More Than Meets the Eye

By: Karen Witemeyer

Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.

—Ephesians 4:31–32


1879—Fannin County, TX

“Don’t lose heart, children. We have several strong families lined up in Bonham. I’m sure we’ll find good homes for each of you.”

Four-year-old Evangeline Pearson smiled at the sponsor from the Children’s Aid Society as the lady made her way down the train car aisle, bracing her hand for balance against one empty seat after another. Seats that had been filled with children when they’d left New York.

Miss Woodson always made Evie feel better. Even after seven . . . eight. . . . Evie scrunched her nose and unfolded her fingers one at a time as she tried to count. How many stops had they made? When she ran out of fingers, she gave up, huffed out a breath, and flopped back against the wooden bench seat. It didn’t matter. No one had wanted her at any of them. But Miss Woodson had promised to find her and Hamilton a home, and Evie believed her. She was such a nice person, after all. Nothing like the lizard lady sitting stiff and straight at the front of the train car.

As if Mrs. Dougal had heard Evie’s thoughts, she twisted her neck around and scowled, her bulging eyes and pursed lips making Evie shudder. She buried her face in her brother’s shoulder.

“Don’t let her scare you,” Hamilton whispered as he gently lifted his arm and wrapped it around her. At nine, Hamilton was ever so much bigger and stronger, and not afraid of anything. Even when Mama and Papa died. Or when Children’s Haven had decided the Pearson siblings would be riding the orphan train west. Never once did he cry or fret. He just hugged her tight and promised that everything would be all right. He was the bravest boy who ever lived.

“She doesn’t like me.” Evie snuck a peek at the lizard lady, found her still scowling at her, and burrowed deeper into her brother’s side. “It’s ’cause of my eyes, isn’t it?”

Hamilton slid his hands under her arms and lifted her onto his lap. He tipped her chin up and looked straight into her face. “There is nothing wrong with your eyes, Evie. They’re beautiful. God’s gift. Remember what Mama used to say?”

Evie’s chin trembled slightly. Thinking of Mama always made her sad. Made her wish everything would go back to the way it had been. Mama holding her in the rocking chair and singing lullabies. Papa swinging her high into the air and laughing with that deep belly laugh that always made her giggle. Her room with rose paper on the wall. Her bed with the pink quilt and soft pillow. But it was gone. They were gone. Forever.

“What did Mama say?” Hamilton insisted.

“That only special little girls get eyes with two colors,” Evie mumbled. She wanted to believe it was true. She really did. But if having two different eyes made her so special, why did no one want her?

Hamilton nodded. “That’s right. And you know what?”

Evie glanced at her brother, envying his normal, matching brown eyes. “What?”

“I wish my eyes were the same.”

“As mine?” Evie leaned back, her forehead wrinkling. “Why? Then no one would want you, either.”

Hamilton smiled and bopped a finger on the tip of her nose. “Every time you look in a mirror, you see both Mama and Papa looking back at you. Mama from your blue eye, and Papa from your brown one. And you know how much they both loved you. It’s kind of like getting one of those hugs where they sandwiched us between them. Remember those?”

Evie nodded slowly. Oh yes, she remembered. So warm. So safe. Her in her nightdress in Mama’s arms, her legs wrapped around Mama’s middle. Mama smelling sweet, her long braid tickling Evie’s bare toes. Papa growling like a hungry bear, saying he needed an Evie sandwich, before he grabbed Mama and squished Evie between them. Their three heads jostled together. And their eyes . . . Mama’s bright blue ones to Evie’s left and Papa’s twinkling brown ones on her right. Just like hers!

A smile broke out across Evie’s face. “Oh, Ham-ton, you’re right! I have the bestest eyes ever!”

He folded her into a hug—not quite as bearish as Papa’s, but still warm and safe and full of love. “Don’t ever forget it,” he said as he squeezed her tight.

As Evie rested in her brother’s arms, voices drifted to her from the front of the railcar.

“Bonham’s the last stop,” Lizard Lady grumbled as Miss Woodson slid into the seat next to her, “though I don’t know why we should bother with it. No one’s going to take these misfits. Zacharias scares the women and angers the men with his hostile, defiant manner. Seth is so sickly, most families assume he’ll not make it through the winter. And Evangeline. She behaves well enough, but those unnatural eyes of hers unsettle decent folk. Heavens. They unsettle me.”