A Miraculous Escape
The following narrative is related by a French emigrant of noble extraction. During the Reign of terror he, more fortunate than most of his fellow countrymen was able to rescue a great part of his vast possessions from the greedy grasp of the blood thirsty tyrants, then in power.
"For some time," I had been confined in a prison at Paris, and, together with many fellow prisoners, I was daily expecting the execution of the death warrant passed against me. One morning the jailer entered the prison and read aloud the list of those who were to be led to the guillotine. I counted about fifty names and mine was amongst the number. Then followed a scene of indescribable confusion; some of the prisoners wept, some howled, some cursed the tyrants, whilst others exulted and sang hymns of praise to God, thanking Him that the hour of their deliverance had come at last.
All had already left the prison to meet their doom. I alone lingered behind, and calling to the jailer, I said imploringly, ‘have patience with me, I lost my medal last night, and I cannot go without it.’ ‘Medal!’ cried, the man indignantly, ‘what medal?’ ‘My medal,’ I answered at the same time turning over the straw of my couch, and searching with desperate eagerness. ‘Forward!’ cried the jailer, imperiously,’ ‘You shall not have a moments respite.’
‘Oh, I beseech you, have pity, grant me one moment more!’ I entreated, falling on my knees, ‘ I have worn that medal all my life on my breast and now at my last hour---.’ And grief choked my voice; the loss of my treasure was breaking my heart. I expected an outburst of angry threats from the jailer and that he would call in the guards to drag me out by force, when, lo! to my astonishment, he stood still, and smiling good-naturedly said, ‘Well, then, stay today, but tomorrow, be ready to ascend the guillotine with your medal!’
With these words he left the prison, and turned the key in the lock. At that very moment, I found the medal of Our Lady and, springing to my feet, I rushed to the door, and called after the jailer, but he was already out of sight, and did not hear me. Then I pressed the medal to my lips and kissed it with a devotion such as I had never before experienced.
“The next morning, the prison door was again opened, but by a strange jailer, whom I had not seen before. He walked in and read a list of victims to be executed that day. I was not named! Why I was spared has always been a mystery to me; perhaps I was supposed to have already suffered execution, or perhaps I was reckoned among the fugitives.
“One evening, about a week later, there suddenly arose, in the court adjoining the prison, the cry of ‘Fire!’ At the same moment the prison door was thrown open, and a powerful voice, which I recognised as that of the first jailer, shouted ‘Save yourself if you can!’
Apparently the breaking out of the fire was no mere chance, it was intended to afford the prisoners a means of escape. We readily understood its meaning, and each one hastened to avail himself of so favourable an opportunity. I was one of the first to escape. But only very few succeeded in their flight, for the guards, soon recovering from the first alarm, at once secured all the outlets of the prison. Meanwhile, I hurried on, unmolested, through the streets of the town, being protected by the darkness of the night. A few days later, I crossed the frontier and proceeded towards the Rhine.
An old acquaintance who I had met in Strasbourg, procured me the necessary means of subsistence, and now my one desire was to be reunited to my wife and two children. At the time of my arrest and condemnation, they had left the country, and taken up their abode in some part of Germany, choosing one of the Catholic provinces near the Rhine. I knew nothing more of their plans, and undoubtedly they had long given me up as having fallen a victim to the Revolutionary party.
My search was untiring. I wondered up and down the Rhine, visiting every village and hamlet on my way, for life could afford me no happiness without my beloved ones. Two whole years had already elapsed, my wanderings had proved absolutely fruitless, and the hope of a reunion was gradually beginning to die away, when at last, one day I entered a church in order to hear Mass as was my daily custom. The service being ended, the devout worshippers began to disperse, but a few still lingered in the holy place.
On visiting a church for the first time, it was my habit to gratify my taste for art by walking around to discover if there were any paintings or remarkable objects deserving closer inspection. This time, animated by the same motive and led also by my good angel, I directed my steps to a side chapel, where a lady, clad in deep mourning, and accompanied by two little girls, attracted my attention by the fervour with which they were praying before a picture of our Blessed Lady. It was evident, they were mother and daughters. As I was standing a little distance behind them, I could not see their faces; but the thought that they were perhaps my dear wife and children, took such a strong hold of me, that I began to tremble all over, and could scarcely contain myself. I quietly left the spot, and betook myself to a corner in the nave, where I could watch unperceived, all who went out of the chapel.
My emotion was indescribable, for in a few minutes, my presentiment would either be changed to happy certainty or the most bitter disappointment. A quarter of an hour passed, which seemed to me, an eternity, and at last the group rose to leave the chapel. How can I describe my feelings, as I recognised the features of my beloved wife and darling children! My heart beat so fast, that I could hardly breathe. I leaned against a pillar, for support, but there was no time to lose. Rousing myself, I followed the little party out of the church, keeping some distance behind, until they disappeared into a secluded, but comfortable looking house. I lost no time in obtaining information from the owner of the house. He told me that these ‘good people,’ as he styled them had been living there as lodgers for about a year.
I refrained from following the impulse of my heart, which was to fold my dear ones in my arms immediately; the sudden shock, and joy at meeting, might have proved fatal. So hurrying back to my lodgings, I wrote the following letter to my wife: "An old friend of your husband, begs to communicate to you, tidings, as important as they are joyful. Your husband, happily escaped from prison in Paris, and has for two years been seeking you in the neighbourhood of the Rhine. It is most likely that in a short time, you will have the happiness to welcome him in your midst.” This was followed by another note, which ran as follows: “Your husband has just learned the place of your residence, and all being well, he will shortly be with you.” Both letters were written in a disguised handwriting, and signed by different names.
And thus, at last, we were once more united, with a joy and happiness which no pen can describe. We poured out our hearts in gratitude to the kind Providence of God, and to our Blessed Lady, who had so directed every circumstance of our separation, so that our re-union might be the happier.
In conclusion, let me add that the blessed medal, to which I owe my life, is still my daily companion, as it was in the prison, for neither death nor the grave shall ever separate it from me.