On a wet, winters day in 1535, a lady could be seen, hurrying along the streets of Paris, black, feathered hat pulled low, head down, and tall black boots clicking along the cobblestone road in her purposeful haste. As she passed a gap between two buildings a hand suddenly reached out, grabbed her arm and pulled her out of the street. Another gloved hand clasped over her mouth before she could utter a cry. Hands still firmly grasping her, she was spun around to face her captor.
“Mademoiselle Claremont,” the man said, his mouth curling into a deliberate smile and a spark of maliciousness darkening his eye.
Transferring her into the grip of the five other men with him, he pulled a mask over his face and began to run, away from the street, away from all help, between tall, dark buildings, his band of men following him and dragging their terrified captive behind them.
To where was Mademoiselle Claire Claremont hastening before the unfortunate and unprecedented event described above? To the home of Evie Montesquieu, to warn her of impending danger. Mademoiselle Claremont was the only one who knew the reality of this danger, and therefore was the only one capable of warning Montesquieu of it’s soon arrival. No one knew that Claremont had gone, nor what her purpose was in going, for Claremont was a young widow who lived alone and did not confide such matters with her friends and neighbors. Therefore, she was not missed and would not be for some time yet.
What does all this mean? Why, that Madame Montesquieu would not be warned and neither would her husband, and the merry little printing press hidden in the basement of Montesquieu’s home would continue it’s merry printing of illegal Bible manuscripts; it’s agents would still arrive at their designated times, and no one would know that they were being discovered, that a band of spies was gathering information, and preparing their assault on these unsuspecting law-breakers.
3 weeks later
“Evie, my dear,” said Pierre Montesquieu one night as the couple sat down to supper. “Evie, my dear, I fear there is something wrong with our work.” He said these last words with meaningful emphasis and his wife knew he wasn’t talking about their work of running a Boulangerie-or French bakery.
A look of alarm crossed her soft features as she said, “Whatever do you mean, Pierre? Do tell me. We’re not discovered--are we?”
“I fear they may be on our path. You see, Madame Beauchant hasn’t shown up for three weeks. Instead, a man came in her place. He said Madame Beauchant had sent him to replace her until she could serve again. He even showed me a printed note with Beauchant’s signature, that said, ‘This man is a trusted friend.’ I did not really trust him, so I didn’t give him what I normally send Beauchant with.”
“What was his name?” Evie asked. “You did not recognize him?”
“No, I have never seen him before. He said he hoped I wouldn’t mind if he didn’t give his name--he wished to be kept anonymous for personal safety.”
“But why did you trust him at all, Pierre? It doesn’t sound right to me.”
“Beauchant’s signature--it could not be mistaken. I even compared the one on the note to a bill of sale in the store. Besides, he knew the code. He seemed sincere. And the manuscripts needed to get to Furneauxs. They had been hidden in the store for too long. I did not have much of a choice.”
Evie was silent for a moment. “Perhaps you were right, Pierre,” she said with uneasy hope. “Perhaps Madame Beauchant really did send him and we have nothing to fear. We cannot be too suspicious--we have to take risks, sometimes.”
“I’m afraid that is not all, dear,” Pierre said. “Last week Monsieur Carpe did not appear, and neither did young Renoir. A message was delivered that said Monsieur Carpe was ill but that he was well taken care of and expected to recover quickly. Beauchant’s man brought from her another signed message to say that Renoir had asked her to let me know unexpected business had arisen that called him away immediately. Evie,” Pierre said, voice low and earnest, “We have never had this many agents miss at one time.”
Evie’s face looked worried. “What are we to do? What can you think is the matter?”
“I don’t know, dear. I mean to talk to Mademoiselle Claremont when she comes for our meeting tonight.” Pierre frowned as a sudden thought crossed his mind. “Come to think of it, Evie, have you heard from Claire since our last meeting a month ago?”
Evie searched her memory. “No...I don’t believe so…”
“Is that not unusual?” Pierre questioned. “Tell me, Evie, does not Mademoiselle Claremont message us at least every three weeks?”
“Yes, yes dear, she does,” Evie said with some concern, “but there have been times we haven’t heard from her between meetings--perhaps there is nothing amiss so she has no reason to contact us.”
“Let us hope--but you haven’t even seen her around the town? Not in the shops? I declare, she hasn’t come to my shop for at least three weeks!”
“Pierre, Pierre, keep your voice down, dear, someone may hear us,” Evie hushed her husband. “When is Mademoiselle Claremont designated to arrive tonight?”
“Ten O’clock--and she is never late, you know.”
“Alright. Let us wait until half-past ten, and if she does not arrive, we shall know something is wrong. Oh, dear, I really am beginning to worry now!”
There was silence between the couple for a moment, each absorbed in their own troubled thoughts.
“Remember what we memorized last month from the book of Philippians?” Pierre spoke up. Evie nodded silently and, joining hands, they quoted the holy words together: “‘Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.’” They paused in silence for a moment, letting those comforting words fill their troubled hearts. They had been long deprived of the beauty of God’s Word untainted by the interpretation of priests and church leaders, and the purity of His words to them invigorated them and quickened their very souls.
The couple knelt down and earnestly pleaded with God as they anxiously awaited the tenth hour.
Eight O’clock came, along with a sharp rap on their door. Both Pierre and Evie jumped out of their seats. When they opened the door they found their caller to be a man with a written message. Pierre took the paper, thanked the man, and asked him to stay a moment in case he should need to send a reply. He then read the message to himself in a low voice:
‘Monsieur and Madame Montesquieu,’ it read,
‘Letita’s mother has taken ill in Riquewihr and we have been called away in preparation of the event she does not pull through, and for consultation. Please forgive our absence in tomorrow’s engagements.
Monsieur Avonlea ‘
Pierre glanced with a worried look at his wife. He then scribbled a reply with their condolences and prayers and sent the man off.
“What can you make of it, Evie?” He asked in despair. “Is it just coincidence? Is it an attack from our supernatural enemy, or can something intentional be happening to our men and women?”
“Oh, I do not know, Pierre!” She hesitated for a moment before whispering, “Would it be too risky to read God’s Word together? I believe it will help us to remember God’s sovereignty over all.”
Pierre agreed, locked the heavy wood door, and pulled the curtains over the windows before Evie pulled a book from a small shelf. The cover and binding of the book evidenced much use, yet, despite its ragged appearance, she held it as if it were the most precious diamond a person could possess. She handed the sacred book to her husband before she took a seat near him. Silence ensued for a moment, broken only by the light flutter of papers as Pierre gently turned it’s pages. He stopped at a passage, cleared his throat and began in a low voice:
“Praise ye the LORD: for it is good to sing praises unto our God; for it is pleasant; and praise is comely.
“The Lord doth build up Jerusalem: he gathereth together the outcasts of Israel.
“He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.
“He telleth the number of the stars; he calleth them all by their names.
“Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite.” Pierre gave emphasis to these last words and paused. “Do you hear that, Evie? ‘His understanding is infinite.’” Peace settled over Evie’s heart as he spoke these words. The words of another passage that she had memorized with her husband flooded into her memory, and she quoted aloud in her soft, gentle voice, “‘The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth.’”
Pierre’s manly voice joined hers: “‘He will fulfil the desire of them that fear him; he also will hear their cry, and save them. The Lord preserveth all them that love him: but all the wicked will he destroy. My mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord: and let all flesh bless his holy name for ever and ever.’”
An hour and a half went by before a lighter rap on the door startled the couple again and they hurried to the door in expectation. This time it was a young boy with sandy hair covered by a cap and scarf.
“Why Randy!” Evie exclaimed in surprise. “What are you doing here so late at night?”
“Madame and Monsieur, I came to fetch my father. Mother has sent me. She is coming on with a headache and has had a hard day all day. If the business is finished, she would like him to come home.”
Pierre and Evie looked at the boy in confusion.
“But your father just sent us a telegram to say your grand-mére had taken ill and you were being called away,” Pierre exclaimed.
It was Randy’s turn to look confused.
“I am sure I do not know what you are talking about, Monsieur,” he said. “Papa hasn’t been home for two hours--the men said you needed him on urgent business. Do you mean he is not here?” Randy’s voice betrayed his alarm and confusion.
Pierre looked at his wife, face pale, and Evie began to feel faint.
Snapping to her senses, Evie turned to the boy.
“Oh, Randy, do come in and tell us more. Tell Monsieur Pierre all you know. I will go make a cup of hot chocolate for you--you must be frozen from walking in this cold.”
She pulled the boy in and sat him in a chair, and then walked tremulously to the kitchen while Pierre asked questions.
As she held the small, warm cup, or demitasse, of hot chocolate, carefully bringing it to the sitting room, she paused at the door to the basement.
‘They’re onto us,’ she thought. ‘I cannot risk them getting hold of those manuscripts or the press.’
With sudden resolution, Evie set the cup gently on the brick floor, opened the door and walked briskly down. The soft glow of a glass lantern awaited her at the bottom of the stairs. The gentle humming of the faithful press was a welcome and comforting sound to her ears.
She greeted Monsieur Tournet, the agent who helped her and her husband run the press, with a smile and watched him work for a moment. What a marvel, the invention of the printing press! Yet how much more marvelous and precious were the words it copied in French--the words of the Living God. How many men, women and children could now read and know His words for themselves in their own language, Evie could not count, and her heart quietly rejoiced in God her Savior.
“Monsieur Tournet,” she spoke up. The man set a last letter and then came over to her, a limp accenting his gait.
“What is it, Madame?” he asked, stroking his dark brown moustache.
“Tournet, I am afraid we must shut down the press temporarily.”
The man looked at her in surprise. “Shut down the press? Are they onto us, Madame?”
Evie wrung her hands anxiously.
“I do not know, Tournet, but I feel that something is not right. I believe it would be wise if we shut down the press for the night and hide the manuscripts.”
“If you say so, Madame. But if it does not run tonight Monsieur Blanchett will not receive the number of manuscripts he requested.”
Evie hesitated a moment. “It will be alright. I believe we need to act in safety, and we will be only a little behind. We can make up the work later.”
“As you say.”
Tournet began the process of shutting down the press, and Evie helped him gather the manuscripts. Tournet ensured the curtain at the little window near the roof was secure before he knelt down on the dirt floor, took a spade and scraped away a patch of dirt revealing a small wooden trapdoor. He pulled it open and held it while Evie carefully laid the papers into the shallow space.
‘Lord, protect them,’ she prayed silently, and then the door sealed the manuscripts in darkness.
Tournet spread the dirt back over the trapdoor, concealing it, and stamped it firmly into place as Evie unfolded homemade quilts and laid them gently over the tall wooden frame of the press. The boxes of metal letters and cases of ink were laid quietly on a shelf, and more common books were stacked beside them.
Evie took a deep breath and looked around the room one last time to ensure everything was in place before she followed Tournet up the stairs.
Pierre nearly ran into them at the top of the stairs.
“Evie, dear, did you shut down the press?” he asked anxiously.
“Yes I did. Was it the right thing to do?”
“Yes, yes it was. There is definitely something amiss. Randy says that there were three men dressed in black who knew the code. They rapped on their door, said the code, and then told Avonlea that I had ordered a meeting and to come immediately. Apparently Avonlea did not recognize the men, for Randy said he asked their names. They said that Madame Beauchant and Monsieur Carpe had recently recruited them to the work. Randy said the Avonlea wasted no time in getting his coat and following the men, and he has been gone ever since.”
“Oh, Pierre, this is awful!” Evie exclaimed. “Whatever are we to do?”
Pierre’s shoulders sagged and he shook his head in despair. “I do not know, my dear, I simply don’t know. It is more than I had expected.”
Randy peeped around the corner.
“Is papa going to be okay?” he asked timidly. Evie put her arm around his shoulder.
“Yes, Randy,” she said, attempting to sound confident. “Your father will be okay because God is watching out for him. Has your mother taught you what Psalm 121 says?”
Randy shook his sandy curls and she knelt down next to him.
“Psalm 121 says that our help comes from the LORD, who made the heavens and the earth. He will never slumber or sleep. He is our keeper. He will preserve us from all evil--He will preserve our soul. The LORD will preserve our going out and our coming in ‘from this time forth, and even forever more.’ God is watching over your father, Randy, and He will be faithful to preserve him because he is the LORD’s.”
Even as she spoke of these promises as comfort to the boy, Evie felt the burden of her own heart lightened at the reminder of God’s care.
Spotting the demitasse of hot chocolate she had set down before shutting down the press, Evie handed it to him. “Here, drink this to warm yourself, dear. The night may be long.”
To Be Continued ~
References to scripture used:
Psalm 121:2, 4-5, 7-8