Darkness covered the sky and silence reigned everywhere, except in one house, where the light of a candle pierced the shadows and the sound of voices broke the quiet.
Inside, Admiral Sebastien de Bethune, the haughty leader of the Huguenots – the French version of the Calvinist heresy – was holding a meeting. He was explaining a plot for taking over a Catholic town and ruining the faith of its inhabitants… something in which he had already gained some practice.
“If we succeed in taking control of Lunéville, our influence will spread!” gloated the admiral.
“I have a feeling that this plan is going to fail…” objected one of the participants.
“Don’t be a fool! You can be sure that the Catholics will put up no resistance. In all the campaigns I’ve been through, I’ve proven that we are wiser them! Ha, ha, ha!” laughed Sebastien arrogantly.
“What is the plan then?” asked another.
The leader replied:
“It is this: in a week we will march to Lunéville, and remain hidden in the surrounding forests so as not to attract attention. Finally, on Wednesday night, as soon as the clock of Saint-Jacques tower strikes midnight, the city gates will be opened by some women who are part of our group who live there. We will invade the chateaux of the Duke Armand of Lorraine and I will take over the city government!
Everyone found the strategy interesting and approved of it.
The sky was beginning to lighten when the secret meeting ended and everyone went home. However, no one noticed the presence of a young boy who, well hidden under a piece of furniture, had collected all the information. “No, they can’t be smarter than us!” He thought indignantly. His name was Étienne, and he was the nephew of a Jesuit priest, Fr. Laurent Paré.
The lad ran as fast as he could to his uncle’s house.
“I come with news!” he announced.
The priest received him and listened to his report. When he had heard everything, he decided:
“I will inform the duke of the case so that he can take the necessary measures.”
And placing his hand on the boy’s shoulder, he added:
“God bless you.”
The priest directed his steps to the chateaux, where he asked for an audience.
“Reverend Fr. Paré, I present you to His Excellency, the Duke of Lorraine!” announced the guard in a resounding voice, striking his staff on the ground.
The Jesuit entered the hall and informed the nobleman of the enemy’s plans. Armand rose from his seat, ready to take action. He knew that the small city had men willing to do anything to defend it, but they lacked adequate weaponry.
“What we need is help from Heaven,” he said. “It will not be easy for us to obtain weapons in time, and the Huguenots must have known our shortage, which is why they decided to attack us. Offer your prayers, Father, and I will offer mine.”
With a bow, Fr. Laurent took his leave.
In fact, the duke was able to arrange for the armaments he needed, but they would not reach Lunéville until Wednesday itself. Furthermore, prudence demanded that the equipment only enter the city after nightfall… How to distribute the arms in time, if the invasion was planned for the stroke of midnight? Armand prayed to God for inspiration, but no idea came to his mind. Days passed, until the hoped-for light arrived.
* * *
“Yes?” replied the duke to the nine-year-old boy who entered the room.
“Today, in Bible History, Friar Edmond told us the story of King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah. The only thing I didn’t quite understand was how the time stopped on that sundial.”
* * *
“Your grace, Fr. Laurent Paré has come at your request,” announced the attendant.
“Show him in.”
Entering, the cleric said gravely:
“Here I am, your grace, after days of prayer and fasting, begging Heaven for a sign. Has your grace called me to tell me of an inspiration you have received?”
“Yes, thanks be to God! He has enlightened our way, through the mouth of a child!”
Having brought the priest up to date with their current situation, and described how the unique idea came to him, the duke explained the plan and said:
“Now the final word is yours, Father. As a man of God, what do you think?”
“May the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit bring this project to a successful conclusion! Let us be as wise as serpents (cf. Mt 10:16)!”
* * *
“Attention, attention, Ladies and gentlemen!” cried the herald in the main square. “The city clocks are showing the wrong time. By the Duke’s orders, they must be adjusted by sunset.”
The experts took up their tools and set to work. The most experienced worked on the clock tower of the chateaux and that of the of Saint-Jacques Church, while others went from house to house. Fortunately, among the humble town dwellers almost no one owned the very expensive pocket watches that had begun to circulate among the high nobility of France in that century. Everyone was guided by the two main city clocks, or by those that they had in their homes.
It was a day of hard work. Fortunately, the mission was successfully accomplished by the watchmakers! And the heretics… how would they fare in their plans?
When only the singing of crickets could be heard, every man capable of wielding a weapon presented himself at the palace to receive secret instructions. A small city gate opened discreetly to let three carriages carrying hay pass through… It was only a rather thin layer of hay, it is true, under which was hidden a shipment of the most modern weaponry. The rest of the inhabitants slept, without suspecting the great risk they were facing. While the men of Lunéville took position at the walls, the enemy was lurking nearby.
“Isn’t it midnight yet?” questioned one of the Huguenots to the Protestant leader.
“Did you not hear the clock of Saint-Jacques church strike ten a short while ago?” growled Admiral Sébastien.
Everyone felt strange about the length of time that had passed since nightfall, but no one dared say a word.
After another two hours, the soldiers received the signal to advance against the city. The gates did indeed open for the enemy, but they were met by a defence more prepared and powerful than they could ever have imagined!
“I knew this plan wasn’t going to work!” cried a Huguenot soldier as he fled, leaving many companions behind him.
“There’s something strange going on here!” roared another.
“I’ve been fighting for you for five years and I’ve never had any luck… I’m leaving!” shouted a lieutenant at the admiral.
As the rebels disappeared, Sébastien, also stunned by the unexpected turn of events, made the grim realization that he was leading a mere handful of discontented men under incessant fire. He sounded the retreat.
When the sun finally swept away the black mantle of the night, Duke Armand de Lorraine surveyed the city, confirming the success of the strategy: they had repelled the invaders! And he proclaimed:
“Victory! Two innocent children have saved our city! Let us give thanks to God, who protects his people!”
“This is what happens when the good are more daring than the wicked!” concluded Fr. Laurent.
And that is how Lunéville was saved by two boys and a few watchmakers. ◊