Amsterdam, January 1532
Today when you hear his voice, do not harden your heart… Heb 2:7
In the first month of 1532, the children all came down with coughs and fevers, and Anna got little sleep for days at a time. The wind intruded with its frozen breath through every little crack in the house--the men must not have found them all-- and only the circle around the fire was warm. Half-starved dogs roamed the streets, creeping up to houses and sniffing around the door in search of some tidbit of food. Keeping the fire going was hard work. Adriaen had made sure there was wood for the fire, but it had to be dragged in from outside, and every time the door opened it took a long time for the kitchen to regain the heat.
The children wore layers of woolen clothing to stay warm and spent their days playing games by the fire. Anna hoped that Elizabeth and Claes were safe and warm somewhere with little Anneken. She missed the baby, and absurd as it was, she missed Adriaen.
She had received no letter, no news of any kind. Day after day, the children were her only company, and much as she adored them, she did crave adult conversation. Spring could not come soon enough. On rare occasions when the sun came out, she bundled up her little trio and took them outside to play in the snow, desperate to see something other than the four walls of the kitchen.
A few times when she went outside, she thought she saw a figure slinking away around the corner—but it had to be her imagination. She tried not to think of Pieter, the officer’s servant. He had no business spying on her. She had gone to church, done her penance-- harrowing as it had been-- and what more could he be watching for? Unless, she shivered, he was snooping around, waiting for Adriaen to come to see the children. It was all too possible, though she tried to dismiss these thoughts as a result of overwrought nerves and loneliness.
The children were daily reminders of Adriaen and Maeyken. Every sacrifice she made for them—the sleepless nights, the struggle to stay warm in the winter, the sharp eye on the food supply, the loneliness of the winter, the loss of her freedom to go out whenever she wished—was all done for them. Sometimes, she reached into her bodice and pulled out the song Adriaen had given her, and reading it brought him painfully near. The words were strangely comforting even though she didn’t fully understand their meaning.
Oh God, do Thou sustain me…
One late afternoon, near the end of January, Anna was sitting by the window with her distaff under her arm, spinning wool for little garments, when a sound distracted her from her half-sleep. She stiffened and listened again. There was a tap-tapping on the bedroom window. Her skin prickled. Waves of hot, then cold sensations engulfed her body. The spy! There it was again. It was not her imagination.
She turned terrified eyes towards the children, who were rolling about aimlessly in front of the hearth. With gray eyes even larger than usual, she got up from her chair and stood there for a minute. Surely, her mind was playing tricks. The tapping came again, louder this time. With leaden feet she walked towards the downstairs bedroom, where Simon used to sleep. Why would someone be tapping the window back there behind the house? There must be knee-high drifts of snow back there. A whiff of freezing air enveloped her when she opened the bedroom door, which she kept closed to conserve the heat.
“Anna, where are you going?” Trijntgen asked, shivering. The little kitchen was losing more of its precious warmth.
“Ssshhh, schatje, just stay there. I’ll be right back.” Trijntgen, Bettke and Dirk, in true childlike fashion, took this as an invitation to follow her. She let them. They were small, but she needed an escort of some kind as she undid the shutter and opened it a crack. A man was out there, and he turned to face her. Could it be?
“Adriaen!” she cried. He was bundled from head to toe in a heavy coat, fur hat, and a thick scarf, but his figure was unmistakable.
Her rigid body relaxed when he grinned. This was the last person she guessed would be intruding. She assisted him as he climbed in the bedroom window, dropping clods of snow on the floor as he entered. A miniature flurry descended as he shook the freezing white flakes from his coat. The bedroom was so cold that the snow didn’t even melt on the floor.
“I hope you’re not startled too badly. I didn’t dare come in the front, because I have a suspicion the house is being watched.”
“I am startled, but you can’t think how relieved I am. I thought you were an intruder, bent on mischief. At least you aren’t languishing in some cold, damp dungeon, like before.”
“Not this time, God be praised,” Adriaen said.
Anna led the way to the fireplace, with the children hopping and dancing in glee around their father. “Vader’s home! Vader’s home!”
“Va-va…” Dirk imitated his sisters.
Anna laughed. “Looks like you’re home just in time to hear Dirk speak his first word.”
Adriaen shucked his overcoat and lifted his son into his arms. Moisture glittered in his eyes. “Well done, my boy.”
The two girls clung to his legs, laughing and crying at once. Anna would have liked to leap into his arms as well, if propriety had admitted. Never had she been so happy to see anyone. She reminded herself this was because Adriaen was the first adult she’d seen in a month, nothing more. The absolute joy in her heart would have been there for any friendly adult, of course.
Anna led Adriaen to the fire, and everyone huddled close to its circle of warmth. Anna added another log and heated some apple cider as a treat for all of them. She held back the questions she longed to ask. Where had he been? What had he been doing? And most important of all, how long could he stay?
Adriaen spent the last hour before dark playing with the children, while Anna prepared the evening meal of pickled herring, bread and cheese. Adriaen ate hungrily, as if he hadn’t eaten in a long time. As Anna served him his supper, she noticed the tiny lines webbing from his dulled brown eyes-- eyes almost hidden by lids drooping with fatigue. Wrinkles furrowed his wide forehead, and his wide shoulders were bent forward as if he had no energy left to straighten them.
Anna’s heart contracted at this evidence of the hardship and sorrow he undoubtedly suffered. Yet his voice was kinder than ever, and he seemed to possess a depth of inner peace which Anna marvelled at. Adriaen had not become bitter, even though he had lost so much; his wife; his home; his livelihood; the presence of his children. What did he have instead that surrounded him with this aura of contentment? How could he accept so calmly everything that had happened to him?
It could not be said that Adriaen, or any of the Anabaptists Anna knew, were anything but humble, helpful, and forgiving. But these were all traits they could put to beneficial use in the official church, Anna thought. There was no need to separate themselves and disobey the authorities.
When the kitchen began to dim, Anna spread the thick, black bearskins on the floor for the children to sleep on. It was too cold for them to sleep upstairs, and she had grappled with her own mattress to get it downstairs where it was warmer. There she could keep the fire going and watch the children.
Would Adriaen be staying for the night? The thought tickled her spinsterish heart, even though it would be scandalous for a single man and woman to be alone for the night. But where else could Adriaen go that was safe? Besides, the children were there, which would make it a trifle more respectable. Anna took down Simon’s big, black overcoat from a peg in the wall.
“Anna! Are you leaving?” Adriaen asked, alarm in his voice.
“Not unless you want me to,” she said, with a small frown. Should she leave? But where would she go? “I was just going to carry in logs to last the night. It’s getting dark outside, so I better see to it now.” It was a chore that didn’t get any easier the more often she did it.
Adriaen jumped to his feet. “Let me do that, Anna.” He held out his hands for the overcoat. His own coat was dripping wet and hanging from a peg near the fireplace to dry.
“But you’re so tired. And someone might see you.”
“I’ve had a rest now, and some food. It’s dark enough that nobody will know it’s not you wearing Simon’s overcoat.”
Anna bit her lips; she would much rather do the job herself than risk Adriaen going out there. “As you wish,” she said, handing over the overcoat. “If you see anyone, will you come inside right away?”
Adriaen nodded. “Don’t fret. I will be fine.”
Anna whispered a prayer to Saint Michael for his safety as he went out the door, though it rang hollow to her ears. What power did Saint Michael have, after all, compared to God Himself? The Anabaptists did not believe in venerating the saints, and she decided it could do no harm to say a prayer directly to God. For Adriaen’s sake, she fumbled an awkward little prayer to God as well.
The children couldn’t bear it if anything happened to their father, now that he was finally back. She was mostly concerned for them, Anna assured herself. And she would be just as anxious for anyone’s safety, not only because this was Adriaen. He came to see the children, and she happened to be their caregiver. She meant nothing more to him.
When Adriaen came back inside, out of breath and shaking snow from his shoulders, Anna breathed another prayer of thankfulness. Together, they piled the logs neatly beside the fireplace. By the time the task was finished, the children were sleeping soundly.
Adriaen turned to Anna. “Now, how have things been going, really?” He spoke in the same tone she imagined he might use when speaking to his grandparents or an aged aunt.
Anna fumbled to get a candle lit. What did she expect? A sultry lover’s voice? She burnt her finger and shook it in disgust. “We have been managing better than I could have imagined. The children all got sick with coughs, but mustard plaster and onions on their chests worked wonders, and they were up and about in no time.”
The two of them sat down by the fire as far apart as possible, while remaining within the circle of warmth. Adriaen looked at her with keen eyes. “And you’re not too lonely?”
She shook her head. “I don’t mind living here with the children in the least.” Well, not anymore, now that he had returned.
“I had to come back to see the children,” he said. Had he missed her too? No, of course not, the thought had probably never entered his mind. “I searched all over for a safe place for them to live, but there is no such place. The Brethren recommended that I leave them here. That is, if you agree. You must tell me if it is too much of a burden.”
“Of course not.”
“Moravia is relatively safe, if the authorities don’t capture you on the way there. But travelling that distance with three small children is too perilous, I fear.”
“They will be fine here with me.” And he was welcome to stay as well. For always. For a moment she allowed herself to dwell on the picture of herself as Adriaen’s wife, then sadly set the idea aside. For one, he would never marry a woman outside of his faith, never mind how much he admired her, and how convenient it might be. It would be unbelievable if Adriaen entertained any such ideas. Besides, how could she even consider being so disloyal to Maeyken? A few months ago, Maeyken had been alive and happy, and it was much too soon for Anna to be pining after her husband. But oh! He was so handsome, she thought, studying his profile by the flickering light of the flames in the fireplace. His thick brown hair was cut straight across his forehead and around the back of his neck. His nose was straight, his chin firm, and his lips wide and generous.
She compared him to the man back in Germany, whom she thought was in love with her. He was handsome too, in a loose-jointed way, but he had turned around and married someone else, just as Anna was finishing up her hope chest. The chest was gone now, burned to ashes, along with everything and everyone else she had loved. She was an outcast, a lonely, poor, and altogether plain spinster, who clung to her papist faith. With so many beautiful women in the world, why would he choose her if he ever did re-marry? Would he even live long enough for that?
“You know that Claes and Elizabeth have gone into hiding with the two babies?” Adriaen asked.
Anna nodded. “What happened to all of you?”
Adriaen cleared his throat. “It was close, I must say. We had a few minutes to grab our things and run. Claes and I each carried our own infant, and a pack of whatever we could think to toss inside; a bit of food, candles, knives, a small amount of gold and some blankets. Elizabeth remembered our Bibles, and all the religious tracts we had in the house, which was fortunate. I glanced inside Claes’ house before I came here, and the officers tore the place apart.”
“Yes, I saw that. I was going to take them a nut cake at Christmas but ended up giving it to a boy on the ice.” Her heart beat faster as she remembered her shock.
“Claes and Elizabeth are in Harlingen; it’s somewhat safer there. With Jan Trypmaker and some of the leaders executed now, along with so many other men and women, the remaining people are scattered all over like sheep without a shepherd. I heard there’s a man, Jan van Geelen, who is gathering followers, and he will be our leader.” Adriaen shook his head. “I’m afraid his life will be short too.”
Anna wrinkled her brow. “So why doesn’t everyone go back to the Church? Then you could all live in peace again.”
“Anna, we would have no peace. Perhaps we would no longer be persecuted in the flesh, but our souls would have no peace. Do you not know how corrupt the priests are, with their drinking and gambling and fornication? How could we, as disciples of Christ, call them our brothers?” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small booklet. “Would you like to read this?”
Anna sucked in her breath. “What is it about?” Chances were, whatever it said, Charles V would call it heresy. Especially if the writing came from the press of the Anabaptists.
“It tells us where in the Scriptures we find the basis for our beliefs. The Pope, and the state church, claim their Sacraments and ordinances are commanded by God, but in fact they are mere human inventions. Please read it. Perhaps you will gain a better understanding of our faith. But hide it well. You don’t want the Court officers to see you with it.”
He held out the tract and Anna accepted it by its very edge, making sure she didn’t touch his fingers. She felt distinctly uncomfortable with Anabaptist writings in her house, but she didn’t want to hurt his feelings. She would probably burn it in the morning. Why risk the wrong pair of eyes finding it? The officers did a thorough search for evidence when they suspected someone, as she had witnessed at Elizabeth’s house. Besides, most likely she wouldn’t be able to understand the words, even if she did read the tract.
Adriaen got up to leave. “I had better go now. I will find a place to sleep, for I cannot put you in danger by staying here. I’ve seen the children and thanks to you, they seem happy and healthy.”
There was no use in being disappointed. What he said made perfect sense. He was only thinking of his children’s safety, and hers.
“Will you visit again? For the children,” Anna added hastily. She blushed, grateful for the darkness of the kitchen hiding her warm face. What if he saw right through her and caught on that she was asking for herself as much as for the children?
“I will come when I can. I will try to find work, perhaps on a ship. They don’t usually ask many questions. They need able-bodied men to sail a ship, and if a man is hardworking they don’t care much what religion he is.”
Anna groaned inwardly. Sailing was a dangerous job this time of year, and he might not be back for months, or even at all. But what did it really matter? Whether he was at home or a thousand miles away, he was just as out of reach for her. Taking care of his children was as close as she would ever get to him, and his occasional visits to see them would be all she could hope for.
“I wish you well,” Anna said, sincerely, yet with a heavy weight in the pit of her stomach.
Adriaen rose to his feet. “It’s time I left.” He looked into her eyes for several long moments, and much as she wished to, Anna could not look away. “I will be praying for you.” Adriaen said.
“For me? The priests pray for my soul. Why should you do so?” Anna asked.
“Because I desire for you to find peace in your soul.” He paused. “Come with me to the meeting tomorrow night. Jan van Geelen, the man I told you about, is going to be there, and you could hear first-hand what we believe in. Also, I don’t want you to live in seclusion with my children. You need to get out sometimes.”
Anna jerked her head up. Did he seriously believe she would be interested in attending an Anabaptist meeting? “You’re just like my parents, who were always trying to lure me to secret meetings,” Anna burst out. “And what happened to them?” She clenched her fists, and tears began to roll down her cheeks. “They were burned, unshriven, along with my siblings and our home. And now, I’m afraid they will be tormented in purgatory forever. In this land I can’t even buy indulgences to free them, and my prayers, and lighting candles in the church may not be enough.”
“Anna, Anna.” Adriaen laid his hands on her shoulders. “I am so sorry. I did not know. So your family had joined the Brethren?” Anna nodded, shaking with silent sobs.
“Are you the only one of your family who survived?” Again, she nodded. “I believe,” Adriaen cleared his throat, then continued, “that God has a very special reason for sparing you. You may not know at this time what His purpose is, but we do know He never makes mistakes. You must believe that, instead of suffering, your family is singing for joy in their heavenly home. Everything works out for good, if we trust God.”
Now the silent sobs turned into a noisy torrent of weeping. Did God really care about her, and her family? Could it be true that He had some divine purpose in sparing her life? To Anna, it seemed as though she was no more than a piece of driftwood, washed up on the shore, having little value to anyone.
“I simply must go now, it’s getting late,” Adriaen said. “I will let you think about it until tomorrow night, then I will come back. If you decide to come with me, I will be very much pleased. If not, I understand, and I will not hold it against you.”
“But the children…I couldn’t take them, could I?”
“I’ll send Janneken over. If you decide not to go, she can either go back home, or stay here and keep you company. Does that meet with your approval?” Anna nodded, wiping away the tears.
“Good. Now I really must be on my way. Goedenacht.”
Anna stared at the door long after he had gone. The tract he had given her lay on her lap. She picked it up and held it in her hands without opening it. She read the title, which was written in German: ’Von einem wahrhaften Ritter Christi, und womit er gewappnet muss sein, damit er uberwinden moge die Welt, das Fleisch, und den Teufel.’ Anna stared at the words for a long time. ‘Concerning a True Soldier of Christ…’ Much as she admired Adriaen, and would gladly do anything to protect him from the cruel officers, she could not bring herself to turn the page. Was she a True Soldier of Christ, or was she marching to her own tune? Or to the tune of a church that had lost its glory? After a while, she got up and tucked the booklet under her mattress.