|A Scandalous Life: The Reputed Wife
|Now available from
A Scandalous Life: The Reputed Wife is
the second book in Jo Ann Butler's
compelling series about Herodias Long. Can
Herod and George Gardner make their
unofficial marriage work? And when Mary
Dyer introduces Herod to the Quakers,
Herod follows her heart all the way to the
whipping post in Boston.
Also available as a Kindle ebook at Amazon
Scroll down to try the first chapter:
A SCANDALOUS LIFE:
The Reputed Wife
By Jo Ann Butler
June - July 1647
HERODIAS GARDNER KNEW A WARNING when she saw one. For the second time in three years she
faced losing her home to flames, and she might not get another chance to ward off disaster. She would
probably lose her ocean view, but it was ruined already.
During Herod’s eight years in Rhode Island she dwelt on Newport’s southern fringe, and could not have been
more delighted. The town’s congested heart was far too noisy as boys and dogs herded sheep to the common,
roosters crowed from backyard dungheaps, and carts with ungreased wheels groaned along the narrow
streets. Some of the houses were packed so tightly that people passing by could look right into your windows!
In contrast, when Herod opened her own door, the ever-changing panorama usually brought a smile to her
face. Whether she was tending her growing family or her vegetable garden and orchard, Herod loved the
parade of seasons and the gaudy sunsets reflected in Narragansett Bay’s chilly blue water.
She also loved the seclusion of her little home. For many years, only a gently sloping pasture lay between
the Gardners’ house and the salt marsh stalked by graceful white egrets. However, Newport had blossomed
from the scattering of tents and huts that the sixteen-year old Herod saw when she arrived with her first
husband, John Hicks. Now the Gardners’ home was surrounded. As the new settlers cut reeds from the
southern bay’s marsh and foraged for fish and clams, Herod was saddened to watch her favorite crook-
necked birds flee to quieter waters.
The Lucar family now owned the lot next to the Gardners, where Herod had once lived. Though she
preferred the privacy she had once enjoyed, Herod didn’t mind a few people living nearby. However, that
morning Mark Lucar’s hogs broke through their fence to root in Herod’s garden.
When she heard the pigs’ satisfied grunts, Herod shouted out the open door at them, but they were too busy
grubbing up seedlings to flee. Herod’s two young sons were playing in the second room, so she flipped a
bench onto its side and dragged it in front of the kitchen hearth. ‘I’ll only be a moment,’ she thought,
praying that Benoni, an active lad who was not yet three, would stay in the storage room with his younger
Grabbing a twig broom, Herod dashed outdoors, brandishing her improvised weapon over her head and
howling like a madwoman. The half-dozen hogs sped home, tails in the air and scattering peavines in their
wake. Herod chased them to the fence. An eight-foot span of rails lay on the ground, and one of the posts
tilted like a loose tooth.
“Lucar – your damned pigs are in my garden again!” Herod yelled, but there was no response from her
neighbors. She straightened the post, stamped reinforcing dirt around its base, and put the rails back in
place. Her repair job was woefully flimsy, but she dared not work at it any longer. Benoni might already be
in the kitchen, pulling the bench away from the fire…
“Stay away from here!” she shouted at Mark Lucar’s swine, then heaved a clod of earth at them. They snorted
and ran off. “Eat your own garden,” Herod muttered.
Steeped in ill will, she glared at the second irritant in her life – another new neighbor. Though no houses
lay between the Gardners and Newport’s harbor, their property did not extend to the water’s edge. The
shoreline was reserved for businessmen.
There was now a boatyard blocking Herod’s view, but it was the least of that new yard’s annoyances. She
especially hated the assault on her ears while the men chipped ribs and keels into shape, then pegged
planks to them. Herod grumbled to George that they sounded like bewitched woodpeckers, but he merely
The smoke was even worse than the racket. Scrap wood fires burned from dawn to dusk as the builders
steamed their planks into shape, and roasted pine knots for tar. The westerly breeze sent fumes drifting over
Herod’s garden, and rank smoke filled her house and made her young sons cough.
She trotted anxiously back to the house, but her sons were safely in the second chamber. Henry had fallen
asleep on his quilt pallet, and the June warmth was making Benoni drowsy. He barely glanced up at his
mother from a fistful of wooden pegs whittled into crude human shapes. Herod stood her broom by the front
door, then paused to look down at the boatyard.
It had fallen unusually silent. As she watched, three shipwrights appeared with a yoked ox, dragging their
newest creation into the shallow water. The shallop – a craft which was small enough to row – did not have
its single mast stepped yet, but apparently it floated to the shipwrights’ satisfaction. Two of them began to
row it toward Newport. The third man led the ox up the road toward town.
With the crew gone, Herod beamed at the thought of the peaceful afternoon ahead of her. The boys could
have a quiet nap, and she needn’t wonder what to serve for supper. There was plenty of pot liquor and scraps
left from the stew they had eaten at midday. She would thicken the pottage with oats to serve the same meal
which many New Englanders ate in the evening.
Herod sat down with her sewing. Henry was toddling now, and Benoni’s simple gown was too tight. It was
time to put her oldest son in breeches and a shirt, and Henry would wear Benoni’s gown. She coughed to
clear her throat, threaded her needle, and set to work on the nearly-finished shirt.
A minute later Herod coughed again and rubbed her eyes. Then the hairs on her neck prickled. There was
a gauzy veil of smoke in the kitchen. Her fire was down to embers, barely enough to keep her pottage warm,
so where was it coming from? A lurch of fear made Herod’s stomach contract – had her thatch caught fire?
She dropped the shirt, kicking it aside in her haste. When she got to the door, Herod emitted a wordless cry
of horror. The breeze from the bay had freshened and smoke was streaming from the boatyard. A swirl of
wind revealed flames – a glowing band thirty feet wide and knee-high – driving uphill toward Herod’s home.
Last year the boatyard’s owner grew oats in the field between his shop and the lane. George let his cows and
sheep graze oat stubble to the ground, but the boatyard owner’s land was not fenced, so the stubble was left
ungrazed. A new crop of oats was sown among the dried stalks a month ago. The jade-green stems now
stood over a foot tall, so the flames had plenty of fuel. A mere thirty yards lay between the fire line and the
orchard in Herod’s front yard.
Herod closed the storage room’s door, then threw the heaviest chair against it. Benoni would have to shove it
aside to get into the kitchen. Her frantic eyes searched the room and spied a tow sack, empty save for duck
feathers she’d saved for their mattress. A bucket of water always stood by the hearth for emergencies, and
Herod upended it over the sack.
To keep her ankle-length skirt from catching fire, Herod reached back between her knees, pulled the hem
forward, and tucked it into her waistband. The wooden clogs she wore on muddy days stood near the door,
and she slipped her bare feet into them. Then she ran outside with the dripping tow sack. She grabbed the
twig broom in her other hand and dropped it by the gate.
The smoke was thicker now, so Herod guided herself to the fire line by the crackle and hiss of the greedy
flames. “Fire, help!” she shrieked, but then the smoke made her cough too hard for speech. Instead she
thought, ‘Please God, spare my boys.’ Then she smashed the wet sack into the flames at her feet again and
again, advancing a pace each time.
Herod glanced over her shoulder. The flames behind her had weakened as they met a thin patch of stubble.
If they reached the dirt road, sparks might fly across to set the Gardners’ hayfield alight, but the wind would
drive it away from her home. It was the flames ahead of Herod that were the enemy. If they crossed the road,
the breeze would send them through the grassy apple orchard straight toward Herod’s home – and her sons.
Herod screamed for help again, but her throat spasmed and she could barely hear her cry over the flames’
crackle. Her smoldering tow sack would soon be alight, but her broom was at hand. Only fifteen feet to the
road now, but the flames were still weak on the southern end of the fire line. She concentrated on the
center, swinging her now-flaming sack down onto the burning stubble as quickly as she could.
Ten feet to go until the fire reached the lane, but a frantic glance assured Herod that sparks hadn’t crossed
the narrow road yet. ‘I won’t let you,’ she thought furiously, ‘Not again! John Hicks, God rot his black heart,
burned me out of my home. I won’t let it happen again.’
Then she saw movement – a shirtless man in dark breeches was slamming an iron-edged spade into the
flames on the southern end of the line, then tossing loose dirt over the embers. Through a thin spot in the
smoke Herod recognized Mark Lucar’s stocky build. With a hasty prayer, ‘Thank you, God,’ she turned to
work her way north again.
A jerk on Herod’s arm sent her staggering away from the flames. It was George, breathing hard and red-
faced. He snatched the sack away from her, crying, “You are on fire – get out of here!”
Herod ran toward the road, looking down at her skirt. No flames there, but her clogs were smoking. With
that sight, Herod’s feet suddenly felt uncomfortably hot. Charred holes pitted the sleeves of her white cotton
shift, but her linsey-woolsey bodice looked intact. Herod retreated to the dirt road and scuffed her clogs in
the dust. Then she picked up her broom to beat out sparks crawling through the weedy strip under the
George had tossed aside the tow sack, now burned half away, and was fighting the fire with a hay rake. Bob
Stanton, who lived next to the Gardners, was battling the northern end of the fire line. Attracted by the
smoke, a couple of President Coggeshall’s servants were trotting up the lane to join them.
Sparks were still skittering across the road on the wind, and Herod attacked them with savage glee. The fire
was licked, and her sons and home were safe. When one of Coggeshall’s gangly bondservants took her
broom to finish off the spot fires, she jogged up to the house to check on her sons. Now she felt a burst of
gratitude that her neighbors lived so close at hand, and Herod figured that she would never curse Mark
Lucar and his hogs again.
With the fire out, the Gardners shared a common thought – they would move away from that boatyard as soon
as possible. After supper, Herod nursed Henry, then laid the baby down to sleep. Benoni played with George’
s hound pups, dragging the charred tow sack for them to chase and tug. Herod sent him into the second
room so he wouldn’t wake his brother.
Grateful that the boys were settled peacefully at last, Herod let out a deep sigh. Standing behind her, George
wrapped her in a hug and she turned to kiss him. Though she overtopped most women in Newport, she still
had to look up into George’s blue eyes. Her arms tightened around his waist. “I’ve an idea.”
“Me too.” George rubbed her shoulders, then pushed her linen cap back to finger her braided chestnut hair.
He murmured, “Something to pass our time when both boys are asleep.”
Smiling, Herod said, “Later for that. We should build anew.”
“A new what?”
“A new house. We’ve barely room for the four of us, and more on the way.”
George gasped. “Another?”
Herod laughed, “Not yet, but I’m barely twenty-four and I doubt that God means to strike me barren. There
will be more, soon enough. Besides, the boatyard is not our only problem here. The garden is too damp and
the wind is so harsh in winter.”
“We could build further uphill, where ’tis drier.” George stroked Herod’s shoulders, then his fingers slipped
She squirmed away. “I thought to build elsewhere.”
George’s tender smile vanished. “Clear all that land for house and garden? You know not what you ask.”
“Don’t I? John Hicks and I cleared our Weymouth land. And remember the house that John burned the
night he took our children? I had a hand in building it, and though I was big with child, I helped when you
and John put this house up too.”
“So you did,” George chuckled.
“We’ve been gardening here nigh ten years and the soil is playing out. Lucar’s hogs rooted up my peas
today, and even before the fire we were choking half the time from that smoke,” Herod nodded toward the
boatyard. “Let’s build at the farm!”
Like all Newport residents, George had been granted several parcels of land. He and Herod lived on a four-
acre house lot, but raised most of their corn and kept a modest flock of sheep on a much larger plot a half-
mile southward. “What say you?” she asked.
George scratched at his closely trimmed beard as he nodded. “Not a bad idea. There’s more timber there so I’
ll not have to haul wood, and I can keep a closer eye on the sheep. If I start cutting now, I should get the
frame up before harvest.”
“We could use these planks,” Herod tapped the wall beside their bed. “They are sound, so no need to saw
more. Keep the garden and orchard –”
“Or sell it all to a newcomer. We could get a pretty price for a home and fruit trees already bearing.” George
reached for Herod’s shoulder again. “What say you to picking a spot tomorrow?”
Though the Gardners found a site which suited them both, it would take months to build a new house. Their
thatch roof had been leaking ever since spring thaw, but George had ignored Herod’s grumbles. When it
rained, she placed a bucket in the middle of the main room to catch the drips. Drops plunking into it
irritated her, but day after day George circled the wooden container as though it wasn’t there. When a new
leak developed over the family’s bed in July, George finally conceded that it was time to act.
Herod took their sons outside while George crawled onto the roof to remove the reed thatch. When he neared
the ridgeline, one of the supporting poles sagged, then cracked like a musket shot as it broke under his
weight. George yelled as he fell through the thatch.
With a scream, Herod ran into the house. Planks pegged to the rafters formed a storage loft over half of the
main room, and though George had landed near the edge, he was safe. His head and shoulders still
protruded through the gaping thatch. He squatted and called down to her, “Look at that! The blasted pole
split near in two.”
“Are you hurt?”
“Not at all. Good thing I was at work here, not by the chimney.” There, George would have dropped ten feet
to the cobblestone hearth. He reached into his loose-necked shirt and pulled out a handful of thatch. Herod
smiled, partly because more reeds were stuck haphazardly in his hair, but also in relief that George was safe.
“Will the roof fall?” she asked, peering at the tattered thatch. A clump of moldering reeds the size of her head
thudded to the floor.
“I’ll pull down the loose stuff. With bracing, the poles should be safe enough.” But after a more thorough
look George told her, “All done and safe, but other poles are rotted too. I must replace it all. After the work I
did on your house, your husband couldn’t find time to help finish mine. I used poles I could handle myself,
but never thought them hefty enough.”
“John Hicks had no time for work not to his benefit,” Herod scoffed. But then she thought about the
shipwrights’ fire earlier that year. Her mother often said that trouble comes in threes, but Herod could think
of no other event that qualified. What was going to happen next?
|cover design by JoAnn Butler;
photo features Kristen and
Ryann Seal; taken by Rob