A young Huguenot flees France
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In the year 1700, the Duke de la Force obtained permission to march to Perigord at the head of several regiments and this he desired to do in order to compel the Huguenots who lived in the royal towns of that province to embrace the Roman Catholic faith. He accordingly entered the town of Bergerac accompanied by four Jesuit priests and escorted by a regiment of dragoons whom he quartered among the citizens.
The inhuman conduct of these dragoons proved more effective in inducing the Huguenots to forsake their religion than all the exhortations of the Jesuits had been. The most barbarous means were adopted to drive the unhappy citizens to the mass and to persuade them to abjure the Protestant faith. For this purpose a formulary was drawn up, filled with imprecations against the opinions of the Huguenots, which all the inhabitants of Bergerac were constrained to sign and confirm by oath.
At that time, there lived in the town a worthy citizen to whom I shall give the name Mantel (Martielhe). Engaged in trade, he conscientiously fulfilled the duties of his calling. As the father of a family, he educated his children in the fear of God, instructing them in the principles of true religion and, as the circumstances of the times indeed demanded, he sought to guard them against the errors of Popery. Twenty-two Dragoons were quartered by the Duke in the house of his honest man, nor was this all, he himself was arrested and thrown into prison without regard to law or justice. Happily, his eldest son had previously effected his own escape, but two other sons and a daughter, still in early childhood, were taken from his home and placed in a convent.
The unfortunate mother of this once happy family was then left alone, surrounded by two and twenty ruffians, who, having first treated her with the utmost barbarity and destroyed everything in the house, so that nothing remained but the bare walls, afterwards dragged her into the presence of he Duke where, by the basest treatment and most terrible threats, she was compelled at length to sign the formulary. Weeping bitterly, the poor woman solemnly protested against these proceedings and determined publicly to state her objection, although she was yet obliged to put her name to the document. When the Duke, therefore, placed the formulary before her, she did sign her name as commanded, but she added these words “The Duke de la Force has compelled me to sign” The Duke insisted upon her scratching out this bold declaration, but she steadily refused until at length one of the Jesuits took a pen and effaced the offending sentence. But, here we must leave the unhappy mother in order to follow the oldest son, now a fugitive, whose narrative of escape we will give in his own words.
I fled from my father's house before the Dragoons entered. It was in October, 1700 that I left my home, being at that time about sixteen years of age. I was young indeed to be exposed to such perils, with scarcely sufficient prudence and experience to extricate myself from them. Could I hope to elude the vigilance of the soldiers who occupied all parts of the town? Nevertheless, by Gods goodness, I was enabled to effect my escape. Accompanied by a young friend, I fled at night without being observed and, pursuing our journey through a forest, we found ourselves the next morning at Mussidan, a small town which lies about three leagues distant from Bergerac. From there we resolved, in spite of any obstacles that might arise, to continue our journey to Holland. We solemnly committed ourselves to the protection of God and resigned ourselves to his will in all the dangers that might await us. And we determined by his grace not to look back, as Lots wife did, but to abide steadfastly in the profession of the true faith, although we might be sentenced to death or to hard labor in the Galleys on the account of that faith.
Thus having called upon God for his grace and assistance, we set off cheerfully on the road to Paris. Our purse was not particularly well stocked, our whole property consisting of only ten Pistoles or about 20s. We endeavored to spend as little as possible of this small sum, and when we were obliged to purchase refreshments, we always turned into the poorest looking inn we could find. We met with no accident, thank God, until we arrived at Paris on November 10, 1700. In Paris, according to the plan we had proposed to follow on our departure from Bergerac, we sought out an acquaintance from whom we hoped to learn the easiest and safest way of reaching the frontier. We were very happy to obtain from a Protestant friend a written direction as far as Mezieres, an out-post on the river Meuse, which formed the boundary of the Spanish Netherlands and was adjoined to the Forest of the Ardennes. This friend assured us that we had nothing to fear until we came to Mezieres and that we might, upon leaving it, go through the Forest of Ardennes to Charleroi; Charleroi being only six miles distance from Mezieres. If we could only succeed in reaching Charleroi, which was occupied by a Dutch garrison, we would be beyond the French frontier and consequently, we would be in perfect security. But he cautioned us, above all things, to be on our guard when passing through Mezieres because all strangers that entered that town are subject to a strict examination and if any are found without a passport, they are immediately thrown into prison. We accordingly set off on our journey from Paris to Mezieres.
In the interior of France, travelers are allowed to pass without being questioned by the police; it is only in the frontier towns that they are strictly watched. We therefore proceeded quietly on our way until, at about five o'clock one afternoon, we came to the top of a hill from where we saw in front of us, about a quarter of a mile from the place where we stood, the town of Mezieres and the gate by which we must enter that city. You may easily imagine what our feelings were as the danger that we were about to meet with was so suddenly brought before our eyes. We sat down there on the hill and considered how we might best gain entrance into the town. We saw that from the gate there extended a bridge over the river Meuse, and that upon this bridge many of the citizens were walking and enjoying the fine weather.
The thought immediately suggested itself “Let us mingle with the crowd and walk up and down the bridge, so that, when the citizens return into the town, we might pass through the gate with the rest of them without exciting any observation.” We immediately rose, took out our clothes that were in our knapsacks, dressed ourselves in them, and stuffed the knapsacks into the pockets of our coats. Then, rubbing the dust from our shoes and smoothing out our hair that we might not have the appearance of travelers, we went down the hill and, arriving at the bridge, we walked up and down with the citizens until the sound of the trumpet gave notice that the gates were about to be closed. The citizens hastened into the town and we followed in the throng and happily without being observed by the sentinel. We were truly glad to have escaped this danger, imagining then that is was the only one we had to fear. Truly, as will be seen in the sequel, we had not considered whoever might be our host that evening.
We could not possibly leave Mezieres that night, as the gate on the opposite side of the town was locked and we were therefore obliged to seek a lodging. We entered the first inn we saw and here we were received by the good woman of the house, her husband being at the time absent. We ordered supper and about nine o'clock just as we were sitting down to eat, the landlord returned. His wife informed him that during his absence she had admitted two young strangers. He asked her, loud enough for us to hear, whether we were provided with a passport from the Governor, to which she replied that she had not inquired. “What, foolish woman!” he continued, “do you wish to ruin us? You know the strict orders we have received not to let anyone remain in our house without permission. I must go directly with the strangers to the Governor.”
Our uneasiness at hearing these words was great. Our landlord presently entered our apartment and inquired with much civility, whether we had seen the Governor. We replied that we had not, adding that we had not considered it necessary, since we only intended to remain in the town for one night. Upon hearing this, he told us that if the Governor knew of us being in this house without permission, he would be fined in the amount of a thousand dollars. “But,” he said, “have you a passport seeing that you venture thus into a frontier town?” In this perplexity, alas, we were tempted to be unfaithful to the truth and thus we replied to his question, apparently with the perfect confidence, that we had a passport. “That makes the case different,” responded our host. “I have then nothing to fear from receiving you into my house without permission." "Nevertheless you must accompany me to the Governor, in order that he may examine your passport.” We objected, declaring that we were weary with our journey and that if he would wait until the morning, we would then willingly follow him. To this he was persuaded to agree and we, having had our supper, lay down on the comfortable beds prepared for us. But, so completely were our minds occupied with the perils that surrounded us that we could not sleep.
How many plans did we form during this long night for escaping from the vigilance of the Governor, while our consciences smote us for our past dissimulation. But, since no human help was near, we could finally only commit ourselves in this overwhelming trouble to Almighty God, imploring his assistance and praying that if it was his will to test us, he would grant us the courage and steadfastness to make a worthy confession of the Evangelical faith. As soon as it was day, we rose and went into the kitchen. Previously, while we were dressing, a means of escape had occurred to us, namely, to leave the house if possible, unperceived by the host and before he had time to observe us more closely. He slept in a room adjoining the kitchen, and hearing us there, he inquired what we wanted so early in the morning. We replied that we wished to have breakfast before we went to the Governor's in order that we might continue our journey as soon as we have spoken to the Governor. He approved our plan and desired the servant to prepare our breakfast while he rose and dressed himself. We observed, however, that the maid had forgotten to shut the kitchen door that opened into the street: thus we went out without our host suspecting anything. No sooner were we in the street than, having asked a little boy which was the way to the gate that led to Charleville, we proceeded towards it and thus escaped the fatal inn without taking leave of those who dwelt there. The gate was not very distant and, passing through it without inquiry, we went on to Charleville. Charleville is a little town within reach of a gunshot from Mezieres and which has neither gates nor a garrison. Here we had a hearty breakfast and then, continuing on the journey, we left Charleville and entered the Forest of Ardennes.
There had been a hard frost during the night and the trees were covered with icicles. When we had proceeded some distance through the woods, we arrived at a place where a number of roads met and we were completely at a loss which road we should take. While we were considering this, a peasant came up to us and we immediately requested that he show us the road to Charleroi. He answered, at the same time shrugging his shoulders significantly, that he saw that we must be strangers by our proposing to go to Charleroi through the forest, which was a thing impossible for anyone not perfectly acquainted with the road, since there were so many paths crossing each other throughout the woods, and not a village or even a cottage any place near; and, he continued, that if we attempted to find our own way, we would only get deeper into the woods and probably either fall prey to the wolves which abounded there or perish with cold and hunger. We offered the peasant a louis d'or (a gold coin) if he would guide us through the forest to Charleroi. “No”, he said, "not if you would give me a hundred louis d'ors. I am sure that you are Huguenots and have fled from your homes, and to render you such a service would be to fasten the halter on my own neck. But I will give you this advice: leave the Forest of Ardennes and take the road at night and tomorrow you can proceed on your journey. Still keeping to the right and leaving Rocroy to the left, you will come to the small town of Couve through which you must pass. When you leave it, turn down the road to the left, which will lead you to Charleroi. The distance is certainly greater than travelling through the Forest of Ardennes, but it is much safer”. We thanked the honest man and followed his directions.
We arrived at the village he mentioned, where we remained the night. Early the next morning, we proceeded on our journey, leaving Rocroy to the left. But the peasant, probably from ignorance, had omitted to warn us that the road led through a narrow pass that was guarded by a French sentinel, who was under strict orders to arrest all persons traveling without a passport and take them prisoners to Rocroy.
Like wandering sheep, we strayed into the lions den. Nevertheless, by the good providence of God, we escaped the impending danger. For, as we entered the narrow pass, there began so heavy a shower of rain to fall that the sentinel ran for shelter into the guard house, and thus we passed by without exciting his observation. Shortly after, we arrived at Couve where we might have remained in perfect security had we known that this little town was beyond the French frontier. It belonged to the Prince of Liege, and it was within gunshot of Liege, which was manned by a Dutch garrison and the Governor was accustomed to grant an escort to all fugitives who wished to go to Charleroi.
But of this we were not aware and God allowed us to remain in ignorance, in order to test our faith by the experience of the greatest misery.
end of Chapter 2.
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