He addressed John.
“Have you ever directly observed your wife communing with the devil or participating in the sin of witchcraft?”
John shook his head. “No,” he said, his voice quiet.
“Have you noticed anything strange? Something unbefitting a woman of God?” Hopkins asked.
“We have our quarrels, but … I would never suspect …”
“Please, I know this will be hard. None of us wants to believe ill of someone we once trusted,” Hopkins interrupted, then softened his voice. “Have you suffered an excessive degree of ill-fortune?”
“I … we lost our business,” John answered.
“Did she and your family get along?”
“My parents passed away years ago,” he said.
“But what was their relationship like?”
“There was always tension.”
John took a deep breath and looked over at Mary.
“They didn’t want me to marry her. They always considered her flighty, her head in the clouds. They didn’t think she’d be responsible as a mother.”
“Do you have children?”
“God has never blessed us with children. At least not yet.”
“But do you and Mary want children.”
“I used to – and we tried,” John said. He dropped his eyes to the floor, embarrassed.
“This is ridiculous – you’re only humiliating these poor people on an unjustified …” Vicar Price began, but Hopkins raised his voice over him.
“Restrain yourself! You will have your turn! Trust that I take no pleasure in this. I only ask these questions from years of experience, years you know nothing of!”
Hopkins turned and walked the stage, fuming. After a few moments, he raised his voice again.
“Children are always a gift from the Lord, so when He withholds His favor, there is a reason! Barrenness does not mean one is a witch, but all witches are barren – because God cannot bless a witch. They cannot have offspring of their own, thus they steal children in the night. Some to eat. Others to raise as their own. One witch confessed to kidnapping a brother and sister, and feeding the brother to the sister,” Hopkins looked at John. “Have you had any children go missing in your town yet?”
“None that I am aware of,” John answered.
“Then I have arrived just in time,” Hopkins said, refocusing on John. “So you have suffered the loss of your family, born no family of your own, and endured the loss of your business. Has Mary supported you in all this, as a godly woman should?”
“She has picked up work around town, working for the church,” John said.
“And this accounts for all her time?”
“She likes to spend time in the woods.”
John had said it innocently enough, but Hopkins immediately tensed, his attention at high alert. Everyone held their breath.
“And what does she do in the woods?” Hopkins asked.
“I … I don’t know. She just likes to take walks, I assumed.”
“I see,” Hopkins said, beginning to pace the stage again. He turned to John again.
“Now I need you to be deeply honest,” Hopkins said, “Have you ever directly disobeyed God yourself, to merit such suffering and loss?”
“I am a man of flaws, a sinner who relies on His grace. But I have never blasphemed God.”
“And yet you find yourself living as a man cursed,” Hopkins said with finality.
The crowd began to whisper.
“Thank you, sir. Your answers have been helpful.”
He turned his attention to Abigail.
“And you, Abigail – you also know Mary?”
“We grew up together,” Abigail said, her face pale. Hopkins studied her.
“Have you ever directly observed Mary communing with the devil or otherwise engaged in witchcraft?” he asked.
“You’ve never overheard her talking to evil spirits?”
“She’s … she’s always been a little flighty. She talks to herself sometimes, getting lost in stories. But there was never …”
“She talks to no one in particular?”
“Well – sometimes … but I never thought …”
She fell silent as Hopkins raised his hand.
“Is there anything that’s made you uncomfortable – anything in Mary that would be at odds with the virtuous life you lead as both a mother and a wife?”
“Mary’s … always talked of other places. She’s always wanted to be things other than what life is, like she doesn’t want to be here.”
“What do you mean?”
“She always wanted to go other places, to go to the coast.”
“Have you ever heard her speak ill of her husband?”
“Well, we all have our moments.”
“But – her specifically.”
Abigail held her breath, agonizing over her words.
“I know that she and John have been having trouble,” she said.
“What kind of trouble?”
“One time she shared she regretted marrying him.”
The crowd began to mutter among themselves. Hopkins motioned for silence, then turned his attention back to Abigail.
“That’s as bad as divorce – which God explicitly tells us is an abomination to him, leading to adultery and all other forms of sin …”
He let the suggestion hang in the air. He stared at her, then asked one final question.
“Do you know what she does in the woods?”
“I assume she reads or takes walks, just like she did when she was a child.”
“She’s done this since youth?”
“Yes,” Abigail answered.
“Thank you for your bravery in sharing these truths.”