Something was tickling my foot. I squinted into the sunlight, then squeezed my eyes shut. There was the tickle again. I wiggled my toes, and something pounced on them.
I let out a loud shriek and kicked. "What in blazes!"
An animal yelped.
I jerked upright, darting my eyes this way and that. A couple of feet away, a mangy-looking mutt hunkered on the ground, his head on his front paws, giving me a sad eye.
"Hey, child! No need for that. Duke was just playing."
A person who looked as shabby as the dog stood behind it. If she hadn't been wearing a dress, I'd have sworn she was a man. Both dog and woman had wiry hair that ranged from black to gray to white, wild and unkempt. The woman's dress was of homespun, ragged and patched.
"He was going to bite me." I pulled my right foot up to look at it. The dog hadn't caused any damage, but a watery blister had formed behind my big toe and another on my heel. Both feet had cuts and scratches.
The woman squatted down and grabbed the foot I held and jerked it toward her, causing me to lose my balance and fall back on my elbows.
She frowned and shook her head. "What're you doing running around the prairie barefoot?"
"My shoes gave me blisters." I tried to yank my foot from her hand.
She held on tight. "I got some ointment that'll fix you up." She let go of me. "Come on."
I scrambled to my feet. "Who are you?"
"What? No 'thank you'? Looks like your ma didn't teach you any manners."
"She taught me plenty of things," I said, bristling at the criticism of Ma. "And one of them was to watch out for strangers."
"Then we'd best stop being strangers because the sores on your feet will get infected if you don't tend to them. What's your name?"
She raised an eyebrow. "Sam? Well, if you say so."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"That you don't look much like a Sam. More like a Samantha, I'd say."
My heart sank. It seemed like I couldn't fool anybody. I reckoned I'd better not make her mad. If she figured out who I was, she might turn me in for the reward even though it was only ten dollars. "You haven't told me your name," I reminded her.
"I'm Miz Wilma to you. But there've been folks who called me Will."
I squinted at her, trying to figure out if she was really a he. There was the hint of chin hair, but some old women had whiskers. And why would a man pretend to be a woman? There was no advantage in that unless he was an outlaw and this was his disguise—if he was a he.
The dog ran up and sniffed my feet. I drew back. "You called this dog Duke. Is he really a male or do some folks call him Duchess?"
Wilma laughed. "Easy enough to tell on a dog. He's not wearing any clothes."
"I'll be keeping mine on," I said.
"Me, too. Since we're leaving that in the air, let's get to the wagon," she nodded, "and take care of those feet."
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