Kate smiled happily as she looked around the general store in Elizabeth, Colorado, for a birthday present. She couldn’t help thinking about how exciting tomorrow was going to be. It was her brother Edward’s birthday.
For several months Kate had worked to earn enough money to buy Edward a present. And today Kate and Papa had come to town in the wagon for supplies and so Kate could buy something to give her brother. She had decided on a tiny metal locomotive that shot out tiny sparks and sounded a little whistle as it chugged along the floor.
As Kate and Papa left the store they saw a wagon coming into town with a new family riding in it. A man was driving and a woman sat beside him. A girl was holding onto the sides of the wagon and tilting her head as if she were looking at something high in the sky.
The girl appeared to be about Kate’s age.
Papa nodded, and taking Kate’s hand, they walked over to the wagon.
He smiled and said, “I’m Stephen Simonson, and this is our Kate.”
The man put out his hand and said, “I’m John Miner and this is my wife Millie and my daughter Elizabeth.”
Mrs. Miner greeted them and then excused herself to go into the store.
“Well,” said Kate to the girl, “you’ve come to live in the right place, because this town is called Elizabeth too.”
The girl smiled, but she kept her head turned upward as though she were watching something there.
Looking up, Kate could see nothing but blue sky. She couldn’t think of anything more to say to the girl, so they were both quiet as Papa and Mr. Miner talked about land, cattle, and weather for awhile. Then the men walked together over to the land office.
Now I’ll have to say something, Kate worried, but Elizabeth doesn’t seem to want to talk. Finally she asked, “Have you come far?”
“From St. Louis,” answered the girl, continuing to look up at the sky.
Exasperated, Kate put her hands on her hips. “Elizabeth,” she said, “why won’t you look at me?”
“It wouldn’t do any good,” Elizabeth said.
“Why not?” Kate asked impatiently.
“Oh,” Kate said. Now she really couldn’t think of anything to say. She could hear the horses pawing the ground, the sounds of people’s footsteps along the wooden sidewalks, and she could hear her own heart beating. Then she said softly, “I’m sorry.”
“It’s not your fault,” said Elizabeth. “I keep my face up when I’m outside because the sun feels so good. I love things that feel good. Even when it’s a rainy day I hold my face up so I can feel the rain on it. But I like the sun the best.”
Kate’s father came back to the wagon and said he was ready to leave. “Good-bye,” Elizabeth called, and Kate waved. Then she realized that Elizabeth couldn’t see her hand. “Good-bye,” she called back. On the way home, Kate told Papa about Elizabeth.
The next day at school Miss Baldwin said, “We have a new girl in our class. Her name is Elizabeth and she is blind.”
Everyone stopped talking and squirmed around to look at Elizabeth.
“Elizabeth is nine years old and she’s been blind since birth. She knows how to take care of herself, but she’s new here and doesn’t know where things are, so some of us will have to help her for awhile.” Miss Baldwin looked straight at Kate. “Kate, since you’re the same age and grade, I want you to help Elizabeth today. You can show her where everything is.”
Kate stood up and went to the front of the room. She took hold of Elizabeth’s hand and led the way to her seat. She gave her a slate and a piece of chalk and told her what the arithmetic lesson was.
Later she showed Elizabeth where the stairs, the hot stove, the windows, the coatrack and boot rack were, and she helped her back to her desk.
At last it was time to go home. Kate felt a little bit like a Siamese twin. She had never been more than a few inches away from Elizabeth the whole day. She hoped it wouldn’t be like this every day. She didn’t want to be tied to a girl who couldn’t run and play and have some fun. Kate was so relieved to be alone that when she was walking along the road toward home, she swung her arms, whirled around a few times with a great feeling of freedom, and then started to run. It was Edward’s birthday and she didn’t want to be late for his party.
Mama had made an apple cake, and when Edward opened his presents he was so pleased with the train engine that Kate forgot all about Elizabeth and her frustrating day. Edward’s best friend Zachary had come over to the party and Mama blindfolded him to play pin the tail on the donkey. Then she turned him round and round and he felt his way toward the donkey, but he pinned the tail on its ear. Edward pinned the tail to the donkey’s shoulder.
“Let me try,” Kate said. “I bet I can do better than that.”
She took the tail with the pin through it, and Papa wrapped his bandanna around her eyes. He twirled her around three times and then gave her a gentle push.
She put out her hand and started to move forward. Am I headed the right way or will I bump into something, she worried. She couldn’t see at all. Her whole world was dark and as a wave of fear swept over her, she thought of Elizabeth.
Kate stumbled forward until her hand hit something and everyone laughed. She quickly pulled the bandanna from her eyes and found she was in front of the wardrobe. She turned and looked at Mama’s pretty face, at Papa’s kind eyes, at her little brother Edward holding his new engine and at Zachary’s happy smile, and she loved them all.
And she was so glad that she could see them!
The next morning Kate waited anxiously for Elizabeth to come to school. And soon she saw her coming down the road, holding her father’s hand. After he said good-bye, Kate hurried over to Elizabeth and asked, “Does your father bring you to school every day and then come for you again when it’s over?”
“Yes,” answered Elizabeth, “but after a while I think I’ll be able to come alone.”
“Why don’t I stop by for you and we could walk together?” Kate asked eagerly.
“Well,” said Elizabeth, “I don’t want to be a bother. That wouldn’t be much fun for you.”
“Oh, you wouldn’t be a bother,” Kate said quickly. “And I’ve been thinking how much fun it would be to go places together. We can go down to the old swing. Then we’ll go to the creek. I know where there’s a rock that a grandfather frog lives under. I can catch him for you and you can hold him for a minute.”
“Oh,” Elizabeth said, smiling, “I’d like very much to go with you. It sounds like lots of fun. Are you sure that’s what you’d like?”
“I’m very sure,” Kate said, and she squeezed Elizabeth’s hand as they walked into the schoolhouse together.