Brother Dirk and Other Stories

Chapter Five: Haddie's Drummer

Chapter 5One day, a year before Haddie Byler became a believer, she answered the door to find a soldier standing there, a friend of her husband's. "Where is Jans?" the soldier cheerfully asked. Her husband Jans was also a soldier, stationed in Leewarden, in the same company as her visitor. Jans played the drums when the men marched, but since in those days, they didn't have anywhere particular to march to, Jans worked in a linen shop to support his family.

"Jans is still in bed," Haddie answered, shaking her head. "He was out drinking until after midnight."

"That didn't keep me in bed, and I drank more than him," the soldier laughed. "But let me talk to him anyway. Commander's orders."

Haddie summoned Jans, who crawled out of bed and came to the door, squinting.

"We have a job to do, Jans. There's going to be an execution tomorrow at dawn, and our company has been ordered to stand guard at the town square to prevent trouble."

"There are executions all the time in Leewarden," mumbled Jans. "Who is it this time? A thief? A murderer?"

"Well no, Jans, it's not so simple, and that's why they want us to be there, to form a circle around the man to keep people away from him while he's being executed. It's Sike Snider." Haddie, who was listening, was stunned.

Jans didn't understand and squinted again. "Yes, I work with Sike at the shop. What about Sike Snider?"

The soldier shuffled his feet. "Well, you see, it's Sike who is going to be executed."

"What did you say?"

"Sike Snider.. you know he's an Anabaptist and nobody wanted to say anything because people like him so much. But with the new decree from the Duke of Alva, and the reward money... well, they arrested Sike and now they've sentenced him to death."

Jans wished he were still in bed. His headache was getting worse, and he didn't want to talk with the soldier any more. "All right," he said.

"Now, we need you there, you and your drum," said the soldier. "There's nothing like a good drum roll to put the fear of God into any mischief-makers. Don't forget. And try to get to bed a little earlier tonight," he teased.

"Goodbye," said Jans, and he shut the door. He turned back to his wife and fell into the chair, holding his head.

"Haddie, I can't do it," he said.

"What do you mean? You're in the army, you do what they tell you to do," Haddie demanded.

"But Sike, Sike Snider. He's my friend. When people find out what they're going to do to him, it will take more than a drum to keep them from knocking us down. Mercy me, why Sike? Sike of all people. It's just plain wrong."

Haddie put her hands on her hips. "Jans, just because something's wrong, that's never kept you from doing it before," she remarked sarcastically. "I thought if it's wrong, you enjoy all the more."

"Oh, just leave me alone."

"You have to do it, Jans. If you don't, they might throw you in jail too."

"I know," replied Jans. "Just leave me alone. I'm going back to bed."

The next morning before sunup, for Jans couldn't sleep, he decided that Haddie was right. There wasn't anything he could do. But he could get drunk again. Maybe he wouldn't feel so bad for Sike if he was drunk. He poured several cups from his jug of wine until he felt he had enough to do the trick. Then he got dressed, strapped on his drum, and went to the town square.

Fortunately, the soldiers were only there to keep order, and the town officers arranged for the actual execution. Jans tried to stand up as straight as he could, and ignore as much as he could of what was happening. But he didn't think the wine had done what it was supposed to do. Instead of feeling less compassion for Sike, he felt more. And alcohol always took away his self-control. It would be best to just play his drum and keep his mouth shut. But when he saw the peaceful face of Sike Snider in the center of the ring of soldiers, kneeling down to thank God, he couldn't stand it anymore.

"Now listen here, you people," Jans bellowed. The crowd stepped back in surprise. "This is all crazy. Sike Snider is the best man in Leewarden. He might believe differently from the rest of us, but I know him, and he has more religion in his one hand than the rest of you have in your whole bodies. If you want me to tell you the good things he's done, it's going to take all day."

Some of his listeners began laughing. Voices were heard from the crowd, "The drummer is drunk," "He's crazy." Others became quieter as Jans continued to speak.

"What's the point here?" he said, "We're supposed to be punishing bad people here, not good ones. But the mayor, yes, the whole town council, is more afraid of the priests in the state church than they are interested in doing their job. If you want an execution, I can think of lots of people who deserve it more than poor Sike. Oh, if you want to execute a sinner, try our local priest. We all know about him, don't we? Oh, never mind. It's not fair. Just forget it."

When Jans got home, Haddie didn't say anything. She always tried not to converse with him when he was drunk. But a few hours later, Jans was sober. He realized what he had done, and what might happen to him because of it. He emerged from his room, his face pale.

"I've got to leave, Haddie," Jans said.

"You've certainly gotten yourself into it this time," Haddie remarked.

"No, I've got to leave it all. Leewarden, the army, the state church," Jans stammered.

Haddie stared at him. "You really are crazy!"

"I can't live like this anymore. Haddie, go with me."

"Go with you?" demanded Haddie. "Do you even know where you're going?"

"No, but I can find some place to live. I can work. Maybe somewhere I can find a man as good as Sike Snider, and learn how to be like him instead of the way I am." The tough drummer was on the verge of tears.

"Jans, this really is too much. You don't know what you want. This is all too fast."

"It has to be fast, Haddie." returned Jans. "As it is, they might arrest me anytime, and there'll be trouble with the army commander too."

"I can't decide so quickly," said Haddie in bewilderment. "Isn't it good enough, the way we're living? Doesn't God understand we can't do any better? We're only human."

"I don't know about all that. Last chance. Will you come with me?"

"I can't. I just can't."

"Then goodbye, Haddie, my love." And with a final embrace, Jans slipped out the door.

When the officers came to questions Jans, Haddie could truthfully say she had no idea where he had gone. And she never found out. Maybe he fled to another country. Maybe he was baptized and later arrested for his faith. But Haddie never saw him again.

The evenings passed slowly with Jans gone, and Haddie had a lot of time to think. And so it happened that not many days later, she appeared at the door of Sike Snider's house, first to express her regrets to his widow, but then to ask about the faith for which he died. There she met a man named Hans, whom she thought was simply repairing the roof of the house. But when he discovered what was in her heart, he invited her to hear the local teacher as he urged his hearers to turn their backs on sin and be converted to God. In time, she too was baptized, and with the encouragement of her new brothers and sisters in Leewarden, her faith began to grow strong. Later she moved to Meenen to find work. When young Elisabeth van Roder arrived, she was ecstatic. And when the officers arrested Elisabeth, Haddie came with her.

Suddenly the cell door flew open. "Haddie Byler!" the jailer interrupted. Haddie raised her hand. "Come with me. You are being moved to a different room. Tomorrow you will stand before the judges and defend your faith."

Haddie was bewildered. She could not read or write, and she was more willing than experienced in the doctrines of her faith. "How so, my lord?"

"You are to explain your beliefs about the nature of God, the sacrament of the altar, baptism, the authority of the Church, and the incarnation of Christ. Come, come!"

Haddie embraced Elisabeth again, knowing it was perhaps for the last time, and followed the jailer.

"Poor lamb," murmured Hans. "But He will give her grace."

No sooner had he said that, the door opened again. "George Baumann!" the guard barked. "Some priests have come, hoping to bring you to your senses and back to the truth. This way!"

"Remember, George," exclaimed Hans. "Not by might, not by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord."

George Baumann nodded slightly, his eyes wide, and the guard led him away.

"Oh, we must always be innocent and humble," Hans said, "for Satan wants to take our eyes off Christ Jesus, who is our true wisdom, that we might trust in our own wisdom. Once our brother Rolf Greyenburger was traveling through the countryside. The officers found out he was coming, and offered a reward for his capture. When he arrived at the inn to eat dinner and spend the night, the farmhands noticed him but they weren't sure who he was. They came into the inn that night, and when they saw him praying before eating, they put their heads together and said, "This looks like the man," as if it were wrong to pray. They watched him at the inn and sent word to the judge at the castle to send officers to arrest him."

"Perhaps he should have prayed in his room instead," suggested Elisabeth.

"One would think so, but human wisdom always seeks to lay the Cross of Christ aside." cautioned Hans. "An officer arrived to lead Rolf on a journey to the castle where he would be tried and imprisoned. He cursed and ridiculed Rolf every mile of the way. The trip was so long that the officer decided they would spend the night at an inn, where he became drunk and fell asleep, allowing Rolf to escape and live out his days in peace. And there is the true wisdom of God!"

A guard came to the door. "Elisabeth van Roder?" he asked quietly. He seemed uncomfortable. When Elisabeth identified herself, he thrust a package into her hand and left.

"What could it be?" Elisabeth asked as she opened it.

"Our friends have not forgotten you," replied Dirk. "They might have paid the guard some money to get that bundle to you, or else he did it out of kindness. Either way, he doesn't want you to know."

"Look! a shawl. And a letter from our sister Maria de Groot," Elisabeth exclaimed. "She says she has enclosed a copy of another letter which has greatly blessed her. A brother from Italy named Algerius, from a noble family, as I am," she added hesitantly, "who came to know the truth while he was a student in Rome. Shall I read it?"

"Please do," answered Hans earnestly.

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