Scarves of Honour
The leafy suburbs of Britain can hide many secrets, some minor and some not so minor. On this particular afternoon, the well kept lawns and white painted fronts of the houses on the street showed the pleasant and calm face that many people take for granted. At the corner of a main road and a quiet cul-de-sac, one particular house sat in spacious gardens with the blinds drawn to keep out the bright sunshine.
Within the house, quiet mumbling could be heard as three women sat together, hands clasped in prayer. Their prayers, however, at this time were not for peace or special insight, but for rescue from the situation that they had found themselves in, as well as thanksgiving for the fact they were unharmed.
To understand their position and predicament, as well as the reasons for the calm and measured approach to their mumbled intercessions, we need to turn the clock back two hours….
The two men in the grey van were parked across the road, watching the two men leaving the house and getting into the Daimler which had been parked outside. The car swept out from the driveway onto the road, and turned in towards the main town.
“So that’s Elijah Hammond, is it?” the taller of the two gentlemen said.
“That’s him – noted businessman of the local area, supporter of local charities, and family man with wife, son and daughter. That was the son you saw driving off with him.”
“I wonder how long they will be.”
“Long enough for us to be about our business, I think. Are you ready?”
“I’m ready. Shall we go?”
The smaller of the two men nodded, and opened the door to climb out of the van. Both were dressed in dark sweaters, black jeans and bomber jackets, and looked casually round as they walked down the cul-de-sac. Two small rucksacks were thrown over their shoulders as they cut down a path that led to a local park, but instead of heading to the path they cut down a back alley until they reached a fence behind the house they had been watching.
“After you,” the taller of the two men said as he boosted his companion onto the top of the wooden fence, and he dropped down onto the other side. A few moments later, a bolt was pulled back and a gate opened to allow the other person to come through.
Both men stealthily made their way up towards the rear of the house. The garden was well kept, but their attention was focused on making it to the kitchen door without being seen, or heard. Reaching the door, it took a moment for the taller of the two men to force the door open and both to slip quietly inside.
As the smaller of the two made his way into the hallway, the taller partner slipped a balaclava mask over his head, and checked the kitchen area over. It was an old-fashioned kitchen, with an Aga stove taking pride of place against the external wall, and simple wooden cooking utensils neatly stacked in the plain clay containers.
“Simple life for these people then,” he muttered to himself as he made his way down towards the main room. Looking in, he cautiously made his way over and lowered the blinds on the windows that looked out onto the front garden.
His attention was drawn to a stand on the main table, and a large ornate book that sat on the stand. Going over for a closer look, he recognised the book as some sort of family bible, and looked at the page that was open to him.
Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. For this reason you be ready too; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.
“Well, I’m glad you didn’t anticipate our arrival,” he muttered to himself as he continued to search the room, finally alighting on a portrait of the family that lived there. He noted the fact that the mother and daughter were dressed in long sleeved dresses with plain scarves over their heads, and another saying from his younger days came to mind.
“Anabaptists,” he mumbled to himself as he lifted the portrait from the wall and revealed a small wall safe behind it. Smiling, he removed a stethoscope from his rucksack and began turning the dial, listening for the tell-tale click.
In the upstairs bedroom, the smaller of the two gentlemen was searching through bedrooms, finding some jewellery but little else. He had also noticed the dress code of the women of the house, while searching the wardrobes in two of the bedrooms, but wasn’t sure what to make of it.
He was surprised on entering the last room, however, to find that the house was not empty after all. A young woman was sat on a chair in the room, reading a book and deep in thought. She was wearing a white blouse with a ruffled front and long sleeves, a long blue denim skirt and flat shoes, and a plain blue scarf was tied over her long blonde hair. She looked up as the man entered, and a look of shock came over her eyes as she peered at him through her spectacles. With the balaclava over his face, she could only see his eyes and mouth, but she was intelligent enough to know he was robbing the house.
“Please,” she said in a quiet voice, “do not harm me. I will not scream or raise the alarm.”
The man placed a finger to his lips as he backed out of the room. Keeping the girl in his sight at all times, he called out.
“Mister Tall, do you have a moment?”
“Is there a problem, Mister Small?”
“I’m afraid there is someone else in the house at present.”
“I see. Please, invite her to come down, and if you would accompany her that would be good. Do you think she will give us any trouble?”
Mister Small looked at the young woman, who shook her head and then bowed it towards her chest.
“I do not believe so, Mister Tall,” he shouted back. “Please, will you come downstairs with me?”
The girl stood up, placed the book on a small table, smoothed her dress down and went in front of Mister Small. Both descended the staircase, and made their way into the main room where Mister Tall was replacing the portrait on the wall. Mister Small noted that this woman must be the daughter of the household, as the likeness was amazing.
“Forgive us, sister,” Mister Tall said as he indicated that the young lady should sit down. “Would it be impolite to ask you your name?”
“I am Theresa,” the young girl said, “but what are you doing in the house of my parents?”
“Regretful as this will seem, we are robbing you, sister,” Mister Tall replied, “So I must ask you not to move from where you are currently sitting. Tell me, is your mother due home soon.”
“She has gone to collect my aunt from the railway station,” Theresa replied, “I would imagine she will be back soon.”
As if in answer to her, the sound of a car driving to the front of the house could be heard. With a finger to his lips, Mister Tall beckoned for Mister Small to join him, and they stood behind the doorway.
A key turned in the doorway, and a voice with a slight Dutch accent called out.
“Theresa, are you home?”
“I am in the front room, Mama,” Theresa replied, “Is Aunt Esther with you?”
“She is, my child.”
“Please, Mama, join me here. I have something to say to both of you.”
“What is it, my child?” The voice said as the room door opened and a woman in her late fifties entered. She was wearing a long white smock dress, with lace cuffs and a gathered bodice, and a plain brown woollen shawl over her shoulders. A floral scarf was tied over her head and hair. Behind her came a slightly younger woman, dressed in a cream sweater, long brown skirt and matching waistcoat, and a brown scarf over her hair. She closed the door behind her.
“Theresa, what is wrong?”
“Mama, I am afraid we are not alone.”
Her mother turned round and saw the two black clad and masked men. “Good afternoon, sisters,” the taller one said, “I am Mister Tall and my friend here is Mister Small. Obviously, you,” he said pointing to the second woman who entered, “are Sister Esther, but may I ask you for your name?”
The older woman looked at the two intruders. “Your manners do you credit,” she said, “I am sister Ruth. Am I to presume that you are robbers?”
“I am afraid to say that we are,” Mister Tall replied, “and we were about to leave when we found your daughter in study, and you arrived. Naturally, we would have preferred to depart without disturbing you, but that is no longer possible.”
“I see,” Esther said, “and how do you plan to prevent us from raising the alarm.”
“Sisters, I have recognised you as followers of the Anabaptist church, so I am hoping that your vows of non-violence are applicable here. Am I correct in the assumption?”
The three women nodded.
“In that case, let me assure you that we already have what we came for, and we have no other intents towards you beyond making our escape possible. If you do as we ask, then I promise you that you will not be harmed.”
“And what is it that you want us to do,” Ruth asked.
“Well, first I suggest any of you that need to relieve yourselves do so. I see you have a downstairs toilet – Mister Small, is it possible to see out from there?”
The smaller of the two intruders stepped out, then came back and replied “No – no windows or doors.”
“Very good – please,” Mister Tall said to the two new arrivals, “Place your bags on the table next to Sister Theresa, and you may then do whatever you need to do. My friend here will make sure you only go to the room.”
“Are you all right, child?” Ruth asked as she placed her large bag next to her daughter, and Theresa nodded in reply.
While the two older women visited the toilet, Mister Tall moved a table from the wooden floor and moved a round mat onto the center.
“Please, sit yourself down on the mat,” he said to Theresa, and the young girl sat down facing the door, smoothing her skirt out in front of her. As Ruth returned, he said the same to her, and after Esther entered the room the three women were sitting in a circle, with their backs to each other.
“As I said previously, sisters, I am afraid I have to ensure we can make our escape, but I will try to make this as comfortable for you as possible. Please, will you link arms with each other?”
Theresa offered each of her arms to her aunt and mother, and the three women soon had their arms linked together.
“Very good,” Mister Tall said as he took some lengths of rope from his rucksack and passed on to Mister Small. “Ruth, I would like you to clasp your hands together as if you were praying.”
Sister Ruth looked at the man, and then clasped her hands together in front of her. Doubling the rope, Mister Tall wrapped it once around Ruth’s wrists, ensuring that the rope was over the sleeves of her dress, passed the loose ends through the loop and pulled tightly. He quickly passed the rope around three more times, before turning the ends through ninety degrees and cinching the rope between her wrists. He passed the loose ends through the ropes, and tied a knot underneath her bound hands.
While he was doing this, Mister Small used a second length of rope to tie Theresa’ wrists together, and then moved on to bind Esther’s wrists together. Mister Tall took a shorter length of rope, and bound Ruth and Theresa’s arms together where they crossed. He proceeded to do the same to the other two pairs of crossed arms.
“I thank you, sisters,” Mister Tall said as the three women sat quietly. “We will now have, I am afraid, to ensure that your feet are secured as well, but we will ensure that your modesty is preserved. Please, all three of you, bend your knees up and place the soles of your feet flat on the floor.”
Taking a length of rope, Mister Tall knelt in front of Theresa. Doubling the rope again, he passed it around her ankles and quickly bound them together, ensuring that the rope was cinched. As he moved on to her mother, Mister Small took a longer length and tied it around Theresa’s legs, above her knees but over her skirt. Having secured the rope, he laid her legs down before taking one more shorter length and tying it from her wrists to the rope around her legs. Having achieved this, he went on to Ruth, then Esther until all three women were bound in the same way.
“So, do we gag then with their headscarves?” Mister Small asked as he stood up from tying Esther, and all three women looked up in shock.
“No – as Anabaptists, the headscarf is a badge of honour.” Mister Tall replied. “We will, sisters, have to prevent you from raising the alarm in some way. Mister Small, see if you can find some napkins, if you please.”
“Thank you for honouring our faith,” Ruth said as Mister Small returned with three clean white napkins.”
“We are not in the business of dishonouring anyone, my dear lady, but we do have to ensure our safe departure. Now, which of you will be first?”
“May I ask something first?” Theresa said.
“Of course,” Mister Tall replied.
“Mother, Aunt, I would like us to pray together for delivery when these men have finished.”
“Of course, child,” Ruth replied. “Even if we have to do it in silence, we will pray together. You may start with me.”
“Please, sister,” Mister Tall asked, “Open your mouth as wide as you can.” He was rolling one of the napkins into a tight band as he said this, so that when sister Ruth opened her mouth he could tie it in as a gag.
“I will go next,” Esther said, and she was quickly gagged followed by Theresa. As Mister Tall tied off the napkin at the base of her neck, the three women bowed their heads as one and started to mumble through their gags. Mister Tall turned to the women. “Sisters, the Gentlemen Robbers wish you all god faith for the future, and a fond adieu.”
The two men picked up their bags and headed off into the rear garden. As they returned to their van, they looked at the front window with the blinds drawn down.
“Strange people,” Mister Small said.
“No stranger than the Amish in Pennsylvania, but strange to us all the same,” Mister Tall replied. “Come on – let’s get out of here before the men of the house return.”