Still I Will Follow
Sequel to Though None Go With Me, the short story I wrote two years ago. However, it was written in a way that you don't have to read the first story to understand this one.
Story is told in the perspective of GLENDA.
Father’s voice boomed, and his figure towered over me. “I trusted you! And, the time I let you go to town, you...you do this?” He snatched the Bible from me. “What will happen when all hears that the pastor’s daughter has followed the heretics?” He paced the room. Footsteps. Then the door burst open. A gust of sharp air enveloped the room, and in walked magistrates with chains. Behind them, followed rats, and darkness lay behind the door. They reached out their arms to me and came closer. “Follow them.” Father pointed. I started to run, but I ran straight into their rotting, rusty chains.
“No!” I threw myself into a sitting position, then opened my eyes. My eyes darted all around the room. I was in bed, and no one was here. I had been dreaming. I exhaled. In the next room, I heard Father’s heavy footsteps pierce the morning silence. A door squeaked open, and I heard crusty masculine voices. What if Father finds out who Anna and I met in town last night? I clumped my hands into fists. Why did it have to happen? Here in Switzerland, what we did was a crime. Anabaptists were blasphemers because they re-baptized as adults, Father said, I couldn’t remember the last time I didn’t hear Father telling me that another Anabaptist had been burned to the stake...but not before singing hymns. I stood up and sighed when I saw myself in the mirror. If only I were taller. At least I was a normal twenty years old 1500’s Swiss girl: I was saved by my infant baptism. But, Anabaptists did not believe my infant baptism saved me. I remembered my nightmare. Oh, what if Father connects them with us and asks why Anna and I had returned so late from Zurich? No. Father would never know I also took a Bible. For a moment I hated myself. Coward! I gave it to Anna. That’s why he’ll never know.
I stopped and listened. Was Anna’s father out there? I reached for the doorknob, but it opened before I touched it. It was Father. He was a head taller than me, and his shoulders nearly twice as wide as mine. His hand smothered the doorknob. “Good, you’re awake. Come out, Anna’s father’s here.”
I searched his face, but could read nothing behind his beard. Her father trailed behind, and he blocked the door, like the magistrates had in my dream. I struggled to quell the fear foaming at my heart. No, he’s not here for questioning, I told myself. “Why...good morning!” Did my smile look starched? I winced as my voice trembled. “Is Anna here too?”
Anna’s father looked hard at me. “No, she left.”
My world halted. “What?” My heart thudded.
He burst out saying, “Yesterday, she said ridiculous things, saying she became a Christian when she already has been. That she wants to become--she wants to be killed...no, she didn’t say that, but she will be killed for saying--saying...she said she wants to be re-baptized. Like the heretics!” He swallowed. “It caught me by such surprise, shame that I disowned her and I told her to leave...and she did. What could have made her suddenly say that?” He pointed at me. “It must be you.”
“You two went to town! So many Anabaptists linger there. I thought I could trust you both!” He looked at Father. “First Anna, now Glenda?” He stepped toward me, and my mind screamed. “Tell us everything. Did you do anything else besides buying fabric in town?”
“We didn’t get to buy fabric! We got lost.” My stomach curdled.
“Answer me. Did you talk to Anabaptists?”
“We didn’t mean to---they didn’t say that they were Anabaptists!”
Silence. Anna’s father and mine stared at me; there was no way around it. They were going to get the truth. The story poured out. How Anna and I got separated, how I accidently stumbled into the meeting but left as soon as I could, how I caught up with Anna in the forest, and she told me she too met the same people...but I did not tell them about the Bible I received and gave to Anna to hide.“And I haven’t talked with Anna since. I have no idea what made her say things like that, that she left, anything!” A voice inside chanted ‘the Bible!’
“I see.” Anna’s father shifted his weight on a different foot. “That’s all to it? Anna didn’t have anything to read to change her beliefs? Perhaps the Anabaptists gave her something?”
I felt my head shake. At the same time, I played out the risks, filing through my brain for ways I could answer if he actually knew about her Bible and was merely testing me. Father started to sit down into a stool, but the stool cracked under his pressure so he got up. “First Anna, now Glenda. I have to do what I would ask the another church family to do in this situation. As a pastor, I have to be an example...you….I don’t know, you did it by accident, but I’ll have to call the magistrates to question you.”
Images appeared in me, of a chilly dungeon and ladies gossiping with their noses lifted.
“You’ll have stay in prison--at least until you can prove yourself...” He moved towards the door, and now I could nearly see the cords strangling and tearing my hands and feet just before magistrates throw me into the river...or fire! I panted.
“--Pastor Johannas,” Anna’s father interrupted.“You need time to know what to--”
Father shook his head. “This matter cannot wait. I--”
“...no, listen! Take time--don’t make a quick decision like I did with my daughter! How will I explain to the church? Now I must bring Anna back. Glenda,” he turned to me. “You must show me where you met the Anabaptists. Possibly Anna will be there.” He eyed Father. “Glenda will go with me, and you have a day to meditate on what you will do. We’ll get back by tonight.”
I burst out, “I’ll do it!” The pictures of fire and water and dungeons simmered to nothing. I held my breath. Say yes, Father.
He swallowed. “I only do this so we can find Anna.”
Anna’s father mounted on his horse, and I on mine. I stroked his mane, bending my head down to hide a string of tears. I lifted my eyes just long enough to see Father stumble to the pasture, head bowed. How much trouble we have caused. Clip-clop, clip clop. Anna’s father rode ahead of me for now. I thanked him silently for leaving me alone. When we reached the forest, I stiffened. There was where I gave Anna the Bible I had received from the shop. I almost thought her father would turn around and say something. I spoke to myself. Of course he wouldn’t. He doesn’t know. Act calm. As we ventured out of the forest, Anna’s father motioned for me to lead the way. I clapped my legs around my horse’s belly. We rode faster. My ears felt inflamed. Now I was guiding the way. Zurich, the marketplace, was coming closer. What if we did find Anna? She would be imprisoned. But, then I would, too. Oh, what was I doing? Betraying my friend? I prayed that she would not be there. I choked. Would that mean I would never see her again?
Riding ahead of her father, I felt exposed. Were his eyes piercing through my back, into my heart? He asked me if I remembered where the place was. At the corner of my eye, I saw a poster on the wall, calling for the arrest of the Anabaptist leaders. I spat out a yes, not trying to disrespect, but out of disgust of myself. What kind of Christianity is this? We’re at each other's’ throats. We mounted off our horses, and tied them. Anna’s father asked if the place was close here. “Don’t worry. You are doing the right thing. Don’t you want to find Anna?”
I felt like throwing up. “We’re close,” I forced out. Oh, how unaware the Anabaptists are. I suddenly realized we were in front of a courthouse. My eyes widened, but he shook his head to mean not yet. Then it dawned on me. I was giving away a secret hiding place! Should I walk slower so they could have more time to run, or faster so they wouldn’t be at the shop at all? My hands sweated, and I grit my teeth. We stopped at the shop door. I could not--would not open the door. “Don’t be a Anabaptist sympathizer,” Anna’s father warned before pushing open the door. Two people stood there. Not Anna, but Peter and Sarah. Sarah jumped, and glanced at Peter. Peter did not look at me, but at Anna’s father. “Good afternoon. How may I help you?”
I stood there frozen. How young and youthful Sarah and Peter were!
Anna’s father looked at me, then Peter. “Did you see her yesterday?”
Peter looked at me. I wanted to disappear. He answered shortly. “Yes.”
I stifled a gasp. So it was true. You could distinguish Anabaptists with their truthfulness.
Anna’s father darted his eyes to me. “I am Anna’s father. I’m looking for Anna, and Glenda has told me everything.”
Hearing aloud what I had done was too much to bear. I could not look in their eyes.
“Young man,” Anna’s father spoke curtly, “hold nothing back. Have you seen Anna?”
“Sir, I have seen her, but I do not know where she is.”
“You are an Anabaptist, are you?” Anna’s father taunted. “Or you reject adult baptism?”
“I am a Christian, sir. I believe that an adult should decide to become baptized and that the church is a group of people that have chosen on their own to follow Christ.”
I gaped at his courage. Anna’s father gripped the counter. “Have you re-baptized Anna?”
“I’m sorry. I cannot speak for Anna.”
Anna’s father snapped around, jerked the door open, and raced out, yelling for the magistrates. Peter and Sarah stepped closer together. “Go, run!” I exclaimed, practically bouncing up and down, and wiggling my finger to the door. They didn’t move. I could almost see what would eventually happen to Sarah’s face in prison--just skin and bones--no longer a round face. “Oh, I’m so sorry! I didn’t know it would end up like this!” A whiff of ink flew up my nose, which reminded me. “They don’t know about the Bible!” I said.
Sarah spoke quickly and quietly. “Anna said it’s under her bed. She says you must read it. We’re ready to do whatever God wills. It’s part of the Christian walk.”
“They might put me in questioning when I get back. How are you like this?”
Peter said, “If the Lord is our stronghold and light and salvation...there is no one to fear. When we don’t obey God, we are insecure. If we do not have God with us on earth, neither will He be with us in eternal life.”
I heard running feet, and we knew it was time. A magistrate entered, saying, “I have a warrant for your arrest!” Peter and Sarah followed, and forgetting Anna’s father’s warning, I ran and hugged Sarah. She squeezed me back, whispering, “Look at the window when you go out. God guide you and have courage.”
I did look up, and in the second story window, the curtain fluttered. For a split second, I saw Anna! She blew a kiss. I brushed the palm of my hand across my lips, and stretched my arm, disguising my action. Sarah’s and Peter’s hands were being tied. Anna’s father motioned me to mount on my horse, muttering to me that he would come back tomorrow to sit in their hearing. I barely paid attention to his words. I was so confused. My mind tingled with incomprehension the kindness, the courage Sarah and Peter had. And Anna. But not me. Who was right?
Distracted, I did not notice where the horse was going. Suddenly Anna’s father was gone, and a slithering snake flashed under my horse’s feet. I screamed, and my horse neighed, jumping back. My bonnet fell, I was thrown backwards, and I scratched and tugged on his mane to stay on. I heard a yell, saw trees whizz by, and found myself galloping closer and closer up a hill, and right under me, was a drop a thousand feet down. We were at the end of a cliff. A few more seconds, and I would be down there. Directly below lay a streaming river, boulders, and I was about to fall...I started choking as my horse rocked back and forth at the very tip. Death ringed in my ears. “Oh, God, help!” I cried.
Then I lost balance, and tumbled backwards off my horse, and my horse slipped, crashing down--down--down. “Nooo!” I rolled my body away from the cliff, unable to look. Anna’s father raced to my side, his voice cracking. “Oh, Glenda. You’re safe. You’re safe.”
“I almost died!” I shut my eyes, and clasped my hands over my stomach. God...he... Anna’s father helped me mount his horse, and he walked beside the horse. We entered the forest. By the time we left the forest, the moon smiled. Up ahead was their house. Mine was further away. I begged to stay at his house till morning, and he agreed.
Inside, he led me to Anna’s room. “Tomorrow you will face your father. Sleep well.”
When I heard him snoring in the next room, I leaned underneath the bed and pulled out the Bible. The cover shone, and its scent of ink grazed my nostrils. Oh, Anna. I bit my lip. I’ve been such a coward today. I was so scared before. I almost died! How can Peter and Sarah face death so...my thoughts faded. I opened the Bible. Its pages rustled and crunched as I opened it. Infant baptism was barely on my mind. I just needed to know how to not be so scared all the time. In the first book, John the Baptist urged listeners to repent, believe, and be baptized. Babies couldn’t do that. I happened to read another part where Peter baptized someone--an adult, in the river. I grew angry. Why all this fighting about who is right when it’s right here? Where did they come up with infant baptism? I read on, then stopped.
“You who fear Him, trust in the Lord--He is their help and shield,” said Psalm 115:11. I paged for another verse. Isaiah 54:4-6 made me gasp. “Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood. For your Maker is your husband— the LORD Almighty is his name— the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth.” My thoughts spun as I matched my life with every word of the verse. I fear Father will disgrace me. But He will not. I will be disgraced by God if I do nothing. My shame from today...I will not remember it later if I make the right choice. God watched over me today. Will I still be so fearful like this next year if I don’t do anything about it now? My fear is so shallow, isn’t it? Have courage, Sarah said. I knew what I had to tell Father. I pushed away visions of spiders, freezing nights in prison, hunger pangs, homelessness. In return, my mind emptied and I hid the Bible and fell asleep.
“Glenda, Glenda,” Anna’s mother shook me. “Your father’s here.
At once fear gripped me. Jesus! Help! I met him. “Glenda!” He hugged me. “You’re safe...don’t worry about your horse. Thank God you’re safe. The magistrates...magistrates are coming...I had to call them. But you’ll confess and you’ll recant and be released...you will, right?” He grinned.
I shook my head.
His grin froze.
“I changed yesterday.” Strength rushed through my body. I was telling him, and might as well give it all. “I met the Anabaptists and I can’t forget them. I’m willing to go to prison.” For the first time, when I said those words, I didn’t envision gloom, but glory. I smiled. “When I saw them yesterday, they were so peaceful...anyone, even you would have been impressed.
Father stood as if in a dream. “You’ve just made everything so much harder…”
The door opened, and the magistrates appeared behind him. They were taller than me, and they held cords. Thank God I’m not so scared like my dream.
Father turned to them, “She’s an sympathizer.”
I stepped forward. “No, more than that.” I held out my hands. I almost almost see the ladies and men talking about that pastor’s daughter. Father stepped backward, while I gave them my hands. I could almost feel the chill of the dungeon, the loneliness, and the creatures. As I stepped outside, the sun’s rays penetrated through my arms. But still I followed the magistrates out to the light.
They led me to a cell, and as we climbed up the stairs, we heard a soft refrain of a song. I have decided to follow Jesus...no turning back, no turning back. The magistrate grunted and groaned as he lifted the bolt of the door. Inside the cell, I saw a shadow of a woman curled in the corner. I stepped inside, and the door crashed shut behind us. “You were singing.” I whispered.
“Yes.” She patted the floor beside her, motioning me to sit down. “We used to sing that song a lot before we were captured. It encourages me...the last time we sang it was at a baptism in Zurich in a newspaper shop.”
I froze. “Really?”
“Who was baptized?”
She shook her head. “I should not tell you. Then, you will not need to lie.”
“I had a friend...her name was Anna. She left, and I was questioned. Maybe...”
“Oh, really!” Excitement warmed her voice, but she did not say anything else about it.
That was enough. I knew.
I sat beside her, and we huddled together. “It’s funny how that song really means so much more now that I’m living it.
She nodded. “Especially, the part…” She turned to a higher pitch voice. “No turning back, no turning back.” She exhaled, then lifted her head, tracing the high walls with her eyes.
“Well, I know!” A thought popped into my head. “At least the church definitely makes sure we can’t turn back. Did you notice how heavy the bolt was for the strong magistrate? Forget about opening the door from the inside.”