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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38. Gilnockie Tower

Watching the wharf grow ever larger as they approached, Sophia knew it was only minutes until their gondola ride came to an end. It had been so peaceful and pleasant that she wished it weren’t coming to an end—almost. Her legs weren’t! She began stretching her legs to relieve the stiffness that had set in on the long trip.

“Who would like to assist in mooring?” ferryman Anthony asked.

Sophia turned to Anne. “You can.”

Anne shook her head. “No, I would rather not.”

“You can both help,” Anthony said.

“Many hands … light work,” Sophia said, echoing Sister Catherine.

As the boat pulled alongside the wooden wharf, Anthony passed her the end of a rope, said, “I need you to tie this to an available bollard.”

“Is that a post?” Sophia asked, as she accepted the mooring line.

“Yes, it is.” He turned to Anne, said, “I’ll need you to come up back and hold this pole straight so the boat will not turn away from the wharf as I assist Sophia.”

“Okay,” she replied, a hint of enthusiasm in her voice.

Sophia readied herself as the gondola pulled alongside the wharf. A little leap landed her on the jetty. Quickly, she hooked the rope around a mooring post. “Got it,” she shouted. Anthony stepped onto the wharf to help secure the rope. Sophia crouched and held the boat steady. “Anne, Michael, you can step out now.”

“Thank you,” Michael said, stepping onto the wharf. He turned to Anthony. “And thank you as well.”

“You’re welcome, my young friend,” Anthony replied. Michael hooked one arm around the man’s shoulder and shook his hand with the other.

“Come on, Dash,” Sophia said, patting her thighs. Dash seemed content to stay behind with Anthony. Curled up on the floor, she looked quite at home. “Seems like she found a friend in you, Anthony.”

“Aye,” he replied. “My job, however, doesn’t allow for a dog. I did enjoy her company.”

“Why is she so hesitant?” Anne asked.

“Might have something to do with the lavish attention and regular treats Anthony has been providing her,” Michael said.

Anthony grinned. “Guilty as charged.”

In a stern voice, Michael said, “Dash, come now!” She rose onto her feet, stretched, then, not as enthusiastic as usual, evident by her stationary tail, leapt from the boat.

Sophia cut her eyes across the platform and, seeing no exit, asked, “How do we get out of here?”

“Follow me,” Michael said striding to the end of the dock.

A square section of the floor at the end of the wharf caught Sophia’s eye. Made from the same wooden timber, its tone was marginally grayer. A conspicuous gap, wide enough for a hand to fit through, separated it from the rest of the dock. As they stepped onto the area, the platform sank slightly with the sound of a latch releasing. “Huddle together now,” Michael said, “away from the edges.” A moment later, the floor vibrated and began to rise.

“Wow,” Anne said, “we’re going up.”

Sophia turned her attention to the roof of the cavern. High up, a flickering glow brightened into a square opening in the ceiling. She calculated the space to be slightly larger than the platform they stood on. The light, she presumed, came not from the sun but from a burning lamp. “How is this thing powered?” she asked.

Michael tapped the end of his staff on the platform. “Below, there is a column that rises using the power of the river.”

“Like a waterwheel does?” Anne asked.

“Indeed.”

“Oh,” Sophia said. Technology amazed her. In the last week, she had experienced things she had previously only read about, and even some things that she never knew existed. Anne appeared to be enjoying the discoveries just as much, if not more.

The platform rose through the opening. A tighter fit than she had originally thought. For a short time, solid stone walls enclosed them on all sides until a hallway, as narrow as the platform, appeared on the north side. With a sudden jolt that made their knees buckle, the platform stopped, flush with the floor of the passage. A single lamp dangling from the ceiling by a short piece of rope provided enough ambient light to illuminate a flight of ascending stairs that led straight into the stone ceiling.

“The stairs go nowhere,” Sophia said. “We are trapped.”

“Give me a second,” Michael said, stepping off the platform. At the top of the stairs, he pushed up on the roof. Like a trapdoor, it flipped upwards.

“Wow, you’re super strong,” Anne said.

“No, that is wood made to look like stone. It’s not all that heavy.” He climbed higher up the stairs and a few seconds later said, “Okay, girls, all clear, come on up.”

“Another graveyard,” Sophia said as she stepped off the last step.

Michael closed the trapdoor, which once closed was a covering for a mock grave, complete with its own monument. “You would never guess that is a secret door,” Anne said, glancing at the headstone. “I’m guessing there is no Mr. Underme who died in 1745.”

“Indeed,” Michael replied.

“Where are we?” Sophia asked, gazing into the distance. The sun was not due to rise for at least another half hour and the fog was dense as wood smoke. She squinted, struggling to make out anything more than several arm lengths away.

“In the graveyard of St Michaels Church, in Carlisle.”

Long way from home, Sophia thought.

“We had better not hang around,” Michael said. “Could be Bobbies on the lookout for the three of us.”

Dash barked, and Michael cut his eyes to the dog and added, “The four of us, that is.”

“Who wants to be in a graveyard at night anyway?” Anne said. “Might be ghosts about.”

Sophia laughed. “Could be,” she replied, adding an eerie “oooooooh.”

Anne punched Sophia gently on the shoulder. “Stop that, you.”

An hour later, Michael gazed at the lifting fog that provided a hazy blanket for the rising sun in a clear blue sky. “Beautiful day for a walk.”

“Indeed,” the girls said simultaneously, doing their best impersonation of Michael’s voice. Half his lip curled upwards, the other stayed straight as the girls chuckled. “How far are we walking today?” Sophia asked.

“About half a day.”

Sophia did not mind. Walking sounded great after sitting in the boat for such a long period.

Nearly four hours later, they came to the side of a swiftly flowing river. It was too deep and wide to leap across and no stepping stones in sight. “How are we going to cross?” Sophia asked.

“There’s a bridge, a little farther up the River Esk, after we cross into Scotland,” Michael said. He led them in an easterly direction following the riverbank.

“Ooh, I’ve never been to Scotland,” Anne said.

“Me, either,” Sophia added. Before this adventure started, the idea of going to another country seemed but a distant dream. And here they were about to step across the border.

Soon the river turned to a northerly direction and then curved back to the west. At this point, Michael continued north following a grassy path through the trees. Half an hour later, they emerged once again on the banks of the River Esk in front of a narrow bridge, its gray wood well-weathered, that spanned the river.

“Doesn’t look very sturdy,” Sophia said, gazing across the gently swaying bridge. The “bridge” was not what Sophia had expected. This was no Queen Victoria Bridge where a trio on horseback could get ambushed by bandits, but a rope bridge. It consisted of two thick ropes that spanned the width of the river tethered to the trunks of stout trees on both sides. The walkway was a series of planks of battered gray wood set a step apart that dangled under the ropes supported by thin fraying strands of rope. Sophia took a closer look at the larger rope. “These holding ropes seem a little rotten. You sure they will hold us, Michael?”

“No, I’m not sure at all, but if we do fall, it’s only a short way into the water.”

She gave a single concerned nod and surveyed the bridge and water below. She figured the highest points of the bridge were about twice her height. Closer to the banks the drop was much less. The short fall would not be deadly, but the great river current would be difficult to fight, especially since the water was likely to be close to freezing. So, death was actually a real possibility, but what choice did they have?

“I’ll go first,” Michael said. “If the bridge can hold my weight, you girls will be fine.” He stepped onto the first plank, which wobbled under his feet. After wedging his staff horizontal under his armpit, he used the ropes either side of him to steady himself.

Sophia held her breath each time he stepped forward to the next plank. About midway, Michael paused, seemingly reluctant to take the next step. From Sophia’s vantage, she could not quite make out why he paused, until he transferred his weight to the ensuing plank, which split, sending his leg plunging through the base of the bridge. In an instinctive reaction, his other leg swung forward to the plank ahead, which also snapped like a dried-out old twig….

He went down then, and fast, his only lifeline was his grip on the rope. His fingers clawed at the thick rope but found no traction. He fell and Sophia prepared to witness him splash into the water. But, to her astonishment, he seemed to hover in midair, his shoulders slightly above the base of the bridge. A second later she saw what had happened. The staff under his shoulder wedged itself between the planks behind and farther ahead. Calmly, he allowed himself to drop down until he was holding the staff by his hands. He then shimmied across the rod to the board before the broken one. Once in position, he pulled himself up using the plank and his staff and, after steadying himself, proceeded towards the girls.

“That didn’t go so well,” Sophia said as Michael stepped off the bridge.

“Indeed.”

“Are you hurt?”                             

“No, I’m fine, a little bruised, ego-wise and physically, if anything.”

“Want me to heal you?” She believed confidently she could if she tried. At least his physical discomfort.

“No. I’ll be okay. Sometimes our bruises can teach us lessons.”

“So how do we cross now?” Anne asked.

“Well I think it’s safe to say the bridge is out,” Michael replied. “But I did see something upstream that may help.” He led them east a short distance. “Down here,” he said, following a narrow dirt path that twisted down the side of the riverbank.

On the sandy bank, a raft made from two thick logs and several planks was propped up against a tree. A single rope, at shoulder height to Michael, was stretched taut between two trees and spanned the river. A second thinner rope attached to the back of the raft lay coiled up on the bank fastened to a stake as thick around as Michael’s forearm protruding from the ground. “Help me with this,” Michael said as he pushed the raft down the bank towards the water.

Sophia and Anne both assisted in shoving the raft into the water. Once afloat, Michael and the girls stepped onto the raft and Dash leapt on board. Michael grabbed the rope spanning the river and pulled. The raft began to move. He continued to draw on the rope, hand over hand, and ferried the raft toward the opposite bank. The current started to turn the raft, attempting to drag it downstream, so Michael dug his heels between the boards of the raft, leant backwards, and heaved with all his strength. A little farther across, the current eased and Michael relaxed to a slower pace.

“This beats the gondola,” Anne said, peering up the river, allowing the fresh breeze to swirl her hair.

“Do you have a thing for boats, Anne?” Sophia asked.

Anne grasped Sophia’s hand. “I’m starting to. I love the floating sensation.”

Several minutes later, the raft ran aground on the other bank. “Everybody off,” Michael said. They quickly disembarked. Together they pulled the raft higher up the bank. Michael coiled up the loose rope attached to the raft and fastened to a stake in the ground.

“What is that rope for?” Sophia asked.

“Retrieving the raft if you’re on the opposite bank.”

“Ah, I see.”

“That was much more fun than having to cross that rickety bridge,” Anne said.

“A little less of an adventure,” Michael said, “but a whole lot safer.”

“Too true,” Sophia replied. “Where to now, Michael?”

“This way,” he replied, leading them north.

A little later, at the top of an embankment, Sophia spotted a tower in the distance. “Is that where we are going?” she said, pointing to the tower.

“Indeed. Gilnockie Tower, originally known as Hollows Tower. It was built in the sixteenth century.”

From her vantage point, the tower house appeared simple in design: four greyish stone brick walls, four stories high. Small rectangular nooks on each level provided primitive windows, a parapet bordered the flat top with a central peak that appeared to be a lookout point.

“Not that much farther,” Anne said as they proceeded towards Gilnockie Tower. “Good thing, too, because my feet ache and my legs are tired.”

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