"Your hair is the break of day, the beauty of autumn."
These might once have been her mother's words, spoken as she brushed Scarlet's hair each morning. With patience and love she would look into the eyes of her only daughter, her only child, her only family. Gazing at Scarlet she would look into the past. She would talk about Scarlet's Papa, how she missed him, how they were when they were young, so free, so in love.
"Your skin is the falling of snow, but with the warmth of spring."
These were words of love, but not her mother's. That childhood was past. Her mother's kindness was buried in bitterness and time and a marriage to the brawling Bûcheron, a man Scarlet was forced to call Father but could never call Papa.
"Your eyes reflect a summer's sky with a sparkle from the North Star."
These words of love were born of passion, the love of a lover, Benjamin, her dearest B'jou.
"They are like wolves. His kith and kin are low-born forest dwellers, little more than foragers. You should be done with him. The young men of the village are finer and would court you."
These... these were her mother's words, the jealous contradictions of the woodcutter's beaten wife.
"I take it you have seen the 'wolf'."
Her grandmother greeted her at the door, smiling, knowing. Holding out freshly picked flowers, Scarlet blushed. Her late morning visits on market days had become lunchtime visits. Against her mother's will, Scarlet would take the route through the woods to see her Benjamin, to stray from the path with her B'jou, before taking bread and fruit to her grandmother's cottage.
"Why your mother hates him so, calling him such feral names, I do not know. Such strong hands, such a beautiful voice, such lovely big eyes. A kind and gentle man. Not like that drunken, hateful husband of hers. With my son she was carefree and beautiful; together they were such a couple. That Bûcheron brings out the worst in her. He has made her mean and cowering."
That night her grandmother's words fell in anger from Scarlet's lips.
"Spoilt child! This wolf's lechery and your grandmother's doting affection have poisoned you against us!"
Her mother hit Scarlet, hit her and wept, hit her to protect her, hit her to prevent the woodcutter doing the same. He went to grab Scarlet by the hair, he moved to strike her, but looking her in the eye, he spat and left, disappearing into a darker night to drink.
He returned in the morning bringing with him a twofold tale of sorrow. Scarlet collapsed and cried, but through her grief her anger rose, rose and gave her strength to shout at him, to strike him, to tear into his lies with a passion born of love. He did not strike back. He had no need. The story, a story, was around the village. It was said, so they said, that Scarlet's lover, her Benjamin, her dearest B'jou, had slain her grandmother as she slept; that the woodcutter had happened upon the cottage and tracked him down, closing the circle with his axe.
"The Woodcutter's Stepdaughter" was first published with Dr. Hurley's Snake-oil Cure. More background here.