The Fire Witch's Tale

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Rumours, Truths and Skeletons

The evening brought more nightmares. It was the same as the last with the black wolf warning her, his red eyes seeping into her soul, prowling in her head like he was ravenously awaiting their meeting. She woke in a sweat, gasping, but there was no firey-haired woman this time to keep her down, only Little Flame curled up on her bed. She placed her brown, woollen mantle around her shoulders and got up to get a drink of milk, hoping it would calm her nerves and get her back to sleep. Downstairs she found Matthew sitting by the hearth with a drink in his hands.

“When did you get in?” she asked.

Matthew jumped. “I was sure everyone was sound asleep.”

“I was. I just keep having these strange nightmares.”

Matthew slid up the bench, allowing room for Eva next to him. She poured herself a cup of milk from the pitcher on the bench and sat down beside him, nursing it in her hands.

“I keep dreaming about this black wolf with these red eyes,” Eva shuddered.

“Are you sure it isn’t some sort of sign. Your mother always says dreams can be signs of what’s to come. Prophecies from God.”

Eva grimaced. “I hope this one is no sign of what’s to come. The wolf terrifies me and keeps telling me he’s coming for me. No, I don’t believe in superstition like that. I’m probably just dreaming about wolves because of my hopes of becoming a travelling merchant and all the fears people have obviously instilled in me.”

“Maybe,” Matthew said, a thoughtful look on his face.

“When did you get in? You can’t have been at her home for so long, surely.”

“I wasn’t. I just couldn’t sleep either. I came in just before your father went to bed.”

“You know there’s a rumour going around about Father and us.”

Matthew looked up interested. “What rumour?”

“Apparently people think he has betrothed us to one another and we have been promised to each other since we were young.”

Matthew gave a faint laugh. “Rumours do tend to be far from the truth.”

“I suppose you’re right. I just wonder who could have started them. It’s such a ridiculous notion. Father betrothing us? He knows we love each other as friends, as brother and sister or even cousins. Nothing more.”

“Yes.”

“What’s news with Lora, anyway? I wouldn’t know since she’s stopped talking to me because of all these rumours.”

“Not really much is different in her world,” Matthew said, seeming hesitant.

A faint meow came from the stairs and Eva and Matthew both turned to find Little Flame stretching on one of the runs.

“She’s still hanging around?”

Eva smiled, “Yes. It seems I’ve made a new friend in her.”

“Well I’ll leave you two be. I’m off to bed now anyway. Hopefully sleep will find me, even if I can’t find it.”

“Goodnight then,” Eva said.

“Goodnight.”

Eva stayed downstairs, pondering as she stroked Little Flame in her lap. Once she had finished her cup of milk, she carried Little Flame up the stairs to sleep till morning.


Matthew woke Eva before dawn, and she helped him prepare the forge. George the coal monger brought pit coal to them and they took it at a higher price than Eva had thought it was worth, despite their bargaining. More evidence of everyone’s current hardships. They then used it to fill the forge after they cleaned it out, and lit the fire for the day, pumping the bellows till the fire was ablaze and high in heat. Through all of this, Eva and Matthew spoke little. There was a sudden awkwardness between them that puzzled and worried Eva. Maybe Lora’s influence had changed him.

Eva’s hand had healed incredibly well and so she was able to complete all her other tasks in the morning. She brought in some water for washing and prepared the tools for the day, afterwards doing her morning chores for her mother. By the time her mother and father were already heavily involved in their duties for the day, Eva was on her way to buy some supplies for the coming months with one shilling to spend. She had first gone to Richard Chandler’s shop to buy a pound of tallow candles for two pennies, an amount that should have lasted their family two months. Eva then headed to Geoffrey Draper to buy one yard of blue-dyed linen for her mother, which cost her eight pennies. Her last task was to head to the Baker’s and buy bread when she was stopped along the way.

The Butcher’s boy, Simon Bakoun and the Cooper’s boy, Stephan Crane were standing outside the Inn, Tavern, and Brewery, The Lion Rampant, on her way to the Baker’s shop down the way. They weren’t friends of hers but they suddenly seemed interested in her, staring at her as she walked by. Eva, noticing their unusual behaviour, began to speed up when Simon strode right in front of her, so that she almost hit into him and spilled the contents of her basket on the slick laneway.

“Excuse me,” she said.

“No, no, no. Wait,” Simon said, fingering his russet hair back behind his ear and looking down at Eva. He placed his hand in his tunic’s pockets and gave a tempestuous grin.

His friend joined him by his side, his brown eyes on her as well. Together they herded Eva against the Inn’s walls and rested their arms on the wood and plaster, blocking her in. Their faces were close to her’s, inspecting, and she suddenly felt like a small mouse, trapped in a Ratcatcher’s contraption.

“Yes. We just wanted to tell you that we like what you’ve done with your hair of late. It looks rather... pretty,” Stephen said, both of the boys laughing.

Eva adjusted her coif close to her hair and frowned. “What do you want? Accosting me on the street like this.”

“We just heard you were... open for business,” Simon said, gawking down at her shapely figure with his tongue in his cheek.

Eva’s face grew hot with anger and embarrassment. She felt humiliated and vulnerable, searching her surrounds for a way out. “Let me go.”

“Not until we get our turn,” Stephen said, rubbing the back of his fingers against her bare neck and décolletage.

Eva pushed his hand away and the boys chuckled.

“She has spirit, that’s for sure.”

“Let me go,” She protested, wriggling violently.

“Not until you have at least kissed me, you little slut.” Simon said, grabbing her delicate chin and giving her a forceful kiss, his tongue trying to break past her tightly bound lips.

Eva pushed him away and slapped him.

“I am no slut… Get away from me... you… you foul things,” Eva stammered.

Simon was just spurned on by this though, as he grinned and came in for another kiss, but right then, Mariota, the Fuller’s wife, came out of the shop next door, her shopping basket in hand, as well as her two small children, Alice and Reynar. “What are you three doing?” she demanded abruptly.

The boys quickly released Eva and she hurriedly distanced herself away from them.

“It is despicable to make such a display in public. I could have you whipped. Aren’t you boys meant to be at work, helping your masters?”

“Yes,” they both said simultaneously, lowering their eyes before the young mother.

“Well then, off you go.”

The both of them quickly scampered off, without even a glance back.

“Thank you,” Eva said, a bit bewildered.

“I should not have helped you. You deserved what was coming to you. Eva, a girl’s maidenhead is nothing to squander so. It is a mortal sin. But I couldn’t let this sort of thing happen in the light of day, with young children around,” Mariota said, shaking her head derisively. Her two children, all red-cheeked and wide-eyed, gazed around at their surroundings, oblivious to what had just occurred.

Before Eva could retort, Mariota was on her way, without a goodbye, her two children in tow and straddling behind.

“Good day,” the small one, Alice, said with a smile, waving her small hand at Eva.

Eva rushed to the Baker and got her final item, a loaf of bread, and hurried back home, before she was faced with any more embarrassment. She began to notice that as she went, people in the town square and down alleyways pointed her out to others and whispered to each other, either laughing cruelly or sneering at her. By the time she got home, she was almost in tears with the fear and shame the rumour had brought her. She had no idea it would have travelled so wide and fast, and that people would have actually believed such lewd gossip. But Eva guessed Matthew was right: a good titbit of untrue gossip always travelled fast, even if better, more truthful news was available.

Eva finally got to the door of the workshop and swung it open fiercely. She stormed in and everyone’s gaze fell on her.

“What’s wrong?” Eva’s father questioned.

“Do you have to break down the door?” Juliana said.

“Here you go Mother. I’ll be going to Helen’s now,” Eva gave her mother the basket full of the day’s purchases.

“Will you please escort me there?” Eva asked Matthew.

“Of course,” Matthew said, visibly concerned.

“Walk safely you two,” Randolph called after them.

Eva and Matthew made their way through town, Eva urging him on quickly through the longer route with fewer people.

“What’s wrong?” he stopped.

Eva tried to get him to keep walking, but he wouldn’t budge, so she gave in. “I had a run in with Simon and Stephen. They insisted that they had a ‘go’ of me. Called me a slut right in the street and pinned me against the Inn’s walls, Simon planting an unwelcome kiss upon my unsuspecting lips,” Eva gesticulated with anger, trying to fight away the tears streaming down her face. She rubbed at them, ashamed.

Matthew took her and held her close, his arms tense though and his voice filled with rage. “Those pigs! Why? Because of the rumours?”

“I’m guessing so,” Eva said, coming away from his embrace.

“If I see them again—”

“You’ll do nothing because it will only spur the rumour on,” Eva interrupted, continuing on her way.

Matthew followed, taking up her faster pace.

“I won’t be able to leave the house again. Not without people staring at me and commenting about my sudden supposed lack of a maidenhead.”

Matthew was silent, but Eva could tell he was trying to find the words.

They passed a pair of girls who murmured to each other, “Look, it’s them. Doesn’t she know he’s courting Lora now? What a vixen.” They passed by and Matthew furrowed his brow, looking at Eva pitifully.

“You look like the poor victim in all this. Me? Well I’m the seductress and villain. You’re the innocent and yet you are just as responsible as me in this fake romance. How is that fair?”

“I would be the villain if it were true, Eva, not you. It doesn’t matter what all these fools think. Simon and Stephen are the real villains in all of this though. We should tell Randolph and Juliana, so you don’t have to go out so often on chores. That way the stupid gossiping can subside and things can go back to normal.”

“But they won’t go back to normal. I’ll always be seen now as the town hussy and no one will want to speak to me. I’ll become a lonely old maid and die in this stupid town without ever having set foot outside it. If you tell Mother and Father, they won’t see it like you do. Please don’t tell them – they’ll learn of it soon enough, I’m sure.”

“Don’t be so disheartened by all of this. I won’t tell your parents, but things won’t be like this forever. They’ll understand that when they do find out. You’re now just at the bottom of the Wheel of Fortune. Fortuna will smile on you again.”

Matthew looked up. Eva and Matthew had arrived at Helen’s cottage just outside of Weycombe’s north side. It was on an acre of land and surrounded by trees, a small fence lining the front of her yard.

“Maybe you’re right,” Eva lied.

“I know I am. I’ll get Randolph to pick you up on his way home from the town meeting tonight.”

“A town meeting? Tonight? But it is a Monday.”

“Yes, they’ve called an early meeting this month. It seems Henry has fallen ill and they’ll be discussing who is to take his place till he gets better.”

“But he was fine yesterday. How could he fall ill so suddenly?”

“Stranger things have happened, just look at the Great Mortality. Randolph said Henry fell ill overnight and in the morning they could barely recognise him.”

Eva nodded. “I’ll see you tonight then.”

Eva and Matthew parted ways and Eva approached Helen’s door with a knock.

Helen answered, her blonde hair tied back beneath her widow’s wimple, and her doe-eyes smiling.

“Good morning, Eva. How are you darling?” She said, giving Eva a kiss on the cheek.

Eva thought Helen a very beautiful woman. She was the same age as her mother, but somehow aging had been a lot easier on her. Her only disparaging features were the limp in her left leg from a childhood injury, a cane supporting her weight on that side, and the slight hook in her delicate nose. Other than that, Helen was comely in her appearance and had a warm aura to match.

“I’m good Aunt Helen,” Eva said.

“Come in, come in. There isn’t much to do today, so I think we can start the day with some warm honey mead.”

“Sounds lovely,” Eva said, walking through the tiny doorway into Helen’s home and sitting down on one of the stools by the table.

The cottage she owned wasn’t as large as Eva’s parents’ home. It was just one large room, with a kitchen and hearth, sweet, earthy-smelling herbs drying from the eaves, a linen curtain to mark her bedroom in the corner and a patch of hay in the other corner for her horse and cow to lie on at night. Helen lived there on her own. Her husband died long ago, and her sons had grown their fortunes elsewhere. Her mother had left the small cottage to her when she passed, and it was all that she had left in the world, apart from her cow, horse and chickens. Her husband, although very rich, felt cheated when he found out his beautiful young wife wasn’t as perfect as first thought, with a terrible limp and horrifying scar. But he wanted his money’s worth for getting her father out of his gambling debt, so he ensured he had a decent brood of young boys to inherit his name and small fortune. Helen, however, got nothing but a cow from the old man on his deathbed, saying that that was all she was truly worth after all.

Helen poured Eva a cup of mead and handed it to her, pouring herself one afterwards and sitting down across from Eva.

“How have you been? I can’t believe a week has already passed. Tell me you have a story to tell a lonely old widow.”

“You’re neither old nor lonely, Aunt Helen,” Eva smiled. “But I’m afraid life has taken a turn for the worse, Aunt Helen.”

“Oh, no. It’s not because of that snivelling little tripe, Jacob, is it? That boy is just awful.”

“No. There are rumours going around that I’m no longer a virgin. I’ve become a bit of an outcast.”

Helen laughed, “They don’t know you very well do they now? What nonsense. People believe the most silly of things.”

“How have you been Aunt Helen? I’d much rather hear about that.”

“Well, nothing much has changed. I received a letter from Tristan not long ago. He’s a scholar at a University now, but he still refuses to see me and says his brothers don’t want to write to me, so I should just stop trying. I’m their mother though, I’ll never stop,” Helen sighed. “Still, I am proud of them. I gave them what little guidance I could before Ricard sent them away and I take solace in that.”

Eva placed her hand on Helen’s. “You’ll always have me.”

“Yes,” Helen said, rubbing Eva’s hand. “And you have more and more of your father in you each day I see you. How is he?”

“Good, he’ll be fetching me tonight. They’ve called a town meeting this evening though. It seems the Constable has fallen ill.”

“Oh, that is unfortunate news. Henry is a good, kind man. I hope he gets well soon.”

“Yes, well they’ll be looking for someone to take his place for the time being.”

“I see. How is Matthew then? I hear he’s prepared his family’s old tenement in town and should be ready to move in by the end of the week.”

“Really?” Eva said, shocked.

“You didn’t know? I thought you two were the greatest of friends?”

“We are still. It’s just I think he’s been distancing himself since he and Lora seem to be courting now.”

“I see,” Helen said, taking a sip from her cup. “You’re afraid he’ll abandon you?”

Eva went to protest, but realised that was what she was afraid of. “Yes, I guess I am.”

“I know how you feel my dear. When I was married off to Ricard, your father and I could no longer see each other much after that. It would have caused too much gossip and such, as you well know. It broke my heart to give up contact like that though; your father and I were very close friends, not unlike you and Matthew. But we are friends still. Despite everything, whenever I see your father it is like old times again.”

“I know Aunt Helen. I guess it was always around the corner. Matthew’s dream was always to have his own family. I should have known it would come to fruition sooner than I had expected.”

“Not to worry my dear. A girl like you always gets what she wants. You are determined, maybe a little foolhardy, but still an opportunist. I’m sure you’re dream will find you soon and keep you occupied.”

“I hope so Aunt Helen, more now than ever. If only I could convince Walter to take me with him, without Mother or Petronilla making a fuss.”

“Well you are a cunning girl, you will find a way. Just remember to never give up on your dreams. Dreams are what give us people the will to carry on and fly above the naysayers.”

Eva nodded. No matter how hard things were, Helen was right. Eva never wanted to give up on her dream and would be lost without it.

She watched the birds twitter outside, thinking on what Helen had said and enjoying the tranquillity, when a ray of light beamed through the shutters and fell on the table before them. Helen looked up at Eva and took hold of a lock of her hair that had broken free from her coif.

“Look at that. You’re hair has a red glow to it in the sunlight, just like your mother’s beautiful locks,” Helen smiled sweetly, her eyes growing wistful. “You know your grandmother had the most stunning red hair; like a bright flame. You remind me of her sometimes. She was very wilful, just like you.”

Eva’s interest peeked. “Really? Mother never really talks about her much. Was she really like me?”

“Oh yes. Stubborn as a mule, just like you. Witty and intelligent like you. Always speaking in haste before using her head. But she had a lovely heart and a warm presence. I wish she were still here… She was always a wealth of wisdom and comfort.”

“What happened to her Aunt Helen?”

Helen shifted in her seat, “She died… as we all will eventually,” she evaded.

“Yes, I know, but how?” Eva said, suspiciously. “No one has ever told me and Mother avoids the topic, as if she’d fall sick from it. She can’t have been all that lovely if no one wishes to speak of her.”

“She had a kind soul, Eva, don’t let them tell you otherwise. She was not evil!”

“Evil?”

Helen stared at Eva, a bit surprised. “I shouldn’t have said anything, I’m sorry Eva.”

“No,” Eva said, grabbing Helen’s hand. “Please tell me. What do you mean evil? I thought my grandmother was an Herbalist that died before her time? Father always told me you were her apprentice.”

“She was... and I was... but she died because she was hung.”

“Hung?”

“Yes.”

“Aunt Helen, why was my grandmother hung?”

“Eva, your grandmother was… no. We shouldn’t speak about this. Not without your mother’s knowledge.”

Eva took a firmer hold of Helen’s hand. “Please Aunt Helen, tell me why.”

Helen hesitated, but finally uttered the dreaded words. “Your grandmother was the Weycombe Witch.”

Eva’s mouth gaped open in shock. She pictured the grassy mound just outside the graveyard in her mind’s eye and felt chills run up and down her spine. She had been glancing over at her grandmother’s grave all these years, wondering who the witch was, never considering that the ghastly wench they spoke of was her own flesh and blood. It was then she remembered the apparition in her room had fiery tresses.

“The Weycombe Witch? Why had no one ever told me?”

“You know why. They’re scared. What if it brings bad omens or bad luck? It was a long time ago too, before the Great Mortality. People have mostly forgotten about her. She’s nothing but a legend now.”

Eva ruminated over what had been said. She felt bewildered and shocked, but she had many questions bubbling at the surface. “What do you mean you never thought she was evil? I heard she had killed people in the town.”

“Before all that, Eva, she was the town Herbalist. She helped women have babies and helped the sick get better. After I got my leg cut up and broken in a wolf trap as a girl, your father carried me to the Apothecary. He placed dung in the wound and said for me to rest my leg. It became sore and yellow with puss, and I had a high fever for days. My mother then rushed to your grandmother with me in her arms, crying and begging for help. She wasn’t as respected as the Apothecary, but she saved my leg. She cleaned it and splinted it, giving me tea to help with the fever and a poultice to help heal the wound. The bone didn’t heal properly, but she said the Apothecary could have killed me, and he almost did. After that, I became her young apprentice. I knew her well Eva. I saw her every day. She was not always as terrifying as they say she was. It was only after a year of being under her tutelage that I noticed she was having strange episodes of rage, where she would claim to see things that weren’t there. It soon became worse, that’s how your mother has the scar on her cheek. She even strangled your Uncle Alan when he was in his bed asleep one night. She never remembered doing those things though. It was as if something had possessed her, had taken her over. She was a kind, intelligent and lively woman. Never had a bad word against anyone. But she did hurt people. It wasn’t until she killed an elderly man under her care that she was finally taken in and hung. They burned down her home then, your mother’s childhood home, but your grandfather had already separated from her long before and moved closer into town.”

Eva was familiar with some of what Helen had said. She knew the Weycombe Witch attacked people violently without any warning. There were children’s rhymes and old men’s ghost stories about the Weycombe Witch that told her of these things. She even knew about the blackened patch of earth outside of town where it was said her home was burnt down and the land cleansed after her hanging. She never knew that she was the Weycombe Witch’s granddaughter though. This idea scared her. Helen may have thought she was really a kind woman, but Eva had seen the look in her eyes that night, her teeth bared in rage.

Was she trying to haunt her and cause her pain too? Make her live in fear? Eva shivered.

“I can’t believe Mother never told me. Why would she not tell me?”

“Your mother was afraid of her. Very afraid of her. Your grandmother had strange powers during her outbursts. She could create orbs of fire in her hands without ever getting burnt, and make the hearth fire enrage and engulf anything she wished it to. She could even use her powers to burn others nearby, making fire appear where it wasn’t before. It was an unsettling sight.”

“Then how could you say she wasn’t evil?”

“Eva, she had no idea what was happening herself. She acted as if the people around her during her fits were coming after her, trying to kill her. I truly believe whatever it was, it wasn’t her. She was even trying to treat herself of her fits and visions using mistletoe and tried to keep away from your mother and uncle for their safety. She thought it might have been some kind of sickness, the fits at least. She never talked about the powers though. But no matter what she did, she only got worse.”

“I can’t believe I never knew.”

“People are too afraid to let some dark secrets out. I’m not surprised you never knew. But, I think it is good you never knew. What good would it have done you to know such a thing existed in your family’s past? We already have to live with so many troubles and burdens from our family histories, why should the burden have to be worse?”

“You are right, Aunt Helen. As always.”

“Come now, then. Let’s forget about such woeful tales and go outside in the sun, where the birds will cheer us with their songs.”


Eva helped Helen feed her chooks, collect their eggs and then milk her cow. They fed and groomed the pack horse and then picked her ripe garden vegetables and fruit; asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, cucumber, radish, cabbage, spinach, spring onions and rhubarb. Helen would only be keeping a small amount of the vegetables, fruit, herbs, eggs, and milk for herself. Most of it she planned to sell at the town’s market day so she could buy whatever she lacked. Helen was a hard worker, but with her leg, she was much slower than Eva, and with Eva’s help the work load shrank quickly. When they were finally done for the day as the sun began to set, Eva and Helen went inside to rest and sup together. It was dark by the time Randolph came to fetch his daughter.

“Good evening Randolph. What is news?”

“Good evening Helen. Well unfortunately Henry’s son was voted in as Constable. I never thought it would happen, but the town seems to have gone completely mad.”

“Jacob is Constable?” Eva said.

“Yes, I’m afraid so.”

“That is not good news,” Helen grimaced, rubbing her head as if she had a headache.

“Yes, but what can be done? If the people vote him in, they vote him in. How are you though, Helen? I hope Eva has made your workload easier for the remainder of the week.”

“Yes, she really has. You truly do have a wonderful daughter. All I have left to do is weed and sew more seeds and begin making butter and cheese with the milk. Those tasks aren’t too laborious though, so I think it will be a very productive week for me. Thanks to Eva of course.”

“Well, please let us know if you need any more help,” Randolph said, smiling as he gazed into Helen’s round blue eyes.

Helen smiled back and the two of them fell into silence as they stared at one another.

Eva frowned. It was getting awkward and yet neither of them seemed to care. “Shouldn’t we be off now Father?”

“Yes, we should be. You are right. Good evening Helen. Always good to see you.”

“And you Randolph. Always a pleasure to see an old friend.”

Eva and Randolph left, walking together towards town, arms linked.

“What was that.”

“What do you mean?”

“The silence and staring – you know what I mean.”

“When you’ve known someone a long time, you don’t need to talk to feel comfortable in their presence or feel like friends again.”

Eva shook her head, finding Helen and Randolph quite strange. “What happened at the town meeting for everyone to vote Jacob in?”

“Well, something I’d like to talk to you about actually. Most of the people wanted to vote me in as Constable, but a few refused to and it raised debate. Henry’s son argued that if I couldn’t control my own daughter and guard her maidenhead, how could I expect to guard a town. There was much debate, but they came out agreeing that Jacob should be Constable. Since he is part of one of the most influential families and knows the ins and outs of being a Constable from his father’s long service, they thought he would make a better stand-in. Now what took me by surprise was that there was much talk of you and your sudden lack of virginity. Is there something you need to tell me?”

Eva went red with embarrassment. It was not a topic she wanted to discuss with her father, no matter how untrue. “They’re all lies Father. There’s gossip going around that I and Matthew... and that we’re running away together because I’m with... which you know isn’t true!”

“Alright. I believe you. Well we’ll be fine. Soon enough they will see the stupidity in the lie and move on to another whisper. I doubt the Vicar and his priests will act without proof.”

“I hope not – I don’t want to be whipped for something I’m innocent of. Besides, how could Matthew ever want to be with me? I’m practically his sister. And it seems he’s had his eye on Lora for quite some time after all, and so has she.”

“Well I don’t know. I always thought you and Matthew would one day marry.”

Eva stopped, “What?”

“You and Matthew were always close. Inseparable really. Who could blame me if I thought you’d be perfect for one another?”

“Father, were we betrothed to one another?”

Randolph scratched his head, “Not since you were children, no. But as you got older, I had thought it was inevitable. So in a sense I had betrothed you to one another. I had begun making plans for the two of you, in anticipation. You both needed a place to live and I needed to make sure I could give Matthew a dowry worth the treasure that is my daughter.”

“What? I can’t believe you thought we would one day marry. You know we aren’t like that. So you’re saying you spoke of your plans to people? This must be where the rumours began.”

“It seems so, and for that I am sorry. I thought I had their word that it would not spread to other ears, but people often disregard such promises.”

They took up walking again, Eva scowling, her arms folded tightly across her chest, keeping her distance from her father.

“Eva, I’m sorry if this is not what you wanted. I didn’t know you would be so opposed to the idea. I was trying to help you be with someone I thought you loved most in the world rather than settle for someone else because of your mother’s influence or because of unfortunate circumstances, or even because of your hefty dreams. I didn’t want you to make the same mistakes as... many people do.”

Eva unfolded her arms and searched her father’s face, “You mean as you, don’t you?”

“Eva, your mother is not a mistake. I have always loved her and always will. But there was a time when she was furthest from my mind.”

It dawned on Eva, “Helen?”

Randolph gave a slight nod, “Things don’t always work out the way you planned them and then later, when you’re older and wiser, you think back and regret not saying or doing things you should have. I wanted it to be different for you and Matthew. I never thought that you had other ideas though. Yes, I knew you had your own plans, your dreams, but I thought in the end you would realise it was Matthew you really wanted.”

“Well... he isn’t. I never knew about you and Helen. Was Mother... like her when you were young?”

“Your mother has always been a special person to me Eva. I know what she seems like to you at times, I know she can be a difficult woman, but she is also kind and loving. She just shows it differently. I remember when you were just a babe and you would cry day and night, nonstop. Your mother was convinced the Fay had taken her baby girl and given her you. Defiant even then, you were. She held you over the hearth fire, waiting for you to shoot up through the chimney and out of the house, replacing you with her real baby. I got home then and tried to convince her that those old wives’ tales were nonsense so she could put you back into the safety of your cradle, but she wouldn’t listen. Of course you didn’t shoot through the chimney, and all she ended up with is a poor little Eva with a red, sweaty bottom. She realised you weren’t a changeling at all, just her poor babe. I couldn’t help but laugh at your poor mother’s bewildered face then, and she began to cry, afraid she had hurt you. As soon as she held you close though, you stopped crying and looked into her eyes and I remember her saying you were the most beautiful thing she ever saw. You see your mother has her ways, but it is always for love. She may be a superstitious woman, but her heart is made of gold.”

Eva smiled. She had heard the story before and held it as a badge of honour, of proof of the wilful soul she held inside her. She also understood what her father said.

“What do you think of Lora and Matthew?”

“I think whatever makes them happy makes me happy. She is a beautiful girl, but I do find her snobbish and obstinate. But, like with so many people, we may not see what Matthew sees in her.”

“I always liked Lora, until now. She’s been ignoring me because of the rumours. Thinks I’m her competition.”

“Love and jealousy are mad things. Worse when they are together.”

“I guess,” Eva said.

“Eva, just promise me one thing would you?”

“What’s that Father?”

“If you do find that what you were looking for in life was right in front of you all along, don’t continue on the path you’re already on. Go back and take it with both hands, because you might not get another chance.”

“Ok. I promise.”

Randolph grinned. “Good.”

They had finally reached home and gone inside when Juliana burst out, “What’s this I hear of you bedding Matthew?”

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