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

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11. Cistercians

Sophia gently nudged Anne. “Wake up, Anne. We are here. The train is stopping.”

Anne’s eyes opened and closed repeatedly in little jerks, clearly doing battle with the desire to stay asleep. “Already?” she replied, followed by a yawn.

After the train slowed to a walking pace, they leapt from the carriage and scrambled away from the railway to a nearby dirt track. They followed the trail to London Station. Across from the station entrance, Sophia cut her eyes down the long line of people waiting for tickets. She had no doubt they would be queuing for several minutes or more. On the platform, some relaxed on benches reading their morning newspaper while others stood casually waiting. One guy whistled a tune that didn’t sound familiar to Sophia, though the uplifting melody warmed her heart. Nobody appeared to notice him or, if they did, they simply ignored his joyful song. New arrivals from an earlier train were leaving for town by foot. Near the station entrance, a man wearing a cap and overcoat stood by a knee-high stack of newspapers shouting, “Get your Illustrated London News here. Read all about the survivors of the Charge of the Light Brigade Reunion.” A passing gentleman handed him several coins, took a newspaper, and continued into the station. The salesman waved a newspaper in the air, shouting, “The ripper has laid claim to another lady of the night. Read all about it! Get your news here.”

“He seems like an educated chap,” Anne said.

Sophia nodded. “He sure does.”

Seeing their approach, the salesman stopped yelling and smiled.  “Well then, what can I do for you two fine young ladies?”

“Sir, we were wondering if you knew the way to Hyde Park,” Sophia said. She pondered how he had addressed them as “fine young ladies.” Glancing over herself and Anne, she considered their disheveled hair, soiled clothes, and shabby appearance. A more apt description would have been “abandoned orphan ragamuffins.”

“I sure do,” he said, pointing to his left down the paved street. “Follow this road into Maida Vale. In the center of town, when you come to the first crossroad, take a left.” He gestured to his left with a flick of his thumb to give them a visualization of the directions to take. “Follow that road and it will take you past Hyde Park.”

“Okay,” Sophia said, nodding. “Thank you, sir.”

“Wait,” the salesman said in a raised voice as Sophia turned to leave. “Here, take this.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a shiny red apple.

Sophia accepted the gift. “That is most kind of you, sir. Thank you.”

As they walked away, Anne said, “He was a very nice man.”

Sophia picked up a flattish stone from the rocky road they followed. “He sure was.” With the rock’s blade-like edge, she sliced the apple into halves. She gave half to Anne, broke her half in half again, kept half for herself and dropped the remaining portion on the ground. Dash sniffed and nudged the dropped piece. “Don’t be fussy, Dash,” Sophia said. A couple more sniffs and then Dash ate her share.

Sophia glanced at the sun hovering just above the rooftops of the buildings of London. “It’ll be dark soon,” she said, picking up the walking pace towards Hyde Park. She had overheard many a conversation amongst Sisters Mary, Catherine, and Margaret. Stories on how the streets were unsafe after dark, especially for girls. In the late hours of the night the Sisters would sit in front of the warmth of the open fireplace knitting and chatting amongst themselves. They swapped horrifying stories about a notorious killer notching up another victim as he preyed on the women of the night in London or how the Bobbies spoke every other week on how their efforts to apprehend the murderer was coming along.

They had no idea, of course, that Sophia was hiding in the shadows eavesdropping on their grown-up talk. Sister Catherine referred to the killer as a demon-possessed lost soul while Sister Mary was more reserved in her descriptions of the evil man’s actions, using terms such “mentally unstable.”

Anne pointed towards a painted crest, a shield within a shield on the stone sidewall of a building. “Look. I remember that symbol,” she said, before gazing down the alley between the buildings that bore the emblem. “Yes, I’m sure the Cistercians’ monastery is down there.”

Sophia gazed down the dark alley, wide enough for only a single-file advance, that led between two three-story buildings. The constricted passage reminded Sophia of the Sisters’ descriptions of the place the monstrous killer would finish off his victims, places nobody dared tread, where screams went unheard. She shuddered. “You sure? Looks kind of creepy.”

Anne took a second look, glanced to the either side of the alley, rubbed her chin. “Yes, I’m sure.” She scratched her temple. “Well, pretty sure.”

Sophia advanced down the darkened alleyway dodging the splintered remains of several broken wooden crates.

“You okay, Sophia?” Anne asked.

“Yep, I’m fine,” Sophia replied, steadying herself and pushing the thought of the murderer to the recesses of her mind. Two minutes down the alley, which seemed endless, they came to a large solid oak wood door with a bulky iron handle at shoulder height and a closed slot—a peep hole—slightly above their heads. The same shield-in-shield symbol at the end of the alley was painted on the door in black ink.

“You going to knock,” Anne asked, nudging Sophia, “or just stand there?”

Truth was, Sophia felt uneasy. Many questions raced through her mind. Why is this monastery down the end of this alley? What was Sister Mary doing coming to a place like this? Finding no answers, Sophia rapped the heavy iron ring against the wood.

A moment later, Sophia jolted as the slit opened with a loud clunk and two warm brown eyes peered out through the peephole. In unison, Sophia, Anne, and Dash took a step backward. “Yes?” a male voice behind the door asked.

Sophia cleared her throat to ready her innocent persuasive voice. “Um, sir, we would like to read some books in your library.”

“Oh, you would,” the man said in an inquisitive voice, “would you?”

She hesitated, debating whether to run or stay, before coupling her hands behind her back, replying, “Yes, sir.”

“And where do you dwell?”

“Saint Juliana of Pavilly Orphanage.”

The eyes scanned Sophia up and down, then Anne, and finally Dash. At once, the peephole slammed shut, and the sound of several iron latches sliding echoed down the alley before the door swung open. A short balding man, slightly hunched over, and wearing a brown habit under a black scapular gestured them inside. “This way.”

They followed the man who limped his way through the vast foyer. “It’s so quiet in here,” Anne said.

“We prefer a quiet existence,” the man replied. He stopped before two bi-folding wooden doors twice the height of an average man. He grabbed the doors’ two polished brass handles and took a few steps backwards to pull the massive doors open.  They parted with a low-pitch creaking. He gestured into the opening. “The library is through here.”

Anne and Sophia entered, followed by Dash. Sophia saw the man wink as Dash looked up at him. Dog lover, she thought.

Grand, magnificent, amazing. Sophia struggled to come to terms with the incredible sight of the library. Books wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling, placed on intricately carved shelves recessed into the massive walls that spanned three stories high on all four sides of the room. Ladders mounted on moveable platforms reached the heights of the bookcases. Various books, some of them open, lay on lecterns scattered around the vast room. In the center of the room, five feet in diameter, a wooden globe inscribed with the continents of earth eased rotating. A single curved oak beam that extended from the four wooden legs of the base to the top held the sphere in place.

“So many books,” Sophia muttered, her eyes wide and gleaming like a child on Christmas morning.

Anne shrugged. “I know.”

A nun, dusting the shelves, eyed them as she continued to work. “Where do we start?” Sophia said.

“Hmm…” Anne cut her eyes across shelves. “Do we try to find Esdras or Orders?”

“You’re the expert when it comes to books,” Sophia said. “So you tell me.”

“The E’s.” Anne paced over to the bookcase wall closest to the entrance. “Let’s start there.” After finding where the A’s started, Anne followed the flow to the B’s and proceeded to the section of E’s. “Up there, Sophia,” she said, pointing towards the highest row of books, three stories up. “The ES’s should start along the top row.”

Sophia cut her eyes up eighteen shelves of books. “Right-o.” She slid a nearby ladder over and proceeded to climb the wooden rungs.

“Be careful,” Anne said, in a slightly raised voice. Sophia nodded and continued to climb. At the top, she scanned along the spines of the books to her right. Esacar, Escape, Escapade, Esdor … Esdras. She reached out, leaning and stretching as far as she could. From below Anne cried out, “Oh, do be careful, Sophia.” The book remained at least half an arm’s length away. “Anne, push me over,” she shouted. Below, Anne shoved the ladder to the right. “That’s brilliant, Anne.” She reached out and grabbed the book titled The Order of Esdras. A sense of contentment caused her to smile as she hastily descended the ladder.

As Sophia stepped down from the last rung, a man’s voice, powerful and commanding, said, “And what does a young girl like you want with The Order of Esdras?” She turned to see a man she guessed to be in his early fifties with short blond hair, dark brown eyes, and dressed in priest garb—a black frock with a white collar—standing before her reaching out towards the book she was holding.

“Well, you see—“

“Hand it over,” the man interrupted.

Reluctantly, Sophia handed him the book.

“And what are your names?”

To Sophia’s surprise, Anne responded instantly, almost as if under a spell. “I’m Anne, this is Sophia, and the dog is Dash.”

“Ahh… I see… I shall not be rude. I am Father Gregor Mendel, but you two can call me Mendel. I never did like the name Gregor.” He grinned. “Follow me, please.”

Without questioning his request, Sophia and Anne followed Mendel. On the far side of the room, opposite the entrance, they stopped in front of the wall of books. Sophia presumed Mendel must have wanted to fetch a novel. Instead of taking a book, Mendel tilted one forward—a deep maroon leather-bound book For the Sake of Man by Suriel. “Stand back,” he said. With a slow creaking sound, the wall of books moved forwards and then stopped with a thud. A moment later, the bookcase slid, grinding as if the wheels supporting the structure needed oiling, to the side revealing a secret passage, dark narrow, that led down a flight of steps. One meter inside, Mendel pulled a match from his pocket and lit an oil lantern strung on the stone wall by a thin piece of old rope hanging on a hook. He unhooked the lantern and proceeded down the stairs. “Follow.”

The narrow alley Sophia travelled earlier seemed relatively normal compared to the descending staircase she now ventured. Creepy would be one word she could use to describe the descent, but the word would not describe the scene well enough. At the bottom of the stairs, Mendel opened a small battered wooden door that led into a wine cellar converted into an office space. Bookcases stacked with books filled the walls. Four gas lamps, one on each sidewall, provided a warm yellow flickering light, bright enough to read comfortably by without straining one’s eyes. A large oak desk with inscriptions carved around the edges blocked the full view of a tall high-back oak chair with green leather providing a cushioned back and seat. Many papers and rolled-up scrolls secured by red wax seals covered the desk in an orderly fashion. The crest stamped into the wax appeared to be the same as the one on the door to the monastery. Three maple chairs with red leather cushioned seats were situated in front of the desk.

“Please, please, take a seat, young ladies,” Mendel said, placing the book The Order of Esdras on the desk as he seated himself on the green padded chair. Sophia gestured to Anne to take a seat while she kept a watchful eye on Mendel before slumping onto a chair.

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