Fiction / Non Fiction: Fiction

Form: Short Story

Genre: Historical, Slice of life

Word Count:  906 words

The Colonel stood in the centre of his study, leaning heavily on his cane, and  looking sternly at his new ward.  “What did you say her name was?”

“Angelica, sir.” Came the gentle reply from behind him.

He looked over his shoulder at the nun and grunted. “Angelica? Well that is some name to live up to.  Whoever though of that name for this child, I wonder?”

“She will surprise you, Sir.  you will soon see that she is her name.”

“Well, We will see.  She looks frail, hardly a child who could earn her keep.  How old is she?”

“She is eleven, sir. ”

“Eleven!  She is very malnourished then.  I would have put her at eight at the most.”

“And might I add, sir, that she will certainly earn her keep.”

“Is that so?” he asked, in mock surprise, before turning back to the girl, “Did you hear that, child?  Sister Christina seems to think you are capable of hard work.  Is she correct in this assumption?”

Angelica said nothing but she nodded her head. “No tongue, child?  Well, it’s for the best I suppose.  But I must tell you that the work will be hard.  You will be placed in the kitchen assisting the scullery maid.  Can you scrub pots and pans child?  Let me see your hands.”

Angelica nodded again.  She held out her hands but continued to stare at the floor.  The Colonel studied her hands.  They were petite things , fragile like the rest of her.  He convinced himself that this child would be nothing but a burden.

The Colonel was a widower.  His wife had died only a year before and they had no children.  He felt lost.  This great house of his inheritance was cold and empty without her but he ran a strict schedule with his staff.  And a child, what could a child bring to this household but unbridled noise and general havoc?  Still, Christina was his only blood relative, his sister and a Sister of the church.  When she approached him there was nothing else to do than accept this waif into his household as his ward.

Angelica stood in her nightdress, staring hard at the floor.  Her pale cheeks were flushed as she listened to the adults talk about her.  She had arrived with Sister Christina when the Colonel had been out.  Christina saw to her getting settled in one of the small rooms, helped her to unpack her things, fetched her something to eat and helped her into her nightdress.  It was then the Colonel had called up to meet his young ward.

He stared hard at the crown of hair, almost as pale as the moon.  She continued to stare at the floor, the toes of her bare feet tugging at the loose edging of the rug she stood on.  “Well, sister, you can see to her bed and you must, of course, stay the night to settle the child in but from tomorrow you must leave her to me.  The staff will care for her as one of their own.”

“Yes, Sir.  Colonel…may I ask if I can write to Angelica regularly and, perhaps, visit her occasionally?”

“You may.”

“Thank you, Sir.”

She reached out for Angelica. “Come, child.”

It was then that the Colonel noticed the toes tearing at the rug’s edge.  The steel edged tip of his cane thundered down on the hard wooden floors and the Colonel boomed, “CHILD!  What are you doing?  This is an imported Persian rug.  You are already costing me more than you’re worth!”

He knew the words were too harsh the moment they left his lips.  He expected a flood of tears.  He expected his sister to scold him and take hold of the child.  But neither thing happened.  Instead, a small, delicate hand reached up and took hold of his.  A  porcelain face with red rosy cheeks and big eyes of clear sapphire blue stared up into his old, weather-worn face.  She motioned for him to come closer.  He bent forward, his ear close to her face and she whispered, “These things are not her. They will not fill that space,” and she reached up with her other hand and touched his heart.  For the first time since his wife’s passing, he felt the heaviness of that stone heart.

“Come Angelica.  The Colonel is tired and needs his time alone.  You  must come upstairs now.”

Sister Christina held out her hand.  Angelica took hold of her and walked to the door where she paused. “Goodnight, Sir,” she said in that same gentle voice, before bobbing a courtsey and walking out.  As Christina walked Angelica up the stairs, her own fears about leaving the girl with her brother dissipated.  She knew it would all work out.

The Colonel’s bad leg ached as he made his way to the fireplace.  He stood staring blankly at the orange embers and poked them absently with his cane.  He wondered to himself how an eleven year old child could know so much about life, about him.  He frowned, maybe she was her name after all.

After some contemplation, how long he wasn’t certain, he went to settle in his armchair.  The rough old face looked slightly less worn.  The house didn’t seem so empty anymore.  He didn’t feel so alone anymore.  Maybe a bit of unbridled noise wasn’t such a bad thing after all.

Copyright © 200214 by Karen Payze

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