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.”