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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17. Stowe House

Shades of color, each just a bit dimmer than the previous, saturated the soft rolling hills as the sun dropped slowly below the horizon. Up ahead, appearing in the hazy distance, the large stately buildings that form Stowe House came into view. Sophia looked up at an impressive stone statue of a man on a horse set atop a massive stone pillar. As they cantered past the structure towards the house, a drove of quite vocal goats made a wailing bleat as they fled into the surrounding trees.

While securing her horse, Sophia tried without success to calculate the size of the house, which spanned some distance in both directions away from the central structure. “This place is enormous,” she said.

“Yes, a lavish temple of delights,” Michael said. He pointed to various facades as he led them towards the front door. “Several state rooms, each with its own stories and individual design wrapped in mythology and political themes, make up the bulk of the sanctuary.” At the entrance, Michael tugged three times in rapid succession on a rope suspended from a discolored bronze bell. The chimes, sounding deeper than Sophia expected, boomed between the monumental pillars supporting the front portico—so loud that Anne covered her ears.

After a short wait, the rightmost of the auburn-color oak doors swung inwards, squealing as the hinges groaned under the weight. “Richard? I was expecting the butler to greet us,” Michael said, extending his arm.

“I’ve been watching your approach from the upstairs study,” Richard replied, shaking Michael’s hand. “By George, it is good to see you. Last time, you were a tiny tot, coming up hardly to my waist level, and now you are taller than I.” He gestured them inside, said, “Well, don’t just stand there, come on in so you can introduce me to your companions. But, do be a good chap and leave that mutt outside.”

Dash moaned, circled a few times, and then lay down and curled her body into a resting position.

Through an arched opening on the side of the foyer, they entered a sitting room. The extravagance of the interior astounded Sophia. A concert grand piano glistened under the gentle light filtering through the soft white cotton curtains over the grand bay window. The ornate fireplace, large enough to camp inside, crackled as flames devoured freshly cut logs, distributing comforting warmth throughout the space. The walls hung a series of portraits of people in exuberant poses showing off their best possible facets clad in flamboyant clothes, the cost of any article of which could feed Sophia’s orphanage family for a year. As she lowered herself into the fine white leather cushion of the sofa between Michael and Anne, Sophia imagined herself sitting on a cloud—so supple and such a welcome relief from Solitaire’s rather unforgiving saddle. Richard took a seat opposite them in a leather chair. He was an older fellow, mid-to-late fifties, with a face most women would not bother to take a second look at, capped with a bald crown walled by short receding hair. The buttons on his black dress coat strained to hold back a bulging belly suggesting not only that he ate well but had a tooth for sweets.

“Jolly good show, let me guess,” Richard said while pointing. “Sophia is the one in the middle and Anne on the end.”

“Right you are, Richard,” Michael replied.

“Well of course, I am. But I did have fifty-fifty odds.”

Sophia leant forward, eyebrows hovering low above her narrow eyes. “But how did you know our names?”

“Carrier pigeon, my dear girl. Arrived two hours ago from Mendel.” He crossed his legs and scratched newly-formed stubble on his chin. “My, we are the suspicious one, aren’t we?”

“Maybe,” Sophia replied, sinking back into the plush leather.

From inside his coat Richard pulled out a cigar. “Mind if I smoke?”

“Yes,” Sophia said. “That stuff will kill you, they say.”

“Are we a scientist, too, Sophia?”

“No,” she said, letting her voice fall just a bit. “It just makes sense. Breathing in smoke couldn’t really  be good for you, could it?”

“I suppose not,” Richard said as he lit the end of the cigar.

“Why did you ask if you were going to smoke anyway?”

“Manners, my dear.” He coughed plumes of smoke while pulling the cigar away from his lips. “Something you seem to be lacking.”

Michael interrupted. “Richard, old friend, Mendel said you could help us on our journey.”

“I could. But how do I know this feisty girl is The One?” His cold brown eyes glared at Sophia. “Can you do any tricks?”

“Tricks?” She threw her head back and eyed him. “What do you mean tricks?”

“I don’t know. Levitate an object. Part a sea. What can you do?”

“Noth—ing,” she said, turning her head from hard left to hard right.

Richard leant into the back of the recliner and took a deep drag of his cigar. Seconds later, he exhaled, creating rings of smoke. “I see.”

“Convinced?” Michael said.

“Right you are, young Michael. She is a curious one.” He licked his fingers, pinched the end of his cigar a couple of times to snuff the embers, and then stored the roll of tobacco back under his coat. “Let’s not just sit around here,” he said. “We have things to discuss in a more private location.”

They all rose with Richard who, taking long swift strides, led the way. Apart from a well-polished suit of knights armor standing alone on the back wall of the first room they entered the space was empty. Rectangular marks on the floor, especially close to the walls, told Sophia furniture had been removed. “Have you been robbed?” she asked.

“No, I’m afraid not,” Richard said. “Well, not in so many words. Times have not been very fortunate to us, requiring us to sell off assets to pay down debt.”

After passing through several more doorways adjoining the staterooms, they came to a large empty room, circular, like a temple. A series of arched niches in the walls, separated by sixteen ornamented stone columns, held various objects of art. Above each one was a gas-powered glass lamp hung from the ceiling of an alcove two feet deep that projected inwards where the top of the columns met. The marble-tiled floor reflected the ornate domed ceiling. Several bands above the alcove lined the curvature of the room each with its own decorative pattern. The pattern of the first band alternated between a shield symbol and a face with a long nose and eyes set eerily close together. At a rough count, Sophia calculated 24 faces and shields. The next higher band consisted of etchings of people in the stone, dressed old-style as if from biblical times and various animals—a lamb, a cow, a lion. Embedded in the marble floor in the center of the room was a brownish square tile with a solid bronze circle inside.

Richard positioned himself on the decorated spot. “Michael, be a good chap and close the door we came through.”

As Michael closed the door, the square Richard was standing on sank about two inches into the floor with a clunk. Sophia’s cross necklace vibrated between her breasts as her body jittered from the quaking movement of the floor. She watched the second hand on a wooden clock mounted above the door tick five times before the tremors stopped.

“Right, there we are.” With a thump, as Richard stepped away, the marble square tile snapped flush with the floor. “Grab the door, Michael.”

Michael touched the handle and took three unhurried steps backward as the door swung open. “How is that possible?” Sophia asked as she gazed down the marble staircase beyond.

“Stowe House has many secrets, my dear,” Richard said, as he began the descent. “The room rotates.”

“But how?” Sophia asked.

“Let’s call it English ingenuity.”

At the base of the stairs, Richard jostled a key back and forth in the bronze keyhole. He mumbled something under his breath, which Sophia could not quite catch, several times, presumably from frustration. “Ahh, there we go,” he said. “Blasted door, stubborn as my wife.”

Richard kicked a few books strewn on the floor to the side as he entered the room. “Careful you don’t trip.”

Inside Sophia carefully stepped around little heaps of books scattered across the floor. Books, books, everywhere books. On shelves, across tables, stacked in piles. Hardly a square foot in the chamber that did not have a book. After navigating through mounds of books, Richard took a seat behind a round wooden table, surrounded by six handmade maple wood chairs. Sophia circled the table. The back of each chair had a protruding carved face. In pairs, male and female, two of the faces had no eyes, two no ears, and two no mouths. Odd, Sophia thought.

“Take a seat,” Richard said, shuffling through the books spread across the table. “Ahh. Here it is.” He pulled toward him a large book twice as high and wide as an ordinary book with the gold-gilded title Angels on front. “Right, Sophia, I’m going to ask you a couple of questions. This will go much quicker if you answer them honestly.”

“I wouldn’t do otherwise,” she said, nodding while crossing her fingers under the desk, an old superstitious trick she had learnt to allow her to tell a white lie. Some secrets she was determined never to reveal, Anne’s heritage being one of them.

Richard stopped flipping through the book when he came to a picture of a male holding a glowing silver-white sword about to strike what looked like the shadow of a person. The angle he faced and the position of the sword hid his identity. On his back was a bow, but no quiver, which Sophia thought strange. Halfway up his forearm, framed in a yellowish glow, he wore an armlet. Around his waist, an elaborate belt with peculiar inscriptions held up a pair of ordinary-looking white trousers.

“Who’s the man?” Sophia asked.

“No idea,” Richard replied. “Not important.” With his finger, he scanned down the page. “Did your parents exhibit any powers, Sophia?”

“I never knew them. They are dead.”

“Oh. Hmm. Well, in that case, do you know whether when they died their bodies disintegrated?”

“Disintegrated?” A strange question. She took a moment to think back to what she had read in The Order of Esdras, and recalled nothing to indicate that they disintegrated. “Not that I’m aware of.”

“They must not have carried the gene. Mendel expected as much.”

“Gene?”

“Yes. Mendel works in the area. It is said our bodies contain an elaborate system of genes. They make our bodies unique. There is a specific gene that Mendel calls the ‘Angelic Gene’ which descendants of the twelve angels may carry. When they die, their bodies rather than merely eroding like the rest of us in decomposition simply disintegrate, immediately on death, to dust.”

“Oh. Then why didn’t my parents…” she swallowed an unpleasant taste of fear “disintegrate?”

“Sometimes the gene skips a generation, or two. Genetics. Funny thing. They say that is why I am bald and my father is not, but his father is. Skipped right over him. Lucky bastard.”

“Sir, mind the language in front of the ladies,” Michael said.

“Yes, indeed,” he said, tipping his head. “Please accept my apology.”

Sophia nodded. She had heard much worse over the years. “Is there any way to check me for the gene?” she asked.

“No, not physically. I don’t have the equipment.” He continued to read. “You will nevertheless know sooner or later when you will exhibit powers not of this earth.” Anne caught his eye. “I suspect, from Anne’s expression, that you already have. However, all things considered, and with what Mendel said in his note, there is little doubting you are descended from angel-human conception many generations ago.”

“So, I’m an angel.”

“No, no dear. Only God ordains angels,” Richard said. “Angels are created beings as such. You carry the Angelic Gene.” Richard continued flipping through pages.

“Oh.” Her eyebrows melted in a puddle of disappointment. “How then do I have powers?”

“You needn’t be an angel to have powers. The gene gives you an edge to tap into spiritual gifts that elude us humble gents.”

“But if I die, I disintegrate?”

“Well, your body does.” He quickly scanned over a paragraph. “Your soul? Well, there seems to be some contention on what happens to a soul inside a body carrying the Angelic Gene when terminated. Nobody seems to know. You may stand the Last Judgement like the rest of us mere mortals.”

“That’s comforting,” she replied. In her mind, she was more concerned for Anne than herself. A new question arose in her thoughts: Does she have the Angelic Gene?

“Ah ha,” Richard said, “this is what I was looking for.” He brought the book up close to his face and scanned the text. “Be a good girl and place your hand on the center of the table.”

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