Mary watched them continue to talk as they walked up to the parsonage. She sighed, and walked down the road toward town. John would be in the pub. He did odd jobs where he could, but most often for David Locke, the blacksmith. He and David were good friends, and had been since childhood. David was Abigail’s older brother. Mary had lived near them and they all grew up together, her and Abigail as close as sisters. She had met John through them.
She thought about those better days. John originally had been a wheelmaker and specialized in repairing carts and carriages. Their town was on a major road for travel between the coast and London, and many people from Parliament or the court of the King would pass through for whatever business they had, keeping John busy.
They had both talked about traveling, deciding that once they had enough saved up they would follow the nobles to the coast. Even though she had seen the ocean only once in her life, she had fallen in love with it. John had never seen it.
Her friends now would tease and chide her – especially Abigail – laughing about how she still held onto ideas from childhood. Be content with what you’ve been blessed with already. This is all we’ll have.
And as if their words were from the book of Revelations, they proved prophetic. Between civil war and plague, everything fell apart. There was no more traveling – not through their town anyway. The people left over didn’t have money except to make due with what they had already.
Year after year, their own money disappeared too – and so had their dreams. John did what he could around town, and she helped around the church. They didn’t save anymore. Any extra money they had – and recently even money they needed – John would spend at the pub at the end of the day.
Standing outside the pub, she could smell the alcohol and the stench of men after a long day of work. She sighed, bracing herself for the routine of another evening. John would be smiling or laughing with his friends, and then he would see her coming. His face would fall, and then it would get red as he insisted she had come early or didn’t trust him. They would argue, and people would laugh, and then eventually she would plead with the bartender to cut him off. They’d negotiate one more drink, and in the end she would feel sick and numb inside as she waited for him to finish two more.
She sighed, then had a revolutionary thought.
She looked down at her pack and saw her book peeking out.
John could take care of himself, and if he couldn’t, then neither could she. She turned away from the pub and started down the street again, to their little shack just at the edge of town. If she hurried, there would be enough daylight left that she could sit outside and read her book. She increased her pace, and within ten minutes was sitting outside her door, book in hand.
The street was mostly empty, and – especially with John at the pub – it was peaceful. She didn’t mind the normal ambience of people or horses going by now and then. She took a deep breath and began to read.
After an hour and a half she had the book nearly pressed up against her face, squeezing the last light from the day. She would start dinner soon, and then John would be on his way eventually.
Suddenly she jumped, startled as a man’s raspy voice cut the silence of the evening.
“Ma’am, what are you doing out at this hour of night?”
She looked up and saw the silhouette of a tall man on top of a dark horse. Two other horses with grey-cloaked riders waited just behind him, their heads bowed.
She cleared her throat to find her voice.
“Sir, I might ask the same of you – as I can tell you are a stranger to our town,” she said, her tone defiant.
“There are few options for what kind of women keep themselves busy at night,” he said, his voice hollow as if he were only talking to himself, but then he directed it at her again, laced with a menace that unnerved her. “Where is your husband? Is there no man to take care of you?”
An identified fear immersed her, coming on as suddenly as a gust of wind. She continued to stare up at the figure on the horse.
“My husband will be home shortly. And I would thank you to mind your own business and be on your way.”
The man stayed still, then began to speak, his voice hollow again.
‘That is no way to address a man charged by Parliament to carry out the Lord’s most sacred work,” he said. “What is your name, woman?’
“I would ask yours first,” she said.
“Insolent thing,” he spat, then spurred his horse forward. The two others followed close behind. She watched them disappear into the town.
“So that’s Matthew Hopkins,” she muttered to herself. She shivered, a chill creeping up her skin.
She went into her house. Starting a fire, she began to cook a lite supper. Sitting on the stool, she watched the flame lick the black pot that held the food.
Her mind collected itself, and stopped racing. She had never felt that overwhelming a dread before, and she hoped to never feel like that again. Hopefully whatever business had brought Hopkins to their town would be quick, and he would be gone within a day.
She stood up, checked the food, and then sat back down on her stool.
She kept turning the entire incident over in her mind, and knew that she needed to talk with Vicar Price about it in the morning. The thought of him brought her some comfort, and for no clear reason she felt like things would be better after she saw him. She picked up her book, and began to read by the light of the fire. The room felt warm, and she began to feel like herself again.