More Than Meets the Eye(4)

By: Karen Witemeyer

“I know. But he’s talkin’ about me takin’ on his sister as well. She’s too young to be much help on the farm, and if I’m payin’ wages, I won’t have the funds to feed and clothe another child.”

“Let’s just look at her, John. Please? She’s got the same reddish-brown hair Nellie did. Maybe if I had another girl around the kitchen, I wouldn’t miss our daughter so.” A gray skirt swished in Evie’s direction.

Evie smiled as wide as she could stretch her lips. Please want me. Please want me.

The lady in gray stopped in front of Evie, then hunkered down. Determined to hide her eyes, Evie kept her gaze focused on the lady’s skirt.

“What’s your name, child?”

Evie swung back and forth, then remembered she wasn’t supposed to fidget and stopped. “Evangeline.”

“That’s a pretty name. You remind me of my daughter, Nellie. She’s grown now. Married a man from two counties over, so I don’t get to see her very often. I miss having a little girl around. I could teach you how to cook and sew. Would you like that?”

Evie nodded, her excitement building. “Yes, ma’am.”

A pair of rough boots plodded up beside the gray skirt. “Look at a person when you speak to them, girl.” The hard, manly voice made Evie jump.

What should she do? If she showed her eyes, they might not want her anymore. But if she didn’t look up, they’d think her defiant.

“Maybe she’s just shy, John,” the gray lady said. Her hand came up to cup Evie’s chin. “My Nellie had such lovely brown eyes. Are your eyes brown?”

Evie nodded. It wasn’t a lie. She did have a brown eye.

“Let me see.” The lady pushed Evie’s chin up.

Maybe she could just show one eye. Evie tried to open her right eye while squeezing her left eye shut, screwing up her mouth in concentration.

“Quit making faces, girl,” the man barked.

The sharp tone startled Evie, and she forgot to keep her left eye shut.

The lady gasped and pulled her hand away. “Her . . . eyes. Miss Woodson, what’s wrong with her eyes?”

Evie immediately shuttered her gaze, blinking back the tears that rose.

“Nothing’s wrong with her eyes!” Hamilton rushed to Evie’s side and grabbed her hand. “She can see just fine. That’s all that matters, isn’t it? That they work. My sister’s smart, cheerful, and strong for her size. You’d be getting a deal if you take us both on. You wouldn’t even have to pay me any wages. I’ll work for free if you take Evie, too.”

“So her eyes won’t ever . . . fix themselves?” The lady in gray stood, backed up a step, then rubbed her arms against a shudder.

Miss Woodson’s familiar blue skirt came into view. “Hamilton is correct. Evangeline’s vision is not impaired, and she truly is a darling child.”

“But those eyes are so . . . peculiar.” The woman backed away another step. “They give me the shivers.”

“That decides it,” Mr. Potter said. “We’ll take the boy. Not the girl. One extra mouth to feed is all I can afford anyway.”

“Very well.” Miss Woodson sighed. “Mrs. Dougal can assist you with the paper—”

“No!” Hamilton stomped his foot. “I’ll not go without my sister.”

Evie stared at him. That fierce voice didn’t sound anything like the kind brother she knew.

“Don’t sass your betters, boy.” The man pointed a finger in Hamilton’s face.

“You’re not my better!” Hamilton shoved his nose in the air. “I’m a Pearson. My papa used to hire people like you to work in his factory. People too stupid to do anything more than simple tasks, like planting seeds and watching them grow.”

“Hamilton!” Miss Woodson’s shocked voice echoed Evie’s disbelief.

The man glowered, his face turning bright red. “You better watch your mouth, boy.”

“Or what?” Hamilton challenged. “You’ll whip me? Beat me? Chain me up in your barn? I’d expect nothing less from a man who probably can’t even read.”

Mr. Potter shook with rage, and Evie worried that her brother had gone too far.

“He doesn’t mean it.” Miss Woodson placed her hands on Hamilton’s shoulders and pulled him away from the man, who looked like he was about to strike. “He’s just afraid of being separated from his sister.”

“I do too mean it.” Hamilton jerked away from Miss Woodson’s grip and stepped straight up to the farmer and his wife. “And it’s not just him who’s ignorant. His wife is, too. Why else would she be scared of something as trifling as eyes that are two different colors?”