- Author: Carol Rivers
Book online «Christmas Child: an absolutely heartbreaking and emotional Victorian romance Carol Rivers (great books for teens .TXT) 📖». Author Carol Rivers
Christmas ChildVictorian Saga Romance
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For Sister Patricia and the Handmaids
About the Author
Excerpt of Christmas to Come
Also by Carol Rivers
Poplar, East London
Christmas Day, 1880
Snow fell in silent showers, settling peacefully on the cobbles of the lane as Colleen O’Reilly dragged herself over the carpet of white. Behind her, drops of blood, as red as summer cherries, melted into the snow.
Colleen didn’t care that she was bleeding. Nor that her boots barely had soles, or that the ragged shawl around her thin shoulders provided little warmth. She was beyond caring. All that mattered was her baby. Miraculously the infant had survived her premature birth. Cutting her own cord with the rusting shears Colleen had found in the brewery’s backyard, had left her weak. Colleen knew her life’s blood was seeping away.
Once again, she gazed lovingly at her child. The baby’s lips were blue with cold. ‘Live my darlin’ girl,’ she pleaded. ‘Live for your mother’s sake.’
The tiny eyes flickered. Her baby was still breathing. But Colleen knew her own time was short in the world. To preserve this new life, she had torn up her petticoats and wrapped them around the tiny body. But what use were rags in such weather? The distance between the brewery where she had sheltered to give birth, and the convent walls, was but a stone’s throw. Yet, with little milk in her breasts, her baby would surely die if not from the cold, then from hunger.
Pain clawed at Colleen’s stomach. An internal agony raked her insides. ‘Don’t take me yet, sweet Jesus. Give me strength to deliver this innocent into the safety of the nuns’ hands.’
Colleen plodded on as the ice-cold snow froze her feet. Now there was only one place she could go, for Colleen O’Reilly knew she was clinging to life for the sake of her child.
If only she had been a regular churchgoer! But in the months of her belly swelling she had been ashamed. The nuns would surely ask about her condition. And how could she tell them the truth? About her long journey as a girl from Ireland to the shores of England. From the famine of her own country to a richer one – or so she had thought.
‘London’s streets are paved with gold,’ she had heard promised.
Now she knew better. She dared not think of, much less voice, the degradation she had fallen into. The first man said he loved her but sold her into slavery. She had been used for men’s gratification, until a new life had formed in her belly. It was then she had found the courage to escape. She would never let her child suffer in the same way.
‘Not long now, my sweet,’ she coaxed, her rheumy eyes fixed on the way ahead. With every last ounce of her strength, she trudged on through the snow.
The grey walls surrounding the Sisters of Clemency Convent were tall and forbidding. But this morning, as the congestive fluid filled Colleen’s lungs, she remembered the secret entrance beyond the closed gates. And it was here she would enter her little girl into God’s house. Before it was too late, she would throw herself on the mercy of her faith.
Colleen stumbled to the place that she had discovered a week ago. Hidden behind holly bushes, the brick was crumbling. Late at night she had gone to loosen more of the stones and artfully replace them. Instinct told her to hurry.
Though she’d heard that the orphanage was already full, the nuns could not ignore the cries of a baby. They would not guess that such a shining treasure was the offspring of a whore, a destitute. So, it was through the hole in the wall she would go.
Please God love her just one more time. Until she had found safety for her darlin’ child.
Thirteen-year-old Henrietta O’Reilly pushed aside a lock of curling copper-coloured hair from her eyes and shivered. The icy water in the big china basin where she toiled was freezing; her fingers were numb to the bone. Yet, after a hard morning’s laundering, there was still so much to do.
‘A labour of love,’ so Sister Patrick regularly assured her. ‘You’ll be fitting those curling tresses of yours into a halo before long.’
The thought of a halo appealed to Ettie, as she was known by the nuns. All the saints looked radiant in the pictures hanging on the convent walls. Their holy images with auras of gold inspired her. But it was hard to conjure a smile in the ancient orphanage laundry. Draughts as strong as storms rushed in from the broken windows. The mucky steam dampened her clothes. The air smelled strongly of soap and starch, and made her eyes sting.
Not that she minded, for having spent all her life in the care of the Sisters of Clemency, Ettie considered the orphanage her home. Hidden away in the hamlet of Poplar, East London, it was rare that she ever ventured beyond the high stone walls of the convent.
Sister Patrick was her favourite nun and though she had lived many years in England, she still spoke with her native Irish accent. It was Sister Patrick who, on her way to chapel on Christmas Day fourteen years ago had discovered the dying Colleen O’Reilly.
‘Sure, t’was a heartbreaking sight,’