In the grey dawn a man prowled around the Meulenberg’s farmhouse. He moved about cautiously, listening at the windows. Carefully he checked for any signs of life inside the house. When he was convinced it was deserted, he walked over to the door and lifted the latch. The door opened easily. A wicked grin crossed the intruder’s face as he stepped inside. “It must be safe,” he softly muttered. “If anyone were home they would have locked the door. Yet I better be careful.”
Without making a sound he walked into the house. In the kitchen he stood still, listening carefully. He was prepared to make a dash if necessary. But he need not have worried. No one was home. Now that he was certain he was alone, he became careless. He grabbed an oil lamp from the kitchen table and lit it with the aid of his flint. The light shone throughout the room and also fell on the intruder’s face. It was the devious, sly face of…Simon Roelofs! “Beautiful!” he whispered, trying to encourage himself. “Now I can get a better look around. I should become more familiar with this house anyway because I’m going to move in as soon as I can!” He laughed harshly, as if he had just told a joke. He walked with the lantern to one of the cupboards and opened it. He rummaged with his hands through the contents. “Oh brother, just linens. Well, I can always use some of the best pieces.” He studied the items and made a pile of the things he wanted to take along. The he walked to the next cupboard, searched through it and once again took out different things. Even though his pile of loot continued to grow, his face no longer looked so happy. “Money, I’ve got to find money,” he hissed. “Silver, gold! I’m sure Meulenberg had a small fortune, and I’ve got to find it.” Feverishly he continued his search, talking to himself to ease his unrest.
“I am the accuser, and what I did was right. The priest, the sheriff, and even the king tell us to do this. Now I am entitled to one-third of the estate. The king can have a bit less. He’s rich enough anyway. Ha! Ha! If I can find the money, then I can buy the whole farm!” Suddenly his had struck a small, decorated iron chest far back in a drawer. When he shook it he could hear the coins rattling. The eyes of the thief began to gleam with greed. “This is it!” he said hoarsely while a self-satisfied grin crept over his face, making him look even more sinister than before. The small chest was quite heavy. Undoubtedly there was a lot of money in it. It was firmly locked, though, and there was no way Simon could pry it open. He became angry, and his face turned beet red, but try as he might he could not open it. Yet he was not about to give up. He put the small chest down, walked to the shed, and returned moments later with a chisel, a hammer, and a large axe. Sitting on the ground between the open drawer and the pile of stolen goods, he tried to push the chisel between the lid and the chest. Even this did not work. The lock and chest were too strong!
He was working so intensely that he was totally unaware of what was going on around him. He did not hear the quiet footsteps crossing the farmyard toward the window where the light was shining through. Neither did he notice a pair of eyes peering inside through the window… He saw only the chest with the money that he so badly wanted and was unable to get. But Simon’s patience had come to an end. He threw the hammer and chisel to the ground and grabbed the axe. He raised it high above his head and, with full force, let it come down on the little chest. Sparks flew in all directions when the axe hit the iron strips, the wood broke into splinters, and the gold and silver coins rolled onto the ground. It was the money that the farmer and his wife had worked many hard years to save. “Great! At last I’m rich!” yelled the miser, beside himself with joy. Dropping the axe he fell to his knees in front of the chest. He picked up the scattered pieces and emptied the chest. “Those who wish to be rich fall into temptation, Simon Roelofs,” a voice suddenly said behind him. The thief was terrified. That voice…he recognized it! His face turned grey with fright, and with an anguished look, he turned around. In the open door, standing tall and strong, was Mr. Meulenberg! The startled Simon Roelofs could not utter a sound. Dismay filled his face. At first he did not think it was Mr. Meulenberg himself but his spirit come to haunt him. He had heard it said often enough that those nonconformists seemed to possess supernatural powers. Large beads of perspiration covered his forehead. After a few seconds, when it dawned on him that this was Mr. Muelenberg himself, he became a bit calmer.
With difficulty Simon stood up. He tried to say something, but even now his tongue refused to work. He felt like a cornered rat. Then his eyes fell on the axe that lay on the ground. For a moment he thought of grabbing it to attack this man who had caught and cornered him. He changed his mind when he saw that stern eyes of Mr. Meulenberg looking at him. Then the farmer seemed to hear something behind him that distracted him, and he turned in the doorway. The thief quickly made use of the opportunity that now presented itself. His fear gave him extra strength. With two large strides he was at the door, pushed the farmer aside, and fled into the dark stall. He stumbled, scrambled to his feet again, and continued to run to the back door. He opened it and rushed outside—right into the arms of Boudewyn, who was keeping watch at the door. Casper was keep watch at the other door. “Hey, hey there little man, not so fast! We can at least give each other a proper greeting first, can’t we?” the blacksmith said in a jovial tone as he held the thief in his arms. The thief struggled to get loose but did not stand a chance against the strength of a man like Boudewyn. When in his anger and fear he kicked the blacksmith in the shins, the blacksmith said calmly, “If you try that again; I’m going to have to inflict you with pain.” As he said this, he squeezed Simon a little tighter, almost breaking his ribs. Immediately Simon stopped struggling. “There, that’s better,” Boudewyn said approvingly. He released his grip but immediately grabbed the trembling Simon by his collar.
Meanwhile, Mr. Meulenberg and Casper had run toward them. Martin and his mother had been waiting by the wagon, which stood a short distance away from the house. When they realized that Simon had been captured, they too came running. “We have to make sure this fellow does not do any more harm,” stated Boudewyn. “Hold him for a moment.” He passed the captive over to Mr. Meulenberg, then took a long, strong rope out of his pocket. He bound Simon, tying his arms behind his back and his legs together. The bandit immediately started to howl, but Boudewyn told him to stop or he would stuff his mouth as well. That helped. There was instant silence. Once Simon was securely tied up, Boudewyn effortlessly picked him up and carried him to a dark corner of the barn. There he threw him onto a pile of hay. “There,” he muttered, “a soft bed for you. Actually you deserve much worse, but we may not repay evil with evil. If you begin to make a racket, I will have even better medicine for you!” Simon did not utter a word. Beads of perspiration covered his face. He was filled with dread as well as with anger. He understood full well, though, that he had better keep silent. In the meantime he was planning to take revenge as soon as he had a chance. Boudewyn, Meulenberg, and the others now went to the kitchen and sat around the table to discuss what they should do next. “If we would have come half an hour later, all our money would have been stolen,” remarked the farmer. “First Simon betrayed us, and now he is ready to take our belongings as well. What a heartless and disgusting man.”
“The worst thing is that he likely recognized Boudewyn,” commented Casper. “Now his life will also be in jeopardy if he stays in this district.” The blacksmith laughed, unconcerned. “I have neither chick nor child, and I am sure I will get by. If I notice that I am being watched, I can leave quickly enough. That scoundrel does not know me, and I purposely bound him outside where it is dark. He had no chance to get a good look at me.” The others did not seem convinced, but Boudewyn reassured them that they need not worry about him. Right now it was more important to ensure the safe flight of the others. Looking at Casper, Mr. Meulenberg said, “As far as we are concerned, there is only one thing we can do. We must flee to Germany as quickly as we can. There we will find a place where we are not being harassed. Are you coming along with us?”
“I will only make your escape more difficult and increase your risk of being recognized,” Casper replied. “Besides, I still have a task here in the Netherlands. Hopefully I will be successful in throwing my followers off track. After all, there are hundreds of peddlers like me walking the streets. I will leave now. As long as it is dark, I will be quite safe.” It was impossible to persuade Casper to change his mind. He wanted to continue his task of selling the books. He did not value his own life since the death of his wife. He removed his pack from the secret hiding place and slung it over his back, fastening the belts around himself. Mrs. Meulenberg gave him some bread and meat to eat along the way. Her husband showed him a path through the field that he should take. It was still dark outside, but a light spot on the eastern horizon indicated the short summer night would soon be over. Now the others hurriedly prepared for their escape. Boudewyn stayed to help them get ready before he went home. The farmer removed the covered wagon from the shed. Swiftly they packed it with clothes, blankets, eating utensils, and a few stools on which to sit. Since the wagon had a canvas cover, they would be able to sleep in it at night. The money was tied into a bundle that the farmer hid under his clothes. Even though they rushed it still took them an hour-and-a-half before they were ready to leave. It was already beginning to get light outside.
The horse that would pull the covered wagon was in a pasture quite far removed from the farm. Martin had been sent out to get it. He was quite happy as he went out to get the horse. Fleeing to Germany would be quite an adventure. He had no idea just how much their lives were in danger.
Neither did the others realize how great the dangers were that lurked nearby at that very moment!