Mary is going to hang at dusk.
Vicar Price stumbled around the empty parsonage. He couldn’t eat. He couldn’t sit. He couldn’t even change out of his blood-stained shirt. Everything felt wrong.
The sky was still overcast and the chill in the air had stayed in Vicar Price’s bones no matter how long he had stood in front of the fire. The fire didn’t warm him anymore, and he knew that it never would. Not this fire. Not in this parsonage. Not in this town.
He paced the floor, as Hopkins had just two nights before, struggling to understand what had changed. He had come home to a place that was no long his home, to a hearth that could not warm him. He looked around at his books, at everything he had built.
It all felt stale.
His body ached, but it was his soul that had been wounded. He remembered how helpless he felt as Richard had struck him. He remembered how helpless he had felt as Hopkins had taken Mary away.
Is that all I will ever be?
A weight had settled on him as his whole life came into view as if it were a stranger’s. He knew today was going to define him the rest of his life, and not a day was ever going to pass without him thinking about this moment now, however it turned out. His spirit trembled, afraid that it was already too late. What if he was unable to change anything outside of himself because he could never change anything inside of himself?
Maybe Richard was right. Maybe he wasn’t a good person, just someone who worried while still turning away.
He began to realize that for his whole life he had walked paths that had been blazed by others. Now there was no path for where he wanted to go. All the paths prepared for him led him away from this moment, away from this reckoning with himself.
Away from Mary.
He thought about all the time he spent training – the days of his youth he spent studying, dreaming of serving God, of building a life blessed and full. And he had done it. He did everything he was supposed to. Everyone approved and admired what he accomplished working for the church.
Everything had been going to plan just as he expected – as if his life had been a prophetic vision that God had revealed to him. All he had to do was go along with it.
And he did, until he met Mary.
Mary was the first person Vicar Price had ever changed the plan for.
He could have been promoted, served in other parishes, even returned full time to London. But he hadn’t chased those things. She had started something that had changed him.
How did I change? He had felt it, but never named it.
Now the answer came with the force of divine revelation. He had made a decision for himself purely because he wanted to – no plan, no counsel, no commandments. He had decided to stay. Two years became five, then five years became ten.
He didn’t know the world could be so different because of one person. He didn’t know the world could be so beautiful. The world was richer because of her, and his heart had been made richer by the thought of her.
And he would never be able to pretend it hadn’t been, nor would he ever forgive himself if he let it become poorer for the loss of her. Even if they were never together – he had to know that she was somewhere in the world. Somewhere flourishing.
On whose authority? Hopkins had asked.
There was no authority Vicar Price could appeal to now. No one was on his side. No one would help.
It was only him.
On whose authority? The words echoed in his head.
The thought had been as loud to him as if someone had shouted it.
He felt like he was meeting himself for the first time. How had he been so docile? Everything inside of him felt like it was on fire. The whole world was burning, and he couldn’t save anyone from it.
Then he had a thought. A terrible thought. He turned it over and over. Looking outside, he saw the light fading. There was no more time.
He knew in the next few minutes he was going to unravel all the years he’d spent building the life he had now.
On whose authority?
He would start his own fire.
He grabbed a bag, and walked quickly around the parsonage, filling it with various items. He kept it light, it couldn’t be too heavy.
Then he walked over to his bookshelf. He pulled out a book, walked over to the fire and held half it over the flame until he saw it ignite.
Then he went and put it back on the shelf, and left as other books caught light.