“But don’t you want to save your wife?” Vicar Price asked, his throat tightening as he read the answer on John’s face before any words were spoken.
He stood across the table from John, staring down at him, then turned away.
He looked around their house. This was her home. This was where she lived. The home was sparse but it still carried her warmth – as if it didn’t know she was gone yet. His heart ached at the thought of it growing cold.
“Vicar, look, I respect you and the Lord knows how grateful I am for you to give Mary the opportunities you did,” John said. “The extra money helped us through some very hard times. But Hopkins … what he said about why we might be having the hard times to begin with …”
“Mary is no witch, surely you can’t have doubt about that,” Vicar Price interjected.
John wouldn’t meet his eyes. He watched John search for words, but he sensed the struggle was superficial. The more he pressed John to help him approach Hopkins and make an appeal, the more John insisted to leave things as they were. From the moment he had walked in this morning he had been disgusted. John’s face looked refreshed, and Vicar Price recoiled at the idea that John had slept peacefully while Mary sat alone in the jail.
“John … she’s your wife. You know she’s not a witch. You two love each other…”
For the first time since they started talking, John’s eyes filled with emotion and finally met his own.
“You haven’t lived here all these years. You don’t know her, and honestly I never did either.”
Vicar Price wanted to strike him, he had never felt this kind of fury before and was unprepared when he suddenly felt himself overcome with it. He took a deep breath and looked around the house again, looking at anything except John.
“Surely you don’t really think she’s guilty,” Vicar Price said.
“I don’t know what to think anymore. I’m trusting God. Hopkins knows these things better than any of us.”
Vicar Price shook his head and walked to the door to leave. He turned back, looking around at her home, then fixed his gaze on John.
“You want her to die,” he said.
John erupted from his seat. He threw a bowl from the table and shattered it against the wall.
“That’s not true! All I want is justice! All I want is for God’s will to be done and bring all this suffering to an end!”
“And sacrificing Mary will do that?” Vicar Price said, meeting John’s anger with his own.
They stared at each other, and to Vicar Price’s surprise John took his seat again.
“All I can do is trust God’s will to be done,” John said, then smiled.
“No luck?” Richard asked as Vicar Price walked back outside.
He shook his head then looked around at the few flowers that were growing in front of Mary’s house. He imagined how she had taken care of these and cultivated their beauty. These were hers, echoes of her spirit.
“I’ve never wanted to hurt a man before,” Vicar Price said, turning to walk up the street. Richard followed after.
“You’re better for it,” Richard said.
“No. We’re not going to win by meeting hate with hate,” Vicar Price said.
The sun shone down on them. A slight breeze hinted at fall, but the air was still full of the smell of summer. It was a beautiful day, but Vicar Price felt fully divorced from it.
“Don’t confuse love and hate just because they look like each other,” Richard said, “They’re brothers, Cain and Abel…”
“Well right now I feel like Cain,” Vicar Price said, “And it feels ugly.”
“Do you think Hopkins feels like that?” Richard asked. “John? Any of these people?”
Vicar Price looked at the faces of everyone he passed as they walked into town. Besides how everyone diverted their eyes from him, they all seemed happier. A weight had been lifted. He could see it in their countenance and how they carried themselves. He heard it in their voices as they greeted each other. An extra energy in their walk. An extra levity in their laughter.
It was a beautiful day.
“It’s like she never existed,” he said, heartbroken.
“When you no longer belong, they don’t mourn your passing,” Richard said, “I know the feeling.”
Vicar Price stopped, so overwhelmed he didn’t want to take another step.
“What now?” Richard asked.
He thought for a few moments, running his hand through his hair.
“I want to see her, and see if she needs anything. We can talk to the constable. Perhaps he’s come to his senses and can enforce due process in spite of Hopkins.”
He started for the jail, then turned to see Richard standing still.
“You’re playing by the rules of a game Hopkins has already won,” Richard said.
“What else would you have me do?” Vicar Price asked. He was exasperated and could feel the anger inside boiling up again.
Richard looked around at the people walking around town.
“Do you think these are good people?” Richard asked.
“They’re just confused.”
Richard turned to him, his face stern.
“Mary is going to die, Vicar.”
Vicar Price felt sick.
“Why do you say that?” he asked.
“If you can’t see what people are even after they tossed her away like they did, what chance does she have?”
They stood still. Vicar Price looked around the town, frustrated as he digested Richard’s words.
“I believe most people are good,” he said after several moments. “This isn’t them – it’s Hopkins.”
“These are not good people – but most people are neither good nor evil. They just follow. Only a handful of people are interesting. The ones that make things happen. The doers. And regardless whether they do good or evil – both look remarkably similar – both shake the world up. Cain and Abel – brothers. There’s a family resemblance people can’t distinguish between.”
“They can still come to their senses and see the difference between right and wrong,” Vicar Price protested. “Even Hopkins. Surely he has to see with how much people have been suffering that …”
“You know what? Cain was always the more popular one, and no one ever stopped him.”
Vicar Price met Richard’s cold and piercing gaze.
“But this isn’t a battle between Cain and Abel,” Richard shrugged, then nodded toward the rest of the town. “You’re one of them. You just worry a little more.”
Vicar Price stepped toward Richard, upset.
“Then why are you helping me at all?”
Richard stared him down.
“Mary is one of the interesting people.”
Vicar Price fell silent.
“She is,” he agreed.