Harlingen, March 1532
Why am I in peril every hour?... 1 Cor 15:30
She kept on going. Nobody was going to stop her now.
She didn’t want to listen to anyone who’d prevent her from doing what she knew she had to do. Darkness was falling, but she felt no fear. Once again, she was heading recklessly to a prison to rescue someone she cared about. She had no idea how to proceed, and she had no money to bargain with this time. The God of the Anabaptists would show her what to do.
Nearly tripping over her long skirts in her haste, she raced down the road in the direction she thought the Town Hall was located. She hadn’t stopped to think about the danger she might be in, alone in the streets in the gathering darkness. Not until she heard running footsteps behind her. She panicked. Where could she go?
Gloomy, sinister-looking buildings rose on either side of her. Their windows, like devilish eyes, caught the last diminishing rays of the sun in a reddish glow. The deep recessed doorways threatened to eject clawing, grasping night villains as she darted by them. She slid and dodged over and around pools of congealed, reeking waste gathered around the gutters in her mad rush to escape…what?
Crouching in a shadowed doorway she listened, her heart thudding, drowning out the sound of her pursuer. Her breath came in sharp, painful gasps. Somebody was rattling at the bolt of the door behind her. Gathering her skirts with both hands, she rushed madly out into the street, bounding heedlessly over gutters. She tripped over a dog dozing in front of a door, and he snapped at her ankles as she caught her balance precariously.
She caught the smell of the sea as she ran, and realized she was unthinkingly heading there once more. The sea beckoned her, as if she belonged there.
Raucous laughter filled the air as she scurried past an inn, where light streamed out of the open doorway, and women laughed shrilly. A furtive figure hurried down a dark alley as soon as he spotted her. At least he didn’t come charging towards her, but he must have some reason to be slinking about secretly in the dark. She no longer heard her pursuer, and she slowed down, gasping for air.
Two sailors were weaving down the street ahead of her, carrying a large basket between them.
“Yesh, I agree with you. He ought to be reshcued,” one of the sailors giggled drunkenly.
“Can you imagine? Our good brudder converting over to those baptizers.” He shook his bushy head, “Even so, sheems right unbrotherly to let ’im rot there.”
Anna listened, a plan forming in her mind. Did she dare? She crept closer, unnoticed by them, with her soft leather shoes now padding noiselessly behind the two conspirators.
“Which winder do we throw the rope? Can you throw shtraight, you think?”
“Oh yesh, oh yesh. I got right good aim, always had.”
Anna swallowed, then produced a fake cough. They snapped around, swords drawn instantly and pointed at her heart.
“A gurrll…” They dropped their swords sheepishly.
“Dontcha know enough not to creep up on one like so? I mighta thrusht ya through.” The whites of his eyes shone blurrily, about the only feature Anna could see in the dark, although she could smell the mixed odor of sweat and sour drink rather too well.
“Are ya losht? The inn’s over there.” The dark blur of his arm waved in the direction she had come from. Anna lifted her shoulders and straightened her back.
“I don’t want the inn. I need someone to rescue my brother from the tower over there.” She stared them in the eyes as best she could in the darkness, pointing vaguely in the direction she hoped the prison was located.
They both threw back their huge heads and laughed hysterically, then hiccupped as they bent forwards then backwards in mirth.
“Well, Mishy, you’ve found the right men for the job. How much ya gonna pay us?”
Anna was taken aback. Of course. She should have thought of that. She hung her head as they laughed some more.
“What? Ye hirin’ but ya got no money? That’s a shame, ain’t it now?” Anna turned on her heel and began running in the opposite direction. What had she been thinking, trying to hire two thugs to help her? She guessed she would never be going back to Father Hendricks again. If she did, she would be doing penance till kingdom come.
A rough hand grabbed her arm, and she yelped. “Not sho fasht, Mishy. Mebbe we can help ya.” She shoved her terror out of the way, wanting only to disappear from the sight of the hysterical pair.
“No, no. You’re right. I have no money. I can’t pay you. Now let go of my arm.” She talked as severely as she was able, trying in vain to pull herself free.
“But what about your brudder in prison? You don’t want him out?” He shook her arm. “Now tell me, what’d he do? We ain’t freein’ no murderer nor no robber. Them kind belongs in there till the executioner takes care of dem.” He leaned closer, his foul breath overpowering as he spoke into her face.
“No, he is certainly no murderer. What did your brother do?” Anna asked defiantly. The two sailors found this question hilarious.
“Why, he started prayin’ an the like, cleaned his life up real good-like, ya know? Well, there’s some in this town who don’t take kindly to sich goin’s on.” They looked up and down the street cautiously before speaking again. “It’s not the magistrates in this city what’s the problem, deary. Them big heads in the Court o’ Holland gives the orders, and the local gover’ments got to obey or lose their jobs. So they meekly go about catchin’ the pious people and get rewarded with a third of their property. Dirty way to make a livin’, don’t ya say, Mishy?”
She tried to take a step back, but the sailors had blocked her escape.
“How about you help us, Mishy?” She shook her arm, trying to break free, but it was caught in a vise-like grip.
“What can I do? I told you I have no money.”
“You distract the constables on the other shide of the tower while we throws up a rope to the winder where our brudder is. There’s more good people like him in der, and like as not, they all want out. It will take time.”
“Yes, but what about my brother? If I do this, I want him out too.”
“It’s a chance you gots to take, Mishy.” He peered closely into her face. “Is he one of them people too?”
Anna nodded, unsure if she really ought to tell them.
“Just as I thought. Murderers don’t have pretty gurrlls come lookin’ for dem.” Pretty girl, indeed. Thank goodness it was dark.
“He’s a sickly young man, pale, with red hair. I want your brother to find him and bring him out.”
The sailor laughed incredulously.
“Mishy, either he gets out or he don’t. There won’t be time to get them all out.” Anna shrank at the harsh true words. She didn’t like it but she’d have to accept it.
“I will do what I can.” The sailor nodded.
He turned to his fellow conspirator. “Ya think the guard is shleepy enough by now?”
“Ya, ya. Let’sh get the thing over wish.”
Anna wondered what she could do to keep the attention of the guards at the front of the building. The bells began to toll the midnight hour as she trudged around the block, thinking she was about to carry out the unwisest plan she ever had in her life. What would they do to her if the plan failed?
And what would Adriaen think if he knew? She wished fervently he would never find out. She was acting in a most unbecoming and unmaidenly way. The chances of obtaining him as a prize after this night were severely diminished. For one, she had dashed out of the house where he had taken her to safety, and instead of being grateful for his care, she had left on a wild impulse to rescue a man from prison—a man’s responsibility in a man’s world.
Adriaen must be hurt that she hadn’t taken his advice of praying to God to be satisfied with His will. There had been numerous miraculous escapes from prison which had been God’s will, and she wondered if He would bless this attempt tonight.
Then another thought occurred to her. Maybe Jan didn’t want to be free. Maybe he wanted to die and be in Heaven with Jesus rather than live any longer in tribulation in this suffering world. Many of the Anabaptists were overjoyed when they were martyred, and honored that they were found worthy by God to wear the crown of suffering for Him. Anna did not understand why they chose this, yet she knew it was so.
She tried to keep out of sight until she reached the front of the Town Hall. Now what? Should she just scream away as if she was being murdered and hope the guards come running? She would feel unspeakably foolish standing there screaming for no good reason.
When the figure of a man leaped out of the hedge beside her, she no longer needed to pretend. Before he could finish clamping his hand over her mouth, she let out a blood-curdling scream which could be heard all over the city.
“Anna, shhh…It’s only me, Adriaen!”
She was no less shocked, though the terror subsided immediately, followed by embarrassment to match.
“Adriaen! What are you doing here?” She rubbed her eyes. “Is it really you?” He released her gently, and whispered, “I guess you could say the Lord led me here to you. Now, may I ask what you are doing here?”
“Trying to attract attention. Look, here come the guards!” Two alarmed guards came sprinting around the corner of the building, waving their swords.
“Let’s run!” Anna hissed. Adriaen grabbed her right hand, she gathered her voluminous skirts with the left, and they took off. She must have gone miles this night. Her feet were sore and tired. But still she ran. Adriaen led her through some shrubbery and across someone’s yard, around the house and a stable where chickens fluttered at the disturbance. The guards came crashing after them, shouting authoritatively.
Anna was so tired but Adriaen kept dragging her along. Finally, they stopped running, long after Anna thought she couldn’t run another step. They ended up in a small shack beside a river. It smelled like rotten fish and indeed was probably someone’s fishing hut. Adriaen must have been here before. It would be a perfect hideaway for Anabaptist meetings.
While Anna sat on the floor of the shack, gasping for breath, and wondered if they had managed to elude the guards. And, more importantly, had Jan escaped?
“Anna, I’m sorry I made you run so hard,” Adriaen said. “That was plenty close.”
“Are we safe here?”
“I hope so. Anna, I was so worried about you out in the town by yourself at night. I was coming right after you, but you kept getting out of my sight. Didn’t you hear me calling you?”
“You called me?” she echoed stupidly. Had those footsteps she had been running away from so desperately belonged to Adriaen? Why would he do that? Because he felt responsible for her? She supposed it was the gentlemanly thing to do, to rescue the damsel in distress.
“I had to rescue Jan,” she said. “He is too frail to withstand the rigours of prison.”
“You must care for Jan a lot, to run after him in a strange city when it’s nearly dark outside,” Adriaen said, almost wistfully. Anna wondered if it mattered to him. Would he care if she said she did love Jan?
“I do. I love him like a brother.”
“I see.” He went and stood in the opening of the door-less shack. He gazed out over the darkly flowing river, listening for any sign that they were being followed.
“I’ve thought about you a lot this past winter, Anna, and I’ve missed you.” He turned around facing her, although it was too dark to make out his features. Anna stood still, hardly daring to breathe.
“I’m so sorry about the children,” she managed. “You must miss them terribly. As soon as possible, I want to go back and find out what happened to them. And little Anneken. I wonder where she is?”
“Anna, please believe me when I say I am not blaming you for them. I know you didn’t leave them lightly.” He took a step towards her. “If you hadn’t run away, you would be in prison, and the outcome for the children would have been the same. You did what made sense. We will try to find Anneken as soon possible. Right now, I would have no safe place to keep her, so I trust God to do what is best for her, and for us all.”
We? He had said we. It sounded good. Even though he probably hadn’t meant it that way.
“I still can’t forgive myself that they came to harm because I left.”
“You must forgive yourself. God could have prevented it, but He didn’t, so it was His will.” Adriaen cleared his throat. “How do you feel about the Brethren by now, Anna? Is there any hope that you will ever join us?”
So he was hoping, was he? She was touched that he cared, but how could she explain? There were so many things she didn’t understand. For example, how could the Anabaptists justify their disregard of the decrees of the rulers? Did God really want them to lay down their lives without lifting a finger to defend themselves? The only course they took to escape death was hiding and fleeing, but what good could these people do if they were all killed?
“Why do the Anabaptists not obey the government?”
Adriaen screwed up his face, as if in pain. “We do obey the government, unless they want us to go against Scripture. For example, Jesus said, ‘Do not swear at all, either by Heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is His footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair black or white. Let what you say be simply Yea, or Nay, anything more than this comes from evil.’”
“So that is why you won’t take an oath,” Anna said. If this is what the Scriptures said, she wondered why anyone objected.
“Yes, it angers the authorities when we refuse to pledge allegiance to them by using the oath, and they accuse us of disloyalty because of that. Nothing could be further from the truth. They also need soldiers to fight their wars, but we cannot kill anyone. When the rich young ruler came to Jesus, asking what good deed he must do to have eternal life, Jesus told him to keep the commandments, ‘You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ So you see, it is impossible for us, as disciples of Christ, to fight in wars.”
“Martin Luther and Zwingli go to war.”
“That is another reason why we had to split from them. A True Soldier of Christ cannot kill.”
“But what about the Turks? Wouldn’t they just take over the country if nobody fought them?”
“It would be better to let them kill us than for us to kill them.”
“That would be horrible. I think the rulers should keep the heathen out of the country, even if they must use the sword. And it may be wrong to kill their subjects for following the Scriptures, but the state needs to keep law and order somehow, doesn’t it? How can they rule if everyone does what they like? A ruler’s subjects have to pledge allegiance to him, otherwise he won’t know who is loyal and who is against him.”
“The word of the Scriptures comes before the word of man.”
“So you don’t believe the Church follows the Bible? The Pope is only one step lower than Christ, is he not, and then the bishops, the priests, the tradesmen, then the peasants? Isn’t that the way it should be?”
They had wandered outside the hut while they were talking, sitting down on a huge rock, being careful not to touch each other. The moon provided some weak light, enough that Anna could admire Adriaen’s handsome profile silhouetted against the shadowy sky.
“That is not what the Scriptures tell us. All men are born equal, and everyone has an equal chance of eternal life, regardless of their birth. The Pope is not promised Heaven any more than the lowliest beggar. The Pope is only human, after all,” Adraien explained patiently. “We should still give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, as it is written, meaning we are duty bound to pay taxes to the government.”
“Don’t we need the government to protect our country and fight off intruders?”
“The true Christian cannot kill another person.”
“Well then, how will our country stay safe? What if everyone decided to join the Anabaptists? There would be nobody left to fight the wars. Other rulers could invade the country and take it over.”
“A Christian’s protection is in the Lord God. We should turn our swords into plowshares and conquer with the sword of peace. Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you.”
Anna got up. It was so confusing. She yearned for such a faith, yet it seemed impossible to grasp. And life seemed too precious to throw away in such a manner.
“I think we should go back now and see if those drunken sailors managed to rescue anyone.” Anna began walking back towards the town.
“Ah, you’re thinking of Jan. Pardon me for keeping you so long.” He rose stiffly. It had been a long night. “I hope you were not annoyed by my talking.”
“Annoyed? No, I’m not annoyed. I need time to think, that’s all.”
“Don’t think too much. Just give your heart to God, repent of your sins through Jesus Christ, and follow Him.” If only it were that simple.
“Would you go to another meeting with me?” She remembered the last time she had gone to a meeting with him, when the night had ended with Adriaen becoming a preacher instead of sailing away on a ship. Either way, it put him out of her reach.
“I don’t know.” Anna took a deep breath. She felt like she was being asked to jump off a cliff. Flying might be exhilarating, but the fall would be painful and final. “I’ll have to think about that as well.”
Any time spent with him was precious, and if she could prolong it by going to a meeting, it might be worth the risk. She did not want to think of Adriaen disappearing again, with the uncertainty that lay over his life. It would suit her just fine if he never went out of her sight again. She still couldn’t believe how miraculously he had found her, when she thought he was languishing in some damp, cold dungeon.
“Are the persecutions very bad here in Harlingen?”
“Actually, no. Not compared to Antwerp or some places in Germany. The council here has been reluctant to do anything about the Brethren; and they would tolerate us if the Court did not interfere and order them to execute us. But then, there are always the scoundrels who think it’s easy money to spy on and betray us. In that case, the local magistrates have no choice but to arrest us. The generous rewards the Court offers have tempted many a poor beggar.”
They entered through the city gates and all seemed quiet in the town. They headed to the place where Anna had met the sailors, but nobody was in sight. Where would they have taken Jan? She wished she had asked the sailors about it, but then, it was sometimes safer for everyone not to ask too many questions. They tramped the streets of Harlingen for a time, but soon admitted the uselessness of their task, finally deciding to try again in the morning.
Adriaen and Anna returned to his sister’s house at cock’s crow. They were exhausted and hungry as a baited bear. Susanna greeted them, relief flooding her voice. The lines in her face seemed to have deepened through the night. “Here you are at last! I have been bothering Andrew to go search for you. He got up early to do his barn chores so he could leave afterwards. What have you two been up to?”
“Feed us first, then we’ll talk, Sister. We are nearly dropping from hunger.”
“Of course! How thoughtless of me.” Susanna bustled around her little kitchen and found some food for them. Adriaen and Anna ate leftover stew and bread while they took turns relating their adventure.
“And we still don’t know if the sailors were successful. As soon as we’ve eaten, we must try to find out.” Anna said, trying not to gulp her food.
“Not before you’ve had a good rest. You won’t be doing anyone any good if you faint from weariness.”
“Nonsense. I never faint, and I’m resting now.”
“At least lie down for an hour or so before you go out again,” Susanna coaxed.
Just then, Cornelia came scurrying down the stairs, her skirts and shawls trailing after her. “So you two decided to come back after all!” she exclaimed. “I thought you’d been caught for sure. Well, I spent most of the night on my knees, and this proves God answers prayers.” She squinted at the two people sitting at the table, and to Anna, the wrinkled old face had never looked more beautiful. If Cornelia declared she had prayed them home safely, Anna believed her.
“We’ve just been trying to persuade Anna to take a wee nap before she goes searching again, but the dear girl is loath to listen to our advice. What think you?” Susanna said.
“I think both of them ought to lie down, Adriaen too.”
Anna doubted she could relax before she found out whether Jan was safe.
“One more hour won’t make a difference,” Susanna insisted. “Andrew can try to find him after he’s done with his chores.”
“Well, Anna. Methinks we have no choice,” Adriaen said, grinning. “Susanna alone is formidable, and I don’t want to tangle with both her and Cornelia.” Anna watched him stroll out to the stable for a nap in the hay, then resigned herself and climbed the stairs. The straw tick bed actually felt very good once she laid on it. Despite her worries about Jan, she fell asleep within minutes.
When Anna awoke it was high noon, and the family was just getting ready to eat. She was anxious to get the meal over with and go looking for Jan. Andrew’s mission in the morning had brought no results, and Cornelia had not returned. Between the old woman’s powerful prayers and her wiliness, Anna had no doubt she was safe, wherever she was. Afterwards, the men wanted Anna to stay home while they went looking for more information. They hinted it would be safer if only the two men went, since the officers would be on the lookout for the escaped prisoners, if in fact they did escape. So with a small stamping of her feet, and a gritting of teeth, Anna acquiesced to the uninvolved woman’s place.
Biting her tongue lest she take out her complaints on Susanna, she helped with household duties; gathering the eggs, pressing the cheese, churning the butter and then winding the endless wool, and she chafed at her forced idleness. This was not for her, sitting demurely in the house while others went searching for the answers she sought.
She had to know whether Jan was free. And she needed to know where Hans had gone. And Captain Clement and his crew. She threw down her wool.
“Susanna, I’m going crazy. Would you have some errand for me to do in town?”
Susanna shook her head, smiling ruefully. “You have a hard time sitting still, don’t you?” She found a very worn-looking pair of boots in a corner somewhere and handed them to Anna. “You might ask the cobbler if he is able to repair these boots, or if he thinks I ought to buy a new pair.”
Anna thought she knew the answer she would give if she were the cobbler, but at least she had an excuse to get out of the house.