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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36. Passage

Sophia followed Michael down the stairs from Sawley Abbey, stepping around the large column supporting the trapdoor above their heads. Light from Michael’s staff illuminated the granite passageway. As they progressed farther down, the pillar behind them descended, sealing the entrance. “I’m drenched,” Sophia said, wringing out water from her hair.

“Me, too,” Anne added, with a shiver. “And cold.”

“We’ll do something about that shortly,” Michael replied.

Dash torqued her body slinging jets of water from her fur onto the walls.

The steps ended with a 180-degree turn that doubled back on themselves descending. “How far down do these steps go?”

“About three stories or so. Two more turns and we should hit the bottom.”

Two flights of stairs lower, Sophia heard the sound of running water. “Is there an underground spring here?”

“Indeed,” Michael replied. “A river in fact.”

At the bottom of the staircase, a stone platform like a wharf ran alongside an underground waterway. Moored to the wharf was a three-seat wooden rowboat rocking in the current. At the far end of the platform, a timber shack with a single glass window protruded from the stonewall. “Let’s do something about these wet clothes,” Michael said, leading the way to the underground building.

Inside the shack, several wooden crates were set against the walls. It appeared to be more of a storeroom than a place of residence. A single oil lamp hung from the ceiling provided light. Michael ventured over to one of the crates and withdrew two pairs of gray pants and white shirts. “Sorry, girls, nothing flashy, but at least they are dry. Do your best to wring out your clothes before storing them in your haversacks. Your coats should be dry, so you can put them back on. I’ll wait outside while you girls get changed.”

“What about you, Michael?” Sophia asked. “Your clothes are still soaked.”

“They’ll be dry soon enough,” he said as he turned and left the shack.

After removing her jacket, Sophia slipped out of her dress and pulled on the gray pants, screwing her nose in response to their simple design and rather ugly color. Next, she put on the shirt then examined her coat. Michael was right. The thick inner fleece was dry. The leather exterior was still a little damp, but that did not stop her from wearing it. “Ready, Anne?” Sophia asked.

“Yep, all dressed,” she replied, stuffing her damp dress into her haversack.

Outside the shack, Sophia saw Michael talking with a stranger. She became fixated on the elderly man’s most prominent feature, a long silvery beard that ran down to his waist. His blue eyes gazed in Sophia’s direction, breaking her trance. She waved. He nodded in return.

“Ahh,” Michael said, turning his attention to the girls. “You’re dressed. Come meet Anthony, one of the ferrymen who serve this river system.”

Sophia wondered where he had come from, before spotting another boat lashed to a mooring post on the wharf. His boat was longer and narrower than the rowboat and had no oars. The red-painted hull had two cushioned bench seats across the middle. A long thick brown pole protruded from the water at the back of the boat. She recalled having read about a similar vessel called a “gondola” that was used primarily in Venice.

“Nice to meet you, Ladies,” the ferryman said. “Please climb aboard.” He pointed to the gondola.

She gazed at the boat. Dash was already sitting in the rear of the craft. How safe is it? she thought.

“Looks like fun to me,” Anne said, stepping into the boat and taking a seat up front. “Come on, Sophia, sit next to me.” The boat rocked gently under Anne’s movements.

Michael crouched and held the boat steady as Sophia stepped into the gondola. Once she was seated, Michael boarded and sat on the center of the bench behind them. Finally, the ferryman untied the mooring rope and leapt on. After lighting an oil lamp at the back of the boat, he grabbed the long pole. Using the pole, he steered the craft away from the dock.

The gondola picked up speed. “How do the boats get back upstream against this current?” Sophia asked.

“There is a series of locks in a canal that runs parallel to this river through a cavern system of its own, which allows for the return journey. Much slower, though,” Michael explained.

Locks fascinated Sophia. They allowed boats to virtually travel uphill. After stopping in a lock, the entrance the boat had come through closed, leaving the boat in a sealed-off section. The exit was then raised a little to let water discharge or enter, causing the water level to rise or drop depending on whether the boat was travelling upstream or downstream. Once finished, the exit fully opened allowing the boat to recommence its journey.

Farther downstream, the river narrowed. The orange glow of the oil lamp tanned the ceiling and sides of the cavern, creating a kind of moving glowing archway. Complete darkness seemed only a stone’s throw in front of and behind them. “How long will the boat trip take?” Sophia asked.

“Half a day,” Michael replied.

“Half a day,” Anne retorted, voice raised. “We’re going to be stuck in this dark tunnel for that long?”

“Yes, I’m afraid so,” he said, “but at some points you will be able to see the sky. Though it will most likely be night by then. Might be wise to get some sleep.”

The ferryman said, “Up front, in that crate, there is some food and drink. Help yourselves when you are hungry.”

“Thank you,” Michael replied.

“I kind of like this,” Sophia said, gazing at the light reflecting on the gentle ripples of the river. “It’s incredibly peaceful, quiet, and, in an odd way, romantic.”

“Yeah, but you need a boy for romance,” Anne said.

“I mean in a spirit-of-adventure kind of way,” Sophia replied.

“Beats walking,” Anne said. “And softer on my tush than riding.”

Sophia chuckled, knowing she meant bottom. “I agree.” She pondered what kept the current so strong in the underground river and presumed it was most likely from the recent torrential rains feeding the river’s source upstream. At the end there was probably a spillway overflowing into a large underground lake, which she knew from her studies played an important part of the ecosystem as they supply water to the many trees above. She wondered if the destruction of the forests would one day make the lake overflow and flood this lovely passage. Though she thought it likely that the lake naturally diffused into the depths of the earth.

Hours elapsed as they coasted down the river with its consistent scenery. In some sections, tree roots in search of water lined the cavern’s walls. Every hour or so they passed a wharf similar to the one they had begun at, each with a staircase leading up and out. Sophia wondered where each station staircase led and pondered what sort of elaborate doorway each hidden subterranean entrance provided as a passage into this elegant transport system.

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