“One time a Frenchman named Charney was put into prison because he was supposed to be an enemy of the emperor Napoleon,” began mother, as the children gathered for a story. “Charney was a wise man about many things, but he did not know God, and he had never read the Bible. In fact, he did not believe there was a God. On the wall of his prison cell he had scribbled these words, ‘All things come by chance.’
“Charney was lonely, since no one ever visited him. He had nothing interesting to do. All his books and papers had been taken away from him, so he could neither read nor write. He had nothing interesting to look at, for he could not see beyond the high prison walls.
“One day as Charney was walking in the yard adjoining his cell he saw a small green plant pushing up between the stones. Every day he watched this tiny living thing. One morning he saw some buds. They grew larger and larger, and, to his delight, opened into flowers. Charney thought that he had never before seen such beautifully colored blossoms. They were white, purple, and rose-colored, with a delicate silver fringe around the edge. And how sweet they smelled!—sweeter, he thought, than any other flowers he had ever known.
“Charney guarded his plant with great care. He made a framework around it from some bits of material he begged from the prison guards. One day there was a hailstorm. As long as the storm lasted, Charney bent over his plant to protect it from the pelting hailstones. At one time the plant began to wither and look as if it were going to die. Charney sought permission to take up the stones around it to give it more room to grow.
“In the same prison was an Italian whose daughter came to visit. She watched Charney carefully tending his plant. She went to Empress Josephine, Napoleon’s wife, and asked permission for Charney to take up the stones as he wished to do. Josephine loved flowers. She often said that she admired the purple of her cacti more than the purple of her robes, and that the fragrance of her magnolias was sweeter than the flattery of her attendants. She thought that a man who would take such care of a plant could not be a very bad man. She inquired about him, and learned that he did not mean any harm to the emperor or to the government. At last she persuaded Napoleon to set him free.
“When Charney came out of prison, he was a different man. The little plant had taught him that there is a God. He knew that if he should try all his lifetime he could never make one thing grow. Only God could give life. Only God can put something into a seed that will cause it to send out roots and leaves and fragrant blossoms.
“The man did not know how the tiny seed that grew into his plant had fallen between the rocks of the prison yard. Perhaps a bird had dropped it there. Perhaps the wind had blown it over the wall. But he knew God had sent it to say to him, ‘Charney, I love you, even though you are only a lonely prisoner, with no thoughts for Me. I love you, and I want you to love Me.’ When he left the prison he took the plant with him—the plant that had taught him the power and love of the Creator.”
Happy Home Stories, Ella M. Robinson, TEACH Services, Inc., pages 77–80.