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


2. Sophia

Two weeks later

A wave of frenzied rapping drew the attention of Sister Mary to the sturdy front door of the Saint Juliana Of Pavilly Orphanage For Girls. “Whoever could it be at this hour?” she said. She rubbed her hands together, trying to infuse warmth into the ends of her fingers. She cupped her hands in front of her mouth, took in a deep breath, and then exhaled the steamy air to warm her palms.

“Whoever it is had better have a quite good reason for disturbing us at such an ungodly hour,” Sister Catherine replied as she stood in the kitchen kneading dough for the children’s breakfast.

Sister Mary trudged her way to the door, feeling each stride in her arthritic knees. At the entrance, the rusty holders squealed as she slid the large iron bar across to free the large oaken door. A bitter breeze greeted her, numbing her face as the early morning sun peeked through the opening. Seeing no visitor, she scanned her eyes up and down the lane. A typical early winter’s dawn. Nobody about. The uninviting cold kept sensible people indoors at this time of day. A light coat of virgin snow covered the street, the stairs approaching the doorway, and the wooden handrails surrounding the entrance. “Nobody here?” shouted Sister Mary.

Just as she was about to retreat, she heard a little alerting cry below. She cut her eye downward to the source of the sound. A brownish hand-woven wicker basket rested on the straw welcome mat. Inside the basket, peeking over the top of the white woolen blanket, were the emerald green eyes of a baby—eyes that caught Sister Mary’s gaze and held it. Then the baby made a little gurgling sound, as if to say, “Who are you?” while making a cute expression that caused the ends of Sister Mary’s lips to curl into a tender smile. She crouched down and picked up the basket. “Now who do we have here,” she mumbled, scanning up and down the vacant street a second time in search of whomever left the newborn.

Nobody. Oddly, there were no footprints or signs of activity. Snow was falling, but not so heavily as to have covered up footprints. She shrugged, and stepped back inside the orphanage. Using her weight, fighting a gust of wind, she pushed the door closed with her back. She then hurried to Sister Catherine carrying the basket. “Catherine, look, a baby.”

Sister Catherine peeked into the basket. Short black strands of hair covered the baby’s head. “She is so cute,” Sister Catherine said, lifting up the blanket covering the baby. Embroidered in black wool on the baby’s small white cotton shirt was the name Sophia. “I guess her name is Sophia,” she said.

“That’s a fine name,” Sister Mary said, wondering why anyone would leave a baby as perfect as this. When mothers left their babies due to poverty, the newborn arrived naked or wrapped in rags. The basket and clothes alone ruled out poverty. “I guess we have a new member of the orphanage.”

“I guess we do,” Sister Catherine replied.

Sophia’s flailing arms reached out and wrapped her small hand around Sister Mary’s finger. “Oh, look, her fingers are so tiny,” Sister Mary said. A strange tingling sensation flowed through Sister Mary’s finger, up her arm, and spread throughout her body leaving goose bumps in its wake. The feeling was pleasant and lent a sense of comfort and relief. Oddly, the arthritis pain in her knee, which had plagued her since she turned fifty six years before, at once eased. She thought about mentioning the sensation to Sister Catherine but decided it may have simply been the joy of Sophia’s touch. A placebo effect.

“Where are we going to put her?” Sister Mary asked, wiggling her finger back and forth, playing a kind of tug-a-war with Sophia.

“I can dig out the old wooden cot in the attic,” Sister Catherine replied. “It’ll need a dusting. We can keep the cot in our room to avoid waking the other children during the night when she needs a feed.”

Sister Mary beamed. “That sounds lovely.” It had been some time since she had the pleasure of caring for a baby. The orphans, commonly labelled “abandoned children,” came from a variety of backgrounds but typically entered the orphanage after the age of four because the parents were too ill or too poor—thanks to bank closures and businesses folding—to provide for them. Saint Juliana of Pavilly Orphanage was one of the better orphanages in which a child could end up. It had nothing in common with the many orphanages in which the violence and neglect were so horrific that the children preferred running away and taking their chances on the street.

The sound of Sophia breaking wind followed by a pungent smell changed Sister’s Mary expression from one of joy to distaste. She screwed up her nose. “Oh, I think Sophia has made a delivery of her own.”

Sister Catherine let out a small laugh. “That’s my cue to go search for the cot. I’ll let you handle the delivery, dear.”

“Not all duties of a mum are pleasant, are they?” Sister Mary said, lifting Sophia from the basket and planting a feather light kiss on her forehead.

After changing Sophia, Sister Mary took her to their bedroom to check on the progress of Sister Catherine and the cot. On entering the room, Sister Mary was surprised to see the cot fully set up. The room, which had an air of holiness, contained two single beds, one on each sidewall; a small window opposite the door; a rather old worn cupboard that had seen better days; an oak dresser with a large oval mirror above it; an oil painting of Jesus at the Last Supper hanging above the bed; a wooden crucifix nailed on the back of the door; and a ceramic statue of Mother Mary sitting on the dresser. “You were quick, Catherine,” she said.

“Thank God the cot wasn’t too far packed away in the attic,” Sister Catherine said, wiping down the sides of the cot with a damp cotton rag. “I only had to move a few things to be able to drag it out. A few more swipes here and her bed should be ready.”

Sister Mary rested on her bed cradling Sophia, rocking her gently back and forth. Sophia’s eyelids opened for an instant and then struggled with an invisible weight pulling them shut until at last they lost the fight. They repeatedly tried again, opening a little less each time. “Looks like our little girl needs a rest.”

“Well, I think her bed is ready,” Sister Catherine replied. The basic cot was of simple design: Four barriers made from painted white timber slats, similar to a picket fence, surrounded the base. Inside a dainty pillow rested atop a soft straw mattress covered with a hand-crocheted white blanket.

Sister Mary carried Sophia over to the cot and placed her gently under the blanket. Sophia began to whimper, obviously preferring the arms of Sister Mary and the gentle comforting rocking motion.

“Oh,” Sister Catherine said, opening a small brown wooden box on her bed from which she retrieved from an old mobile. “I found this.” She held up the mobile, a large wooden crucifix tethered to a string. Attached to each side of the horizontal beam of the cross were three strings, equally spaced and each two inches in length, from which dangled smaller crucifixes. Sister Catherine stood on the cot and attached the mobile to a small hook protruding from the ceiling so it dangled above the cot. Sister Catherine gave the large crucifix a quick spin. Sophia’s gaze was drawn to the cross and her crying settled. The smaller crosses danced their own style of courting, rotating in different directions as the main crucifix revolved. Before long, Sophia’s eyes closed and she fell into a peaceful sleep.

Sister Mary whispered, “Well, we had better be finishing breakfast. The children will be awake soon.” Sister Catherine nodded. Together, they left the room. Sister Mary glanced over her shoulder, beaming with grace as she watched Sophia resting so tranquilly. “It appears God has blessed us with another little one.”

“That it does,” replied Sister Catherine. “That it does.”

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