Geneva, 1558 by Terri Lynn Plemons

Geneva’s Saturday noon chimed to a warm sunshine after a morning of a grey sky. Friday had melted most of the snow, so the children now released from John Calvin’s schola privata ran to their various after-school chores and amusements without hinderance. One pair, a boy of thirteen and his sister, did not run, but stood beneath the school’s enormous windows and stared, curiously, in the direction of a stately but declining grey stone building two miles distant. Traces of eagerness lit the eyes of both, though for different reasons.

“We’ll home to change and then-”

“I must help Mother with the wicks, so you are in the shop until four,” our girl corrected her brother.

“But Mother said we could go out.”

“Later-”

“It will be dark by six.”

“She said we could stay out a while after dark,” she said resolvedly, to give courage at the thought of roaming the town in the moonlight.

“That was to see the moon on the snow – the snow is gone.”

“We will think of a reason.”

The stone edifice of the building which was the siblings’ objective took on a luminance in the moonlit chime of seven o’clock. The stones towered impressively into the stars at such a close perspective, but they were headed only for the ground floor, a chamber with many windows and no interior walls.

They circled the building, walking furtively over sodden grounds, and as they crept, the candlelit interior came in and out of view. As they passed each window, they heard the boisterous voices of two dozen aproned men, the drones of several tireless wooden printing presses, and the quavering of thousands of sheets of paper. Every window was open a space, as to let in enough night air to cool the room, but not to unsettle the newly printed pages.

Finally the children reached their object. A door at the north end of the building led to a corner of the room away from the main action of the presses. This crook was devoid of candlelight, and here were deposited expended ink balls and printed pages which were smudged, ripped, or otherwise illegible and faltered in untidy piles.

The door was tall, thick as the wall, and also stood cracked open to let in a wisp of air. The boy eyed the stack of muddled papers through the crack.

“Try to get one or two sheets of paper first,” instructed his sister. He made carefully for the door. She pulled him back and drew out a cloth, “You must not be recognized if you’re seen! Put this over your head.”

Indeed the room was so discordant with sounds of the printing presses and men shouting to be heard over the din, that they were quite unafraid of being heard, even if they were to tear a sheet of paper in half. The darkness of the corner gave them little fear of being seen unless they made sudden movement. In fact, his sister was really only afraid that their actions would be known uncannily, rather than sensed physically. These men were about a serious business, printing the whole Bible, and she thought they must have Godly protection.

Her brother opened the door slowly with three fingers. The door did not creak as they had feared, not audibly, and he quite deftly fingered two sheets of paper from the top of the pile. She immediately grabbed them and ran to the street lamp at the edge of the grass to look at them.

“What are you doing? Someone will see us here!” he whispered urgently, running after her.

“I want to read it.”

“Read it?!”

“Genesis three seven..Oh look!” she exclaimed in spite of stealth, covering her mouth. “They sewed fig tree leaves together, and made themselves breeches!”

“Breeches!”

They giggled uncontrollably, but as quietly as possible.

The chimes told eight o’clock, and they both stopped suddenly, remembering their purpose. A breeze from the west made them look, and the view of a stone bridge in that direction brought a chill to their reflection.

“Do you think it’s wrong,” she asked, “to feed them the Bible?”

The night had grown bitterly cold. Her brother answered curtly, “They don’t know it’s the Bible.”

“We do.”

A sudden laughter from the presses turned them back to the stone chamber. They crept back to the chamber carefully.

“Many pages this time,” sister instructed. “Many because I want to keep some. We will only give them the pages we can’t read. I want to keep the rest.”

Her brother sighed, and put the cloth on his head.

The siblings made their way to the stone bridge. Sister looked back to the bush where she had hidden all the legible pages she intended to keep, more than half of the stack her brother had procured. They approached the bridge, quavering. She could hear the creatures digging with their flat claws, the sound of muffled crickets.

The quill-sized beasts stopped abruptly and moved as one to look at the boy and the girl approaching. They must have known they were carrying the papers, but they did not once take their eyes off the faces of their attendants. Brother walked forward and set the stack of smudged papers on the ground next to the entrance of their elaborate tunnel. The brownmen moved forward and stood by the pages, still fixing their gaze on the quaking children. Carefully each fingered a corner of a tattered page and began to eat. They ate carefully, not ravenously. Our girl saw the words of a legible page she had missed disappear into a dripping mouth. “For howsoever the man named the living creature, so was the name thereo-”

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