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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15. Revelations

The soft echoes of Sophia’s horse’s canter on the cobblestone road mixed with her companions’ horses’ clopping carved a sweet lullaby through the moist air. The odd stomp in a shallow puddle reflecting the flickering yellow light of gas-powered street lamps occasionally interrupted the harmony. “Where are we going?” Sophia asked.

“Regents Park.” Michael pulled the reins to steer Lancelot’s gallop. “It’s not far from here and will be a safe place to spend the night.”

“The park?” Sophia questioned. A cold chill cascaded down her spine, leaving a trail of goose bumps in its wake. “At night?” Harrowing thoughts of the ripper and Mephis flashed through her mind. “Safe?”

“Yes,” Michael replied with a single nod. “The part we are going to is safe.”

On entering the green flat pastures of Regents Park, Michael said, “Now we make our way to the Inner Circle.”

With Solitaire at a steady trot, Sophia admired the lush gardens. Grander versions of the flowerbeds Sister Margaret cared for behind the orphanage, bursting with thousands of red roses with the occasional white rose scattered amongst them. “Angels amongst the plants,” Sister Margaret would say, pointing to the white roses as the children gathered around. Then she would continue with elaborate stories about how angels truly are among us. Sophia would sit with mouth agape and eyes glued to Sister Margaret as she snuggled next to the other children and listened to the wondrous tales. Now, after what she had seen recently, Sophia wondered if the stories were more than mere fables. Moving on from the gardens Sophia eyed a lone white swan, wings at full stretch, gliding in to land on the still waters of a lake covered here and there with blankets of lilies. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to fly? she thought.

“We’re here,” Michael said as he pulled Lancelot to a halt on the edge of a paved road that appeared to arc in a large circle. “This is the Ring Road. The center of which is called the Inner Circle.” He cut his eyes across the bushes and trees and then proceeded to follow a semi-concealed path, straight and narrow, through the trees towards the Inner Circle. He dismounted at the point at which the path connected with two other paths coming from the North and South creating a cross. Michael kicked away some leaves and debris in the center of the paths’ intersection and uncovered a small circular indentation that could easily be mistaken for a defect in the stone. It was no defect, however, for when he placed the end of his staff into it, a striking cobalt glow illuminated for a brief moment at the point where the staff touched the ground. Sophia shrugged, thinking: A bit of a nonevent. After remounting Lancelot, Michael led them back through the trees to the Ring Road where they waited.

“What’s going on?” Anne asked.

“I’m not sure,” Sophia responded as she shifted around on Solitaire to relieve the discomfort of the saddle. Then all of the sudden, as if spooked, Solitaire jolted. The ground vibrated. In the distance, along a bend in Ring Road a section about one step in width sank into the ground … followed by another behind it … and then another, continuing towards them. Each section descending slightly less than the previous. Her troubled horse, swaying his head side to side, took two paces backwards. When the last section formed, she traced her eyes down the curved descended area, where part of the Ring Road use to be, and beheld a curved stairway providing a pathway down to an underground stone archway.

“This way,” Michael said, leading the way, riding Lancelot down the stairs. Solitaire protested until  Sophia prodded him with successive jabs of her heels. As they entered the archway, each step they had crossed ascended, sealing them beneath the earth.

Gas-powered torches spaced at regular intervals on either side of the stonewall passageway provided light. Sophia scrutinized her surroundings like a hawk stalking a rabbit. “What is this place?”

“A network of passages and safe havens spanning underground across England,” Michael explained. “It’s been in use for centuries.”

As they moved ahead, torches lit as they approached, somehow sensing their presence. As they passed, the torches behind them extinguished. Sophia presumed their weight triggered them. She had once read about a self-lighting hallway. As people walked down the hall, the pressure of their weight squeezed open valves under the floor that allowed gas to pass through pipes. Before the gas reached the lamp, it created pressure on a levered flap that caused a bit of flint on the other end of a lever attached to the flap to strike, creating a spark, which lit the lamp. Only wealthy people had such devices.

Michael interrupted her recollection. “Some sections have been converted into the subway for trains.”

“So everyone knows about the tunnels?”

“No. Very few in fact. A few workers stumbled across them when constructing the subway. Since then, colleagues have been busy sealing off sections they believe workers are liable to discover so we don’t lose the entire network.”

Next to a solitary wooden doorway perhaps six feet high in the side of the tunnel, the trio and Dash dismounted. The horses barely managed to duck under the alcove of the entrance. Inside the room, Michael secured the horses to an ageing timber trough set against the dusty stonewall. “These caverns are huge,” Sophia said.

“Yes, large enough to hold a troupe of fifty men comfortably.”

“Why?” she asked, staring at the ceiling.

“In times of war they were indispensable for moving army units. Or for reconnaissance.”

Sophia eyed the rough-hewn ceiling. Several cavities suggested the mixture of stone and dirt had fallen. “The roof looks a little unstable.”

“Yes, unfortunately, maintenance isn’t carried out as often as needed, but we will be okay here for tonight.”

“Shouldn’t we keep moving?”

“It’ll be cold and dark out tonight,” Michael said as he propped himself into a seated position against the stone. “Not enough light to travel.”

“Why don’t we take the tunnels?”

“A little farther along, they end and we will have to go back up to the surface.”

“I see,” Sophia said as she and Anne sat cross-legged on the floor near Michael. “Ground’s hard.”

“Yes. I’m afraid the luxury of a soft bed will evade us tonight.”

Anne positioned her haversack to use as a pillow. She lay down, staring upwards at the ceiling. “I don’t mind. I’m used to sleeping on hard surfaces.” She wiggled a little, seemingly in search of the  optimally comfortable position. “Our mattresses at the orphanage are not much softer.”

With his staff resting across his lap and his haversack to one side, Michael closed his eyes.

Sophia watched as his lips moved, but no words came out. She presumed he must be praying before seeking sleep.

“Sophia,” Anne whispered.

“Yes.”

“Do you think we will make it, you know, to the Order of Esdras?”

Sophia pondered the question for a moment, but an answer eluded her. She remembered Sister Mary telling her to see the cup as half full not half empty. “I’m sure we will.”

“Rest now, Sophia,” Michael said.

She shook her head. Adrenalin stilled fuelled her body masking her fatigue. “But I’m not tired.”

“I am,” Anne whispered.

“We have a long journey ahead of us,” Michael said in a calm but commanding voice. “Rest.”

Reaching into her haversack, Sophia withdrew the book The Order of Esdras and flipped the pages to the first readable section.

At the top of the page in bold print were the words 1862 – A Father’s Last Act. The text read more like a work of fiction than a prophecy.

* * *

1862 - A Father’s Last Act

This will be a simple task. No blood. No screams. A drop of poison to slowly sap away the life of the mother and the unborn. Battling his inner voice, Jack attempted to convince himself that this would be easier than the typical task Mephis asked him to do. Thus, systematically, he ascended the dustless grand marble staircase to the second floor of the stately house where his victims slept. Each step pleaded with him—yelled at him—to turn back. Each step was harder than the last to conquer. His eyes cut to the many valuables, paintings, artifacts, and silverware that he could effortlessly steal. Money, however, was of no value and no reward to Jack. No matter how much wealth he had, pounds and shillings would not extend his life. Only Mephis was able to accomplish that miraculous feat. Local currency was not something Mephis accepted in exchange for his services. No, Mephis wanted something considerably more personal. Jack understood the price—his very soul.

Peacefully, Sophia, his target, slept in the grand king-size bed next to her husband. Jack wondered what she might be dreaming. Something pleasant. Or maybe a nightmare. Whatever she was dreaming, it would be her last.

From the inside pocket of his weathered trench coat, he withdrew a small glass vial filled with a green translucent liquid. He opened the vial, hovered his hand over her mouth, and allowed a single drop to fall free onto her lips. The liquid, like a snake scurrying after prey, slid from her luscious red lip into the depths of her mouth. His job done. He slipped silently into the darkness.

Outside the bedroom, he waited patiently to ensure the deed was completed. First came the sounds of Sophia gagging, gasping for air. Next came her husband’s frantic cry, “What’s wrong?” Then Sophia’s struggle for breath, so panicked, so vain, was silenced under her husband’s shouting: “Sophia! What’s going on? Sophia!” Jack sensed the anxiety, the vibrato of desperation dancing on the husband’s vocal cords. A kind of sadness mixed with guilt enveloped Jack, for he knew the husband would soon lose not only his beloved wife but also the child in her womb. He quickly extinguished the sensation by justifying the callous act as a means to extend his own mortality. Her or me.

Scuttling through the bedroom door came the husband cradling his unconscious pregnant wife. Jack waited until the man neared the top of the marble staircase. There he made his move, stepping from the shadows wielding a dagger with a twisted blade. He plunged the sharp blade deep between the unsuspecting man’s shoulder blades. A cry of pain echoed throughout the grand house, bouncing off every wall. Then came the unexpected: The husband spun. Sophia’s legs hit Jack squarely in the head. The sudden blow caught him off-guard. Dazed, stumbling, he scrambled to balance himself but could not and tumbled over the balcony railing falling two stories down and landing on a wooden table, which collapsed under his weight. He heard the sound of glass breaking under him, a glass bottle most likely, felt shards of it slice into his skin. The pain, external rather than internal, was new to him and quite bearable. He lay still and listened to the husband frantically descending the stairs and then exiting through the front door.

No matter, he thought. Soon enough the poison will finish the task, and the dagger will claim its prize. He rose, pulled the glass fragments from his coat and flesh, cutting his hands in the process. Staring at his palms, he watched, in a transfixed state, the wounds weep droplets of blood as he battled his pangs of conscience over his actions. He was not seeing his own blood. He was seeing the ghostly blood of his victims, each drop reflecting their last facial expression before death claimed them, reminding him of his crime.

* * *

In a daze, Sophia closed the book. The reality behind the words hit her like an icy cold rainshower on a bitter windy day. Chilled, her body shivered. My parents? Jack killed them. Returning to where she left off she continued to read … how the husband carried his pregnant wife down the street, through the pouring rain, eventually arriving at his final destination, the foyer of St Thomas Hospital. Then, in almost a trance-like state of disbelief, she read about the birth—her birth.

* * *

1862 – The Birth

Smiles illuminated Angela, the nurses, and Dr. Gregory as the infant’s cries filled the room. “It’s a baby girl,” Dr. Gregory announced.

“She is beautiful,” Angela said.

“Well, she is going to need a mum,” Dr. Gregory said as he passed the baby to Angela’s waiting arms. “How about it Angela? We all know you and your husband have been trying for a child for some time. Are you inclined to adopt this orphan? Or at least to look after her until we can find a relative?”

Angela beamed a smile that cast the warmth of the sun rising on a cold winter’s day as she cradled the baby. “We can certainly give her a better home than an orphanage.”

“Okay, then it’s settled,” Dr. Gregory said. “I’ll organize the paperwork.”

The baby stopped crying, comforted by Angela’s sweet embrace.

“One last thing,” Dr. Gregory said. “What are you going to name her?”

Angela glanced at the bracelet on her mother’s wrist. “We should probably call her Sophia, after her mother.” She bit her bottom lip. “But you know what? My husband and I have had our hearts set on the name Anne.”

“Okay, then, Anne it is,” Dr. Gregory said as he turned to leave the room.

* * *

Sophia slammed the book shut. What she read changed what she had previously presumed. Her heart raced for answers increasing her body temperature. “Are you okay, Sophia,” Michael asked, one eye open, the other closed.

“I’ll be fine,” she assured him, wiping newly-formed beads of sweat from her forehead.

Dash scuttled over and lay her head on Sophia’s lap. Sophia stroked the dog’s side gently. The presence of Dash calmed her somewhat and allowed her to ponder what the revelations meant and how they would change things. A few minutes later, she returned reading where she had left off.

* * *

“Wait, doctor!” Eleanor said. She was performing her final routine examination of the mother. Stethoscope in hand she exclaimed, “I hear a faint heartbeat!”

“But that’s impossible,” Dr. Gregory said, spinning around. “She’s dead.”

“Not her, the mother, a second baby.”

“Are you certain?” Dr. Gregory asked. “A twin.”

“Yes, I am absolutely certain!”

“Okay, team,” he ordered, “prepare for a caesarian.”

Angela’s eyebrows lifted above her widening eyes. A second child.

The nurses and Dr. Gregory worked at a frantic pace. His priority, without needing to worry about the health of the mother, was to save the baby—Anne’s twin. Within a minute, he had the newborn out of the womb. “Another girl,” he said, while proceeding to cut and tie the umbilical cord. “And a fighter at that. It’s nothing short of a miracle that she is still alive.” The baby neither smiled nor cried as Dr. Gregory wrapped her in a blanket and placed her on a little side table to be weighed. “So, Angela, can you take both children?”

Angela glanced at Anne, then at the second child, and with a vacant expression said, “I would love to, but—”

“I understand,” Dr. Gregory interrupted. “Finances, right?”

“Yes, finances.” She frowned. “I’m so sorry, Doctor.”

“Don’t be. Times are tough. Better to have one adopted than both raised by the state.”

Angela gazed at Anne with lips battling between a smile and a frown. “Seems a shame to separate them.”

“We’ll keep her here for a couple of weeks.” He wrote some notes on a chart. “If we can’t find someone to adopt her, we’ll hand her over to the state.” Dr. Gregory turned his attention to Eleanor. “Write up an arm band for this little cherub. Name her,” he glanced at the mother’s bracelet, “Sophia.”

“Actually, doctor,” Angela said, gazing into Sophia’s eyes, “if we cannot find someone to adopt her, I will take her.”

* * *

Closing the book, Sophia stared at Anne. For a moment, her expression was blank. A second later, a warm smile brightened her pretty face. Anne said her mum’s name was Angela. Could she be my sister? How did I end up at the orphanage? Sister Mary had explained to Sophia, when she asked at age seven, that “a large white stork flew in carrying you from the heavens, holding you in a blanket under its long yellow beak, and left you on the front doorstep of the orphanage early one morning.”  Eventually, after Sophia quizzed her about the stork, Sister Mary came clean and said she had made the part about the stork up but the rest was true.

How she had actually ended up on the doorstep nobody knew. Sophia rubbed her bloodshot eyes. Her adrenalin had been diminishing from the moment she sat down. Fatigue started to hit her hard. I need to keep reading. On returning to the book, however, confusion racked her mind as she searched for the pages she had just read. All she found where the text use to be were blank pages with a logo, in black, in the center consisting of two feathers crossed one over the other. Her hands trembled. What is this? How can this be? She turned page after page, scanning the transcript for any resemblance to what she had read. Nothing. Gone. The words on the remaining pages recalled what Mendel had said. She placed her haversack on the ground, lay back and let her weary head fall into the soft leather. She stared toward the ceiling and cradled the book like a stuffed teddy bear. Eventually, exhaustion got the better of her, and she drifted to sleep.

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