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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14. Dinner

Sophia eyed Anne as the girl gazed at herself in the full-length dress mirror. The sparkle in her eyes was accentuated by the flowing pearl-white long-sleeved dress she was wearing. The thin silky fabric hugged her torso and flared just a little at her hipline downward to allow unencumbered movement. She twirled, letting the dress fan out.

“You look stunning,” Sophia said.

“And so do you,” Anne replied, taking in Sophia’s outfit, identical to hers except it was a pale sky blue.

“You are both gorgeous,” Sister Bridget said. “Now, come, we must attend dinner.”

“Where did you get these dresses, Sister Bridget,” Sophia asked.

Sister Bridget smiled warmly as her eyes seemingly gazed on a distant memory. “We were once young,” Sister Bridget said with a little pant.

As Sophia and Anne entered the dining room, all those sitting rose from their chairs. Sophia froze for a moment, taken aback by the gallant gesture. Nobody had ever stood for her.

“Please, young ladies, take a seat,” Mendel said.

Sister Bridget pulled back an empty seat for Sophia then another for Anne. Sophia’s cheeks warmed as she realized that everyone seated around the twenty-seat table had eyes fixed on her. Mendel sat at one end of the table and Michael at the other. Sisters and monks occupied the rest of the seats. Every person had been served the same dish, a bowl of tomato soup and a small loaf of bread. A queue of candles equally spaced extended down the center of the table from one end to the other. The candles combined with gas lamps set in sconces around the sides of the room provided warm, tranquil lighting.

“Brother Michael, would you lead us in grace, please?”

Michael cupped his hands, bowed his head, and began to speak. “Father of us all, this gathered meal of your fruits is a sign of your unfailing love for us. Bless us and our food. Help us to give thanks each day. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen!” In unison everyone said “Amen” creating a sensation of grace in harmony.

Just as they were about to partake of the soup, they heard the sound of footsteps, moving quickly, beyond the door. All eyes turned to the door, tracking the hasty approaching noise. The door swung open, slamming against the wall. A monk entered. Between great heaves of breath, he shouted, “Mendel, they are coming…!”

Mendel and Michael rose in unison. “Quick, Michael, take them through the escape tunnels,” Mendel said. “We will stall them.” The Sisters at the table began to pray while the monks scattered through different exits.

“Who’s coming?” Sophia asked.

“I’ll explain later,” Michael responded. “For now, we must go. Follow me.”

“Wait,” Mendel interrupted. “Take this, Sophia.” He handed her the book The Order of Esdras.

“Quickly,” Michael said, his tone urgent. “We have no time.” They scurried through the kitchen into a large storage room filled with various foodstuffs. The room reminded Sophia of small hedge maze. Floor-to-ceiling shelves formed walls of food. Narrow openings between them created corridors that led off in different directions. Sophia struggled to keep track of the changes in direction and which way they had already been. At times, it seemed as though they were travelling in circles. “This way,” Michael said as he walked into some shelves on a wall stocked with crates brimming with various vegetables. He was doing the impossible, walking through solid matter. Half his body passed through the wall. Sophia took a few steps backwards as Anne cowered behind her. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “It is an illusion.”

Sophia shuffled forwards within an arm’s reach of the illusory wall. In position, she reached out and watched her trembling hand pass through the shelf, then the wall. It was an odd sensation. Her mind told her matter was there but her sense of touch proved otherwise. “Here goes nothing,” she said, venturing through the fake wall and stepping foot in a room on the other side.

She heard Anne’s voice cry out beyond the wall. “Are you okay, Sophia?”

“Yes,” Sophia replied, “just step through.”

An instant later, Anne leapt through the illusion.

Sophia first studied her reflection, a near perfect duplicate of herself, on the highly polished wooden floor, before turning her attention to the rest of the hidden room. Intricate golden patterns covered the pure pearly white walls. The ceiling was a masterpiece painting of Angels and Demons battling in the clouds using medieval weapons—swords, shields, bows, and arrows. Exquisite. As she scanned further around the room, it dawned on her what this space was: a secret armory. Several staffs were strung on one wall and dozens of books were shelved on another. The books did not seem normal, however, for they all had a faint white aura glowing about them.

Michael opened a large ornate mahogany chest that stood in the center of the room. From within, he retrieved two white leather jackets insulated with wool. “Here, put these on. It’ll be cold on our journey.”

Sophia slotted her arms through the sleeves of the jacket, felt a strange warmth immediately come over her, not a warmth created by the thick wool but an energy that charged the material. Michael took one of the books and a wooden staff. The staff appeared to be two thick vines, green and glossy, wound around each other and joined at the top to create a foundation for an ivory cross. At the far wall of the room, he placed the bottom of the staff into a round hole in the ground. A large clunk like that of a large heavy lock opening, echoed through the chamber. He knelt and then lifted a floorboard to reveal a length of short rope. On pulling the rope, a square section of the flooring lifted. “After you, young ladies.”

Sophia peered down into the dark cavern the trapdoor exposed. A wooden ladder descended. Without much thought, Sophia clambered down.

“Wait,” Anne said. “We forgot Dash.”

“No, she will be waiting for us,” Michael said. “Come, now, we must hurry.”

The only light in the room vanished as Michael sealed the trapdoor above on his descent. Pitch-blackness surrounded them, but for the faint white glow of the book Michael was holding. “Stay still,” Michael said, before adding, “fiat lux.”

Sophia did not understand what the words meant, though the dialect sounded familiar, like Latin the Sisters would sometimes speak. After speaking, the top of Michael’s staff, the crucifix, emitted a bright white light that illuminated the cavern.

“Cool,” Anne said, gazing around the dusty cavern. “I hope there are no rats down here.” She screwed up her nose. “I hate rats.”

* * *

Mendel retook his position at the end of the table and awaited the intruders’ entrance. Moments later the main doors burst open and several constables rushed in. The one in charge slapped his baton against his hand. “Where are the girls?”

Thrusting the chair backwards as he rose, Mendel shouted, “How dare you charge in here and interrupt a prayer session!” The Sisters, without showing the slightest disturbance, continued their praying.

The police officer, apparently unconvinced by the retort, narrowed his eyes like a snake. “We know they came in here! Witnesses saw them entering the alleyway.”

“Do you see any girls other than our lovely Sisters?”

Methodically, the officer glared at each Sister in turn. “Hmm…” He paced around the table to within Mendel’s personal space. “If we find them in here I’ll have you arrested.”

“Well you just do that,” Mendel said, stomping his foot.

“Right men, search this place,” the Bobby yelled. “Leave no stone unturned.”

* * *

“Who are we running from, Michael,” Sophia asked.

“The Bobbies, or do you call them police?”

“Oh,” Sophia sighed. “I wouldn’t have thought they would chase us this far over a loaf of stolen bread.”

“They’re not,” Michael said, shaking his head and placing a hand on her shoulder.

Sophia gazed into Michael’s calming eyes, her own brow drooping under the weight of curiosity. “Then … what?”

“You’re wanted for questioning on suspicion of arson resulting in the deaths of Sister Mary and Sister Catherine.”

Sophia shook her head, slowly, as her eyes watered. She felt a sharp sting erupt from her chest as if someone had hammered a nail through her throbbing heart. “But …”

“I know, Sophia,” he said, letting his chin drop. His eyes conveyed full understanding. “You don’t have to tell me.”

Anne said, “I guess when we ran from the Bobbies in town it looked suspicious.”

Michael nodded.

Sophia blotted her eyes with the sleeve of her dress. “Can’t we just go to the Bobbies and tell them what happened?”

“And tell them … what?” Michael said.

“Hmm. We could tell them we were not there when the orphanage burnt down.”

“And where are you going to say you were?”

 “At Mr. Brumby’s,” she said.

“Yes,” he said, “and where is he now?”

Sophia nodded. “I see.”

“They are also looking to interview you regarding his death. You were seen running around with his dog.”

“Oh, right. The situation doesn’t look good.”

“We are fugitives!” Anne said, a glint of excitement in her eyes. “On the run from the law!”

“Indeed,” Michael said. “You are innocent fugitives.”

“How do you know we are innocent?” Sophia asked.

“I doubt you would have come to us if you were guilty?”

 “I see.” Sophia drew in a deep breath and tried to make sense of the situation.

“We must keep moving.” Michael nodded toward a passage, the only exit other than the trapdoor above that led out of the cavern. “They will not find us down here, but the longer we stay, the more difficult it will be to leave London.” The granite walls narrowed, forcing them into a single file, as they proceeded. Michael, leading the way, swiped old uninhabited cobwebs with his staff.

“Where are the spiders?” Sophia asked.

“The weather is too cold for their food during this time of the year,” Michael said, sweeping away a wall-to-wall cobweb blocking the way forward. They hide in dark crevices awaiting warmer weather.”

Anne brushed strands of fallen web from her shoulders. “That’s a relief.”

At the end of the passage, a short ladder led up to the ceiling. Michael ascended the wooden rungs and pushed upwards on the ceiling. Nothing. He pushed a little harder, releasing a grunt as he did. A squealing noise, metal on metal, sounded as a slither of artificial light-streamed in. “We really need to increase the maintenance around here,” he said. He strained and rammed the ceiling panel with all his might and, with a loud crash, the trapdoor flipped fully open. “Wait here a second.” He scurried up the ladder and vanished through the opening.

“Where did he go?” Anne asked, peering into the light above.

“Probably to make sure it is safe for us to come up,” Sophia said.

“He’s so gallant,” Anne said, blushing.

Sophia rolled her eyes.

Moments later, Michael shouted from above. “Okay, it is safe. Come on up.”

Sophia gestured for Anne to go first. After the short ascent, Anne disappeared from sight.

Her turn. On climbing into the area above, the strong smell of livestock reached her. “A barn,” she said, making the final step off the ladder onto a hay-covered floor.

“A stable,” Michael responded, gathering three prepared leather haversacks. “Here, put these on.” Sophia placed The Book of Esdras inside the haversack before slipping the carryall over her shoulders. Michel pointed to the far side of the stables. “This way.” Around a corner, three magnificent horses stood before them, two charcoal and one pure white.

“Wow,” Sophia said, her eyes blooming from buds to fully formed roses. “They are magnificent.” A familiar bark interrupted her appreciation of the stallions. “Dash           ! You are here.” She knelt and allowed Dash’s tongue to give her a friendly hello across the side of her cheek. She stroked Dash who was all too eager to lap up the attention. She realized that part or her affection for Dash came from wanting to keep Mr. Brumby’s memory alive.

Michael untied the horses. “The prophecy says that the ones can ride. I hope that is true.”

“Yes, it is,” Sophia said, rising onto her feet. “Sister Mary took us riding several times. A nearby farm handler donated his horses and time. He gave us and our orphan sisters lessons.”

“Right.” Michael mounted the white steed. “Hop on a horse.”

Sophia climbed onto one of the charcoal horses. “What are their names?”

“The one you are riding is Solitaire, Anne’s is Eclipse, and mine is Lancelot. Prize horses. All three are extremely well-conditioned and capable of a full day’s travel at a decent pace.”

Michael shouted: “Kneel.” His horse Lancelot followed the instruction and bowed on its front legs. He then patted his leg and looked at Dash. “Come on, girl.” Dash leapt up onto Lancelot and seated herself in front of Michael.

Sophia’s eyebrows raised in surprise that Dash knew what to do. Well-trained dog and horse.

“Away we go!” Michael said as he led them out of the stables.

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