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Children's Story Garden  >  The Invincible Leader

Girl standing in wild undergrowth, casting milkwood seeds to the breeze.

The Children's Story Garden

The Invincible Leader


"TELL me a story about when you were a great soldier. Tell me about one of the battles you won," said a little boy to his grandfather.

The old man had been a colonel in the Austrian army for many years and could recount fierce tales of conquest by his troops. But today he shook his head as he took the boy upon his knee.

"I will tell you, instead," he said, "of the greatest battle I ever lost, which was won by braver men than mine."

The little boy was astonished, for he thought that his grandfather's soldiers were the bravest in the world. So he listened eagerly.

"I was commanded," the old colonel began, "to march against a little town in the Tyrol and lay siege to it. We had been meeting stubborn resistance in that part of the country, but we felt sure that we should win because all of the advantages were on our side. My confidence, however, was arrested by a remark from a prisoner we had taken. 'You will never take that town,' he said,' for they have an Invincible Leader.'

"'What does the fellow mean?' I inquired of one of my staff. 'And who is this leader of whom he speaks?'\par "Nobody seemed able to answer my question, and so in case there should be some truth in the report, I doubled preparations.

"As we descended through the pass in the Alps, 1 saw with surprise that the cattle were still grazing in the valley and that women and children — yes, and even men — were working in the fields.

"'Either they are not expecting us, or this is a trap to catch us,' I thought to myself. As we drew nearer the town we passed people on the road. They smiled and greeted us with a friendly word, and then went on their way. So friendly was their attitude toward us, and so different from the usual reception given us, that my soldiers forgot they were under discipline and returned the greeting.

"Finally we reached the town and clattered up the cobble-paved streets — colors flying, horns sounding a challenge, arms in readiness. The forge of the blacksmith shop was glowing, and the smith left it to stand in the door with a number of others to watch us pass. Suddenly he waved to one of my soldiers and I heard him exclaim, 'I knew that fellow when we were boys together at Innsbruch.'

"Women came to the windows or doorways with little babies in their arms. Some of them looked startled and held the babies closer, then went quietly on with their household tasks without panic or confusion. As for the boys — little fellows like you, my son," the old man cuddled the boy in his arms; "they made us feel as though we were taking part in a glorious parade for their special amusement. They swarmed after us, whooping with delight and asking innumerable questions about the weapons we carried. Apparently they had never seen guns and swords before.

"It was impossible to keep strict discipline, and I began to feel rather foolish. My soldiers answered the questions of the children, and I saw one old warrior throw a kiss to a little golden-haired tot on a doorstep. 'Just the size of my Lisa,' he muttered.

"Still no sign of an ambush. We rode straight to the open square on which faced the town hall. Here, if anywhere, resistance was to be expected. This is what we found. The door of the beautiful old building was wide open. Pigeons flew up from the grass around the fountain as we approached. No cannon or barricade was in sight, and my regiment, as it poured into the square, looked out of place.

"Just as I had reached the hall and my guard was drawn up at attention, an old white-haired man, who by his insignia I surmised to be the mayor, stepped forth, followed by ten men in simple peasants' costume. They were all dignified and unabashed by the armed force before them — the most terrible soldiers of the great army of Austria."

"And what did this old man say, in the face of your guns and your cannon?" asked the little boy breathlessly.

"He walked down the steps, straight to my horse's side, and with hand extended, cried, 'Welcome, brother!' One of my aides made a gesture as if to strike him down with his sword, but I saw by the face of the old mayor that this was no trick on his part.

"'Where are your soldiers!' I demanded.

"'Soldiers? Why, don't you know we have none!' he replied in wonderment, as though I had said, 'Where are your giants?' or 'Where are your dwarfs?'

"'But we have come to take the town.'

"'Well, no one will stop you.'

"'Are there none here to fight?'

"At this question, the old man's face lit up with a rare smile that I will always remember. Often afterwards, when engaged in bloody warfare, I would suddenly see that man's smile — and somehow, I came to hate my business. His words were simply:

"'No, there is no one here to fight. We have chosen Christ for our Leader, and he taught men another way.'"

"What did you do then, grandfather?" asked the little boy eagerly.

"Do you know, son," the old soldier answered, "there seemed nothing left for us to do but to ride away, leaving the town unmolested. It was impossible to take it. If I had ordered my soldiers to fire on those smiling men, women and children, I knew they would not have obeyed me. Even military discipline has its limits. Could I command the grisly soldier to shoot down the child who reminded him of his Lisa? I reported to headquarters that the town had offered unassailable resistance, although this admission injured my military reputation. But I was right. We had literally been conquered by these simple folk who followed implicitly the leadership of Jesus Christ."

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In The Children's Story Garden. Stories collected by a committee of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting — Anna Pettit Broomell, Emily Cooper Johnson, Elizabeth W. Collins, Alice Hall Paxson, Annie Hillborn, and Anna D. White. Illustrated by Katharine Richardson Wireman and Eugénie M. Wireman. Published in 1920 by J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia.

Notes and links

The Invincible Leader
The outline of this story is told in "Letters to the Boston Courier" by Lydia Maria Child, and retold in "Christian Non-Resistance" by Adin Ballou and in "The Arm of God" by Dunkerley. The setting is imaginary but the principal events are true. (Historical Notes.)