1. A Calling

        Twenty-year-old James Renwick made the two-days’ journey on horseback from his little village of Moniaive to Edinburgh, Scotland—knick-named both the “Athens of the north” for its beautiful architecture and“Auld Reekie” for its stink and continuously smoke-filled streets. Renwick had rented a sleeping room in a new tenement called Traveling House and had set out to meet up with his old school chum, Michael Mure.  Little did Renwick know that he was about to witness something that would forever change his life.

        As Renwick and Mure strolled what is now “old town” Edinburgh, the chaotic noise and military drumming at the bottom of the hill became impossible to ignore, and so the two young men hurried to the center of Grassmarket just in time to see a pathetic scene. 

        At the bottom of King’s Stables Road, Grassmarket Square offered the citizenry of Edinburgh, Scotland, a place for public announcements or civic events.  On this sultry day in July 1681, however, Grassmarket served as the stage for an infamous event in the city’s history, another Covenanter execution.  The jagged, gray granite of castle rock, which rose high above Grassmarket, served as a backdrop to the dramatic events played out at its base, with a regiment of English dragoons positioned to restrain a furious crowd.  The second Covenanter execution this year, the event drew a crowd that was on the verge of riot, surging with competing voices and aggressive gestures. 

        Michael Mure’s eyes widened as he realized the identity of the prisoner about to lose his life.  

        “Renwick, it’s old Donald Cargill!  I knew he’d been captured, but I’d no idea his execution was today!  Renwick, what exactly was his crime!?” pleaded Mure.

 

Edinburgh Castle from Grassmarket

Edinburgh Castle from Grassmarket

         “Publicly denouncing King Charles the Second as head of the Church.  Charles Stuart promised Scotland a church free from English rule when he signed the Covenant at Moray in 1650, remember?”  Renwick responded in a tense voice. 

        Both young men stood transfixed at the pitiful sight before them—five prisoners bound and delivered for immediate hanging, a large hangman’s noose swaying slightly in a gentle breeze.

        From his own father, Renwick had heard the sensational stories about Cargill’s defiance, and as Renwick looked up at Cargill, he was captured by the pathos of the scene: the first of the five to die, Cargill stood relaxed and seemingly patient, his face beaming peace uncommon for one about to be hung.

       “Look, Michael, the man is going to address the crowd,” Renwick said, obviously captivated.

       “Good people of Edinburgh,” Cargill began in a strong and sonorous voice, “I want you to know that as I leave this world, I know that my Redeemer lives and that I go to the safety of His arms!” 

        Cargill paused here, as if seriously considering his next words. Renwick surged with pity when Cargill opened his mouth but was unable to utter a word.  Though his hands were tied, Cargill put his hand on his chest, took a deep breath, and continued his words of farewell.

       “Good people, I die acknowledging Charles Stuart as my earthly Sovereign, but he is the head of no church, and his claim to be such is. . ."  Cargill again paused, “. . . a wicked usurpation of what belongs only to Christ himself!”

        The moment that those defiant words came from Cargill’s mouth, the executioner halted the prisoner’s speech by jerking him toward the ladder and the waiting noose, as Renwick heard the crowd erupt in a chaotic chorus of shouting.  

        “God will damn you for your seditious words, Cargill!”  

        “All traitors go to hell, Cargill!” 

        “God bless you, Reverend Cargill!”  

        “A martyr, a martyr for God’s true Church!”  

         As shouts, shoving, and even some fighting broke out among a few in the crowd, the fateful events on the scaffold demanded attention, and so an eerie silence again slowly fell across the assembly, broken moments later by a few quiet sobs and sporadic jeers.          

        Donald Cargill smiled warmly at the crowd one last time, nodding his head in acceptance of his end while he was pushed up the ladder to submit to the noose being placed around his neck.  The noose at first was tightened around Cargill’s long hair, so the executioner slowly ran his hands around the back of Cargill’s neck, pulling the hair out and laying it gently on each side of his face and shoulders.  This done, the masked hangman immediately pushed Cargill off of the ladder. 

        Gasps and sighs rippled across those viewing the spectacle of Cargill’s body violently quivering and convulsing, swaying back and forth in a grotesquely gentle rocking motion. 

        Renwick felt nauseated.  After two minutes, Cargill was still.  But only for a moment.  The hangman quickly lowered the body, produced a large ax seemingly out of nowhere, and commenced to hack off the head of the limp corpse, bright spots of blood coloring the hangman’s gray tights with each of the three strokes.  Renwick felt his knees weaken and remained standing only with conscious effort. Cargill’s head was then stuck on a long pike for immediate transport to the city gate at Netherbow, a vivid warning against all such “traitors.” 

        James Renwick sensed that somehow his life would never be the same.  His stomach churned, his hands perspired, and his body ached from wincing at all he had witnessed.  Most importantly, though, his spirit was in turmoil, his mind a blur.  

        Renwick could not get out of his mind the power and grace of Cargill’s deportment on the scaffold. 

        “This really has nothing to do with my life,” Renwick tried to tell himself.  But he knew better.  He had been raised by his father, Robert, on stories of the “ol’ times o’ tha Bishops’ Wars,” when a Covenanter army under Scottish leaders Leslie and Montrose had chased Charles I’s army across the River Tweed, forcing the king to sign the Treaty of Ripon in 1640.  

        Robert Renwick had labored to instill in his young son the sacredness of these Covenanter exploits and sacrifices, “for the freedom of Scotland and the independence of God’s own kirk!” Robert would shout with conviction at the end of each tale from these times.  Though Renwick had dearly loved his recently-deceased father, he had felt little connection to these old stories, dismissing them as fascinating but exaggerated war stories from old men.  After all, the Bishops’ Wars were forty years ago. 

        For young James Renwick, though, seeing Cargill’s execution was a punch in the face, an epiphany forcing Renwick to realize that he had been lying to himself. 

        When Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660—after the Puritans had executed Charles I in 1649 and ruled the country for eleven years—there was great hope for an autonomous S­­­cottish kirk, one not ruled by the king’s liturgical Anglican Church.   

         But things had not gone well.  By 1662, Charles II had renounced the three great promises that Scotland could have its own kirk, the Covenants of 1638, 1643, and 1650, even though the last one bore the king’s own signature.  Worse yet, the Church of England was forced on the people of Scotland, requiring public officials to swear loyalty to the king and expelling any minister who refused to recognize the authority of the Anglican bishops.

        Two things struck Renwick’s heart at the same time, filling him with shame: powerful memories of his father’s dedication to Scottish independence, and recent abuses by the English government against his Scottish homeland.  Since his father’s death two years ago, Renwick had repressed all of this. 

        Most of all, he had wanted just to enjoy life, while still trying to make a success of his livery business in his little home village of Moniaive, as his father had wished.  Those were his only missions in life—until today.

         A strange uneasiness gripped Renwick as he sensed the beliefs from his father now trying to reassert themselves in his mind.  He rebuked the thoughts.

        “I’ve got to get this chaos out of my head,” he said out loud as he looked away from the preparations to execute James Boig, the second condemned Covenanter.

        He turned for home.  Somehow separated from Mure in the crowd, he didn’t even look for him.  He pushed up onto West Bow, onto Victoria Street, and then left in front of St. Giles Cathedral and back on to Canongate. 

        “Don’t think, just walk,” Renwick muttered under his breath.   So he strained to empty his mind as he turned his face upward, imagining that the dim light of the overcast day might brighten his brain and clear his mind. 

          When he arrived at Market Street and his lodgings—the new Traveline House, one of the tallest buildings in seventeenth-century Europe—Renwick went up to his fourth-floor room, even though he knew it would be insufferably hot.  Leaving his door open to create a draft, he removed his shirt, moved his chair in front of his window and looked out at an Edinburgh shrouded below in a somber, cheerless gray.  He gazed to his right at the busy Fruit Market, then down to the bustle of horses and coaches on Princes Street, back up to Ramsey Garden, where thousands of witches and wizards had been put to death in the last hundred years, and then to his left at stagnant old Nor Loch, which was smelling worse than usual in the hot July weather. 

Edinburgh Castle with Nor Loch

Edinburgh Castle with Nor Loch

          The dark gray of the overcast kept prompting Renwick to close his eyes, but every time he did he saw Cargill’s haunting, unearthly smile, attaching itself to his mind’s eye and defying his attempts to dispel it.  He looked over to Princes Street at people exiting Cheswick Bank, at those entering McIvor Inn, at those clinging to their parcels while exiting Caldonia Shops—all in vain.  Try as he would, he could not get the specter of Cargill’s smile out of his head, with the hangman pulling the long brown hair out of the noose as Cargill gently nodded and smiled goodbye to the crowd.

            “What the devil is this all about?” he muttered to himself as he retreated to his bed. Feeling deeply confused and a little depressed, Renwick lectured himself, “Sleep, just a little sleep. That’s all I need,” he whispered, hopping into his bed to sleep off the misery of the day’s dismal events—but to no avail. 

          Renwick lay for over an hour in an uneasy rest, changing from back to side while pulling the sticky sheet off of his damp skin.  Finally falling into deep sleep, he saw a disturbing phantasmagoria—myriads of scaffolds, of gently swaying hangmen’s nooses, of disturbing grins and smiles, some African, some Oriental, some Caucasian, some animal, and then the noose being placed around his own neck with him in absolute panic.

            Renwick suddenly passed out of his nightmare and bolted upright in bed, his breath coming in deep drafts, with perspiration wet in his armpits and in the creases of his stomach.  The phantasm of Cargill’s head fixed on the pike now presented itself in his mind’s eye, and he felt a deep revulsion.

          In response, thoughts which Renwick had resisted for years now prodded his mind: “Freedom for Scotland!  God’s Church!  Not Charles’ Church!  End the tyranny!  End the tyranny!  Pray for God’s help, Renwick!” 

         Renwick sat motionless for many minutes . . .  hesitating . . .  unwilling to approach a God from whom he had estranged himself for many months.

         Somehow, everything seemed different now.  Powerful emotions swept over his heart and mind: “The tyranny of the English government, the murder of this gentle minister, Cargill, the insult to my country, the insult to me, and the affront to God himself.”  Renwick felt a steely resolve swell up from his very soul“All of this must be answered!”

         Slowly, timidly, gently, Renwick sat on the side of his bed.  The sun was now lower in the sky, breaking through the clouds and casting amber light everywhere, flooding Renwick’s bedroom and casting his silhouette on the wall. 

         The atmosphere in his room seemed bizarre as he pleaded for understanding, “God, what do you want from me? What do you want from my life?” Renwick whispered.

         He closed his eyes, but now he saw a different face—not Cargill’s but his mother’s.  He remembered suddenly and with disturbing clarity what he had suppressed for many months, the special calling he suspected was on his life.

         His mother, Rachel Renwick, had told him many times of the six brothers and sisters who had come before him, each dying before reaching eighteen months old; of how she had pleaded through tears to God that one child might live to serve His kingdom and Scotland; of how, when James was born, she had solemnly dedicated him “to serve God and our country.”  

         With these memories coursing through Renwick’s mind, anxiety began to grip him.  His breathing quickened and he wanted to run, to flee, to live his life as he saw fit, to simply enjoy life as he wished.  But he couldn’t move.  

         “I cannot do this, God!” he said out loud with great emphasis. 

         Renwick remained motionless on the side of his bed as his breathing deepened and his mind seemed to go empty.  He slowly opened his eyes and looked to his right.  The amber light in the room had grown more intense, his silhouette had grown taller on the wall, and somehow stillness began to invade his inner being. 

        He felt his shoulders relax.  His arms and hands seemed limp, his breathing slight.  From Princes Street below, the incessant cacophony of voice and carriage-rattle faded until Renwick could hear nothing, only a profound silence.  

        Finally everything seemed very natural, calm, and certain.   Somehow an assurance welled up from deep in Renwick’s soul and spread to every fiber of his being: he would be a Gospel minister, for God’s kingdom and for an independent Scotland.

Covenanter flag  

Covenanter flag

 

 

        He would cast his lot with his people, with the reformers and the persecuted kirk in Scotland, and with the true Covenanted Presbyterian Church, and with Donald Cargill and dozens of other martyrs who had in recent years spilled their blood rather than submit to the tyranny of King Charles Stuart's rule as head of the church.

        Deep in his soul, James Renwick was suddenly very certain of his calling, and he took a long, deep breath as he got up from his bed, noticing that the clouds had abated and that the sinking sun had set his room ablaze in fiery orange.  

2. Unexpected Confidence

        “I can’t believe I did this!” Renwick mumbled to himself as he pulled the collar of his coat up on the back of his neck, trying to shield himself from the relentless January wind.  As he turned his horse, Hurricane, onto Princes Street, the recently-remodeled McIvor Inn came into view.  A simple but beautiful structure, the hotel and restaurant was four stories high, built from local yellow stone with four rows of windows, all tall and rectangular with classic arches at the tops and lead-grated diamond panes of translucent glass.  Renwick was exhausted, physically and emotionally, and so although the lights flickering through the thick glass had made the inn a very welcome sight, the doubt invading his mind seemed relentless as he stepped up under the large arched doorway.  

         “How can any good come from this? Treason, Treason!”the word seemed to dig at his conscience like a leather punch on rawhide.  At the same time, resolve settled his mind when he remembered the egregious crimes of Charles Stuart. 

        He took a long, deep breath as he entered the dining room and sat at a table by himself.  The room was furnished with elaborately carved dark oaken tables and high-back chairs, but the colors were muted—white linens and pea-green draperies.  Even this basic décor, though, was a most-welcome contrast to the spartan conditions Renwick had endured over the past few days of travel.  His friend Michael Mure would be there soon to dine with him, so he ordered two loaves of bread, haggis, neaps and taties.  

       It was January 15, 1682, barely six months since Cargill’s execution, and Renwick thought back on all that had taken place in that short time.  Renwick had decided to stay in Edinburgh indefinitely and had joined the United Societies of Covenanters, who currently were openly opposing King Charles II’s Cess Tax, money used to pay troops to attack the Covenanters.  More dangerous, Renwick had signed the Declaration of Lanark, openly renouncing the authority of King Charles, certainly an act of open treason.   All bridges burnt, there was no turning back now.  The name of James Renwick would eventually be connected with the Lanark Declaration, and the Crown would put a price on his head.      

            Renwick’s thoughts were interrupted as his food was delivered by a young Scottish lass in her late teens, wearing a simple but attractive muslin dress.  

       “Thank you, Effie, but would you please keep part of this warm until my friend Michael arrives?” questioned Renwick.

            “Certainly, Mr. Renwick.  That’s no problem,” replied Effie as she looked directly into his eyes, smiled and then blushed, red blotches suddenly appearing on her neck.  He knew that Effie McIvor was encouraging his attention; he had known her for years, with her trim figure, dark auburn hair, olive complexion and dark brown eyes.  Though she was overly excitable and a little loud, she was sincere, honest, and enthusiastically attentive to Renwick.  What’s more, her father, Callum McIvor, owned the McIvor Inn, and they were a highly respected Edinburgh family. 

        Renwick had dined with her and her family on three occasions since July, each with Effie seated by him as they enjoyed lively and friendly conversation.  One of the occasions was the evening when Dr. Clifford, a local Edinburgh official, announced that he would nominate Renwick to be a burgess in Lanark.  When that announcement was made, Effie grabbed Renwick’s hand under the table in congratulations and would not release it for several moments.  Both the softness of her hand and the admiration that she directed at him that evening still lingered warm and vivid in his memory. 

        In his memory, too, was a brief encounter with Effie which gave his conscience a pang of guilt.  After Renwick had breakfasted at McIvor’s several weeks back, Effie had invited him to the deserted kitchen to see a large vat of haggis being prepared for the evening’s patrons.  After an explanation of the recipe and a few moments of small talk, Effie grabbed Renwick’s hand and stepped back a few steps into a hidden corner, inviting a kiss, an event implying commitment which Renwick knew he couldn’t offer.

        His attraction overpowered his resolve, though, and Renwick passionately embraced Effie McIvor.  The thrilling softness of her kiss and the feel of Effie’s figure against his body was more startling that Renwick had imagined, and he knew he had to flee, which he did.  He and Effie did not discuss the event when he saw her a few days later, but Effie was cheerful, obviously hoping that a serious courtship might still ensue.  How to resolve his indiscretion with Effie was still a blur in Renwick’s mind.

            But he could never think of joining the McIvor family.  Although they were sympathetic to the grievances of the Covenanters, the McIvors, knowing that their inn would be at risk otherwise, were quite happy to attend an Indulged Presbyterian kirk, one officially licensed by the king and paying tithe to the king’s bishop and submitting to their supervision—something Renwick could never do.    

              In the McIvor Inn Renwick began eating his supper by himself.   He wondered when Michael Mure would arrive, and he tried to think of his future and what prospects might be ahead for his young life now that he had been involved in such bold and dangerous actions against the king.  His mind went back to the ride home from the Covenanters meeting in Lanark on the thirteenth and fourteenth of January, how doubt and fear had relentlessly assailed him, trying to prevent him from pursuing his calling to fight for the religious freedom of Scotland.  

            Renwick remembered how the trip home from Lanark had begun hopeful enough.   He had headed south briefly and then northeast, staying in the shadows of the Pentland Hills.  He was in no hurry to get back to Edinburgh, so he decided to take a couple of extra days and try to enjoy some winter salmon fishing.   

        He had ridden Hurricane hard that first day, so shortly after he had set up camp, he took extra time rubbing him down, patting him with his left hand as he brushed him slowly with his right, telling him over and over, “Good boy, Hurricane.  You’re a good ole loyal boy.  Do you know that?” as if the beast could understand.    

        Renwick loved this horse, partly because he saw Hurricane as a connection to his family.   He smiled as he remembered that day in May of 1681, barely eight months ago, when his mother had surprised him with Hurricane.  Before James’ father died, he had given his wife money to buy their son a horse on the day he finished his studies at the University of Edinburgh.  Renwick would never forget the thrill at seeing his mother hand him the reigns to this beautiful young gelding—half Arabian, eggshell white with swirls of gray.  The name Hurricane came to him immediately, and from that moment Renwick considered the animal among his most precious possessions.

        Renwick also remembered with pleasure his successful fishing adventure that first night of camping.  With his line and float, he caught a plump speckled salmon on his third cast in the North Esk River.  When he pulled in the fish hand over hand, he delighted both at seeing the size and power of the creature and at hearing the splashing and churning it offered in resistance. 

        As a pallet of blended red, orange, and purple arched in the western sky, Renwick made a sizeable campfire, dressed the fish, doused it with oat meal, and began frying it in pork fat, using the fat and extra flour to add a thick oat cake to the sizzling pan.  Then eating his fish and cake slowly, Renwick took a long, deep breath as he studied the artistry of the sunset through a break in the Pentland Hills, running his eyes down the valley to the row of birch, poplar, and oak trees on the other side of the river, and then futilely trying to hear just one spot in the river which was part of the gentle bubbling serenade of the moving water.  He looked back up at the row of trees and noticed that not a leaf was moving in the dead-still air.  

        After he had been satisfied with a tasty supper on that first night, he sat back and tried to read by the light of the fire.  As Renwick remained still, though, the cold January air was numbing his hands and face, and specks of snow were falling straight down and spotting the pages of his book.   He took out his precious pocket watch and saw that it was almost ten o’clock, so he wrapped up in his bed roll of burlap and wool blankets and tried to sleep.    

        When he closed his eyes, he could see his father presenting him the pocket watch on Renwick’s sixteenth birthday.  It was a family heirloom, and Renwick knew at that time that his father would not live long.  So he saw the offer of the watch as a gesture suggesting his father’s departure, and it shocked him.

        “Father, I…I cannot,” Renwick had protested, feeling both a deep dread of his father’s death and a thrill at the thought of owning the watch at the same time.  “This belonged to Grandpa Fergus.   It’s special to our family.  I cannot accept it,” Renwick had proclaimed on that birthday five years ago.

        “Take the watch, James,” his father had commanded with his insistent tone as he wrapped the boy’s fingers around the finely crafted time piece. 

        All of these memories prompted in Renwick a sudden desire to look closely at the watch once again.  Renwick threw back the woolen blankets, moved toward the flickering campfire, stirred the coals a bit, and looked closely at the watch.

        At the end of the fourteen-inch fine gold chain Renwick saw the attachment ring and winding knob.  He looked closely at the engraved border leaf on the front with his grandfather’s initials in the middle—“FIR”—in beautiful cursive lettering.  He pushed the winding knob, and the watch sprang open, revealing an intricately-detailed, cream-colored face encircled by Roman numerals, with a second-hand inset no bigger than a large pea at the bottom.      

        As he closed the watch, he envisioned his father once again, remembering how he always closed the watch carefully with both thumbs.  Suddenly he felt a twinge of panic as he again realized that his father had been dead for two years and could never again support and encourage him as he was so generous to do.

       As Renwick put the watch back in his pocket, a sudden cold loneliness chilled him deep inside as he felt a profound spirit of discouragement attack his mind.  

         “I’m not strong enough to help my country in this struggle against English tyranny.  I can’t do it. I don’t have that kind of talent.

            “You’re a fool, James Renwick!” The Covenanters? Is this why you got an education at The University of Edinburgh?  You fool, Renwick!  You’re now a Burgess in Lanark.  You could advance to the town council, become a magistrate, maybe even ascend to parliament and have a fine country home with position and means!  Now you’ll have nothing, Renwick.  You’ll be a pauper, esteemed by no one except like-minded simple people with no intellect and no real talent!

            “You’re a traitor, a fugitive!” the doubt continued.  “You will never be a leader of the Covenanters.  You’re not good enough! You’re not smart enough; you can’t teach or preach that well!   You’ll fail as a leader of these people!”

            Renwick suddenly imagined a stout and fierce Royal dragoon confronting him, and a shudder suddenly coursed through his body.  “Will I run?  Or just surrender?” he questioned.  His hands were noticeably slow with his basket hilt sword, and his aim was embarrassingly inaccurate with his pistol.  Fear, doubt, and panic all gripped Renwick that night, and his body shuddered as he realized what he would face since he’d taken this path of rebellion.

          One doubt in particular gnawed at the back of his mind.  How could he keep from mistaking his own quarrels for God’s?  How could he know for certain that he was fighting for God’s will and not merely for his own sense of justice and patriotism? 

        He emptied his mind.  He prayed for peace, for quiet, for stillness, and when that peace finally came, Renwick got a powerful sense that his life was no longer his.  It was only loaned to him, and he must be willing to give everything in the cause of Scotland’s freedom from the tyranny of Charles II.  At that moment, Renwick huddled in his thick bed roll, peering into the red and orange flames of his campfire, looking for the courage to face the battle set before him.  

       Renwick’s spiritual reveries were abruptly interrupted by Mure’s approaching the table.  He was smiling broadly.

       “James, old boy, welcome back to Edinburgh!  I can’t tell you how good it is to see you,” Mure proclaimed.  He was trying to remain inaudible to the rest of the patrons but was pumping Renwick’s hand so aggressively that Renwick was sure they were becoming a spectacle. 

            “Michael, it’s good to see you, too, my enthusiastic friend,” Renwick said warmly but a little curiously as they sat down at the table.  Mure was wearing his best black coat and his shirt was freshly laundered and pressed, rather formal for a Thursday evening.  

        Renwick motioned for Effie to bring Mure’s food, and then questioned him. 

       “What’s up with the dressy look and the silly, wry smile, Michael?”

       “Absolutely nothing, James.  I just wanted to look proper to welcome my good friend back from days of difficult travel.  That’s all,” Mure said academically but with a wry smile.

       “Don’t hand me that.  You’re hiding something, Michael.”

       “Me?  Hiding something?  Trust me as God above, I am as I appear, your dear friend.”

        Mure’s smile was so wide it looked as if it hurt. 

        “You know that I know that you’re hiding something.  You’ve decided on new plans for your future?  You’ve fallen in love with Cecelia McGregor as you promised you would never do?”

        Both young men were now laughing, Mure cheerfully, Renwick a bit awkwardly.

        “Well, James,” Mure began as their laughter subsided, “you took your time getting back from Lanark.” Mure paused, knowing that he was irritating Renwick by holding back on some important news.  “Guess who’s in Edinburgh, my dear James?  Sir Robert Hamilton of Preston.”

       Renwick was a bit startled.  The Hamiltons were a long-established and prosperous Scottish family, active the last few years in supporting the Covenanter movement.  Renwick had heard much about both the Hamilton family and Sir Robert, but had never met any of them.   

      “Sir Robert Hamilton?  What is his business in Edinburgh?” asked Renwick.

      “It seems, my dear James that early this morning he and some of the other Covenanter leaders had an important meeting.”

       Renwick could feel his face flush as he tried to imagine what this was all about.  Suddenly he remembered hearing of an assignment given by Covenanter leaders to Sir Robert late last year.  He wasn’t certain, but he thought he now knew what Mure knew, and he struggled to keep from looking both stunned and joyful.  Instead, with knit brow and narrow eyes, he stared at Mure in feigned irritation, just as Effie McIvor came to the table but without a tray of food. 

       “This way, James,” Mure announced abruptly as he got up from the table and began following Effie. Walking behind Mure and Effie, Renwick guessed that Effie would look back at him, which she did.  He smiled and then looked away, forcing himself not to study her beauty.  She was not the girl for him, but he knew that he had a weakness for her.    

       Renwick now knew where they were going, the same private dining room where he had dined on several occasions with the McIvors and other friends. 

       Effie showed them to the room and then walked away as Mure opened the door and invited Renwick to enter before him.  As Renwick entered, he was startled to see the familiar faces of five young men prominent in the Covenanter movement, as well as one distinguished gentleman standing behind the group.   

       There was a chorus of greetings and a flurry of handshakes as Renwick said hello to Mark Smith, John Flint, William Hardy, Ian Boyd, and John Nisbet.

       The most distinguished-looking of the gentlemen then stepped forward, and Michael Mure introduced him as “Sir Robert Hamilton of Preston.”  Sir Robert was well into middle age, above average height, with dark brown medium-length hair, graying at the temples, a neatly-trimmed beard, large handsome blue eyes, broad brow and even features.  After greetings and brief conversations, Sir Robert offered an attractive, engaging smile as he addressed the group.

       “Gentlemen, two months ago at a meeting of the General Societies in Edinburgh, I was assigned the task of selecting suitable men to go abroad to study, the goal being, of course, ordination in Christian ministry to the persecuted church of Scotland, the Covenanters. The preparations we have made at the University of Groningen in Holland allow only four appointments at this time, but we have been unable to narrow our nominations to fewer than you six.  So we’ll let God decide.”

       Sir Robert proceeded with the lottery.  Six pieces of paper of equal size and quality were placed in a bonnet, but only four pieces had a currency amount written on them.            

       The piece that Renwick pulled out of the bonnet had “100 Pounds Scots” written on it, the amount of the support to be given to him for the next six months.  Renwick’s mind erupted with both eager anticipation and anxiety as he embraced Mure, who congratulated Renwick and then pushed him back at arm’s length and looked in his face.   

        Renwick shook his finger at Mure in mock lecture. “I knew you had a secret the moment you walked up to my table.”

       Amazement slowly overshadowed disbelief as Renwick struggled to comprehend the reality of the news just given to him.  He would go to Holland.  He would study for ordination as a Covenanter minister at the University of Groningen, preparing himself to lead his people against the tyranny of the usurper Charles II. 

        Unknown to Sir Robert, Renwick, and all present, however, was the fact the Charles II’s  agents were already in Edinburgh, gathering intelligence about this meeting—its purpose and its people—and reporting it all to their king.  

3. An Unpleasant Personality

        “Groningen is a gorgeous town,” Renwick thought to himself as he tried to understand what made the town so likeable.  He remembered how Groningen is situated at the junction of two rivers, the Hunse and the As, and how it is traversed by numerous canals which are crossed by eighteen bridges.  Renwick looked up and saw how its skyline was dominated by the tallest and most impressive gothic cathedral in Holland, St. Martin’s, with a large and bustling outdoor market-place adjacent, Grote Market.  And he had never seen anything like the Poelestraat, just around the corner from Grote Market, lined with restaurants and cafes, each with carefully decorated facades and plenty of outdoor seating.

        The sun blazed in a cloudless sky on a crisp and windless afternoon in Groningen.  It was the last Friday in April in the spring of 1683, and James Renwick tried to repress a smile as he walked briskly through the grounds of St. Geertruidshofie, the inn on Peperstraat which had been his home since coming to Groningen.

University of Groningen

University of Groningen

        Renwick saw his fellow student John Flint emerge from the entrance to his lodgings and hurry to catch up with him.  They both had been sent by the United Societies of Covenanters at the same time to study for ordination.  

        “Good day, John Flint,” Renwick proclaimed cheerfully.  “It’s nice to have you along on this weekend journey to Leewarden.”

        “My pleasure, James.  Who would miss Sir Robert Hamilton’s invitation to Reverend Brackel’s?  Why, I’ve heard that Brackel is that rare man of piety and prosperity, and that a visit to his home at Leewarden is enjoyable both for the beautiful place he’s built and for the delicious food he serves!”  

        “I don’t think you’ll be disappointed on either account, John,” returned Renwick cordially.

        Flint was a young man of twenty-two years of age, immaculately dressed in blue coat and buff trousers, rather short and quite stout, with dark auburn hair and a beard surprisingly thick for his age.  His face was oval with even, attractive features, except for his eyes, which were deep-set dots staring out from puffy lids.  Renwick often wondered how he could see.  

         Flint possessed a keen, opinionated mind.  He had been with Renwick and Mure at the University of Edinburgh, yet Renwick had never been comfortable around Flint.        

        “The coach isn’t due for almost thirty minutes, James.  We’re in no hurry.  Let’s walk down St. Walburgstr past ‘The Old Grey.’”Renwick smiled and assented, and the two were off at a brisk pace.

        The simple pleasure of the up-coming trip was not the only reason Renwick was smiling. Later that evening he knew that he was going to see Sir Robert’s sister again, Mistress Jean Hamilton.  When he thought about it, Renwick was a little embarrassed at how much Mistress Jean had occupied his mind the last few days. He had met dozens of attractive young women in his life, but none had continued to prompt daydreams of romance the way Jean had. 

        As the two young men walked down the Sint Walburgstr, Renwick looked over at the garden of the Prinsenhof, where a Renaissance fountain had water spouting from old Triton’s horn and splashing into a large marble bowl.  He grabbed Flint’s arm and stopped them both to enjoy the beauty. 

            A gravel walkway encircling the fountain had paths emerging from it like spokes on a wheel.  Nearby, blue irises, purple snapdragons, lemon yellow daffodils, and tulips of various colors were all arranged in the highly-planned French style in various beds surrounded by a neatly trimmed lawn.  

        “That is first rate work, first rate,” declared Flint, as he surveyed the garden intently.

        Then they passed by the open lawn encircled by trees at the back of St. Martin’s Church.  They both stopped at the same time, letting their eyes ascend all three hundred and forty-three feet of “The Old Grey,” St. Martin’s tower—the tallest in Holland and always an impressive sight—gazing briefly at each of the five tiers of arches and columns as they raised their heads skyward. 

        Once the coach arrived, in less than ten minutes the coach drivers had loaded cargo and several sacks of mail.  Renwick and Flint were the only passengers to Leewarden that day, and so they settled in, with Flint promptly going to sleep and Renwick finally allowing himself to review his time in Groningen.

        “I can’t believe I’ve been in Holland almost five months,” Renwick spoke to himself.  As he thought of the last five months, what came to his mind most prominently was Jean Hamilton, with her beautiful features, her raven hair, and piercing blue eyes—but again he expelled the picture from his mind, trying not to allow himself to be so possessed with this young woman.

        Renwick looked over at John Flint, who was snoring, with a little trail of saliva tracing down the corner of his chin.  Flint could sleep anywhere.  Renwick laughed and then looked out the window at the Dutch countryside.

        A hole in the road made the coach jolt, and Flint woke up with an “Oh no!” and a glazed look in his eyes.  After he came to his senses, small talk between the two soon modulated to Flint’s questioning Renwick about major Covenanters in Holland.  

        “That always confused me, James.  What is the connection between Sir Alexander Gordon, Sir Robert Hamilton, and Reverend Brackel?”   Flint had to enunciate distinctly to be understood over the rattle and creeking of the coach.

        “First, Gordon and Hamilton are brothers-in-law, Gordon having married Hamilton’s older sister, Lady Janet.  And the two men have an interesting connection with our movement,” Renwick answered in a patient but instructive tone.

        “You remember, John,” Renwick continued, “how we were so criticized for the 1681 Lanark Declaration, when we disavowed allegiance to Charles the First?”

        “Of course, at home and abroad, many thought we had lost our minds.  But I still believe firmly that it was the right thing to do…most of the time.”

        Renwick playfully looked askance at Flint, assuming the “most of the time” to be a joke.

        “Because of serious questions about the Lanark Declaration, Sir Alexander Gordon, my dear Mr. Flint, was sent in early 1682 as commissioner to represent our cause to the Protestant brethren here in Holland.  Reverend Brackel, a widower whose only son is in university in Zurich, kindly hosted Gordon at Leewarden, and since that time Brackel has been a generous and invaluable friend to our cause.

        “But on a trip back to Scotland six months later,” Renwick continued to explain, “a warrant was issued for Gordon’s arrest—‘sedition’ against the king for giving financial support to an outlawed church—and he became a fugitive.  When he was finally arrested late last year, his wife, Lady Janet Hamilton Gordon, was actually allowed to go with him to Bass Prison! And, sadly, there they both remain.”

         “And Lady Janet is sister to Sir Robert, you said, right?” Flint questioned.

          “Correct, my friend.  And Lady Janet and Sir Robert have a younger sister, Mistress Jean Hamilton.  Sir Robert Hamilton was already well connected with the Dutch Ministry, and so, to replace Sir Alexander Gordon, the United Societies sent Sir Robert Hamilton here to Holland.  Thus, he and his sister, Mistress Jean, have been in residence with Reverend Brackel since late last year, about seven months ago.” 

          “Ah, now I understand,” replied Flint, pronouncing each word slowly. 

           “I understand you’ve been to Leewarden more than once, James,” said Flint, changing the subject.  “To what do you attribute Sir Robert’s and Rev. Brackel’s obvious interest in you?”

         Flint had revealed from previous comments that he was jealous of the attention paid to Renwick by the two prominent men, but Renwick--honestly unaware of his unique gifts—was still unsure of what really prompted Hamilton and Brackel to single him out for special attention.

        “You’d have to ask them, Flint.  I honestly do not know.”

        “Your modesty, Renwick, even if pretended, is impressive,” rejoined Flint, in a tone somewhere between sincerity and mockery.  Renwick merely smiled, not quite sure how to respond.  

        “Did I hear correctly from Brackel,” continued Flint, “that an arrest warrant has now been issued in Scotland for Sir Robert Hamilton?”

“You know about . . .” Renwick stopped himself before he blurted out information about Rathburn’s letter.

         Renwick felt his face get warm.  He was stunned that Flint knew about the possible arrest of Sir Robert Hamilton.  Sir Robert had confessed it to Renwick last week, but he was under the impression that Sir Robert planned on telling no one, especially since he had received the information in a letter from Rathburn, a supposed smuggler turned jailor at the Royalist Midlothian prison in Edinburgh.  Rathburn—his only name other than a string of aliases—was now a Covenanter agent gathering information for the United Societies at this important prison, where the coming and going of both Royalists officers and Covenanter prisoners provided a wealth of intelligence about the conflict.  Renwick had known about Rathburn for months, but he had no idea how Flint had come to know such sensitive information.

           Renwick paused, collected his thoughts, and determined to be very careful about what he said.  Sir Robert obviously had conveyed the bad news to Reverend Brackel, but Renwick did not want to say any more about the subject.  Flint’s outbursts of jealousy and anger worried Renwick at times, casting doubt as to Flint’s trustworthiness.

            “Regretfully, your information about Sir Robert is correct,” proclaimed Renwick, with a slow, deep sigh.  “At this point, he is a man without a country, and it is not safe for him to return to Scotland.” 

            Renwick and Flint paused and stared at one another as they were reminded of the seriousness of their own situations.

            “The fate of the arrest warrant could easily await many of us, John,” Renwick soberly declared, “That is, unless you’re ready to join Charles II’s church, my friend.”  

         Flint only stared back, motionless, expressionless, and then added, slowly, with great conviction, “No, I’ll not join a church ruled by that usurper’s bishops, where they extort tithes to fill the tyrant’s coffers.”   And then quietly, almost to himself, “And as for the arrest warrant you speak of, it’s one thing to try to serve it on me; it’s quiet another to take me into custody.”

        Renwick hesitated at this point, uncertain whether or not he wanted to discuss again with Flint a subject about which he knew they disagreed—the use of armed force against the king’s soldiers. 

       Renwick listened to the irritating rumble, jingle, and jolt of the coach, and the monotony of the flat Dutch countryside blurring by the window got the better of him.  For whatever reason, he decided to hazard an attempt at convincing Flint that they should avoid military force in this religious conflict.

         “My friend, John,” Renwick began slowly, cautiously, “how can we expect to convince the world that our movement is motivated by piety and devotion to God if we take to arms, as if this were just another fight for political independence and power?  Would Christ and the disciples have taken such arms against Rome?   No.” 

         By the time Renwick had finished his rhetorical questions, Flint’s breathing had quickened and his anger was becoming more visible.  Renwick feared that Flint might lose control, so he remained quiet. 

        Nothing was said for several moments, and then suddenly Flint erupted with a near viciousness, “If there was ever a just war, this is one!  You know what Charles Stuart and his demonic dragoons did to our people after our defeat at the Battle of Bothwell Brig, just four years ago, where my own precious father spilled his blood for our cause!”  

        Flint paused to catch his breath, now coming in deep draughts, then continued, “They paraded the prisoners to the city gate of Edinburgh as if they were human refuse.  Many were tied on their horses with their faces to the animal’s tail.  Others were forced to march chained to long, heavy iron bars.

        “But, of course, the most inventive displays,” Flint continued with sarcasm and a contorted expression, “was when the heads of some of our fallen soldiers were borne in triumph before their captors—some on pikes and some in sacks bearing the names of the slaughtered on the outside, with the hands of the dismembered saints tied on sticks in the mocking form of praying hands!  You, Renwick, would have us hesitate to take the lives of such vermin?   I think not.   And do not, my friend, ever raise the issue in my presence again,” Flint proclaimed, gesturing away from his chest with a clinched fist. 

        Simultaneously, Renwick felt his own passions rise, both at the reminder of this grim history and at Flint’s belligerent tone and gestures.

        Nothing was said for several minutes, and then Flint scooted over near his window and stared out at the flat Dutch countryside, each young man instinctively knowing that the other was ready for a period of quiet.

         This was fine with Renwick, for once he had regained his composure, he nestled into his corner of the coach, crossed his arms on his chest, and eventually drifted into an uneasy sleep.  

 

 

4. A Surprising Turn

        Renwick felt the wetness of perspiration under his arms as he awoke, momentarily confused, too, about what had just occurred. When he remembered the disagreement with Flint, who still stared out the window, he quickly put that out of his mind, for he knew that it was now time to seriously assess an issue he’d been avoiding for the last few days, his special feelings for Jean Hamilton, Sir Robert’s beautiful, younger sister.

        Was it foolishness to allow himself to have serious feelings for her?  She was from a prosperous and prominent family, he a penniless Covenanter minister.  At twenty-three, she was two years his senior.  Was he mistaking simple friendship for something more serious?

         His feelings for her all began with a letter from Sir Robert Hamilton, asking Renwick to meet him for dinner at Van Deventer’s on the Poelestraat early in January.  At that dinner, Sir Robert explained that since Lady Janet, Jean’s sister, had gone to prison to be with her husband,  Jean felt it her duty to assume the education and raising of  Janet’s two children, Ian, six years old, and Caelia, four. 

         “You can imagine, James,” Sir Robert explained that evening, “how we grieve for Janet and her husband!­­­”  Sir Robert paused here, trying not to let his emotions overtake him.  “And how difficult this last year has been for Jean and the children! . . . We all miss our beloved home near Preston, and although we have retained a Dutch tutor and governess, the children miss their mother dearly.” Sir Robert emphasized the last few words.

        “Mistress Jean, herself, adores her sister Janet,” continued Sir Robert, “never having lived farther than an hour’s ride from her. . . .  Well, the sadness and grieving over all of this has affected Jean quite deeply,” explained Sir Robert, sounding rather discouraged himself.  Both men sat in silence for a moment.    

          “I wonder, James,” Sir Robert asked gently, “if you would take the trouble to write something to Jean?  I have complete faith that your intelligent devotion will encourage her.  I really do.  Isn’t it worth the attempt?  What do you say?”

          What could Renwick say?  From their first meeting at McIvor’s over a year ago, Sir Robert had taken a special interest in young Renwick, writing to him once or twice a month, advising him, encouraging him, and even seeking advice at times.  This was flattering enough, and then there had been extra financial support as well.   In short, Sir Robert had become a benefactor, almost a father, and Renwick was exceedingly grateful for the special concern from a man whom he so admired.    

          So, of course, he happily wrote a letter to Jean Hamilton to try to encourage her during this time of adversity for her and her sister and her brother.  Yes, he had given the letter thoughtful and careful composition, but Renwick was literally jolted when Jean wrote him back in less than a week, explaining that, “Your letter has been a source of distinct encouragement to me, Mr. Renwick, and I should be happy to make your acquaintance should you venture to Leewarden in the near future.”

         Then came the letter only days later from Sir Robert, inviting Renwick to servicesand Sunday dinner at Reverend Brankel’s.  That’s when Renwick first met Jean Hamilton.  

          Over the next four months, he visited Leewarden four times, and he could not help but being impressed with this intelligent young woman.  She was as beautiful as everyone had said she was, but beyond that, Renwick felt that she was especially attentive and gentle toward him.  Of course that captivated him, locking her in his heart as the center of many day dreams.   

         What surprised Renwick’s heart the most was the seeming genuineness of Jean’s affection toward him, despite their different social and financial stations in life. 

        Though educated at home, Jean Hamilton was widely read, particularly in classic languages and literature and in Shakespeare.  So she wanted first to know all about Renwick’s years at the University of Edinburgh and how his studies were going at Groningen, then about his family and friends, and next about his convictions for an independent church in Scotland, free from the king’s rule.  All of that in their first couple of visits.

          Next came letters from Jean in March, asking Renwick’s opinion on various spiritual issues: Why couldn’t she worship at home on Sundays?  Why was God allowing this persecution of the Scottish church?  Why had God allowed her parents to drown when she was twelve, and her fiancée to be killed at the Battle of Bothwell Brig?

        When she was twelve, Jean, Janet, and Robert had lost both parents when their ship, as it returned from France, was swamped in a sudden storm north of Edinburgh in the Firth of Forth.  And then at nineteen years old, Jean Hamilton had been engaged to one McGregor Roy, a lieutenant in the Covenanter army.  She nearly worshipped his memory, and she had not attended church since he died, that is, until she read Renwick’s first letter.  Since that letter, she had started attending services with Sir Robert at Rev. Brackel’s church in Leewarden.

        Renwick thought back over the five months of his acquaintance with this young womanand remembered that he had never hinted that his feelings for her were romantic in nature.  He felt it impossible.  Both his uncertain financial position and—he had to admit it—his pride, forbade it.   Since Renwick’s father had died, his mother had barely eked out a living by hiring a manager for the livery business, by leasing their small family plot to a local farmer, and by what Renwick sent home to her.  So without fortune or annuity, there was little expectation that Renwick’s financial future would be bright enough to offer any sort of security to an impressive young woman like Jean Hamilton.

         Renwick had to admit, similarly, that Jean had revealed toward him no feelings that could be construed as anything other than friendship. She had been warm and attentive, but nothing was intimated beyond that. 

         So as the gentle hills outside of the coach window signaled that he and Flint were now approaching Leewarden, Renwick felt a bit of a sting, convinced that Jean Hamilton considered him as a good friend and spiritual advisor, nothing more.

         Renwick could see Reverend Brackel’s porter waiting to take them from the coach to the manor house.

          “And this makes good sense,” he told his morose spirit.  “How could a wife be blessed by James Renwick, a minister of an outlawed church, speaking to open-air congregations, maybe even on the run from blood-thirsty royal dragoons?”  Renwick’s mind confirmed the truth of these thoughts, yet his heart had been captured by the hope that somehow he might win the love of this amazing woman.  

            “Ahfternoon, Muster Renwick.  Ahnd thes mus be Muster Flint.   Let me ‘ave yer bags,” Joel commanded.  Joel was an elderly man in a slightly tattered brown waist coat, a little bent over and moving slowly, but he spoke briskly in his thick, distinctive Frisian accent and then added with a wry smile, “Jo binne tinge welcome,” without actually looking at the two well-dressed young man.

          Once settled in the open wagon, both young men looked up at the imposing manor house as they began the short ride to the end of the long carriage way.

         “Say, Renwick, look at that!” exclaimed Flint, ostensibly retaining no angry feelings over his previously heated exchange with Renwick.  This was Flint’s first trip both to Leewarden and to Een Ingang, Brackel’s impressive farm and manor house.  Flint was taken aback at the near opulence of the place and stared in momentary silence.  

         They both chuckled at the beauty of the structure, ready now to put their disagreement aside, as they were surveying the classic Holland manor house before them.  It stood at the end of the long, gravel carriage way, a house grayish red brick, surrounded by large oaks and nestled behind a pond. 

         “Reverend Brackel designed this himself about ten years ago,” explained Renwick.

         “Zounds, James, what kind of salary does Brackel’s church provide him?”

Dutch Manor House

Dutch Manor House

         “Oh, Brackel doesn’t’ do all of this on a pastor’s salary,” chuckled Renwick.  “No, this farm has been in his family for generations.  It’s an active farm, plenty of tenants raising corn, hay, straw, peat, and, as you can see, caretaking a few hundred head of the famous Frisian cows, said to provide the best beef and best dairy products in Holland.”

         “Renwick, that still doesn’t explain all of this prosperity,” exclaimed Flint, as Joel stopped the wagon in front of the huge varnished door.

          “Well, in addition to renting out most of this farm and being the pastor of a sizeable church in Leewarden, Reverend Brackel, as you’ll no doubt discover this weekend, is a man of commerce,” Renwick explained, sounding almost apologetic.  “I believe him to be genuinely devout, but, as well, he and his family have for the last several decades been energetically involved in helping to make Holland what it is today, the greatest trading nation in the world.”

         “Brackel is involved in world trade?” Flint enquired with amazement in a voice a little too loud.

         “He is, Flint.  I’ve found out that he has investments in the merchant fleet, perhaps even in the famous Dutch West Indian Company,” Renwick announced with a hint of criticism in his voice. 

           By this time, Joel was escorting Flint and Renwick through the massive front door and into a foyer with cathedral ceiling.  To the right was a small but attractive parlor, to the left a larger, formal sitting room. 

           “I’ll tek yer bags up ta the green and blue bedrums, Mr. Renwick,” instructed Joel without looking up.  “Feel free to show Mr. Flint aroun’ the front of the house.   Reverend Brackel, Sir Robert, and Mistress Jean are in town an’ will be back in jist a bit,” he pronounced methodically.

           Both young men stopped, but Flint was straining his neck as he looked high up one wall and then up the other.  Exquisite oak panels on both sides featured a gallery of impressive paintings, mostly by recent national artists. 

           In a few minutes both Flint and Renwick were settled comfortably in their rooms.  Renwick combed his hair and then washed his face and upper body, using the same intricately carved wash stand with porcelain basin and pitcher that he had used on precious visits.  He then changed his shirt and settled down in a comfortable chair to read.

           Drowsy eyes, though, compelled Renwick to put the book aside, lie on the bed, and soon fall into a deep sleep and begin to dream.      

           He was on Hurricane, amid swirling wind and driving rain which pelted his face, attempting to ford a dangerously swollen stream.   Mistress Jean, wearing a white lace gown but barely visible and out of focus, was on the other side of the steam calling to him and holding up some sort of open locket on a gold chain.  He labored frantically to see her and was making steady progress in her direction.  Then the swirling, churning tide began to overcome Hurricane, and, struggle and shout as he would, he and Hurricane were pushed down stream, out of control and in a panic, as Jean’s voice became increasingly faint.

            A knock on the door and a familiar voice interrupted the phantasm and Renwick woke up with a start. “Mr. Renick.  Mr. Renick.   Dinner is ready in thirdy minits.  Sir Robert and Mistress Jean are lookin’ forwerd to seein’ ya,” Joel informed him through the door.

            Renwick thanked Joel, straightened his shirt, wiped his boots, combed his hair, put on his coat, and left his room, whistling as he strode confidently down to dinner.   Then, when he thought about Jean, he remembered his dream and was abruptly startled, stopping on the wide stair case.  He had dreamed that same dream before, a couple of times in the last few months.

          “Why?  What could it mean?” he questioned himself in a whisper.   A little fearful but mostly irritated, he put it out of his mind and hurried to the dining room.

           When Renwick entered, everyone was behind a chair, waiting for him to arrive.  Flint held his ground, but everyone else enthusiastically approached Renwick.  Sir Robert extended his hand, exclaiming “My dear young man, so good to see you.”

          Reverend Brackel—dashing in his bright blue coat, trim figure, and neatly trimmed dark brown hair—exclaimed, “Very nice to have you at Een Ingang once again, Mr. Renwick.” 

          Brackel looked much younger than his fifty years until one got right next to him, when graying strands in his long hair became more visible. 

           Jean Hamilton for the first time held out the back of her hand to Renwick.  He kissed it and looked up, smiling more broadly than he wanted to, and holding her hand much longer than he meant to, noting that it was softer and more beautiful than he had remembered.     

           And then, simultaneously, they greeted one another.  Mistress Jean said, “Very nice to see you again, Mr. Renwick,” just as Renwick said, “I trust all is well with you, Miss Hamilton.”  Both stopped at the same time half way through their welcomes, then commenced and finished at the same time, adding a little nervous laughter and then looking away.

            Finally seated next to Jean but afraid to gaze at her just yet, Renwick couldn’t help but notice once again the impressive dining room.  A chandelier with glass globes emerged from a highly-decorated ceiling and hung low over a table much larger than needed for this party of five.  The table linens were a very light yellow, complemented by matching china and candles in brass holders, with blue glassware providing an attractive contrast.     

          Reverend Brackel was explaining some of the paintings to Flint, so Renwick finally risked a serious gaze at Mistress Jean.  Her beauty startled him.  Her smile was engaging, even infectious, in part because her lips were sculpted and beautiful.  Her dark brown hair was almost ebony and was simply but carefully groomed and fell in long tresses over her bare shoulders, not typical Covenanter dress.  Her skin appeared without blemish, very fair with a slight olive cast; her vivid blue eyes were large, shallow set and arched by thin but expressive eye brows; and her nose was straight and small, and all of this was complemented by a powder-blue satin dress with simple lace.

            Renwick could have ignored all of this.  He had known beautiful women before, but something was happening inside of him, and he felt a little out of control.

            So despite Renwick’s believing that Mistress Jean saw him merely as spiritual advisor and friend, the “other hopes” that had captured his heart were asserting themselves powerfully at this moment, rising like a swollen stream.  He hoped he wouldn’t say or do anything stupid before the night was over.

            A welcome distraction, dinner was now being served by Joel the porter and Tabitha, Reverend Brackel’s cook.  The first course was a delicious creamed groent soep, vegetable soup, with roll and butter.  Famished, Renwick happily turned his attention to the thick red broth, but Mistress Jean soon began to question him about his studies in a rather formal way, making him both excited and nervous.

            Renwick and Jean had enjoyed hours of conversation on three other occasions—pleasant memories to Renwick, where the beauty of her face and the touch of her hand on his arm still burned in his mind. 

           “Why tonight did Jean seem so stiff and awkward?” Renwick wondered.

            Soon Tabitha was serving the entrées—lekkerbekje, fried fillet of Haddock, or lamsvlees vers fruit, lamb roast with fresh fruit.  Renwick, trying to dispel his feeling of awkwardness, complimented the offering of Lamb, so popular in Scotland, and turned to join in the conversation between Sir Robert and Reverend Brackel.

            “Reverend Brackel,” John Flint signaled in a voice for all to hear, “What has prompted Holland to offer such generous support to the Covenanter movement and the independence to our Scottish homeland?”

            “Mr. Flint, many of us believe that a stronger Scotland means stronger commerce for Holland.”  

            Silence fell across the room.

            Reverend Brackel looked aside slowly and then took a quick sip of his drink, looking a little awkward, wondering suddenly if he had said too much or said the wrong thing.

            The short silence was followed by Sir Robert’s praising the lamb roast and complimenting the unusually thick and spicy mint sauce.  But damage had been done.  Brackel had spoken of a motive for Holland’s helping the Covenanters which, if sometimes assumed, was rarely mentioned. 

            Brackel’s reason seemed to Renwick excessively pragmatic, and motivated more by financial gain for him and his country than by any than personal conviction—not genuine support of an independent church for Scotland—more like helping the unity and power against Holland’s arch rival, England.

            The creamed vegetable soup was turning sour in Renwick’s stomach as his old doubts began to sweep over his mind like sudden vertigo. 

             As he struggled to maintain coherence with the dinner talk, Renwick began seriously to question his own motives and what he was doing with his life. “Is all this really spiritual, or just political?” Renwick questioned himself.

            He excused himself from the table and went to the small parlor in the front of the house, sitting on small sofa and putting his head in his hands to think.  He looked up, staring blankly at the stylized flowers in the Majolica tiles surrounding the fireplace.

           “Maybe I’m mistaking my own cause as God’s, lying to myself.  Perhaps my motives are self-serving, political, not really spiritual,” he heard the voices of doubt accusing him again.  “Look at Brackel.  Money seems like his deepest concern.”  Renwick could feel cynicism beginning to overshadow his mind. 

           Slowly, somehow, Renwick focused his mind on God’s faithfulness to provide for him, and his spirits began to relax.  “Our cause is just, of course,” he whispered to himself as he stood up to return to the dining room.

          “Ah, James, I’m glad you’re back,” Sir Robert informed him as he sat down at the table and received his dessert from Tabitha.  The other four diners had finished their desserts and were now enjoying citroen pils, a hot, sweet ale. 

          After a few more minutes of conversation, Sir Robert raised his hands for quiet.  “Mistress Jean and gentlemen, I have an important announcement to make.”  

          Robert went on to explain how both Renwick and Flint had been approved for their final ordination exams as Covenanter ministers.  “Our people in Scotland are eager to get them back!”  Sir Robert finished as the others began to applaud. 

          Everyone rose from the table and moved toward a large parlor, and Mistress Jean turned to congratulate Renwick personally. “Mr. Renwick, well done on your achievements thus far.  My best wishes and prayers go with you for your ordination examination,” she said with a little formality in her voice.    

           Then Jean relaxed, noticeably, taking a step toward Renwick and dropping the regal stiffness in her posture shown during most of the dinner.  “A four-hour quizzing by an ordination committee seems almost a cruel challenge,” she said sympathetically, tilting her head to one side and looking deep into his eyes without looking away.

          Renwick himself looked away, though, his face feeling warm.

          “Yes, almost cruel,” assented Renwick, a bit unsettled, offering a playful smile, which he knew right away—was neither funny nor charming. 

          “Don’t try so hard. Relax,” he said to himself.

          “So, Mr. Renwick, if all goes well on the tenth of May, how soon would you be returning to Scotland?”  Mistress Jean asked, assuming again a more resolute tone.

           “That’s a good question,” answered Renwick, a bit startled by Jean’s concern.  “I’ve not made those plans yet, but certainly as soon as possible.  An out-door gathering for our church can number at times in the hundreds, even the thousands, with few ministers willing to serve.  I want to do all that I can to serve our persecuted people during these perilous times,” replied Renwick slowly, more captivated by Jean’s tender attentiveness than by the question.

            As he finished his answer, he ventured a look into Jean’s eyes. 

            Something was wrong.  Or right.  He wasn’t sure which.  But there was an unmistakable sense of pleading in her eyes and in her overall expression.   He struggled suddenly about something he might ask her.

             “No, don’t.  You’ll make a fool of yourself.  Yes.  Do it.  It’s the right thing to do.  She wants to talk,” he debated with himself, all within two or three seconds. 

            “Mistress Jean, would you care to continue our conversation in the small parlor?” He wanted desperately to sound confident, but his voice cracked slightly.

            “That would be my pleasure, Mr. Renwick,” she returned quickly and took a deep breath in relief.  Jean hooked Renwick’s arm and pulled him against her side.  Almost an embrace, this posture couldn’t help but thrill young Renwick.  He then looked over his shoulder to the group and said, “Please excuse us.”  

5. Straining Hearts

        As he chatted with Mistress Jean on the way to the parlor, Renwick at the same time tried in a panic to assess what all of this meant.  He sensed that she was reaching out to him, that her feelings for him just might run more deeply than he first thought, and he was certain that he deeply cherished her.  

       “Be wise, be wise,” he lectured himself, as he and Jean sat on the small sofa in front of the fireplace.  He was determined, suddenly, to be both honest and unashamed about who he was and what he wanted.  He turned toward Jean and riveted his eyes on her.  

        In the corner behind her hung an oriental tapestry, mostly bright red with silver and gold accents.  Complementing her beautiful face, form, and raven tresses, the red tapestry provided a visual backdrop, framing Jean as she spoke and creating a near-visionary impression in Renwick’s mind.  

        The two chatted briefly about Reverend Brackel’s impressive dinner and exquisite art work, and about John Flint’s plans for the future. 

        “What about you, Mr. Renwick?”  Jean asked suddenly.  “What do you see happening in your life in the next couple of years?” Jean ventured, her expression showing a little insecurity.  

         “As I understand it from your brother,” Renwick began, “the Covenanters have very few ministers in the southeast, below the Moorfoot Hills and the Lammermuir Hills, the borders region.  So teaching and serving our people in that region—that will be an honor and a privilege, and I’m eager to give all that I have in the cause of an autonomous kirk for Scotland. 

          “But, as you know,” Renwick continued, “my ministry may involve significant danger.  I’ve heard recently that the king may increase his efforts at opposing our outdoor meetings.”

          “Why does it have to be this way, Mr. Renwick?” questioned Mistress Jean, a little wound emerging in her voice.  “My sister and brother-in-law are in prison, an arrest warrant has been issued for my brother, Robert, I put my niece and nephew to bed in tears most every night, crying for their parents, and I’m so homesick I feel like something is gnawing at my insides!”

          Some wise voice told Renwick, “Don’t explain. Just listen.”

          “I’m very sorry,” is all he said.

          “I’m certainly grateful to Reverend Brackel and his generosity in hosting us,” Jean continued, “but I want to go home, Reverend Renwick!  I want to go home!  I miss Millie and Willie Burns, our stewards who are more like parents to me.  I miss my horses, especially my Palamino, Sunset; I miss our home, Preston Hills; and I miss weekend holidays to Tantallon Castle and to the sea at North Berwick.  Mr. Renwick, I want to go home!”

          Again, Renwick didn’t say anything, but at least this time he had a job to do.  Though Mistress Jean remained relatively calm and in control, her eyes were wet at first and then tears spilled down both cheeks.  Renwick gently dabbed her cheeks with his handkerchief and then gave it to her.  He surprised himself at what he did next; he took her left hand off of her lap and held it gently, amazed again at its tender softness. Jean grasped Renwick’s hand in response. 

        “Where is God going with all of this, Mr. Renwick?”  Jean continued, regaining courage in her voice.  “Thousands in Scotland worship at the risk of fine or imprisonment, I’m banished literally a continent away from my precious Scottish home, and you plan on teaching and preaching at the risk of your freedom or even your life.”   

         She paused and then leaned toward him with a bit of a challenge in her expression.  “I believe you’re an intelligent young man, Mr. Renwick, and that you know God.  I want to hear you say that we should just accept our present adversities and have joy and peace in the midst of them.”

         Renwick didn’t speak right away.  He released her hand, got up, walked to the fireplace mantle, and rested his arm there, tapping his fingers and looking out the window for a moment.  He faced Jean again, his hands behind his back.  Jean stared, motionless, looking for encouragement in Renwick’s face.   

           “But don’t you see?” Renwick questioned, as he reclaimed his seat on the sofa and looked directly into Jean’s eyes. “We don’t know if adversity will plague us, or if we’ll be kept free from major trials.   Without faith, though, discouragement indeed will weight us down.  We do know, however, that God has plans to prosper us, if not materially, then certainly with the abundance of His peace.” 

            Renwick had said those last few words with great conviction, and Mistress Jean, as well, sat upright, seeming resolute.  Renwick again took Jean’s hand, and she leaned close against his side.  The two sat there for several long seconds, silent, content, with Renwick occasionally peering into Jean’s azure blue eyes. 

           “Mr. Renwick,” ventured Jean, breaking the silence and with a little boldness in her voice, “what if, in a few months or years, God releases His people in Scotland from their persecution and releases you from your personal danger, what course will your life take then?”

          Renwick was certain he sensed something momentous in her voice, so he paused, and then ventured to put his hands on her shoulders and turn her squarely toward him, intently examining her face.  “Jean, do you have a personal interest in what course my life will take?” asked Renwick slowly and gently, emphasizing the word personal.   

          “Yes, I do,” she said, with a telling smile beginning to appear in the corners of her mouth.

          That smile was all the encouragement that young Renwick needed. He felt strong and confident, infused with a passion that surprised him.  He leaned closer to Jean, looking deeply into her eyes, putting his hands on her waist, pulling her toward him and kissing her tenderly.   Renwick was thrilled at Jean’s response as she put her arms around his neck and returned his affection with a prolonged, passionate kiss.  As they pulled away, Renwick saw her face color and heard her breath deepen. 

           “If God should safely deliver me from the fugitive nature of my ministry,” Renwick paused, breathed deeply, and then continued with sincerity and tenderness, “no course my life could take could ever match the blessing that you would bestow on me if you would promise to be my wife!”

           Renwick paused to let Jean catch her breath, which, at the proposal, had momentarily gone out of her with a slight gasp.  Her composure regained, she fixed her eyes on his.

           “I love you, Jean!” Renwick continued, beginning to embrace her, “and all I can promise in return as a husband is to cherish you and to serve you with all of my heart.”

           Jean Hamilton smiled sweetly, and, nearly overcome with happiness, took a second to compose herself and then returned, “I love you, too, James Renwick, and I pledge to hold no joy so dear as my promise to become your faithful and loving wife!”

          Renwick took Jean in his arms in the beautifully decorated parlor of Reverend Brackel’s house, again tenderly and repeatedly kissing her and then pledging his love to her forever.    The passion in Jean’s kisses and the tightness of her embrace thrilled Renwick, burning in his mind the joyful thought that she actually loved him.  As they embraced one last time later that evening, Renwick noticed the flowery scent of Jean’s hair and how soft it felt against his cheek—a memory he relived time and again in the arduous months ahead.