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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9. Town

As they reached the outskirts of Ashford, the sun was high in the sky and warmed their cheeks, but did little to fill their stomachs. They hadn’t eaten since Mr. Brumby, the kind gentleman, had given them his chicken-and-cheese sandwiches. “Is that your stomach, growling Anne, or Dash’s?”

“Mine. Sorry, Sophia,” Anne replied, rubbing her stomach.

“We’ll have to do something about that in town.”

Sophia’s eyes cut to the distant bell turret of the church in the center of town. She pointed in the direction. “That is where we will go. We can rest and be safe there.”

On the town’s main street, crowds of people, shoulder to shoulder, pushed and shoved around the many farmers’ market stalls hawking all kinds of baked items, livestock, fish, fruits, vegetables, and cut meat. The smells that filled the air were heavenly. A little farther down the road, they came to the entrance of the church. Constructed of ragstone with bath stone dressings the church appeared to be one of the sturdier structures in town. Other buildings, mostly of medieval design, consisted mainly of aging wood.

Sophia turned to Dash. “Wait here.” Dash, seemed to nod in obedience and then lay down and curled up on the ground next to the front entrance. Sophia followed Anne through the large doorway of the church. Several rows of empty pews, on both sides of a main walkway, faced a lectern centered on a pulpit in front of the far wall. Above that, a wooden crucifix spanned from floor to ceiling. Light penetrated the stained-glass windows in the church’s clerestories and cast multi-colored God rays through floating dust particles, which created an ambience of cordiality.

“It’s so quiet,” Anne said.

“You wait here, Anne. You’ll be safe. I’ll go get us some food from the markets.”

“But you have no money.”

“Just wait here. Don’t leave,” Sophia said, gazing into Anne’s curious eyes and thinking telling Anne to sit tight was rather like telling a playful puppy to stay.

Outside the church Dash walked beside Sophia as she paced down the market street. With her hair disheveled and clothes grubby from tussling with the snake, Sophia approached a stall selling baked goods. A man cut her a stern look, eyed her cautiously, as he greeted her. “What would you like, young girl?”

Sophia lowered her benevolent emerald green eyes and pouted. “A loaf of bread, please, mister, but I have no money.”

“I’m not a charity,” the man replied, obviously not convinced by Sophia’s plea. “Be gone.”

Dash growled at the man as Sophia relaxed her drooping lips into an upturned smile and turned away. She needed food, Anne needed food, and Dash needed food as well. Sophia wandered farther down the market street until she came to another bakery store with several loaves of bread laid out on a small stand. She considered asking the man standing behind the wooden rack nicely for a loaf but dismissed the idea for fear of rejection. She waited until the man was busy serving a customer and then walked up to the rack, snatched a loaf, turned around quickly, and shoved the loaf down her dress, hoping he hadn’t seen her. Her hopefulness quickly diminished when she heard the words, “Stop! Thief!”

Sophia ran, weaving her way through the gaps between the shoppers. A whistle sounded in the background followed by another shout: “Stop! Thief!” She knew the Bobbies were on her trail. She was at a full sprint and the shrill cry of the whistle soon diminished. Then she heard, up ahead, off to her right, another whistle. The Bobbies are trying to flank me. She cut a hard right, Dash matching her stride for stride, down a side alley between rows of houses. From the far side of the alley a high-collared trench-coated Bobby appeared blowing his whistle. She spun to retreat. Her exit, but found her way blocked by a second Bobby. Both ends of the alley guarded she scanned the sides. Adjoining houses created impenetrable walls. Each increasing beat of her heart seemed to pump out the beading sweat on her forehead.

Hearing a smacking noise she turned her attention to the Bobby at the far end of the alley, who was advancing slowly, slapping his baton against his large hand. “You know what we do with thieves?” 

I’m trapped, she thought. Her heart was a riot. Dash began growling, glancing left and right at each Bobby in turn. A clunk sounded and, suddenly, the Bobby’s roundish top hat tumbled forward. The Bobby spun around. Armed with a large stone Anne steadied her aim. He slammed his baton into his hand. “Right you, little brat…” The Bobby ran towards Anne, tripped, toppling forwards.

Sophia focused on Dash, the object the Bobby had tripped over. “Good girl,” she said. Without a moment’s hesitation, she seized the opportunity and ran around the fallen Bobby towards Anne with Dash in tow. All three sprinted down the street parallel to the main street, with the sound of the Bobbies in pursuit echoing from behind. A distant sound of a train’s whistle caught Sophia’s attention. She shouted, “That’ll be our ticket out of here.”

Down another alley, across a yard, then onto a wider street they raced. Whistles sounded close behind, very close. Sophia dared not look back. Up ahead in the distance, the freight train, passing slowly through the street crossings, squealed its whistle. “Quick!” Sophia yelled. “We can make this.”  Sophia accelerated, her knees pumping higher at the start of each long stride. Anne and Dash, fuelled by adrenalin, did likewise. A few feet out from an open freight cart Sophia turned towards Dash and extended her arms. Using the outstretched arms as a makeshift step, Dash instinctively leapt into the freight car. Sophia reached forward, grabbed the edge of the freight car’s door, and in one swift movement swung her legs onto the floor of the wooden car. With one arm hooked on the cusp of the door, she turned and thrust her other arm towards Anne. Fatigued, Anne stretched out her hand, trying to catch Sophia’s hand. But rather than closing, the distance between their outstretched fingers grew wider. With each passing moment Anne slipped farther away, her eyes portraying a battle between hope and defeat.

The Bobbies were closing on her. “Come on, Anne, you can do this!” Sophia shouted, extending her arm as far as possible from the freight car door. Anne dug deep, deeper than she ever had before. She used her remaining energy to make a few long desperate strides and swung her arm out toward Sophia’s palm. Their hands connected. Sophia closed her grip and, grunting, swung her into the freight car just as Anne’s legs gave out. The Bobbies stopped, doubled over with hands on their knees, gasping for breath, staring at Sophia and Anne. One, red faced, threw his hat onto the ground.

Sophia waved cheekily to the Bobbies. “Goodbye!” She turned to Anne. “We made it.”

Lying on the floor with her clothes drenched in sweat, Anne heaved for breath. “We sure did.”

Sophia pulled the loaf of bread from beneath her dress and broke into three equal parts, one for each of them. Dash wasted no time in gulping down the food. Anne picked her bread into smaller pieces and chewed each morsel as long as she could before swallowing.

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