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.