Matthew Hopkins walked onto the stage from the back room, the two women behind him. The women stopped, standing on either side of the door while Hopkins stood forward and center on the stage. Vicar Price looked at Mary one last moment, then went to stand near Richard.
Mary felt the room become deathly quiet, as if one noise might rain the wrath of God on the one who had caused it. Hopkins looked around at everyone. His demeanor seemed calm, but there was something wild in his eyes. Animal.
“The devil is among us,” he growled. He paced the stage, meeting the eyes of person after person, “As the good Lord tells us through his servant Peter – be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour …”
He suddenly stood still and shouted, “A roaring lion – seeking whom he may devour!”
He surveyed the room, then began to pace the stage again.
“Be sober. Be vigilant,” he said, lowering his voice into a vicious whisper. “We see it. This whole world. War. Disease. Poverty. How many have you lost here? How many have never come home from fighting? How many others died in their beds, the Black Death overtaking them and leaving them mutilated? How many others survive only to watch their families and themselves waste away, unable to provide, unable to ever have enough to eat…”
He jolted his head, looking at the opposite side of the room.
“Our adversary, the devil! Seeking whom he may devour! How many have been devoured?”
He stood still again, then softened his voice.
How many others endure with the longsuffering of God’s servant, Job?”
Mary watched, absorbed in the dreadful spectacle of this man. He continued looking each person in the eyes, as if he were expecting them to answer. He walked across the stage, a tense silence hanging in the air. He looked toward the center of the room and his eyes landed on Mary. She caught her breath as their eyes locked, keeping her face as blank as possible. She thought she saw a hint of recognition flutter across his face, but then he moved on.
“For those of you who feel like Job – who suffer like Job – who have held on and prayed to God Almighty to send salvation and healing to our land, I’m here to tell you that He has heard your prayers. He has mobilized mighty men full of His Spirit across this great land. We see His hand, thwarting the tyrant king Charles who would bring false doctrines to us with one hand while robbing us blind with another. God anointed the men of Parliament – those brave enough to take a stand in this historic moment to defy the crown – to stand for the people. God’s people. To be the voice of the oppressed. Salvation and healing have begun!”
His voice thundered and roared as he worked the crowd into a frenzy. He raised his hands toward heaven. People shouted support, and Mary heard multiple people begin clapping and stamping their feet.
“Praise the Lord!”
Hopkins lowered his arms and the room fell silent again.
“But it has only begun. There is still evil to confront. And that is why Parliament has commissioned me to bring relief to God’s children, to his suffering servants. There is still so much darkness in this country – so embedded and natural that we hardly even recognize it as evil. As Saint Paul tells us, even Lucifer masquerades as an angel of light!”
His voice kept climbing in both force and desperation.
“The wicked one envies the Lord! That’s why he was cast out of heaven – for the cardinal sin of wanting to be God! And what do the Scriptures tell us? One third of heaven followed after him! And so we must ask ourselves what else wanders this world with us? What is lurking in the shadows?”
He lowered his voice again, heavy with emotion.
“Satan and his fallen angels are never content. No. He sees the family of God and lusts to have his own children. His own people who will serve him.”
Hopkins took several steps forward, advancing on the crowd.
“Seeking whom he may devour!” he roared.
He came to a halt in the center of the stage, surveying the entire church.
“I am a humble servant of God. Sober. Vigilant. And I am here to rid our land of the scourge upon it. To expose the devil’s children who bring so much misery upon us. Witches. I have seen evil like you would never believe. Evil that I hope you never have to witness. By the grace of God I have been delivered through the valley of the shadow of death. The Lord has been my shepherd and my salvation time and time again through the deepest darkness.”
He began pacing again.
“Everyone thinks that the problem does not rest in their town. They think that they know each other. They think that they know themselves. But as the prophet says, the heart is desperately wicked, and who can know it? We cannot consider ourselves so privileged to be above the devil’s influence, to be beyond his reach.”
He stood on the stage.
“And there is evil in this town. I can feel it. I felt it as I approached. A daughter of the devil lives here. A witch.”
He let the gravity of what he said sink in. Mary felt completely unnerved, like she was watching a man have a nervous breakdown. Looking around, she saw everyone else was on the edge of their seats. What was going on?
“If she would come forward now, we will make her sentence swift and merciful. I cannot reprieve the punishment required, but I trust God will deal justly with her soul. Come forward now. Ask for mercy.”
Mary saw everyone looking around, eyeing each other.
“Come forth!” he shouted.
No one moved.