"Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." - Hebrews 13:2
Marking the page with a ribbon, he slipped the pocket Bible into his coat and stepped up to the cashier. The young man took his change and handed him a paper bag in one swift motion as a wily old woman puttered around the beer taps. Turning to face him, a smile crept over her narrow mouth.
"Well, if it isn't me best customer, the good Father Marques! What are ye doin' out this time of night?" she said.
He chuckled, wiping the steam from his glasses and lifting his face from the warm paper bag. "Have to stock up before the storm. After all, you do have the best bread in town, Edith. It smells heavenly!"
"Ah, you're too sweet, always 'ave been. Now 'ave a nice night, and run along 'ome! It's going to be a heck of a storm." She glanced at the sheer layer of frost encrusting the window panes.
He gave her one last wave before submersing hisself in the chilly night air. With a shiver, he buried his chin in his scarf and shoved his bare hands into his pockets, the paper bag snug under his arm.
What a cold night it is... I'm the only one daft enough to be out and about.
Glancing at a stationary carriage and its sleeping cabby, he filled his lungs with the crisp winter air and admired the slow-falling snow. The light dusting crunched beneath his feet, and he watched his misty breath dissipate before me with every exhale. It was a calm night for a stroll downtown, even though it was against his better judgment to tax his old bones in such frigid weather. The chill winds swirled around his stiff frame, and he curled into himself, searching for some coverage from the bitter cold. There was a convenient shortcut down a shadowy alley just a few blocks ahead where stacks of rotting crates broke the harsh winds, but he could hardly see his own two feet against the slick, wet stone after squeezing his way in. Taking careful steps, he maneuvered his way around the jagged wood, but a sudden thump beside his feet startled me. He halted, immediately, and scanned the darkened perimeter – the alley was empty.
Probably just a rodent – nothing to be afraid of.
Wiggling his bristled lip to muster up some courage, he took another stride forward. A faint breathing echoed through the passageway. his heartbeat pounded in his ears, but he continued on, tracing the sound of the labored breathing to an enclosed packing crate a few yards ahead of me.
"H-Hello? Is anyone-" Movement at the corner of his eye interrupted me.
Some tweed fabric popped out of the splintered edge, rustling ever so slightly.
He bent down to inspect the suspicious object, but it retracted into the box almost instantly. He thought it foolish that he pursue his search in this weather, but he felt inclined to continue. Perhaps it was injured or lost... Whatever it was.
After taking a few breaths to calm his nerves, he cupped his fingers over his brows and squinted through one of the slats. When his eyes adjusted, he noticed a shadow shift to the corner of the box. Two bright eyes popped out of the darkness. Human eyes.
With a gasp, he lifted himself off of the ground and ran his hands along the edges of the wet crate for an opening. A few rusted nails held the crate together, making it easy to pry it apart. He set the planks down and hovered over the box to see who or what might occupy it. Beating harder, his heart fluttered up to his throat.
Steely eyes stared back at him, wide with terror. The boy pulled a tattered piece of cloth tightly around his feeble frame with trembling fingers at the sight of the old man. The child appeared to be around five years old, as far as he could tell from the chubby cheeks and round nose, but his haunting gaze aged him. Why would such a small boy be hiding in this wintry weather? He'd seen many stranded orphans littering the streets of London, but never in his town.
"My dear child, you musn't stay out here. You'll catch your death in this cold," Father Marques said, offering his hand, but he refused.
Tufts of matted blonde hair fell over his tear- and dirt-stained face as he bowed his head. He remained silent.
"Are you lost? Is there anyone who might be looking for you?"
He shook his head and the distant look in his eyes were a chilling contrast to his child-like features. Surveying him and the damp crate once more, the man realized that they would not have much time before the storm picked up again. He lowered his arms into the crate and gingerly tied the worn material around the weary child.
"Will you come with me, then? You will freeze if you stay any longer. "
The boy blinked, fearfully, unsure. There must have been some way to convince him.
"And I just made a fresh batch of shepherd's pie for dinner. Doesn't that sound nice?"
His dough eyes looked up at Father Marques with a new brightness, and a timorous smile etched his lips. The man took it as a welcome.
Careful not to alarm him, the Father slowly held out his hand.
"There, there, now. I won't hurt you, you have a holy man's word.".
The boy scooted closer to him, this time, and the man wrapped his wooly scarf around his exposed neck before lifting him into his arms. He held him close as shivers racked his small body, and the child quickly relaxed at the sensation of his touch. Another tear fell as the boy's eyes shut.