A Tale of Two Sisters, Stepney

22 April 2017: Atlanta, Georgia.

Cedric Stepney and his wife Anne have always led exemplary lives. Cedric is a clothier, one of the “sons” of Stepney & Sons, a shop started by his father Everett some forty years ago. Cedric has retained the name even though his brother, the other “son” left to start his own haberdashery shop in Surry ten years past and Cedric has no children, let alone sons, to carry on the family business. He’s a deacon at the local parish where Anne sings in the choir, and the Stepneys are known throughout their parish as the most generous and friendly people one could know, never too busy to lend a hand with a cause or to collect money for the poor.

A large, rotund, and jovial man with a booming bass voice, Cedric always plays Father Christmas in the local holiday pageant and Anne collects clothing or other donations, and often bakes up batches of cookies to give out to the children of the parish or to some wayward youth who happens across her doorstep. A woman of average height, but full-figured and shapely, Anne is the perfect complement to Cedric with a slightly nervous demeanor that she covers with excessive cheerfulness. Subject to occasional flights of fancy, Anne dreams of the day she and Cedric will begin their family. Despite this, they have never been blessed with children of their own, and as each year slips by, they move closer and closer to the time when it will be impossible to have any at all.

This afternoon the Stepneys are making their way through the streets of Aldgate on their way home from the shop. For most of the twenty years they’ve been married, Anne has made it a habit to visit Cedric at his store then walk home with him. On this day, they take a slight detour as Anne spots a parcel of fabric she thinks would make good quilting material.

“Quite a bit of it, too,” she says, as they approach the rolled up fabric sitting on top of a stack of discarded boxes. Touching it, Anne looks at Cedric and says, “There’s something in it.”

She carefully removes the fabric but stops when she sees the top of a child’s head. Cedric exclaims, “Oh God,” as Anne removes the section covering its face. The child’s eyes are closed, its skin is pallid and its lips are blue and it’s not breathing. Anne cradles the baby in her arms as Cedric pulls back the remainder of the fabric.

“It’s a little girl,” Cedric says sadly.

“Oh, Cedric,” Anne sobs. “Who could do something this horrible to someone so innocent?”

Anne presses her head to the baby’s and says, “You poor little thing. You didn’t have a chance.”

“What should we do?” Cedric says.

“We can’t leave her here,” Anne says. “She deserves a proper burial.”

Anne’s cheeks are soaked with tears, and she looks again at the tiny lifeless face then looks skyward and says, “Oh, God, why couldn’t you have brought her to us? We’d have done right by her.”

She holds the baby tightly to her.

Suddenly, the baby’s body starts trembling, frightening Anne who looks up at Cedric then back to the baby whose body convulses as she takes in a gasp of air. Cedric and Anne watch in amazement as the color returns to her face. Finally, she opens her eyes and begins moving in Anne’s arms, seemingly no worse for the ordeal.

Wide-eyed, Anne stares, first at the baby then at Cedric, saying, “What’s just happened, Cedric?”

“It’s a miracle!” Cedric says touching the baby and looking at Anne, “a sign from the Lord. He wants us to take this baby and raise her.”

“Are you sure?” Anne says.

“How else can you explain what we’ve just seen?” he says. “Only the Lord can perform a miracle like that.”

“I think you’re right,” she says. “But can we keep her? She must belong to somebody.”

“Way I see it, anybody who’d dump her on a trash heap don’t deserve her,” Cedric says.

“You’re right,” she says, angrily. “We should take her and raise her in a proper manner. This is a sign from the Lord.”

Cedric taps his forehead with his right index finger then points. “Here, now, one of my clients is a judge with the Old Bailey. He’s due for a fitting in a couple o’ days. I’ll sound him out on the best way to go about this. Make it all nice and legal. If he can’t help us I grant you he’ll know who can.”

“That would be wonderful,” Anne says. She looks back to the baby and says, “You rest easy little darling. We’ll take good care of you.”

As they walk toward their home, Cedric says, “What shall we name her?”

“What about Allison, after my mother?”

Cedric has another thought, “How about Allison Anne Stepney?”

Anne smiles and says, “I like that.”

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