More Than Meets the Eye(11)

By: Karen Witemeyer


“Hezekiah is not ugly. Besides, you know I couldn’t leave him out there on his own with no mama to protect him. His little baby squeals broke my heart.”

Seth rubbed a hand along the back of his neck. “Well, he’s no baby now. He must weigh a hundred pounds or more. Barges into the house like he’s the family dog,” he grumbled. “It’s ridiculous.”

“It’s charming,” she countered, ignoring Seth’s snort of disagreement.

After being abandoned and rejected time after time in her childhood, Evangeline couldn’t bear to see any creature suffer the same fate. Her adopted brothers had taken her in, fed her, raised her, loved her. She could do no less for anyone or anything in need. Even a slightly less than handsome hog.

“Come, Hezzy.” She tapped the side of her leg, and good boy that he was, Hezekiah got up and trotted over.

Seth shook his head. “Even comes when you call him. Crazy.”

Evangeline bent slightly and patted the hog’s bristly black hide. “That’s because he knows his mama loves him. Don’t you, Hezzy? Such a good boy.”

“Please.” Thick sarcasm flavored Seth’s tone as he pushed past her, grabbed a wet dish towel, and immediately mopped the section of floor where the hog had lain.

Evangeline wasn’t offended by his need to wipe away any residue Hezzy might have left behind. After years of experimenting, they’d finally figured out that keeping the house free of as much dust and dirt as possible helped keep Seth’s lungs from getting inflamed. So they had no rugs in any of the main rooms and no bric-a-brac to collect dust, just flat surfaces they could run a rag over every morning.

“Hezzy and I are going to explore the east woods again today over by the creek bed,” she said as she fastened the wide red bow to the leather strap Zach had fashioned as a collar for the hog.

There was a strict family rule—she never went anywhere without first telling either Zach or Seth where she was headed. The boys didn’t think it necessary to keep her informed of their every move, so it was a bit of a double standard, but there had been that one time she’d snuck away from school during recess and gotten lost for two days after Mary Lou Edison had pulled her hair and called her a freak. Some stranger had eventually found her huddled by an oak tree and taken her to the local church to wait to be claimed. Never had Evie been so frightened. Or seen Zach so angry. If she hadn’t caught him secretly wiping his eyes while Seth hugged her, she might’ve thought he didn’t love her anymore, with all the yelling and lecturing he did. But then she realized he’d been scared, too. Scared he’d let his family down.

That was why she didn’t fight the family rule even now that she was a woman grown. She wanted to spare her brothers the worry. It was the least she could do after all they’d done for her over the last fifteen years.

What she didn’t tell them was exactly what she planned to do when she went out on one of her excursions. A woman of nineteen deserved a few secrets, after all. And lately there had been evidence of suspicious goings-on near the eastern property line. Evidence of human activity. An extinguished campfire. Boot prints. Horse tracks.

It was a mystery that needed sorting out, and she loved a good mystery. Truth be told, she loved anything that broke up the monotony of her usual routine. If she were a normal girl, she’d simply stroll to town to meet up with friends. Maybe do a little shopping. Buy some penny candy or a ribbon for her hair. Laugh and play and talk about how to gain the favor of a handsome young man.

But she wasn’t normal. And going to town brought only heartache.

Stares. Whispers. Not from everyone, but from enough to make her want to fold in on herself. Some of the bolder ones even spat when she walked by or crossed the street to avoid coming too close, as if her eyes might be catching. Of course, none of that happened when her brothers accompanied her. No one would dare treat her disrespectfully when Zach was around. His black stare could inspire more fear than her mixed-colored one. But when children dared each other to hit the witch with a slingshot missile or look her in the eyes to see if they’d turn to stone, a gal learned to avoid town. Her heart could only take so many hits before the bruises became permanent.

So she sang songs to sweet potatoes, rambled with pigs, and made her own happiness wherever she could find it. And today, finding it entailed an adventure to ascertain the identity of a mysterious visitor.

Was he friend or foe? Only one way to find out.

Spying.

Her pulse raced a bit at the prospect. Stealth. Danger. The risk of discovery. Oh, she’d take precautions. She wasn’t one of those heedless dime-novel ninnies who ran headlong into trouble without once considering the consequences, then fainted at the first sign of trouble. No wonder those damsels needed a man to swoop in and save the day. They failed to utilize the brains the good Lord had given them.