Amsterdam November 1531
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a ransom for all…Timothy 2:5
After the children had eaten, Anna gathered them up and prepared to leave. She sent the maid back to her own home, she really could do all the work by herself and she had enough mouths to feed. She cuddled the baby once more; she was becoming almost too attached to the sweet little thing. After all, she couldn’t keep Anneken now that Adriaen was back, and she might as well stop pretending right now. The children would live with their father once he recovered and she’d have no excuse to keep hanging around.
Anna put the house in order, and the children followed her everywhere, asking countless questions, their spirits higher now that they had seen their father so greatly improved. Life settled into a routine. Maeyken’s house was empty and forlorn, and Anna tried not to think about it. More than once she caught Trijntgen gazing over to her old home, her blue eyes full of unshed tears.
With the work all caught up, Anna no longer had an excuse to absent herself from the church, Father Hendricks, and confession. Christmas was coming, the time for the faithful to repent of their sins and do penance, in preparation for Christmas mass. It would be a relief to rid herself of the burden of the mortal sin she carried for deliberately consorting with the Anabaptists. Not only did she knowingly aid them, but she had watched and listened to a part of their sermons. Did this truly offend God? It had never been her intention to offend God, and perhaps she had only committed the venial sin of being too curious. When Maeyken had first told her about the Anabaptists, Anna had been upset, but the more she saw of the Anabaptists, the more questions she had. She would do any penance Father Hendricks required of her, if only her pathway would then become clear.
She postponed going for two more days, telling herself she didn’t know what to do with the children while she was gone. But then she thought of Janneken. The maid lived on the other end of town, although Anna wasn’t quite sure where. No doubt, anyone on the street could direct her to the right house. Wearing a clean black kirtle and apron, a freshly laundered white cap, and her good cloak, she finally set out with the children in tow. The brisk walk and fresh air would do them all good.
They tramped along the narrow streets, where tall, narrow buildings leaned towards them, and clunked across the wooden bridge. Beneath it, the surface of the water rippled slightly, stirred by puffs of wind. A couple of blocks later, they arrived at an older part of Amsterdam. Here, shutters drooped, waste collected in piles along the street, and tattered hosen and worn linens hung from the windows to dry. Skinny, barefoot children sniffled and coughed as they trailed after Anna and her tribe. Anna gathered her little ones close, wondering where in this rundown place Janneken lived. She didn’t know any other name for the maid, and there were probably a hundred Jannekens in this town.
“Do you know where Janneken lives?” Anna asked, turning to a ragged boy, “The maid?”
“Wil je oude Janneken, wilde Janneken, Janneken met de houten poot, of Dirk Janneken?”
“Oh, dear. The Janneken I’m looking for is not old, or wild, and she doesn’t have a wooden leg. Can you show me where Dirk’s Janneken lives?”
“Ja ik kan. Ga met me me.” The boy wiped his runny nose with a threadbare sleeve and motioned for Anna to follow. “Mijn naam is Balthasar.”
“Thank you, Balthasar. My name is Anna.” The boy seemed bright enough, and Anna followed him to a back alley to the bottom of a rickety set of outside stairs. Here she stopped and could not bring herself to go further. She had taken the children to enough dangerous places lately, and she simply could not schlepp them up these stairs to unknown dangers.
Balthasar looked at her in confusion for a moment, then understanding brightened his face.
“Wil je dat ik op zoek naar Janneken?”
Anna sighed in relief. “Could you, Balthasar? I don’t want to take the children up there.” The boy nodded and sprang up the steps, disappearing through an open doorway on the second floor. Anna kept her eyes on the doorway, feeling guilty all of a sudden that she had let the lad go up there when she was too afraid to go herself. She would feel even worse if he didn’t come down again right away. She released her pent-up breath when Balthasar grinned down at her from the doorway, with a familiar figure beside him.
“Janneken!” Anna exclaimed. “There you are! Can you come down here for a moment?”
The girl smiled shyly and descended the steps behind Balthasar. “Janneken,” Anna said, “Could you come with me to the church and help with the children while I see Father Hendricks?”
Janneken nodded. “I’d love to. Ik laat moeder weten.”
“Yes, let your mother know. Will she mind your leaving now?” Janneken shook her head as she returned upstairs, then joined Anna down on the street. Trijntgen and Bettke ran to Janneken and each grabbed one of her hands, full of chatter as they skipped along beside their former maid. Janneken smiled and answered with her eyes shining, pleased to see the children again.
Anna fished in her bag to find a coin for Balthasar, and though he hesitated to take it, Anna insisted he take the silver pfenning. He held it in his palm for a moment before closing his grimy fingers around it, then with a smile and a wave, he hurried away in the opposite direction.
At the Dam Square, the stone Oude Kerk stood resplendent, as it had for centuries. Five multi-colored stained-glass windows formed a half circle, and above each one, a sharp gable pierced the heavens, while the watchtower rose into the sky and guarded the surrounding city. Inside the watchtower were the bells, which tolled a different chime for every occasion, be it announcing the hour of the day, prayer time, weddings, death, attack or fire.
With a sigh, Anna turned towards the solid oak door of the Oude Kerk. She had come here to confess to Father Hendricks, and now she must see the thing through. Was God offended that she had listened to the Anabaptists? Heresy was a mortal sin, which sent the soul straight to hell if one died without confessing, yet Maeyken had explained why Anabaptism wasn’t heresy. Father Hendricks might not see it that way though. Confessing to the priest would not absolve her sins unless she was exceedingly penitent and vowed never to commit this sin again. She swallowed and squirmed, wishing she hadn’t come. Once again, she hadn’t thought things through. And yet, coming here would assure her safety somewhat. It was those who hadn’t gone to church in years who would be scrutinized the most for signs of heresy.
Reminding herself to breathe normally, Anna held the door for the others. Inside, at the west end of the nave, they all stood and admired the cavernous interior, as Anna did every time she came here. The wooden ceiling, covered with painted masterpieces, arched high above her. To the right and the left, high, graceful arches curved upwards between massive columns hung with banners, plaques and heraldic shields. Straight ahead, the altar was set in a backdrop of exquisite painted altarpieces depicting Mary, the mother of Jesus, and other Biblical figures.
The mysterious scent of incense pervaded the church, and Anna couldn’t help but compare this place to the crowded upstairs room in Elizabeth’s house. Anna led her party across the dark grey stone slabs on the floor, beneath which the dead were buried. It always seemed strange to be treading on their tombs, but the church had been built on top of a burial ground centuries ago, for it was the most solid location in marshy Amsterdam. Anna passed the wooden pews, where a young mother rested with a sleeping child in her arms.
“Can you watch them for me, now?” Anna said to Janneken.
“Ja, ik kan dat doen.”
“Thank you, I won’t be long.” Anna handed Dirk to Janneken. Her arm had become numb awhile ago, and her back ached. Dirk needed to start walking; he was becoming too heavy to carry everywhere.
“You may play here quietly until I come back,” Anna said to the children. Trijntgen and Bettke lost no time in clambering up on the pews, and Janneken sat down with Dirk. Anna continued on her way, passing two elderly gentlemen in animated conversation, who were leaning on spades, and peering into an open vault in the floor. A skinny dog followed her for a few steps, then detoured into a dim corner, perhaps he was on the scent of a mouse.
And then, she reached the altar, where Father Hendricks waited out of sight for the penitent souls of his parish, and Anna gathered her resolve. She had offended God long enough, and it was time to make a clean breast of her sins. Taking a deep breath, she ascended a couple of scrupulously clean steps, but Father Hendricks was nowhere to be seen. There was a door off to one side, and she wondered whether the priest was in the room beyond it. She paused, uncertain. Was the priest even here at the church? He ought to be. Then her mouth dropped open, as she heard the titter of a woman’s giggle. What could it mean? Why was a woman back there? Uneasily, she thought of the rumors of priestly corruption, and she admitted she could not altogether dismiss the idea.
There was still time to leave, and Anna turned on the steps, ready to do just that. But just then, the door opened, and Father Hendricks appeared, a little flushed, in his flowing, white cassock. He adjusted the cincture around his waist, as if he had just finished dressing. The ends of his stole, which he always wore precise and even, today hung lopsided. Reaching up to straighten the black merlino biretta on his tonsured head, he finally acknowledged Anna with a nod.
“What is it you need today, sister?”
Anna hung her head, “I have come to confess my sins, Father Hendricks.”
As the priest came closer, Anna smelled wine on his breath, but surely Father Hendricks had not been imbibing. He beckoned her to follow him to the shriving pew in the chancel, where he seated himself.
Together, Anna and Father Hendricks prayed the sign of the cross, then Anna got down on her knees in front of the priest, while the murmurs of the children echoed in the nave. Anybody who walked in could see her there, and she felt more ashamed than ever.
“Father, it has been six months since I last confessed,” Anna said, then paused. “I have sinned by keeping company with Anabaptists, and listening to one of their sermons, for which I am truly repentant, for I am afraid I have offended God. Also, I have been envious of the good fortune of my friend Maeyken, and now that she is dead, I do wish her husband were mine own. For these and all past sins, I do repent.” Anna waited for relief, for absolution and forgiveness.
“Your sins are grievous, and border on heresy,” Father Hendricks slurred his words. “As penance, I prescribe your attendance at a heretic burning, as well as three ’Our Father’s and three ’Hail Mary’s, besides your act of contrition.” Anna fought for self-control. This was all for her own good, yes, for the good of her soul. On her knees, she repeated the ‘Our Father’s’ and ‘Hail Marys’ three times, ignoring the discomfort of the cold stone floor on her knees. Mortifying the flesh was a necessary thing.
Finally, she was ready for the act of contrition. “O my God, I do heartily regret offending Thee, and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of Heaven, and the pains of hell, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.”
Anna kept her head bowed in humility while Father Hendricks prayed in Latin. “God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of your son, you have reconciled the world to yourself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins. Through the ministry of the church, may God grant you pardon and peace. And I absolve you of your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
Anna crossed herself once more, and Father Hendricks said, “Your sins have been forgiven, now go in peace.” He bid her to rise. “You will be summoned tomorrow morning to do the rest of your penance. Jan Jansen of Haarlem will be burned at the stake for heresy, and you will watch the proceeding to the end, as a warning of what happens to those who oppose God and country.”
“Yes, Father Hendricks.” She staggered down the aisle in a daze to collect the children. The woman who had been sitting on a pew with her child was gone, and so were the two elderly gentlemen. Only the gaping hole remained uncovered, ready to swallow the remains of some deceased body. Jan Jansen’s? No, a heretic would never be buried inside the church. Anna shuddered and avoided looking at the hole as she passed. The children were reluctant to leave their play on the pews, but Anna hustled them outside. She thanked Janneken and gave her two silver pfennings for her trouble. With a heavy stomach, Anna asked Janneken to come to Simon’s house the next morning to stay with the children. She needed to go to the marketplace. Janneken agreed, and the children jumped up and down for joy.
On the way home, Anna wondered why she didn’t feel more unburdened and forgiven. Father Hendricks had absolved her in the name of God, so her soul should be purified for a long while. Except she kept hearing Maeyken’s voice in her head. “Only through the blood of Jesus can our sins be forgiven. The Pope, and let alone the priests, have no power to forgive anyone’s sins.” Anna blamed the Anabaptists for spoiling her faith in the Catholic church, and for raising questions that she never would have thought of by herself. It had been hard enough to steel her heart against the Protestant talk of her own family--she crossed herself--and instead of escaping those sentiments, she had run headlong into the same kind of trouble in the Netherlands. What was God trying to tell her?
Tomorrow loomed ahead in a cloud of horror, and her stomach heaved when she thought of her penance. Did Father Hendricks know what a terror she had of fire, what torture he was inflicting on her? At this moment, she could not see how she could endure the next day’s events. Back at the house, she distractedly fed the children and put them to bed. Brooding in front of the fire, she wracked her brain trying to find a solution, but there was nothing she could do. If she didn’t go by herself, she would be dragged there by the officers, something she wanted to avoid at all costs.
Morning came too soon, after a night of little sleep for Anna. Janneken arrived with a smiling face before the children were awake, and Anna gave the maid her instructions for the day. Wearing her black kirtle, a bonnet and shawl, Anna let herself outside and wiped away a few tears as she trudged along the cobbled street. Was Jan Jansen an Anabaptist, or some other type of so-called heresy? Whoever he was, she did not want to see him burn, not even if he was the vilest criminal ever born. And to think that some people enjoyed the spectacle of another human suffering in indescribable agony. She smelled the smoke before she saw it and cringed.
Father Hendricks and another priest were walking around the Dam square, and Father Hendricks nodded to her and smiled slightly, acknowledging her obedience in appearing this morning. He made sure the executioner did everything right, the faggots piled just so, and the scaffold built to the proper height. In the middle of the smoking faggots, a post had been installed and chains hung at the ready. All they needed was the prisoner, and too soon, Anna heard the clank of chains being dragged across the cobblestones. She hardly dared look. Who was Jan Jansen?
She clapped a hand to her mouth when she saw him. He was young, in his early teens, and he reminded her too much of her younger brother. She stifled a scream behind her hand and vomit threatened to rise into her throat. A mere boy. The authorities were going to execute a handsome, innocent-looking boy, and they were going to think it great entertainment. Anna hoped she wouldn’t faint, but when she caught Father Hendricks’ narrowed eyes on her, she made an effort to hide her terror at the proceedings. Like a board, she walked to the edge of the gathering crowd, as far away from the scaffold as she dared, without Father Hendricks having to come and force her publicly to a better vantage point.
She glanced at the youth and was surprised at his calmness. He gazed at the assembled people with serene blue eyes, then closed his eyes. Only his lips moved. He was praying. Up onto the scaffold he was prodded, and his charges of heresy read to him. He answered respectfully, but refused to recant his faith.
‘Just say it,’ Anna pleaded silently. ’Just tell them you’ll go to church once a year, then you will be free.’ But he would not. Jan Jansen shook his head and waved away the holy oil with which Father Hendricks wanted to anoint him before his death. Father Hendricks looked annoyed and ordered the faggots to be piled onto the smoldering fire. Two guards led Jan Jansen to the post in the middle and tied the boy to it with the chains. Some of the bystanders, with sympathetic looks, heaped the fire even higher, hoping to hasten the painful end instead of prolonging it.
Afterwards, Anna never knew how she managed to stay upright, but she dared not fall, not with Father Hendricks watching her. Surely this would purge her soul of any remaining sin she still had hidden in her soul, which she was unaware of, and therefore had neglected to confess.
As soon as she dared, she left for home, dizzy and sick to her stomach. She asked Janneken to stay a little longer, she needed to rest a little, and recover from her ordeal. Janneken happily agreed.
Anna knew she ought to stay away from Elizabeth’s house, and she had fully intended to do so after she went to Confession, but as days went by, she almost regretted having gone to see Father Hendricks, God help her. The truth of the matter was, she had great difficulty in avoiding the Anabaptists. Contrary to what Father Hendricks had hoped to accomplish by forcing her to watch the burning, it had only put more questions into her mind. Such as, how could the priest be serving God by meting out a horrible death to a young man who was obviously not a hardened criminal? Rather, the boy had the aura of a saint, which made those around him seem coarse and evil by their despicable actions.
A week later, she found she could resist no longer. She had to know how Adriaen was doing, and whether the family was still safe in their home. If she had made more friends since moving here to Amsterdam, she could console herself with them, but as it was, the only friends she had happened to be Anabaptists. Her parents and siblings would rejoice if they could see her now, wavering in her Catholic faith, and considering the Anabaptists her friends.
She put clean clothes on the children and combed their blonde heads till they shone. Grabbing a clean apron for herself, she inspected her little party and decided they passed muster.
Adriaen’s brown eyes lit up when he his little family arrived. He sat on the edge of the bed with one blue woolen blanket wrapped around his shoulders and another one tucked securely around his lap. The children raced to his side, all chattering at once, then climbed on the bed and strangled him with hugs. Anna wished she could do the same.
He looked much better, though still quite feeble. A look of deep suffering haunted his eyes, along with a certain resignation. The tousled, dark hair and haggard shoulders made him seem older, and he was a long way from being the energetic, ambitious man he had been. Anna wondered whether he would ever completely recover his vitality, and yet he appeared to be calm and even content. She noticed the Bible beside him on a stand and imagined him drawing comfort from the Word of God.
Elizabeth took the opportunity to run to the market while Anna supervised Jorg and the children, and then Anna was alone with Adriaen and the children. Anna didn’t know how to act. She snatched up the baby and held her close, wishing for the thousandth time she could stop being so flustered around handsome men. No wonder she was a spinster.
“I thought you’d never come,” Adriaen chided her. “I haven’t thanked you for your hand in my rescue.” He rummaged in his leather pack, and fished out a stained piece of paper.
“A friend sent me a copy of this song in prison, and it comforted me in my darkest hours. I sang it until it is planted in my mind until death. Can you read?”
“Yes, a little bit.” Her father had taught her brother, a long time ago, but she had been the one most interested. She blinked back tears. Those sweet, happy days were past, torn from her in one terror-filled day which she longed to forget.
“I’d like you to have it. I have few possessions left to give, but perhaps this hymn will comfort you in some way.” Adriaen held it out to her.
She accepted it with trembling fingers, touched to the soul. “Is this what you were singing in prison?”
Adriaen nodded. “It kept me from despair in my darkest hours.”
Anna unfolded it carefully and began to read.
“Can you hand me my little Anneken while you read? Seems I can’t get enough of her to make up for lost time.”
She passed the baby to him, being careful not to brush against his wide hands. Pulling up a stool, she continued reading. What she would really like was for Adriaen to sing the hymn for her—but of course she couldn’t ask for that.
Oh God, do Thou sustain me, in grief and sore duress…
Pride counter which disdains Thee, and comfort my distress.
Oh Lord, let me find mercy in bonds and prison bed.
Men would seek to devour me with guile and controversy
Save me from danger dread!
Thou wilt never forsake me, this firmly I believe
Thy blood thou hast shed freely, and with it washed me.
Therein my trust is resting, in Christ, God’s only Son
On Him I am now building, in tribulation trusting
God will me not disown.
To die and to be living until my end I see
To Thee my trust I’m giving, Thou wilt my helper be
Soul, body, child, companion, herewith commit I Thee.
Come soon, Lord, come and take me, from ruthless men do save me
Be honor e’er to Thee. Amen.
Anna was moved by the words, and she did understand how Adriaen would have been strengthened by this song, but she didn’t think she should be digging too deeply into Anabaptist prayers and beliefs. She crossed herself, and Adriaen glanced at her.
A shadow of some emotion flickered in his eyes briefly; was it disappointment? She tucked the paper into her bodice, aware that it could be a condemning piece of evidence depending on who saw it. But nobody would. She would keep it close to her heart, because it came from Adriaen.
“It’s…it’s beautiful,” she murmured. And it was. If she didn’t quite trust the message of the hymn, it was still precious because it meant so much to Adriaen.
“The more often you read it, the better you will understand it.” He smoothed the baby’s hair with gentle fingers. “It’s well that you came to see me now, and I hope you come again before I depart. As soon as I can walk, I will be leaving. The truth needs to be spread to every corner of the Netherlands.”
Anna’s mind reeled. He was leaving? Why?
“It is no longer safe in this town,” he answered, responding to the unasked question. “When I find a safe place to live I will come back for the children.”
Anna’s heart sank. Her unattainable dreams shattered around her feet. If he left there was no one left to light her life, no one to live for. But no—why was she even thinking these thoughts? Without a doubt, it was for the best that he was leaving. Then she would have to forget her ridiculous spinsterish daydreams, and when he came back he would be flaunting a new bride on his arm. Irrational disappointment washed over her. Even though Adriaen would never see her as a future wife, even after he was out of mourning, she still liked having him nearby. Him just being there brought a certain guilty pleasure to her life. Nobody must suspect her feelings, and she would do everything she could to hide this embarrassing secret.
He cleared his throat and gazed at her uncertainly. “I know this is asking a great deal of you, but I have a rather weighty request to make.” Anna nodded, though she couldn’t imagine what he was thinking.
“Would you consider keeping the children with you for the time being? I know I can trust you, and they would be in good hands with you. Money would be sent to you for their care, so you need not worry on that score.”
Anna didn’t hesitate. They already seemed like her own. Her heart leaped. In that case, Adriaen would come back, if he could.
“I would love to have the children. I will care for them as if they were my own.” Never mind the pain of these little reminders of Adriaen around her every day.
“I knew I could count on you. You have been such a faithful friend to Maeyken and me.” A small shadow of pain crossed his face. Little had he known when he left for the secret meeting several miles away in a forest a few nights ago, that he would never see his wife again. Now he must continue without her the best he could.
“If you are ever in need, let Elizabeth know. She will know where to find me.”
Anna nodded. “We will be fine.”
His loving glance fell on little Anneken in his arms. “I’m glad we named her after you. She has much to live up to.”
His fingers brushed against hers as he passed the baby to Anna, her skin tingling where they touched. Their eyes met momentarily, confused, then they both looked quickly away.