“You should always be ready! Is it not written that our Lord will come like a thief in the night? Why should his most humble of servants be any different?” Matthew Hopkins yelled.
“I apologize, your letter was very brief and contained very few instructions but for the matter of your fee,” Vicar Price said.
He kept his voice steady, careful not to escalate the situation. He had dealt with irate parishioners before, but this was different. He felt as if Hopkins were accusing him of a mortal sin, and the man spoke with such passion and authoritative vindictiveness that Vicar Price almost felt inclined to agree with him.
Richard had gone to his room an hour earlier, and Vicar Price was finishing some letters before doing the same, when suddenly the sound of horses and then a thundering at his door had startled him out of his chair.
There had not been a moment to catch his breath since. Hopkins had burst into the door followed by two attendants, his voice booming as he paced around the room like a caged predator.
“Which I trust you procured?” Hopkins asked, his voice slicing through the air.
“Of course, we understand our duty to abide by Parliament’s directives, and we are eager for nothing else but to be fellow compatriots in the service of our Lord God.”
Hopkins nodded, and then continued to walk restlessly around the room.
Price studied him. The man carried a wild energy – nothing could be at rest around him, and once agitated began to drift under the influence of his gravity. His eyes were piercing but distant, the kind that looked through you but not at you. His hair was long, and unkempt, although oddly his beard was trimmed.
Vicar Price watched as Hopkins walked around thinking to himself . The man’s face kept contorting into an expression that either verged on maniacal laughter or unhinged rage.
“Can I get you anything to drink? Any food? I’m sure you’re tired from your journey.”
Hopkins waved his hand to dismiss the question, shaking his head.
“Check if they want anything,” he muttered.
The Vicar turned his attention to his two companions, each wearing a ragged gray cloak. He gasped a little bit as he realized they were two old women, wrinkled, bent, and dirty. Their thin hair tangled with the frayed cloak they each wore, either of which could be confused for a rat’s nest. Their eyes were dark and soulless, and the utter ugliness and despair they inspired made it painful to even look at them for any length of time. They were little more than a visage of death, and the grotesque thought they were still alive made it all the more unbearable.
“Do either of you need any refreshment?” he asked, struggling to keep his voice even.
“Water,” one of them whispered. He couldn’t tell which one, it seemed to have been uttered without anyone opening their mouths.
“Certainly. Please, make yourselves at home,” Price said, rushing off to the cellar. He kept a glass jug of water there to stay cool. Grabbing several glasses, he poured them each something to drink. His hands shook.
Dear God in Heaven, grant me strength to be charitable to all of your children …
He took a few moments to focus his mind, steady his nerves, and recite his prayer several more times. Then he took them their water. They received it without any acknowledgment or thanks.
“I don’t have much room here in the house, but you’re welcome to use my bedroom for the night so that you have a place to …” Vicar Price began, but Hopkins cut him off.
“We will find lodging. I don’t like the air in this house,” Hopkins said, he turned to look directly at Price. “In fact, this whole town seems to have a curse laid over it. I could feel an evil spirit the moment we were within ten miles of the place. As soon as we entered the town my suspicions were immediately confirmed. I am confident there is someone here in league with the devil, perhaps several.”
“I’m sorry – I don’t quite unders…” Price stammered before Hopkins interjected again.
“Witches! The whole country is full of them. I’ve discovered hundreds of them. I wrote the book on how to identify and dispose of them. They are people who have become less than people, trading their souls for power from the Dark One.”
“But … what makes you think that our town …” Price started to ask.
“Do not doubt me! I have been endowed with certain spiritual gifts from the Lord Almighty – gifts that I did not ask for. They fill me with visions that leave me trembling with fear. If God Himself did not guide my each and every step, I would surely be unable to move on my own volition. Our nation is at risk. At every level of government and across every town evil has found root,” Hopkins declared, then turned back to Price.
“Tomorrow at midday I want you to ring the church bells and summon the entire town. I will address everyone there, and we will clean this land of its disease. No longer will this town be haunted by sinister souls. The air will be cleared and clean again. You will all see for yourselves.”
They all turned as they heard the creaking of the stairwell as Richard descended into the room. He looked around at everyone, his eyes finally resting on Vicar Price.
“I heard shouting,” Richard said, looking at the vicar. “Are you okay?”
“Yes, yes this is Mr. Matthew Hopkins who we were anticipating. I am sorry we woke you, we were just discussing his business in this town and plans for tomorrow. Mr. Hopkins, this is my guest, Mr. Richard Hornes.”
Vicar Price saw Hopkins and Richard study each other. Hopkins’ face appeared as wild as ever, but Richard’s was stoic, completely indifferent. He looked past Hopkins toward the two old women.
“And who are these two beautiful ladies?” Richard asked.
The room was silent. Vicar Price held his breath.
“These are my companions, they are of special aid to me everywhere I go,” Hopkins seethed.
Richard stared at them with indifference as well, and without turning to Hopkins asked him another question.
“What kind of special aid would that be?’
“They assist in the capture and elimination of witches.”
Richard nodded his head.
“Godspeed,” he said, then looked over at the vicar. “Do you need my room for Mr. Hatfield?”
“No – no. Mr. Hopkins insists on finding lodging elsewhere,” Vicar Price answered.
Mr. Hopkins spoke up, clearly agitated.
“We will see to our lodging ourselves. God’s hand always provides,” Hopkins said. “He turned to Price. “Tomorrow at midday. Ring the bells. Spread the word around town everyone must attend.”
And with that, Hopkins walked out the front door. The two women turned and followed after him, leaving their waters perched on the window sill.
Richard and Vicar Price stood still as they heard them climb on their horses, and then trot away.
“Quite a character,” Richard said.
“Yes. To be honest, I am a little out sorts from the whole thing,” Price said.
“I may stay a few days, if that is okay with you,” Richard said.
“Of course, however long you need.”
Vicar Price walked over and locked the door.
“Do you think it’s true?” Richard asked.
“That there is a witch in this town?”
“I’m not a man with the expertise or experience to know. I guess we’ll all hear what Mr. Hopkins has to say tomorrow,” Price said.
He stared across the room at nothing in particular, lost in thought. He shook his head. “He has me completely unmoored.”
He walked over to a small cabinet and opened it. He pulled out a small bottle, and lifted it toward Richard.
“Would you like a glass?”
“What is it?”
“A friend of mine from up north, a Scot. He gave it to me while visiting London. I’ve had it once before and am rather fond of it.”
Vicar Price poured them each a glass. He raised his glass to Richard, who hesitated – then raised his in return. Price nodded, then took a drink, and Richard followed.
“I like this,” Richard said. “It has a good burn to it.”
“I’m glad,” Price said.
He thought for a few moments.
“Have you ever met a man like that?”
“Like what?” Richard asked.
“He just seemed – possessed. And those women with him …”
Vicar Price shook his head and took another drink.
“I’ll be glad when he’s gone,” Price said.
They sat in silence for a few moments. Richard took another drink.
“Mary mentioned a scripture to me on the road,” Richard said.
“Seek, and ye shall find,” Richard said.
“That’s from Matthew,” Vicar Price said. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
Vicar Price took another drink.
“Do you think he’s going to find anything?” Price asked.
Richard looked at Price.
‘What happened when he knocked on your door?” Richard asked.