Eliza rose slowly to her feet, aware of the total fatigue surging through her body. Closing her eyes and breathing deeply to clear her head, she heard heavy footsteps and turned as Nicholas Cromwell sauntered through the doorway and stopped abruptly to stand face to face with her.
Eliza stepped forward, a surprising anger filling her—like acid pouring into an empty jug. “Do you call yourself an indigo maker?” she asked, her voice raw, green eyes shimmering dangerously.
His face turned crimson and his eyes darted back and forth to scrutinize the others. Facing Eliza, he shrugged and answered belligerently. “One of the best on Montserrat,” he said in a splintered voice, blinking irritatingly.
“Then why did you ruin my indigo crop?” she shot back, her face knotted in anguish. “You purposely poured too much limewater into the solution to change the shade.” Eliza’s eyes burned with outraged tears. Surprised at the intensity of her anger, she suppressed it before it spiraled out of control.
All colour had drained from Mr. Cromwell’s face. He stood stiff and silent.
She glared at the man, hating every inch of him. She loathed his florid face, glistening mouth, and the cold, dead look in his eyes. The way he stood there, legs spread apart and fat hands clasped behind his back.
“WHY, I ask you, Mr. Cromwell? Why did you harm our crop and attempt to destroy my family? We trusted you!”
She advanced toward him so forcefully he took a quick step backwards, visibly terrified by her intensity. His hard swallow was audible.
“Don’t strike me, please. I feared I would ruin trade for Montserrat if your dye succeeded,” he sniveled.
Eliza’s brilliant eyes burned with disgust. Pressing her lips together to stop their trembling, she turned from him and stormed out the door. Polly ran after her, eyes brimming.
Mr. Dawson’s face registered shock and then fury. Turning slowly to Nicholas Cromwell, he couldn’t remember a time when he wanted to hit someone more. He wanted to grind his fist against Cromwell’s lips until they were bruised and bleeding. Curbing the impulse, he lowered his voice and moved his face close to Cromwell’s. “Pack your things. You will be gone by nightfall.”
He turned to follow Eliza out the door.
Facing Eliza, he reached for her small hands and held them between his own. “Eliza, you should be very proud. You have succeeded in producing indigo in South Carolina, even with that cad deliberately ruining the dye. Your suspicions about Mr. Cromwell were correct.” He searched her red-rimmed eyes, now swimming in tears.
“However, next year you will produce only the finest grade. Congratulations, my friend. This is a brilliant accomplishment!” His smile glowed with affection.
As she tried to speak, a sob split her voice—now softer, with more rounded corners than sharp edges. Swallowing hard, her voice cracking with mounting emotion, she nodded. “Thank you, Factor Dawson. Now could you please take me to my mother?”
Copyright 1999-2012, Pamela Bauer Mueller/Piñata Publishing, All Rights Reserved.