Ursula peeked out the window again. “When is Margaretha coming?” she asked, brown eyes pleading.
“She should be home within the hour,” Agnes replied cheerfully from where she sat on her low stool, knitting. “You are looking forward to seeing her again, aren’t you, my child?”
The ten-year-old nodded. “It has been so long since she was home! Greta, do you know where my blanket is? I am getting cold.” Greta, the family’s servant, smiled and hastened to obey the order. Ursula settled back onto her stool, pushing her feet closer to the fire.
About a year had passed since Margaretha had been home for a visit. She was twenty-one years old now. Since leaving two years ago, she had become a Beguine, much like a nun. She had lived several months with a Grand Mistress, an older Beguine, and received training from her. Now she lived by herself and served God by helping the poor and spending time in prayer and fasting. Ursula admired Margaretha’s commitment, but she still missed her big sister.
The door swung open and Ursula jumped up. “Margaretha?” she cried breathlessly. But it was only her two brothers, Daniel and Josiah. She sat back in disappointment.
The boys stomped the snow off their boots and flung the heavy fleece cloaks from their shoulders. Greta hung the cloaks on hooks beside the fireplace. “I was taking care of my horse,” sixteen-year-old Josiah explained, glancing at his mother. “Father wants to ride it into Zurich tomorrow morning. There is an assembly he needs to attend.” Josiah’s face was bright red from the cold, and his sandy hair looked stiff and icy.
Agnes sighed. “Another assembly? He just attended one yesterday.”
“This one was scheduled last minute this afternoon.” Henry entered the sitting room and sat down with his wife and children. “We are getting together to discuss what we can do to crush the unrest among the church people.”
“Ah, the Anabaptists,” Agnes murmured. “What do you expect them to decide?”
Henry shook his head. “I don’t know. But I believe the Church must act together.”
Ursula listened quietly. She knew the Anabaptists believed that the Roman Catholic Church did not teach the truth. She knew that some of the people in the Anabaptist movement had left the Church and started meeting together privately. At this time, it was dangerous to depart from the established church in Switzerland. These people could be killed for their defiance. So far, the council that governed the city of St. Gall, where Ursula and her family lived, had not taken a strong stand against Anabaptism. But the townspeople expected the council to do so eventually.
Ursula shivered. She was glad none of her family had joined the Anabaptists. She loved her family and wanted them all to stay at home where they had always been. She wanted everyone to like them, and not everyone liked the Anabaptists.
“She’s here!” The shout from Daniel jerked Ursula from her musing and brought her to her feet with a bounce. “Margaretha!” she exclaimed excitedly. “Margaretha’s here!”
“Be quiet and welcome her like a lady,” twelve-year-old Daniel scolded in big-brother seriousness. “She is probably tired and not feeling inclined to listen to constant chatter.”
Chastened, Ursula shrank back against the wall. She felt better when she looked up and saw her mother’s bright smile. Mother was excited too! She looked at her father. Even he looked less stern than usual. The boys were quiet, but she could tell they were pleased. Maybe Daniel is not as excited . . . her thought was cut short as Margaretha dismounted her horse and walked up to the house.
Daniel flung the door open and pulled his sister inside. “You took so long to get here!” he scolded in a joking tone of voice. Margaretha laughed.
Ursula looked accusingly at her brother. Why could he talk when he had told her not to?
Margaretha placed her hand on Ursula’s shoulder and exclaimed, “How you have grown, little sister! You will soon be as tall as I am!” She brushed a strand of dark hair from Ursula’s forehead.
Ursula stretched as high as she could and smiled. Her heart sang in admiration for her big sister.
“Come, my daughter,” Agnes invited warmly. “We are almost ready for supper. Let me take your shawl.” She reached over and took it from Margaretha’s shoulder, laying it across a stool to warm.
“Thanks, Mother. I am hungry, and it smells wonderful in here. What do you have for supper?”
“Greta made turnips, beans, and sweet bread!” Ursula enthused. “I told her you liked sweet bread, and Greta said she would make it just for you.”
“Margaretha asked Mother what we were having for supper, not you,” Henry told his daughter. “You must learn when to talk and when not to talk, Ursula.”
Ursula hung her head. She knew it was true. She got all excited about things and talked too much. Father had reminded her before. She looked up at Margaretha to see if she was displeased. But Margaretha was smiling and answering all the questions Daniel was asking about the city where she lived. Margaretha must have forgotten all about my rudeness, she thought.
“Supper is ready.” Greta stood in the doorway. “I will serve you when you gather.”
Agnes nodded, “Thank you, Greta. We will come in a few minutes.” The cook disappeared around the corner.
Ursula sighed happily as she followed her family into the dining room. With Margaretha home, Ursula was sure these days would be the best of the whole winter.
“Margaretha, how could you consider such a thing?” The low, soft words trembled with a hint of tears.
Ursula pressed her ear against the bedroom door. She hadn’t meant to eavesdrop until she had heard Margaretha inside talking to her parents. Without thinking, she had stopped to listen. Just for a little while, she had told herself.
Margaretha’s voice came again, earnest and gentle. “Mother, we are not planning to marry yet. He was a monk and is now a prior. He cannot marry without renouncing his vows and leaving the monastery. It is only—we just—well, we just talk sometimes . . .” her voice trailed off.
Henry spoke now, urgent and louder than the others. “Margaretha, you must not allow yourself to be deceived! Under any condition, do not marry a prior. The Church rules command a monk never to marry. You would hinder Michael’s work. Forget about it, daughter, for your sake and his!”
Ursula was worried. Father sounds upset. Is Margaretha getting married? Who is Michael? What is happening?
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