty. This, however, appeared a romantic idea; for besides the high walls of the Bastile, which were six feet thick, and four iron grates at each window, the prison was continually guarded by a number of sentinels, and the trenches which surrounded it were most commonly full of water: how then could two prisoners, confined in a narrow cell, and destitute of all human assistance, effect their escape?
Mr. de la Tude, who was fruitful in expedients, first informed himself, by means of an artful trick which he played while they were conducted back to their room, after hearing mass, that the apartment in wbich they were confined had a double ceiling ; and after mentioning wbat he had observed to his friend, told him, that he had formed a plan for their enlargement, which could not fail of success. From his confidence upon this occasion D'Alégre thought him disordered in his mind, and asked him, with a sneer, where they were to get the ropes, and other implements, necessary to such an undertaking.
« As for the ropes,” said de la Tude, “ give yourself no manner of trouble : in that trunk there are twelve dozen of shirts, six dozen pair of silk stockings, twelve dozen pair of under-stockings, five dozen drawers, and as many dozen of napkins; now, by unraveling these, we shall have more than enough to make one thousand feet of rope.” “True,” said the other, “ but how shall we remove the iron bars from the winó dow for without instruments it is impossible to do any thing." De la Tude told him that the hand was the instrument of all instruments, and that men, whose heads are capable of working, are never at a loss for resources; what, though neither scissars, knives, nor any edged tools are allowed us, have not we the iron hinges of our folding table, which, with patience and skill, we can make answer the same purpose?
From this discourse D'Alégre began to entertain some hopes, and they now employed all their time and talents in the execution of this curious project. The first evening, by means of one of the hinges, they took up a tile from the floor, and after digging for six hours, found it was a double partition, as de la Tude had conjectured. They then carefully replaced the tile, and began to unravel some of the shirts, drawing them out thread by thread, and twisting them together, till they had formed a rope fifty-five feet long; this they made into a ladder, consisting of twenty-five rounds, made of the wood which was brought them for firing.
The next thing to be done was to remove the iron bars from the chimney, by which outlet they had resolved to escape; they accomplished it in about two months, and then returned them to their places, leaving them ready to be removed when they should be wanted This appears to have been an exceedingly troublesome operation, as they never descended from the work without bloody hands, and their bodies were so bruised in the chimney, that they could not renew their labour for an hour or two afterwards. This toil over, they now set about making a wooden ladder of twenty feet long, which, as fast as it was finished, was hid with the other things between the two floors.
As the officers and turnkeys often entered the apartmępt in the day time, without any previous noticey they were obliged not only to secrete their tools, bui the smallest chips and rubbish that were made, the least appearance of which would have betrayed them. To answer this purpose the more effectually, they gave each of them a private name, and when any body was coming in, hę who was next the door gave the cant ter
to the other, that he might conceal them as expeditiously as possible. When their ropes were all ready, their measure was four hundred feet; they had still to make two hundred steps for their ladders, which, when accomplished, they covered with the lining of their bed-gowns and under-waistcoats, to prevent their rustling against the walls as they descended.
These preparations cost them eighteen months work, night and day, and they now waited for a dark stormy night to favour their escape. At length, after a great number of difficulties, and many narrow escapes from being detected by the officers, the happy moment they had been so long expecting arrived, and de la Tude was the first to mount the chimney. Here he was al. most smothered with the soot, and the blood streamed from his hands, elbows, and knees, down to his legs. After some time, however, he got to the top, and by means of a string drew up his companion, and all their implements, to the top of the building, from which they lowered their baggage, by fastening a rope to the chimney; and, in this way, they descended both at once on the platform, serving as a counterpoise to each other.
Here they fastened their rope-ladder to a piece of canyon, and let themselves and their baggage down into the trench, an operation which was attended with the utmost difficulty; for out of a thousand spectators who should have seen them by daylight, vibrating hackwards and forwards in the air, not one of them, says Mr. de la Tude, but would have given us over for lost. They arrived, however, at length, safely in the trench, and felicitated themselves upon the success of this part of their enterprize, having been extremely apprehensive of detection; as the sentinel was all the
time walking on the corridor, at not more than thirty
Before midnight, by means of the iron bårs" wirich
Here,” says Mr. de la Tude, “ ended the horrors of that dreadful night; and here we emhraced each other, and fell upon our knees to thank God for the great mercy he had bestowed upon us, in thus restoring us to liberty. They now mounted the slope of the ditch as it struck four o'clock, and after calling upon a friend who was not at home, flew for refuge to the abbey of St. Germain-des-prez."
Soon after this almost miraculous escape, they both set out, by different routes, for Brussels, agreeing to meet at the same inn; but when de la Túde, who had to encounter with a number of perils on his journey, arrived at the place appointed, he found that his friend had been discovered, and conducted back to prison. Shocked at this intelligence he set out immediately for