Stories of Old Retold: No. 2: La Tour De Constance

TO-DAY we will pay a visit to a prison, always a sad and gloomy place, in La tour de Constance, a large, old castle-like building, which for more than fifty years was used as a prison for Huguenot women and children.
We may find even there a gleam of brightness, for "Stone walls do not a prison make, Nor iron bars a cage.”
We know the names, and something, though perhaps not much, about some of the prisoners, and very sad and touching these stories are. One elderly woman, who had been imprisoned there for thirty-eight years, said that the day on which under a guard of soldiers she first crossed its damp, dismal courtyard, and leaving friends and liberty behind entered its low, dark doorway, was still fresh in her memory.
Marie Harbourn had lost both parents when she was very young. Her only brother Henri, who was several years older than herself, was very kind to her, and it was from him she learned not only to refuse the errors of Rome, but to hear the voice of the good Shepherd, the Lord Jesus, speaking to her through the written word. Her young heart was won by the love of Christ; and like her brother, she made up her mind to cast in her lot with the persecuted, despised Huguenots. They had been forbidden by the laws of France to hold meetings, but many felt that they must obey God rather than man, and still continued to meet together, though secretly, and in strange, out-of-the-way places, often in caves and woods.
Marie and her brother attended these meetings whenever it was possible to do so; and though nearly all the Huguenot pastors had been forced to leave France, now and then, though at the risk of his life, one ventured to return, and the place and time when he hoped to preach or hold a Bible reading was quickly spread by trusty messengers among his friends.
One of the most gifted and devoted of these pastors, Paul Rubent, had had several narrow escapes. Though exiled, and forbidden on pain of death to return to France, he more than once crossed the frontier in the dress of a mason with a basket of tools upon his shoulder, and, most likely thinking that he was only a workman seeking employment, the guards allowed him to pass without asking him any questions.
Marie and her brother never missed an opportunity of attending these meetings, and even when the place of meeting was at a distance of some miles from their home, Marie begged so earnestly to accompany her brother, that he seldom if ever refused her request. Returning after nightfall from one of these secret meetings, they were surprised by a party of soldiers. Marie clung weeping and trembling to her brother, till rudely pushed away by a soldier. The brother and sister were parted, never to meet again on earth. Henri was led to a martyr's death, and Marie was sent to La Tour de Constance.
Sadly and wearily the days passed for her. There were no comforts in the cheerless cells and damp walls of her prison; and even the scanty portion of food allotted to each prisoner was often withheld on some trifling excuse. Yet even there she found some work for Christ, and in caring for others she found comfort, and, even though she could not forget her own sorrow, courage and strength to bear it bravely and patiently.
Seldom can the heart be lonely,
If it seek a lonelier still;
Self-forgetting, seeking only
Emptier cups to fill.
And among her fellow-prisoners Marie found one who was, if possible, even more lonely than herself. Liza, a child of only eight years old, interested her greatly. We may ask, "Of what crime could one so young have been guilty?" Only that with her mother she had attended a Huguenot meeting; she was sent like her mother to La Tour de Constance. The mother died in prison, and Liza lived on, a sad and lonely child-prisoner.
Liza had been made a prisoner when she was so young that she could hardly remember ever having been a free and happy child. Marie's kind heart was deeply touched by the sorrows of the motherless little girl. She taught her to read the Bible, told her stories, mended her clothes, and in many ways did all that lay in her power to make her life happier than it would have been without her love and care.
We do not know whether Liza died in prison or not, but after Marie had been a prisoner for thirty-eight years, an aged French pastor was able to induce the prime minister of France to pay a visit to the prison. He was shocked and grieved at what he saw and heard, and through his influence an order for the release of Marie was granted.
She had no relations living, and the sufferings and privations of the long, weary years during which she had been a prisoner had told upon her health, which had never been strong. She did not live long to enjoy her freedom, but it is pleasant to know that a few of the Lord's people felt it a privilege to care for one who under great difficulties had been faithful to Christ.
If she and her fellow-prisoners had given up their Bibles and said that they were willing to believe the false teaching of Rome, they would, there is no doubt, have been released from prison, but they made a noble choice-to suffer for rather than deny their Lord.