Footprints of Providence


High on the cliff, outlined against a somber sky, the fortress of Glatz stood frowning down. At the foot of the precipice the river Neisse rushed in cataracts and rapids, foaming over jagged rocks, boiling its way to quiet pools far below. The Count of Montague stood at a window high on the forbidding wall of the fortress. With dark, intense eyes he watched the angry river as he had every day for months. For hours he stood there, his hands on the bars.

How long could a man bear the loneliness, he wondered. How long before his mind would snap? How long before he would lose track of time, even forget who he was? Not a human face had he seen; not a human voice had he heard. He dared not let his mind wander, must not think of home and loved ones. In that way lay madness.

He turned back into the bare little room and paced with restless feet. For the first time in months he went to the old oak table and picked up the only book in the room. Until then he had sworn he would never read it. Religion was not for him. He had no regrets for the life he had led or for the plotting that brought him here. His only regret was his failure.

Even the attempted murder of the king did not trouble his conscience. If only he had foreseen everything, if only he had not miscalculated, he would have had riches and honor instead of a lonely fortress and hopeless despair.

But anything was better than his emptiness, his loneliness. Perhaps even the despised Book, could stave off insanity a little longer. So for the first time in his life he held a Bible in his hands and opened its pages.

For days and for weeks he read. Slowly his bitter despair and skepticism changed to interest: Still he read. Strange new thoughts tormented him. New feelings haunted him. Yet he returned to the Book with a fascination he couldn't understand.

One dark night he found himself once more 'by the window. Outside a November gale howled round the fortress. The rain fell as if the Deluge had returned. The river, far below, was a raging torrent, its terrible roar joining the screaming of the winds.

The count paced with a fierce restlessness. After a time he lay on the narrow cot and tried to sleep, but the storm within was as terrible as that outside.' Finally, with a despairing cry, he threw himself to the floor and wept. For the first time he saw himself a sinner. He saw the ugliness, the treachery, the selfishness of his life. Now he wished he could live it over again. This time he would give himself to God.

Getting to his feet, he took the Bible in his hands. Opening it, his eye fell on this passage: "Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me."

He fell to his knees and cried to God. Tears of genuine repentance washed away the sorrow and despair. The Sun of righteousness had broken through the clouds of guilt. The storm might rage without, but peace had finally come to the prisoner of Glatz.

That night many miles away in his palace in Berlin, King Frederick William III was extremely ill. The court physician tiptoed in and out but could bring no relief to the tortured monarch. Servants hovered near. His wife, Louisa, sat by his bed trying to soothe away his pain. Nothing could avail. Helpless and exhausted, he turned his face to the wall and prayed, pleading for even an hour of sleep.

Shortly the king fell into peaceful slumber. When he awoke, he found his faithful wife still watching by his bed. "Louisa, my dear," he said, "God has been very merciful to me. He has given me the favor I asked of Him. Now I wish to do something to show my gratitude. Who in my kingdom has injured me the most?"
"The Count of Montague," his wife answered.

"You are right. Let him be pardoned."

So it was that before the day broke over Berlin a messenger left, bearing the forgiveness of the king to the prisoner of Glatz. The God who heard his cry and gave him freedom from his guilt and sin, extended to him also that which he did not ask pardon and release.