|A Scandalous Life: REBEL PURITAN
|Now published by Neverest
A Scandalous Life: Rebel PuritAn is the
first book in a compelling new series about
Herodias Long. This meticulously researched
story follows Herod through her tumultuous
marriage to John Hicks.
Scroll down to try the first chapter:
A SCANDALOUS LIFE:
By Jo Ann Butler
IN LATER YEARS, WHEN HERODIAS Long looked back over her life, some of her most treasured memories
were of the spring when she turned twelve. That same season was also the most horrific of her life, and she
remembered those days all too well. They began so innocently …
On the evening before the May Day fair at Cullompton, Herodias ran up to her bedchamber early, for the
cart ride to the fair would begin long before daybreak. However, sleep eluded the excited girl, so when she
heard her parents talking in their own bedroom below, she crawled out from under her tangled bedclothes
to sit on the top step. Their voices echoed up the chimney shared by the kitchen and their chamber, so
Herodias leaned her head against the warm stones and eavesdropped shamelessly.
“We need salt – there’s barely enough for another week. Sugar and pepper are low, and my clothes are
falling in shreds. I’ll cut them down for Herod, but I need a new skirt.”
“Kate, remember what we got for our fleece last fall? Almost naught, and we’ve only a few pennies left. The
butter and spring lambs will fetch enough brass for salt and sugar, but Jimmy’s grown out of his shoes.
After I buy them, I may not have a ribbon’s worth to spare.”
Katherine said sharply, “I’m not speaking of ribbons and fripperies. Without a new skirt I’ll be walking to
Sunday meeting with my arse showing.”
“There’s little I can do,” pleaded Herodias’ father. “Prices will come up when the Dutch buy our wool
again. King James near ruined us when he tried to corner the trade. None of the mainland countries will
buy English cloth now, just to spite us.”
“I know, Nicholas, but Granddad earned enough to add the upstairs rooms, ran thrice the sheep that we do,
and left us this place for my dowry.” Katherine’s first few words were shaky, but then her voice hardened.
“Now the roof leaks, we can’t afford a thatcher to keep the boys dry in bed, and we owe rent. I assume you’ll
hire hands for shearing.”
“Can’t shear sheep alone. Would you rather let the land go and sell our flock?”
Herodias heard her mother sniffle. “I just wish the hard times would end.”
Will and Jimmy, the girl’s older brothers, were lounging downstairs by the kitchen fire. Herodias heard
eighteen-year old Will drawl, “They’ll end, soon as King Charles starts a war and needs wool for uniforms.
Like as not, he’ll drag Jim and me along for soldiers.”
Jimmy snickered, but Katherine was not amused. “Will, you can take that tongue right upstairs, and your
brother with you.”
“I’m going to check the barn.” Herodias heard the kitchen door close as Jimmy thumped up the steps.
When the stocky boy saw his sister perched on the top stair, he flipped his unruly black hair out of his eyes
and grinned. “Listening in, huh?”
“No more’n you,” she hissed quietly. The fifteen-year old sat on the step below his sister’s bare feet.
There was another silence, long enough that Herodias thought her parents were done talking. Then
Katherine said, “I wish you wouldn’t go.”
“We need the money.”
“But the plague’s about.” Katherine still talked fearfully about the Black Death in 1625, an outbreak of
bubonic plague which had killed half of her family, along with nearly seventy thousand other Englishmen.
Now it was spreading again. “They say hundreds are dead in London.”
“I heard that it’s come no closer than Portsmouth. We’ll be safe.”
“Safe,” Katherine repeated skeptically. “Perhaps. I hate to see you go, but we need so much.”
“And you are still set against coming?” Nicholas asked.
“I’m not chancing the plague in that crowd, and neither will Herod,” Katherine declared.
The girl’s mouth fell open as she drew an outraged breath. Jimmy pressed a warning finger to his lips and
nodded down the stairs. Herodias listened once more as her father said, “Will’s staying to care for the
stock. I’d leave Jimmy at home too, but I can’t handle the lambs without him. We won’t stay the night in
Cullompton, so if anyone’s plagued we won’t be near them long.”
Everyone believed that sick people were perilous company. Why, even the air that they exhaled caused
disease, and was carried from one person to the next by animals and witchcraft. Rats, their fleas, and the
fleabites that actually spread bubonic plague seemed to be just minor annoyances.
Their parents’ voices dropped too low to hear, so Herodias pulled her brother into the furthest corner of her
room. She whispered, “Aren’t you afraid of catching sick?”
Jimmy shrugged. “They said there wasn’t plague in Cullompton, so why worry?”
“Then I don’t see why I can’t go,” Herodias sniffed.
“Forget it – Mama’s set her mind.”
“Hah! I’ll talk to Papa.”
When Herodias awoke, a menacing tapestry of amber goblin-shapes appeared before her sleepy eyes. She
smiled anyway. It was just the glow from the kitchen fire, creeping upstairs to paint the rough stone walls
of her windowless bedchamber. The girl wriggled deeper under her quilts, then her mother called,
“Yes, Mama,” she answered, stretching until her joints cracked. She heard the kitchen door creak as it
opened, then her father and brothers came in, discussing a sickly calf. With the livestock fed, the men
were ready for their own breakfast.
Then, in a rush, the girl remembered what she had heard last evening and her eyes popped open, just as
her mother shouted again, “Herodias Long, get down here now!”
“I’m coming,” she shouted, then stuck out her tongue toward the stairwell and threw back the covers. Icy
air washed over her bare skin and she gasped as gooseflesh stippled her body. Hastily she pulled on her
shift and skirt, tightening her bodice laces as she bounded down the dark, familiar stairs.
Her mother stood by the fireplace, bending over a blackened kettle. “You know your father wants an early
start for the fair,” she grumbled. “Twelve years old, and can’t get yourself out of bed. When I was half your
age, I made breakfast every morning.”
Bare feet stinging from the chilly flagstones, Herodias darted across the low-ceilinged kitchen and
squeezed between her mother and Jimmy, elbowing her brother to make space for herself by the fire.
Jimmy sneered, “Sleeping late, Horrid?” When he returned her nudge, his hand was icy, for he’d been out
in the barn since before first light.
Katherine gave her daughter a long-handled spoon and nodded at a kettle hanging over the fire. The girl
glared at the meal in disgust. No bacon again, just heavy, tasteless oat porridge. “Stop your dreaming and
stir the pot,” her mother ordered. Herodias angrily stabbed her spoon into the thick mass.
The older woman twisted her coarse black hair into a gray-threaded knot, took a frayed linen cap from the
mantel and put it on. Fifty years of harsh weather and hard work had etched a wrinkled map of discontent
across Katherine Long’s face, and there were dark circles under her eyes that morning.
She set a stack of wooden trenchers on the table, then handed one to her daughter, saying, “Mind your
work today. Skip your chores and you’ll have the Devil to pay.”
Herodias dropped a careless spoonful into the shallow bowl and a stray blob of porridge hissed in the fire.
She rapped the trencher onto the table hard enough to earn a glare from Katherine, then her father
appeared at his bedchamber door, fastening the bone buttons on his jerkin.
“Papa!” Herodias dropped the spoon. When she threw her arms around Nicholas’ neck and kissed his
cheek, his graying, close-trimmed beard prickled her lips. Somehow, the same elements that gave his wife
a permanent scowl had crinkled Nicholas’ face with laugh lines.
The tall, lean man stroked the girl’s tangled copper-colored hair as he said, “I have unhappy news.”
The girl had decided to feign innocence, but her heart sank anyway. “We’re going to the fair, aren’t we?”
“Lamb, I’m only taking Jim.”
“Why?” Herodias whined. “You said I’d go too,” she added as she pulled away from her father.
“I’m taking the small cart, so there’s no room for three of us. We’ll all go to the St. Simon’s fair in the fall,
and won’t we have fun?”
Herodias’ lip quivered and her gray eyes flooded with tears. “But why?” she repeated.
“Because he said so,” Katherine snapped. Herodias’ wrath focused on her mother, and she forgot all about
the plague lurking in Cullompton.
Smiling sadly, her father said, “I’m sorry. Mind your Mama while we’re gone and I’ll bring you a present.”
The girl asked, “What present?” but Katherine’s voice was louder. “I’d like to see the day she minds me.”
“Herod knows you need her, and she’s fine help.”
“If you watch her every second so she doesn’t sneak off,” Katherine scoffed. “I can’t put a stop to it, since
you let her get away with whatever she likes.”
“Lamb, you’ll do as your mother says, won’t you?”
Herodias looked at her toes as she muttered, “Aye, Papa,” but behind her back, her fingers were crossed.
Dawn had come and gone before Herodias' father was ready to leave. As Herodias and her mother watched
from the yard, Nicholas and Jimmy hitched the yoked oxen to the cart. Its bed was already filled with
bawling lambs. Jimmy leapt to the seat, then Nicholas kissed his wife and daughter, then climbed up to sit
by his son. The sullen girl retreated to the barn door, smirking as the men squeezed together on the
‘Jimmy looks just like that black ox,’ she thought. The brawny boy’s hair and eyes were dark like Katherine’
s, but his placid disposition and sly wit were more akin to his father’s. Will, Herodias, and Nicholas were
all tall and slim, and at fifty-five, Nicholas still had gold in his hair.
Touching the oxen with a willow rod, Jimmy said, “Get up.” The team leaned into the yoke and the cart
creaked as it crossed the muddy yard, then groaned up the slight hill to the lane. Nicholas waved as they
turned onto the Burlescombe road.
Still furious about missing the fair, Herodias had barely said goodbye to her father. As the cart rolled away
Katherine turned to her daughter, but the girl was already gone. While her mother was still watching her
husband leave, Herodias had slipped between the fence rails into the pasture. Then, holding her skirt
high, she fled downhill. An angry call from her mother only sped her along.
Out of sight for good, she pulled off her linen cap and jammed it into her waistband. Katherine had told the
girl to keep her hair modestly hidden, “now that you’re older,” but Herodias loved to feel the waist-length
locks flowing over her shoulders. She shook them free from their confining braid, then spun around, arms
flung wide and face to the sky, until she was as giddy as if she’d drunk a couple mugs of hard cider.
‘I’m sick of chores,’ she grumbled to herself. ‘Will and Jimmy are out every day. Why should I stay home
all the time?’ Like all farm girls, Herodias was given her first tasks when she was only two. As she grew, so
did her share of work. Now that Katherine was feeling a life of hard labor, she passed more chores to her
daughter, but each extra task seared the girl with resentment. She grimaced, thinking, ‘Mama will devil
me when I get back, but I don’t care. That’s what she gets for keeping me from the fair.’
Herodias savored the view while she caught her breath. The Longs’ farm lay high in Devonshire’s
Blackdown Hills and the land fell away below her to a shallow, tree-edged brook, then swept up again on
the far side. She could see down the valley, a green patchwork stitched with hedges and walls, all the way
to Burlescombe’s church tower. Beyond the tower was the treeline that marked the River Culm. A pair of
ravens soared over the girl’s head, calling hoarsely to each other. Herodias spread her arms and wished
she were one of those ravens, soaring downriver to the Cullompton fair.
The girl followed a dew-spangled hedge to the pasture’s bottom, then strolled among gnarled oak trees
shading the creek. After a drink Herodias crossed the water, bare feet cautious on the mossy stepping-
stones. On the far side lay another pasture surrounded by ancient rock walls. Ignoring the gate, she
scaled the wall, then straddled it. Contentedly she flicked bits of lichen from the sun-toasted stones.
Sheep straggled across the hillside above her like lumpy clouds, and Herodias’ eyes followed a sheepdog
circling the flock. Then she saw Will, his wiry body waist-deep in scratchy brush, replacing rocks fallen
from the wall.
Seeing Will at work reminded Herodias of her own chores and her happiness seeped away. Milking was
her daily task, but she’d run off before it was done. ‘Mama’s baking, and that puts her in such a mood.’
Herodias groaned aloud at the thought. ‘If she milks too, she’ll be twice as mad.’ A cow bellowed in the
distance, another reminder of work neglected. She reluctantly climbed down and trudged back home,
promising herself that as soon as she could, she’d steal away again.
The yard was empty when Herodias hurried to the barn. If she stayed out of sight long enough, she hoped
her mother’s wrath would fade. When the girl looked inside the stone building, she winced. Six bony-
hipped cows stood there, jostling each other as they chewed their cuds. In the buttery she found milk
buckets, already filled. Last night’s milk stood in shallow basins, the floating cream ready to churn into
butter. Scowling, Herodias flicked a hair from one pan. It took an hour to milk – plenty of time for her
mother to work herself into real fury.
The cows went out to pasture eagerly, leaving Herodias staring glumly at the dirt floor, which was thickly
splattered with greenish dung. ‘She left them in just to make more work,’ the girl complained to herself as
she scraped up the mess and tossed it outside.
When necessary, Herodias could work quickly. The main floor was clean and she’d begun on the milking
stall when something blocked the light from the open door. She squinted at the figure, hoping it was Will.
To her dismay, her mother snapped, “There you are. Where have you been, and I want no tales.” Katherine
stepped into the barn, dusting flour from her hands.
“Something was thrashing in the hedge where Papa set the fox trap. I thought it was one of the cats.”
Katherine silenced her daughter with a slap. “I’m weary of your lies and laziness. I told your father that
bonding you out would do you good, but everyone here knows you for a sly fox. Who would want you? I
hear they’ll take any slut in Virginia. You’d earn your keep there, or starve. Mend your ways, girl,”
Katherine concluded, then stalked out of the barn.
Herodias stared after her mother as a single tear trickled down her cheek. Katherine was quick to anger,
so a slap from her was no surprise. The threat to bond the girl out was both new and terrifying. Some of
her friends had been sent away, never to be seen again.
The few bondservants she’d met were a wretched lot. They worked as hard as any slave, and could be
whipped if they ran away. When their seven-year service ended, they were paid but a pittance. Being sent
to Virginia was even worse. Tales of famine and death came from the colony across the sea.
With her thoughts racing, the girl turned to the buttery where she scooped up the risen cream and dumped
it into a churn. The skimmed milk went to the pigs, fattening them for winter’s salt pork.
Gaunt cats twined around her ankles, meowing plaintively. Her mother said that hungry cats were better
hunters, but even in her dismay, Herodias couldn’t resist giving them a bit of milk for a treat.
After dumping the morning’s milk into the settling basins, she churned cream into butter. As she worked,
Herodias planned her strategy. ‘I’ll apologize to Mama if she’ll hear me. If I can get to Papa first, I’ll tell him
I’m sorry and it won’t happen ever again. That’s the last we’ll hear of sending me away.’ It all seemed so
|A Scandalous Life: REBEL PURITAN