The child was very much alive. Abbess Mary Margaret, in her crouched position on the door stoop, pulled the white blanket down to the end of the bassinet. The child looked healthy enough. Her cheeks were red from the cold, and the nun watched the child's breath form tight little balls of steam in the brisk morning air. There was a note tucked into the side of the bassinet with the baby. Scribbled in coarse letters was the word Peri. She reached down and picked up the child, cradled her in her arms.
"So, you must be Peri then, eh?" the abbess asked. The baby gurgled and smiled at Abbess Mary Margaret's rising smile, the wrinkles around her eyes like mountain ranges and valleys on an ancient landscape. She rang the bell tied to the belt of her habit and walked into the main reception building of the abbey.
Sister Mary Eugine came out of the side office and approached the Abbess. Her eyes widened at the sight of the swaddled baby in the Abbess's arms. "Oh, Mother Superior," the sister exclaimed. "She's a darling one, isn't she?"
"Seems to be quite content. Not a peep out of her," the Abbess said. "Could you please see to the bassinet at the door?"
"Of course, Mother Superior. Right away." Sister Mary Eugine bowed slightly and walked toward the large entranceway of the Abbey of Elizabeth, House of Perpetual Sin. The abbess turned to watch the sister pick up the bassinet. "Do you want the blanket," the sister asked, pulling at the soiled garment in the bassinet.
"Let's launder it and put it with the other blankets. She may want it as a reminder of where she once came from. Her name is Peri, apparently."
The sister bowed slightly again and walked down the long corridor to the laundry at the east end of the complex. The Abbess turned in the opposite direction and headed to the west end of the compound, where the novices were quartered. She knew the exact novice to entrust the care of the child to.
Walking to the quarters took a leisurely ten-minute stroll, out of the main building, through the wide garden where most of their food was grown, and around the sisters' church to the squat, long dormitory where the novices were all asleep. The Abbess had known exactly who to put in charge of this child's well-being the moment she had seen the child on the front steps. Their stories had been similar in that neither knew their parents nor where they came from.
The Abbess recalled Sister Mary Cecelia's own arrival at the Abbey almost twenty years ago. Quite a few years older than the child in her arms but no less precious. Cecelia had shown patience and kindness that other children from the outside world did not possess. She was a quiet, strange girl that had grown into a confident and unapologetically empathic novice. In a few years, Cecelia would make a devout nun and eventually, the Abbess thought with a wry smile, a superb abbess herself. The Abbess knew that putting Cecelia in charge of this small child would benefit both of them.
There was a faint glow from behind the curtained window, and the Abbess quietly entered the door. Sister Mary Clarita quickly and quietly stood up from behind the desk, placing the fabric bookmark on the open page of her bible.
"Mother Superior," Clarita whispered, "what a pleasant surprise."
"You weren't the only one surprised tonight. Let me introduce you to Peri, the newest charge our Lord blessed us with."
Clarita stuck out her finger and Peri grabbed hold with a tight fist. "Ooh, quite the strong one, aren't you?"
"Please wake Sister Mary Cecelia for me."
The sister bowed, moved past the Abbess and slid down the cots of the dozens of novices. She stopped at the side of the third bed from the corridor, bent over and gently shook the young woman sleeping. Sister Mary Cecelia rose and looked toward the Abbess. She stood quickly, and a few of her fellow novices also stirred.
"Sister Mary Cecelia," the Abbess said when the two sisters arrived before her. "This child is now in your charge. Her name is Peri. Sister Mary Clarita will show you to your new room and get you settled for the night. Please come see me tomorrow after morning prayer."
"Yes, Mother Superior," Cecelia said, taking the child from her arms and bowing slightly. The two sisters turned and walked to the far end of the dormitory.