Goody Rebecca Scot wrapped her infant son in a thin blanket, secured him between her breasts, and stepped out into the bright, cool afternoon. She was eager to speak to the new minister and gain his favor before any of the others in the village had a chance to befriend him. He hadn’t spoken in church yesterday, as old Reverend Johnson had stubbornly stuck to his usual sermonizing after briefly introducing his new young associate.
Early October was crisp and dry in the Massachusetts colony, so Becca made quick work of the walk from her house to the newly built parsonage. After a letter arrived last year announcing the arrival of a new minister, the village had pulled together to build a cottage complete with a garden space for their new spiritual guide and his wife. The arrival of the very handsome, and very single, young Reverend Christian Mendax was a shock. Yet, Reverend Johnson was getting old, and the village could not be without a religious shepherd.
Becca stopped at the garden gate and debated what to do. The Right Reverend was stretched out in the sun like a lazy cat taking a nap. His skin seemed to glow in the afternoon light. His hands, folded across his stomach, clearly lacked the callouses born of labor. As she debated whether to wake him or return home, he opened one eye and smiled.
“Ah, the Goodwife Scot. Right on time.”
He rose to his feet and sauntered over to the gate.
“Please join me here in the garden. I know we have much to discuss.”
Pulling her skirt away from the unruly rosemary branches, Becca took a seat on the wooden bench. She gently patted her son’s back to make sure he’d stay asleep.
“Well, my first visitor. I’m so pleased.”
The realization that she had outmaneuvered the other village women in gaining the first private audience with the new minister thrilled Becca. She quickly forgot her unease about having a conversation with a man she hadn’t thought to tell her husband about before he left for the smithy that morning. When the Reverend looked at her, she felt girlish and free.
Becca launched into the speech she had prepared. The village needed new and stronger spiritual guidance. The more she talked, the more excited she became, and when the Reverend smiled and silently encouraged her, she took a bold step. She removed a tiny book from her pocket.
“Here’s where I keep track of things. Out of Christian concern, of course.”
She handed over the book, and her fingers brushed the Reverend’s hand, which was dry and warm. He began to flip through the pages. Carefully recorded were the sins of Becca’s neighbors and family members, with many pages devoted to her hated mother-in-law. Some of these entries had tiny little stars next to them. After reading a few pages, he handed back the book, and said, “Keep up the good work.”
They shared a conspiratorial smile. Becca basked in the warmth of the Reverend’s attention. His gaze burned through her confidence. Becca tucked the book back into her pocket and fled.
They met often during the fall and winter. Becca would come bearing gifts of soup or fresh bread for the single Reverend who clearly needed and appreciated her help. Becca became comfortable with the minister and shared her thoughts on the punishments she wanted to see handed out to her fellow parishioners. She especially longed to see her mother-in-law in the stockade for a public beating or two. Christian, as she now called him in private, would pat her hand and say, “One day, my dear. Things will be as they should. One day.”
After the Christmas sermon, Christian took Becca aside to present her with a little gift.
“I noticed your book is full, my dear. Please accept this tiny offering to use in our struggle for righteousness.”
He placed an engraved red leather book into her hand. It had a tiny lock and key, so she could keep her notes private. Becca opened it to look at the pages, and the tiny lock pricked her finger.
“Now, now, my dear, you must be careful. Who will be my partner in justice should something befall you?”
Christian took her finger into his mouth and sucked away the tiny drop of blood. Becca put the book into her pocket and hurried away before she could swoon.
She spent the rest of the winter watching and writing. So focused on her work, she sometimes forgot to do her chores. Her mother-in-law and the town midwife snuck into her house sometimes to clean or leave a pot of stew. Becca prayed every day for Reverend Johnson to die, and for Christian to be elevated, so she could finally punish everyone for their sins against her.
In early May, no one heard Goody Scot’s screams or the wailing of her child in the night. The whole village, including her husband, were at the new parsonage fighting a raging fire. In the morning, there was no sign of Reverend Christian Mendax, but all knew he had surely been consumed by the blaze.
Goodman Scot arrived home at dawn, dragging himself through the door, following the sound of whimpering. The floor was covered in sooty footprints. He never told a soul the tracks looked nothing like boot marks, but appeared to have been left by the hooves of a giant animal. The baby’s face was blistered as if he’d fallen asleep next to the hearth, and the poor child was blinded that night. There was no trace of Goodwife Scot.
Despite the tragedy, the child grew up to be gentle and kind. Even if he had been able to read the tiny book found in his cradle, the lock had melted, sealing it shut. He knew the volume was useless, but since it was all he had left of his mother, he kept it.