Vicar Conrad Price stood in front of the parsonage admiring its ivy-covered brick walls, clear glass windows, and chimney. He had finished trimming some of the hedges in front and cleaning up fallen branches from the old trees lining the property. His white sleeves were rolled up to his elbows. His dark, now sweaty hair clung to his forehead.
He was glad to be outside, burning off the pent up energy from his trip. London was too loud, too volatile. The politics of the city made for a tension in the air so thick it was suffocating. He was glad to be back in the open country where he could breathe again.
This is good. This is enough.
His mind wandered again to Mary. He hoped that she was enjoying the book. He had looked all around London for it. On his trip home, he had imagined the moment over and over when he would be able to give it to her. He had hoped her face would light up – the way it did when she was really happy.
And it did.
He had given up trying to put her out of his mind. She was always in his thoughts. But he knew that she could never be anything more. She was married, and for him to act on or even dream of more would be a violation of everything he had dedicated his life to, and worse, a violation of her trust. So when she mentioned problems with her marriage or he heard stories of John at the pub, he prayed fervently and sincerely for their relationship – that they could be happy.
That she could be happy.
Although he could be nothing more to her, he wanted to be nothing less. He could care for her as he could – even if it was only from a distance. And while he would never confess it in words, he knew how he felt for her. He loved her. Unspoken, but always present.
He walked out to the road, looking first down toward town, then up toward where it disappeared in the woods. His eyes searched, then his heart leapt – Mary was on her way back. Behind her a man walked with a stick, very deliberately taking his steps.
He walked to meet them.
“Hello, Mary! Is everything okay?”
“Hello! I’m afraid not. This man injured himself falling from his horse. I found him in the woods.”
“It was a large horse,” Richard said defensively. “I’m very appreciative for the kindness, but I will be fine.”
“We can go out and look for him,” Vicar Price said.
“Her,” Richard corrected. “No – we’ll cross paths again later. Horses have souls as deep as our own – and can be just as much a bastard. Time needs to pass.”
Richard looked down the road at the town. Vicar Price glanced at Mary, confused. Mary made a face and shrugged her shoulders. He turned back to Richard.
“Well, sir – I have a guest room in my parsonage that you can stay in,” Vicar Price said. “I always keep it ready. I was expecting a visitor sometime soon but there’s no telling when he will arrive – unless perchance you’re a Mr. Matthew Hopkins?”
“No, unfortunately I am not the anticipated Mr. Hopkins,” Richard said, looking over at Mary. “My name is Richard Hornes.”
“I’m happy to meet you, Mr. Hornes. I am Vicar Conrad Price. I hope you feel welcome in our town. Anything you need, just let me know,” he said, smiling.
“I’ll take advantage of the room you offered, then I’ll be on my way,” Richard said, returning no smile.
“Yes. Please, follow me,” Vicar Price said, and they began heading back toward the parsonage. “Mary – are you okay? Is there anything you need?”
“I am okay, thank you. I’ll be by tomorrow to clean the church vestibule.”
Vicar Price nodded.
“I’ve been enjoying the book,” she said, and smiled at him. He beamed, nothing made him happier than her smile.
“I’m happy to hear that. I’m excited to talk with you about it.”
“Richard also reads,” Mary said.
“Oh? What books do you like?” Vicar Price asked.
“Everything,” Richard answered.
They arrived at the parsonage.
“You two have a good evening. I’ll be by in the morning. Let me know if there’s anything either of you need,” Mary said. “ I’ll head into town and collect John.”
“Thank you, Mary. Have a good evening too,” Vicar Price said.
She nodded, meeting his eyes. He held them for a cherished moment.
“Thank you again for your help on the road,” Richard said. “And Vicar Price, I’m grateful for your hospitality as well.”
“Certainly. What is Christian charity if not welcoming strangers into your home?”
Richard finally returned his smile.