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WITH THOSE POWERFUL AGENTS, FIRE AND WATER, WE CONTRIVE TO
ESCAPE FROM A FRENCH PRISON.
After more than an hour of confusion and loud talking, it was at last proposed and agreed to, nem. con., that the prisoners should be confined in the old church; the twelve invalids to be divided into two parties, who were to be sentinels over them, relieving each other every four hours. The mayor immediately went forward with the village blacksmith to examine the state of the church doors, and ascertain how they might be secured ; while the prisoners, having been summoned out of the privateer, were escorted up between two files of the privateer's men with their swords drawn, and followed by the whole population. As soon as we arrived at the church door, the name of every prisoner was taken down by the mayor, attended by a notary, and then he was passed into the church. Bramble and I of course were marched up with the others; the captain of the privateer talking with us the whole way, through the young man who interpreted, informing us that an express had been sent over to Morlaix, to which town we should be escorted the next day, and then have better accommodation. As we stood at the huge doors of the church, which were opened for our reception, we perceived that the altar and all the decorations had been removed ; and that, with the exception of the large wooden screen of carved oak, near the altar, the church was completely bare. Bramble spoke to the interpreter, and said that he hoped the captain would request the mayor to allow the prisoners to have straw to lie down upon, as the pavement would be very cold. Although the mayor at first demurred at this demand, yet the captain of the privateer, probably out of good will to Bramble, insisted, and the straw was ordered to be sent in.
At last, the mayor became impatient, we could delay no longer, and the doors were closed.
I had surveyed the church as we were escorted up to it: it was very large, capable, I should think, of holding more than two thousand people. The walls of the church were very massive, and the windows had but very few panes of glass remaining in them, but they were so very high as to prevent our climbing out of them, even if there had not been six sentinels guarding us outside. At one corner, to the right of the end of the church where the altar-piece had been, was a narrow stone tower, apparently an addition made to the Lady's chapel, long after the church had been originally built. When we were shut up, we were enabled to survey the interior at our leisure. The whole was completely bare to the pavement until you came to the chancel part, near to which the altar had been, where the wooden screens and seats still remained, in a sad dilapidated state ; but they must have once been very handsome, for the carving, where it was perfect, was very beautiful. A small thick wooden door, loaded with iron work, communicated with the narrow tower, which had a flight of stone steps running up to the top, and narrow loop-holes to give light as you ascended. While the majority of the prisoners were sitting down here and there on the pavement, few of them entering into conversation, Bramble had, with me, taken a full survey of our locality.
“I tell you what, Tom; if we once get to Morlaix, all chance is over," said he: “we must either get out of this church this very night, or we must make up our minds to remain in prison, Heaven knows how long."
“Have we any chance ?”
The door of the church now opened, and the people brought in the straw for the beds, which they threw all in a heap in the centre of the church, and the doors were again closed.
“I see daylight now,” said Bramble. “ Tom, find the mate and boatswain, and bring them here to me quickly."
I did so, and Bramble asked them whether they were inclined to make an attempt to get clear.
They replied that they would join us in any thing: they did not care what it was, and against any odds.
“Well, then," said Bramble, “my idea is this. You see there are but twelve old soldiers to guard us; for you may be certain that, before long, all the privateer's men will be as drunk as owls — that's but natural; not that I think of coming to any fight with them, but I make the observation because, if we get out, we shall have little to fear afterwards. Now, you see, I asked for the straw because the idea came in my head that it might be useful. You see what I propose is, as there is plenty of wood in this part of the church, that we should wait till about three hours after dark that is, until ten or eleven o'clock—and then set fire to the church. They must come and let us out, you know ; at least I take it for granted that they will before the roof comes down : if they don't, we must force the doors ourselves — I've looked at them - and until we do, there is no fear of suffocating, for there are no panes to the windows; so, after all, it will only be a bonfire, without danger to any body."
“Well, but what shall we gain by it ? ” said the mate: shall be walked out with the other prisoners, and how shall we then escape?"
“ There it is : we will not be walked out with the other prisoners ; and, in the confusion and hurry of taking them away to one place or another, they will not be likely to miss us. We will all
go up this narrow tower, where we may remain, till the church falls in, with perfect safety; and then, when all is quiet again, and the people have left the spot, we will make for the pier, get one of the fishing boats and be off. How do you like the idea ?”
We all agreed that the plan was very feasible, and would attempt it. "Well, then, we must remain quiet for the present; all you
have to do is to fetch as much straw this way as you can by degrees : I expect they will bring us something to eat before long."
We removed a large portion of the straw to the chancel ; in half an hour afterwards the doors were opened and rations of bread were brought in. What still more assisted our plans was, that the captain of the privateer at the same time, very good-naturedly, brought a demijohn of brandy, which he gave to Bramble.
Bramble thanked him through the interpreter, and told him that he would get well drunk that night.
“Yes, drive away care, captain says,” replied the interpreter.
Once more the doors were closed, and we had no chance of further interruption.
By Bramble's direction, the mate, assisted by me and the boatswain, cast loose the remaining bundles of straw and shook them down as beds for the prisoners at the end of the church nearest to the door; and as soon as they had eaten their bread, Bramble gave them all a portion of the brandy, advising them to turn in soon, as we were to march very early the next morning. We remained with them at first, having taken our seats on the straw as if we also intended to repose.
At last it became dusk, and then dark ; the prisoners settled themselves to sleep; we left them and joined Bramble. Having arranged our straw so as to secure ignition, and leaving the mate and boatswain down below, Bramble and I, now that there was no chance of our being seen by the sentinels, ascended the tower. It commanded a view of the town and harbour: we looked down upon the main street — all was mirth and revelry; fiddling and dancing and singing were to be heard froin more than one house ; women in the street laughing, and now and then running and screaming when pursued by the
“ This is all right,” observed Bramble; “in an hour or two you'll see how quiet every thing will be ; but I shall not let them all to bed before I set fire, for there may be some difficulty in waking them. I don't see that there's any lights down at the pier, where the vessels lie.".
We staid up there till about eleven o'clock, Bramble watching the lights and sounds; and when he considered that they had sufficiently decreased, he said, “Now we'll try it, Tom, and may success attend us !"
We descended and found the mate and boatswain anxiously waiting for us. Bramble struck a light with his flint, and we carried it to the screen where we had piled the straw under the seats and against the panels.