“Very well,” he said. He turned around and walked back into the room, then re-emerged with two large parchments.
“On these two pieces of parchment holy scriptures have been transcribed,” Hopkins announced.
He held them up for all to see. Mary squinted, but couldn’t make out any of the text.
“Each parchment bears the very words of god. They are holy. Incorruptible. Everlasting. And we ask that he would speak to us now. My companions will write the name of the witch on these parchments – guided by the Spirit of God Almighty. Bear in mind I have not met any of you nor know any of your names except that of your most obedient vicar. God, hear our prayer!”
He stepped back, laying a parchment on the ground on either side of him. The two women took several steps forward and began swaying and chanting, their voices were shrill and crackled like fire spitting on a fresh log.
God in heaven
Hear our prayer
Guide our hands
For truth to bear
You shed your blood
That we may live
Now we in turn
Our blood, we give
Let the evil
Be found out
Embolden our faith
Beyond all doubt
Their movements became erratic and their voices heightened until their words became unintelligible.
Hopkins began to shout, “God bear our prayer!”
He turned toward the crowd and continued to shout it, beckoning them to join. Gradually the voices of the townspeople lifted as one mighty chorus calling out to God. They all stood. Mary stood with them, mouthing the words, but hating every moment.
She watched as the two old women on stage each pulled out a sharp metal quill from their garments, and in a frenzy each began running their quill along their bare arms. Their skin began to crack and bleed. One began to scream and ferociously tore the quill across her skin one last time, then fell on all fours to write on the parchment. The other woman shrieked and did the same. Then they remained bowed as they lifted the parchments into the air.
Hopkins fell silent, as well as the rest of the townspeople. He motioned for them to sit.
Mary felt nauseous as she sat back down. The theatrics of this entire exhibition were overwhelming, and she didn’t know how to put what she felt into coherent thought. A weighted darkness had settled into her mind, a dread so much more powerful and commanding than the night before.
Matthew Hopkins walked forward, taking each parchment into his hands. He nodded to the women, who stood, and went back to stand on either side of the door. He stood quietly, reading what had been written, then lifted the parchments into the air for all to see.
“What does it say?” someone asked. “I can’t read.”
But Mary could read.
Hopkins raised his voice.
“No!’ she heard Vicar Price yell.
“You will have your chance to speak, vicar.” Hopkins said. “Mary Cabell, if you are present – come forward.”
Mary stood. Hopkins immediately locked eyes with her.
““Come forward now to plead your case!” Hopkins yelled.
She stood still.
“Come!” he roared.
She walked forward, unsure why she was moving at all. She could feel the heat of everyone staring at her. Nothing seemed real.
Hopkins spoke as she approached.
“You all must understand that to deal with the devil is crimen exceptum, a blasphemy so heinous that all normal legal procedure must be superseded.”
He turned toward Mary, now standing on the stage.
“How do you respond to this charge?”
“I … I deny it.”
Hopkins studied her.
“Do you have others who would deny it as well? Others who can defend you?”
“Why – everyone in this town. We all know each other.”
“Please call forward your witnesses then. You are allowed three.”
She was dumbstruck. She didn’t understand what was happening.
“Do you have a husband?” he asked.
“Would her husband please come forward?”
There was murmuring in the back but she saw John begin to slowly make his way forward.
“Would any woman come to your side?” he asked Mary.
Mary stood, petrified. She looked around for compassion in anyone’s eyes but found only fear. She turned to look for Vicar Price, and saw him already approaching the stage.
“Enough of this!” Vicar Price shouted.
“Be seated, Vicar!” Hopkins shouted.
“I will do no such thing! I can vouch for her character – she is no witch!”
Silence hung in the air. Hopkins stepped toward the Vicar, never breaking his gaze on him.
“Very well, you can stand as witness,” he said. He turned to look at the rest of the people. “We need one more. Would anyone else come forward to give an account?”
No one moved. Mary looked at several of her friends, all of them petrified in their seats, their eyes wide. She turned to Abigail, who was hiding behind her husband.
Hopkins turned to John. “Does she have any friends?”
John stuttered. Mary could tell he was scared too.
“I know that her and Abigail had been close.”
The crowd murmured, and after a few moments Abigail’s husband stood up.
“Sir, my wife is no witch. Any association to Mary was strictly a childhood relation. Abigail stays home with our children – a virtuous and capable mother, and a godly wife. I would not want her reputation to be corrupted …”
Hopkins interrupted him.
“She will be sufficient. And I can assure you that none coming onto this stage will be judged guilty by association. The wolves walk among us disguised as fellow sheep. Those of us who belong to the flock must not fear each other.”
He looked at Abigail.
“Come stand next to her husband.
Abigail slowly rose from her seat and made her way toward the front. When she arrived, Hopkins looked over all of them.
“Three to stand witness – a reflection of the holy Trinity.”