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Chasing Shadows

Chapter 1

Six years earlier, June 1939

Lena didn’t want to lose her temper, but her daughter had her close to the edge again. “You simply can’t take a train by yourself to a strange city and live there, Ans. It’s ridiculous!”

“But I’m tired of being stuck here in this nothing town where everyone knows your business. I can’t stand it a minute longer!” Ans was washing dishes, slamming them onto the drainboard to emphasize each word.

“Maybe if you and a group of your friends—”

“They’re all happy living here! Rietje and Corrie have boyfriends.” She said the word as if it disgusted her. “I’d rather be a spinster than marry one of the boys from around here. I would end up being his servant, cooking and cleaning and milking his cows and having countless babies.”

Lena stopped wiping the table and faced her daughter. “Is that what you think my life is like? Do you think I’m a servant with no life of my own? That I do nothing but work and have babies?”

“You wanted this life. I don’t! I’m tired of smelling manure with every breath I take. Tired of eating in a kitchen that’s four feet from the barn.”

And tired of church. That was part of her dissatisfaction, too. Lena knew Ans would start complaining about the church next. And she did.

“The church is nothing but a bunch of dull rituals. Do people even believe the words they say and sing every week? The rules the church makes us follow are so old-fashioned! Like the law that says, ‘Obey your husband.’ The world is a modern place, and—”

“I love your father. It’s no hardship at all to work alongside him and do the things that make him happy.” Lena couldn’t imagine anything better than living with the open fields around her, breathing the aroma of freshly mown hay, and cherishing the seasonal rhythms of land and home. She gave the table a final swipe and tossed the rag into the sink.

“Well, I feel trapped here,” Ans said. “I want to live in Leiden.”

They never should have traveled there by train that day when they’d had their photograph taken. Ans had loved the city. Lena had hated it. It was too noisy and busy, with cars and bicycles and trains racing past. Lena had felt lost and disoriented among the twisting streets and winding rivers and canals. The houses crowded together like kernels of corn on a cob with no open spaces between them. Ans had declared the city beautiful. She had been restless to return ever since.

“You can’t keep me here. I’m almost nineteen!”

Lena turned away to avoid saying something she would regret. And so that Ans wouldn’t see her tears. She walked through the door to the barn, then outside to where Pieter was repairing a bicycle tire. “I could hear you fighting with Ans again,” he said.

“She insults me and our way of life, Pieter. I don’t know how to get through to her.”

Pieter removed his cap and wiped his forehead on his sleeve. “You can’t, Lena. She’s been strong-willed and determined to get her own way since the day she was born, remember?”

Oh yes. Lena remembered. Ans had never been a quiet, contented child like Wim or Maaike. “She’s so stubborn!” Lena said. “Why won’t she listen to reason?”

“Her stubbornness might be her greatest asset one day.”

“Or it might bring her to ruin.”

Pieter pulled his cap over his sweaty hair again. “Ans spent the past year watching her grandmother slowly die. Let her go, Lena. Trying to hold on to her is like holding on to sand. The tighter you grip, the faster it slips through your fingers.”

Impossible. Lena was the glue that held the farm and the family together. Everything would fall apart if she let go. She moved forward into Pieter’s arms, loving his strength and solidity, a tree with deep roots and strong limbs. Lena had married him when she was eighteen—Ans’s age—and had never regretted it for a single moment. “What about her soul, Pieter? She’s rejecting the church and everything we’ve taught her.”

“I don’t know what to tell you,” he said with a sigh. “Talk to your father. See what he has to say.”

She kissed him and left him to his work, walking slowly back toward the house. She had work to do as well, but she was too worried to concentrate on any of it. She looked for Maaike and Wim and found them crouched in the tall grass by the edge of the canal, their blond heads bent together as they examined a frog or a bug or some such treasure. “I’m going into the village,” she called to them. “Want to come?”

They wanted to stay home and play, so Lena rode her bicycle into town by herself. She found her father sitting at his kitchen table in the manse, writing a letter. He laid down his pen and sat back in his chair as she greeted him. “Well, this is a pleasant surprise, Engelena Everdina. What brings you here?”

He always smiled when he used her full name. He seemed softer since Mama died, as if grief and pain had filed away some of his sharpness and certainty. He was more patient with his parishioners, more understanding of their faults.

He gestured to an empty chair at the table and listened as Lena told him about her escalating arguments with Ans and her daughter’s comments about the church. Ans had lived here in the manse during her last months in secondary school, taking care of her grandmother until she’d died. Grief still etched a deep cavern in Lena’s soul that she hadn’t climbed out of yet. She would be sucked back into the darkness when she least expected it by the sight of an empty place at the table or a basket of abandoned knitting. Lena couldn’t lose her daughter, too.

Her father paused a moment before replying, removing his wire-rimmed glasses and polishing them with a corner of his sweater. “Ans’s faith has to become her own, Lena. She can’t inherit yours or mine, no matter how much we may wish it. She has to find God through what she sees and experiences with Him.”

His advice surprised Lena. “But . . . what if she doesn’t come back to the church? What if she keeps turning away from it—and from us?”

“Ans belongs to God, not to us. He will be faithful to pursue her. The Bible says no one can snatch her from the Father’s hand.” He seemed certain of it.

“What about her reputation—and yours? People are already asking why she doesn’t come to church with us anymore.”

“You don’t owe anyone an explanation.”

His words should have reassured Lena, but they didn’t. She couldn’t help feeling that her daughter’s rebellion was her fault. “Ans wants to leave home all by herself and move to Leiden. I must have done something wrong as a mother to make her feel that way.”

Her father gave a gentle laugh, shaking his head. “No, Engelena. Don’t blame yourself. Adam and Eve had a perfect parent, yet they rebelled.”

“What should I do?”

“If you love her—and I know you do—you have to let her go.”

Tears filled Lena’s eyes. “Just let her go? All alone? She has no plans at all for the future except to leave home and live in Leiden.”

“God created Ans the way He did for a reason. He can use her strong will and independent spirit. Maybe this isn’t rebellion as much as it is the need to become herself.”

“She’s just a child, Papa.” Lena’s throat tightened as she swallowed a lump of sorrow—or maybe fear. “She’s naive about the ways of the world beyond our farm and village.”

He stood and walked around the table to rest his hand on her shoulder. “Listen, I’ll talk with one of my colleagues at the Pieterskerk in Leiden. I’ll see if he knows of a position for Ans with a family from his congregation. Maybe living away from home for a while will help her figure out her next step.”

It wasn’t the answer Lena wanted to hear. She had to stop her bicycle and sink down beneath a tree on the way home, her vision blinded by tears. Lena had imagined a different future for her beautiful firstborn child. Yes, she knew her children would eventually grow up and leave home, but she had always pictured them living nearby, with armfuls of her grandchildren. They would sit in church together every week and eat Sunday dinner at her farmhouse table. Ans might even marry a preacher like her grandfather and live in the manse beside the church. Never had Lena imagined setting her daughter loose in a university city like Leiden. In letting Ans go, Lena would have to let go of all her dreams for her.

A tractor coughed as it rumbled across a distant field scribing tidy rows. A colony of ants busied themselves in their hill beneath her feet. Lena found order and safety and purpose in the rhythms of nature. She could see no purpose in Ans’s flight from home.

“If you love her . . . Oh, how she loved her daughter! Ans, her firstborn, special to her in so many ways. She possessed an outward beauty that frightened Lena because Ans didn’t know the power of it yet. Lena clasped her hands into fists as if longing to hold tightly to her.

Chasing Shadows
by by Lynn Austin