The Anglic Gene

An orphan girl unsure of who she is or why a man wants her dead carries a secret. She will experience humanity.

Are you ready?

Join Sophia in a heart thumping adventure across England set in the 1870’s, exploring faith, doubt, love and fear. A story, quoted by the editor as “really something special”, you’ll continue to contemplate long after the journey unfolds


20. Church

As a guest of Stowe House, the night passed more quickly than Sophia desired. Richard provided them with an elaborate dinner, consisting of sumptuous foods unfamiliar to Sophia, such as caviar, a word she had never heard. Richard explained that they were a rare delicacy—fish eggs. For dessert the kitchen staff baked an Apple pie. The rich taste lingered on her lips and the alluring scent loitered, in her nostrils. Then there were the sleeping quarters. She and Anne shared a stately room all their own with a king-size bed fitted with silk sheets that made rising in the morning to the sound of a rooster’s cock-a-doodle-do no easy task. The soft, gentle feather mattress provided such a delightful and unfamiliar comfort that enticed her to a longer stay.

Breakfast was another feast. Tangy smoked bacon and eggs accompanied with something Richard referred to as French toast. Greasy toast was more like it, Sophia thought, but it tasted wonderful, buttery. She wondered if such food was healthy. From the looks of Richard it might not be. She excused this gorge, though, sensing meals ahead may be scarce. Well-fed and well-rested, they were ready to travel to Fuller Church to meet with Reverend Robinson.

Sophia wondered what awaited them at their next destination. She was no stranger to church. Every Sunday, without fail, Sister Mary would take the children of Saint Juliana of Pavilly Orphanage to the quaint Catholic parish nearby. The building was as simple in design as a kid’s hand-drawn sketch of a triangle on top of a square with a rectangle for the door. The only remarkable feature was the crucifix above the peak of the triangular roof. Father Bendington, the church’s priest, administered the service as though it were a mini-theatrical production. He and various members of the congregation assumed the role of biblical characters and saints and acted out the stories, like moral plays from the Middle Ages. Father B. was quite the entertainer. He referred to himself as “Shakespeare of the Church.” While Sophia read the Bible on a daily basis, watching the Bible performed, acted out, in the context of current events helped her to understand how the Bible was indeed God’s word. A feather-light sensation fluttered through her stomach as she remembered the laughter and tears experienced during the plays with her orphanage family. She missed them, missed Sister Mary and Sister Catherine.

“Whoa…,” Michael said, pulling Lancelot to a halt on the outskirts of Kettering, a small town in Northampshire.

“What’s up, Michael?” Sophia asked, curious as to Michael’s sudden stop.

“I sense someone might be following us,” he replied, scanning their surroundings. Seeing no one, he said, “Hmm… Might be my imagination. Let’s keep moving.”

Outside of Fuller Church, an impressive chapel much larger than Father B.’s church, they secured their horses and then proceeded inside.

“You can’t bring that dog in here,” shouted the voice of a man sitting on a pew to their left.

“Dash,” Michael said, pointing to the entrance, “outside.” With a whimper, Dash, tail between her legs, begrudgingly left.

“Gee, so many places are anti-dog,” Anne said.

“Don’t be too hard on them, Anne,” Sophia replied. “Somehow I doubt the Sisters would have allowed Dash inside the orphanage.”

From the waist-high platform of the pulpit at the back of the church, a man standing behind the lectern said, “Ahh. You must be the three about whom I was awoken in the early hours of the morning by the cooing of a carrier pigeon.”

“Reverend Robinson, I presume,” Michael said.

The man stepped forward, extended his arm. “Yes. And you must be Michael.”

While shaking his hand, Michael proceeded to introduce Sophia and Anne. Sophia felt a warmth coming from the reverend. She sensed he was a man of God. He spoke clearly, conveying each word with a gentle smile. His glistening eyes inspired trust. “Come, come,” Reverend Robinson said, as he stepped down from the pulpit and led them towards a side exit of the church.

Outside, in the alley next to the church, a two-horse open carriage awaited. “Impressive.” The wagon had two facing bench seats, leather-cushioned with high backs, that accommodated six passengers. The driver had a matching cushion bench seat.

“I’m not getting on that,” Anne said.

Her words triggered Sophia’s memory of hearing Anne relive the agonizing carriage accident that claimed her adoptive parents’ lives. Though on occasion Anne did take horse-drawn cart rides with the Sisters, it was always a challenge getting her onboard. “It’ll be fine, Anne,” Sophia assured her, clutching Anne’s sweaty palm. “You can sit with me in the back.”

“No,” Anne said, pulling her hand away. “I’m not getting on.”

Reverend Robinson knelt on one knee in front of Anne and took her hand, “Would you give me the honor of your company upfront with the horses?”

Anne gazed at the front seat and then stared into Reverend Robinson’s comforting eyes. She smiled and accepted the invitation. Michael stuck two fingers between his lips and blew out a piercing whistle blast. Within seconds, Dash, tongue hanging out, tail wagging, came charging around the corner of the church towards them.

Sophia climbed up into the back of the carriage and seated herself with Michael by her side and Dash at her feet. “Where are we going?” she asked.

Reverend Robinson replied, “To the River Ise.” He gave the reins a short whip and the horses commenced a trot. “The river is not far from here, about ten minutes.”

Inside the back of the cart, under the seat in front of her, Sophia noticed three large white cloth towels. Wonder what they are for? she thought with a quick shrug of her shoulders.

As they approached the river, the sound of a choir of male and female voices echoed ghost-like across the rolling landscape sun-kissed gold by the afternoon sun. The cart pulled to a slow stop behind some trees separating them from the river. Michael reached down and picked up the towels. “You going swimming?” Sophia asked.

“Not me,” Michael replied, grinning. Sophia’s curiosity rose a notch.

“Down by the riverside,” the words sung by the choir could be clearly heard as they ventured through the trees. On the riverbank, forming a queue that extended from the top of the bank to water’s edge, stood eight men about two feet apart, bare-footed and dressed in pure white pants and shirts. To their left, a corridor-width away, stood eight women also bare-footed and wearing pure white full-length dresses. Below them in the water were two men waist-deep in the river. They continued to sing, “Jesus will lead you, to the waters of love, to the waters of life.” When the song seemed to finish, they repeated the verse with a variation of the same theme creating a continuous, lively, spirit-filled rhythm.

Reverend Robinson continued down the riverbank through the aisle between the men and woman into the clear water and stopped between the two men waist-deep in the water. There he turned to face Sophia and Anne holding a black leather-bound Bible in his hands. He nodded, seemingly indicating he was ready.

“Anne, Sophia, I’ll need to take your coats and haversacks,” Michael said.

“Why?” Sophia asked.

“Your baptism, if you want to.”

Sophia had not given her baptism much thought for some years. Sister Mary had once told her, “When you feel the time is right in your own heart, then you will be baptized.” The sweet refrains of the music, the kindly man of God, where they were: everything seemed perfect. Her heart thumped a resounding yes. The time had come. She handed her coat to Michael. Anne followed suit. Sophia took Anne’s hand and, together, smiling, they walked with a slight skip in their pace down towards Reverend Robinson. Sophia dipped her toe in the cold water and shivered. She closed her eyes and said a short prayer, “Jesus, please warm my body in the icy water.” Then she ventured forth, undeterred by the cold.

Sophia stood between the man on the left and Reverend Robinson, while Anne took her position between Reverend Robinson and the man on the right.

Reverend Robinson spoke: “Anne and Sophia, in keeping with the example of Jesus, you have presented yourself this day that you might receive the sacrament of baptism. Baptism is not itself the door to salvation, but rather is an outward sign of the new birth God has wrought in your heart. It proclaims to all the world that you have taken Christ Jesus as the Lord of your lives, and it is your purpose always to obey Him. In order we may know you understand the significance of the step you are taking, I ask you these questions: Do you believe in God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit? That Jesus Christ the Son suffered in your place on the cross and died but rose again? And he now sits at the Father’s right hand until he returns to judge all people at the last day? And do you believe in the Holy Scriptures as the inspired Word of God? That by the grace of God every person has the ability and responsibility to choose between right and wrong, and that those who repent of their sin and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are justified by faith?”

Anne and Sophia replied in unison, “I do.”

“Do you intend by this act to testify to all the world that you are a Christian and will be a loyal follower of Christ?”

“I do.”

Each man placed a hand under his charge’s lower back and a hand under her shoulders. Then, synchronized and with arms crossed shoulder-to-shoulder, Anne and Sophia allowed themselves to fall backwards.

Reverend Robinson said, “Anne, Sophia, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

As Sophia’s head broke the water, she radiated a smile, closing her eyes moments before the water engulfed her. Then, as if time had slowed, she experienced the sensation of passing through a doorway and into another place—a realm of complete peace and harmony where there was no pain, suffering, grief, or sadness, just an overwhelming sense of contentment. In that moment of immersion, the Holy Spirit in his purest form of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, and gentleness held her. She did not want to leave. The man holding her raised her up. And as she came from under the water, all the darkness and pain of the world hit her full-force like a massive sledge hammer battering her stomach. The force overwhelmed her body. She gasped. At the same time, though, her body and soul revitalized to be a disciple of God, to walk in newness of life. She glanced at Anne, who was beaming a smile, exhibiting a radiance of delight Sophia had never seen in her before.

The men and women on the riverbank cheered and clapped as they rose out of the water and onto the bank. Michael passed each girl a towel. Even though she should be freezing, Sophia was not. Her soul burned with the white fire of the Holy Spirit, warming her. She used the towel to dry her hair and clothes.

After Reverend Robinson dried himself, he prayed a blessing over Sophia and Anne. “Lord, Heavenly Father, grant these two souls, who have withstood and will endure the darkness of this world, your heavenly light to protect and fill them with the courage and strength they require to do your will. Grant them the right to return to you when their journey is over. In the name of the Jesus Christ. Amen.”

“Thank you, Reverend,” Sophia said, beaming graciously.

“And no more stealing, Sophia,” Reverend Robinson said with a gentle smile and a stern tone.

She wondered how he knew, but decided not to ask and instead only nodded.

“We will walk back to the church,” Michael said, “to give the girls a chance to dry off in the afternoon sun.”

“Very well,” Reverend Robinson said. “I’ll eagerly await your company. I’ll give you a place to rest for the night, warmer than sleeping outside. I would have carried out the baptism in the baptismal pool at the church, but in his note Richard said that Mendel insisted that you girls be baptized in the river.” He headed off towards the horse and cart.

Sophia gazed around. “Hey, where did all the other people go?”

Michael looked at her with one eyebrow raised, said, “What people?”

“The choir of men and women dressed in white who were singing … standing on the river’s edge.”

“There was no one else here, but the Reverend, Anne, and I,” he replied.

“But…” She thought of debating it further, but realized that Michael had no reason to lie. Who were they?

“I saw them, too,” Anne said.

“Really?” Michael added, rubbing his chin. “How strange.”

“There was also a man in a dark trench coat hiding amongst the trees,” Anne said.

Sophia turned and surveyed the trees. “Whereabouts?”

“Up there,” Anne said pointing. “He’s gone now. I only saw him briefly just before the baptism.”

Squinting, Sophia scouted back and forth across the trees.

“Yes,” Michael said. “I have been sensing a presence of a dark soul. We best be on our guard.”

Jack, Sophia thought. Could it be him?

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