The Colonel stood in the centre of his study, leaning heavily on his cane, and looked sternly at his new ward.
“What did you say her name was?” he asked.
“Angelica, Sir,” came the gentle reply from behind him.
He looked over his shoulder at the nun and grunted.
“Angelica? Well that’s some name to live up to. Whoever thought of that name for this child, I wonder?”
“She’ll surprise you, Sir. You’ll soon see that she lives up to her name.” The nun said.
“Well, we’ll see. She looks frail, hardly a child who could earn her keep. How old is she?” The colonel inquired.
“She is eleven, Sir.” The nun replied.
“Eleven! She’s so malnourished, I would have put her at eight at the most!” He exclaimed.
“And might I add, Sir, that she will certainly earn her keep.” The nun emphasised.
“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 her assumption?” he asked.
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’ll be placed in the kitchen, assisting the scullery maid. Can you scrub pots and pans child? Let me see your hands.” The colonel said.
Angelica nodded again. She held out her hands, but continued to stare at the floor. The Colonel studied her hands. They were petite little 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 died the year before and they had no children. He felt lost. This great house, which he inherited, was cold and empty without her, but he ran a strict schedule with his staff. And had no patience for a child that could bring unbridled noise and general havoc to his household. Still, Christina was his only blood relative, his sister’s child and a Sister of the church. When she approached him there was nothing else he could do but to accept the little 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 unpack her things, fetched her something to eat and helped her into her nightdress. It was then that the Colonel had called them up to meet his young ward.
He stared at the crown of hair, almost as pale as the moon. She continued to stare at the floor, her toes feet and tugging at the loose edging of the rug she stood on.
“Well, sister, you can see her to her bed and you must, of course, stay the night to settle the child in, but tomorrow you will leave her with me. The staff will care for her as one of their own.” He said.
“Yes, Sir. Colonel…may I ask if I can write to Angelica regularly and, perhaps, visit her occasionally?” Sister Christina asked solemnly.
“You may.” He replied.
“Thank you, Sir.” She said.
She reached out for Angelica. “Come, child.”
It was then that the Colonel noticed the toes tearing at the edge of the rug. 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 that his words were too harsh the moment they left his lips. He expected a flood of tears. He expected the nun to scold him. 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,” then 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 his stone heart.
“Come Angelica. The Colonel is tired and needs his time alone. You must come upstairs with me now.” Sister Christina chided. Sister Christina held out her hand, Angelica took it and walked to the door where she paused.
“Goodnight, Sir,” she said in that same gentle voice, before bobbing a courtesy 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, and thought, maybe she was her name after all. After some contemplation, he went to settle in his armchair. His rough old face looked slightly less worn. The house didn’t seem so empty anymore and he didn’t feel so alone anymore. Maybe a bit of unbridled noise wasn’t such a bad thing after all, he thought.