05 November 2010

The Lastoc of the Annumpi: Molehills. Mounds, and Mountains (Part 19)

While she was frying bacon for fourteen people, Rose managed to keep an eye on Lemuel and Maria. There should have fifteen people, but Villens hadn’t made it to breakfast yet. Deciding that the smell of all that bacon would draw Villens to the table if he was within sniffing distance, Rose tossed six more rashers onto the large griddle. Lucinda was about ready to get the eggs going, so he had better hurry. It was the first brisk morning of the season, and the cooks were celebrating with a full Irish breakfast. The eggs and bacon were just a warm up.

Rose saw that Maria kept throwing anxious looks at the window that faced the stables. She would be the first to see Villens come down the stairs and walk over to the kitchen. Lemuel kept looking at Villens’ empty chair and then over at Maria with a quizzical look on his face. Finally he caught Maria’s eye and then glanced back at Lemuel’s empty seat. She just shrugged. Rose decided that if Maria and Villens had an argument last night, she and Lemuel would go to the mound alone. She knew how much going to the mound meant to Lemuel.

Maria was now staring at the window, a puzzled look on her face. She watched for a while, and then stood up, poured two cups of coffee, and walked out the back door. Lucinda, Ethna, Mrs. O’Brien, and Rose exchanged a flurry of looks each carrying an assessment of what the two cups of coffee meant about the relationship between Villens and Maria.

Villens was halfway down the path from his rooms above the stables to the kitchen. He was wearing his new boiled wool jacket, and heavy work clothes he’d borrowed from Pau. The women had only made him dress clothes, never imaging that the Lieutenant would engage in physical labor. He was pacing back and forth and holding a letter tightly  in his hand. He would slap the letter against his right thigh, then pace ten steps, turn around, and pace back. His lips were pursed and his brow was furrowed. His red ears were a sign of how long he’d been pacing in the cool morning without a hat.

Maria waited for him at the end of his westward pacing. When he arrived, he looked up and was clearly surprised to find her standing there and offering him a hot mug of coffee. He accepted the coffee without comment and while he drank, he looked at her searchingly, gauging the strength of their budding relationship against the weight of the thing that had set him pacing. He decided it was worth the chance and handed her the letter. “It’s from my father,” was all he said.

Maria set her mug on the ground and removed the letter from the envelope. The thick, ivory paper had his father’s name and titles printed at the head. His father wrote in a sharp, angular hand with brown ink. Even though the letter was written with some urgency, it contained no smudges or blots. 
After absorbing these impressions, Maria turned to the contents of the letter.

“Dear Eduardo,

    I have heard of Morales’s great error and the price he paid. He was a fine man, but perhaps he thought too highly of his own value. As soon as I heard of his death, I began to search for information about you. Such information is not easily found these days. As you must know, Morales’ regiments, the ones that survived, have been broken up. Their officers have been imprisoned or decommissioned, depending on their role in Morales’ plans. Most of your regiment is dead.

I had not spent time with Morales for several years, so I do not know of your involvement. I cannot imagine that you, a reluctant military man who served only out of respect for your foolish father, could have been involved in a plot. To be honest, son, you are not a good enough soldier to be helpful. 

All is well here. Home is a safe place, as usual. Your mother would you like you to come home for the holidays. Philip is still in France at the University and Julianna sends her love. I have heard recently from our old friend from the desert Sheikh al Dereet. He is still alive and doing well. He was alway such a wise man. He sends his wishes and hopes that you will consider his long life as a lesson for us all.

I hope my messengers can find you soon. Please come and see us at your first opportunity. There is no need to write in advance. Your brother will be home from France in the spring.

I wish you thoughtfulness and wisdom, my son, 

Theodore Villens

Major of Cavalry (Ret.)

Maria looked up when she read the letter and saw Villens carefully assessing her. She was in her working outfit for the first time since the day of the battle. “Are my clothes acceptable, Villens?” she asked. She expected this comment to fluster him as it usually did those men who stared at her.

He didn’t bat an eyelash. Instead he responded, “I haven’t seen you in pants and a man’s shirt since the first time I saw you.”

“You didn’t answer, Villens. Are my clothes acceptable?” she asked again. This wasn’t working out as she expected.

“Don’t be silly, Maria. You know it is not for me to accept whatever you choose to wear. I do reserve the right to respond to your clothes, but acceptance isn’t my place.”

“Aren’t we legalistic the morning,” said Maria. “I thought you slept over the stables, not over the stockyard.” 

Villens was caught and he knew it. Rather than pout or fight, he smiled at Maria and admitted, “You’re correct, of course, I am full of bullshit. I was just considering which I find more attractive, you wearing your work clothes or you in a dress.”

“And?” she said, one eyebrow arched. 

“I am attracted to whichever clothes have mademoiselle in them,” Villens replied, then performed a sweeping bow, the feather of his imaginary hat brushing the ground at Maria’s feet.

Maria couldn’t help laughing and said, “That’s it. You must have slept over the cattle pens last night.”

Villens straightened, grinning and adjusting his imaginary hat. He discretely took Maria’s hand in his. “Must we go on this dreadful trip through a swamp on such a raw, damp day? Couldn’t we make up some excuse to go to the capital for a few days? A hotel room, fine restaurants, maybe a show?”

“Maybe a duel with Eduardo O’Brien when you flaunt our relationship before his friends and government officials?” said Maria.

Suddenly serious, Villens said, “I have never claimed to be a hero, and in my family have I known many heroes, but I assure you that if that man is foolish enough to challenge me, I will kill him. I cannot do otherwise.”

The good humor left Maria’a face. “Tonight I will write him. He clearly is no longer interested in me, but I must make it clear that I am not interested in him. He is the kind of the man who believes a woman can never get over him.”

“I am not pushing you, and I would never challenge him, save for him making a grave public insult, but I would be pleased to know that he and his family, of whom I am quite fond, are aware that the earlier relationship is ended.”

Maria untangled the contorted comment, so unlike Villens’ usual direct, humorous speech. It was as if Villens’ sense of being constrained by others’ ignorance of his and Maria’s feelings for each other was communicated in the form of his words rather the substance.

Maria squeezed his hand and said, “I shall write him tonight.”

Villens stepped a little closer and replied, “The morning would fine. There are so many other things to do tonight.”

Pau came around the corner of the stable and pulled up short when he saw that he was intruding on Maria and Villens. They dropped hands quickly and Maria held the letter up to Villens face. “I cannot make out this passage, Villens. Can you read it?”

“I think it says, ‘quick-thinking’,” replied Villens. 

“Yes, quick-thinking. I think you’re correct,” replied Maria.

Pau may or may not have fallen for the clumsy dodge, but he was wise enough to greet the pair and move on swiftly. Villens watched him go, then said, “You must write that letter and then let the O’Brien’s know. I feel like a fool sneaking around like this.”

“Tonight. Sometime tonight, I will write the letter. I promise,” said Maria, squeezing his hand.

Villens nodded his acceptance of her assurance. “What did you think of the letter?,” he asked, quickly shifting to his main concern of the moment. 

“Honestly?” Maria asked tentatively.

“When we are together just a little longer, you will know that when I ask you something it is because I value your honest opinion.”

“I think your father is very rude to you and I can’t imagine a less inviting invitation,” said Maria.

Villens nodded his head and said, “That’s about what I expected. It’s what my father wanted people to think.”

“People?” asked Maria. “What people besides you, and now me, have read this letter?”

“When I received the letter, it had been opened and read,” Villens said matter-of-factly.

“What? By whom? Why?” asked Maria.

“You missed ‘When,’ and ‘How’,” Villens said.

“Just answer my question,” Maria said.

“Questions. You asked three,” replied Villens.

“I will shoot you if this goes on much further,” said Maria crossing her arms and pursing her lips.

“Let me explain quickly before Lemuel and Rose get here.  The letter was opened by someone in the new government. I suspect Eduardo O’Brien or one of his agents. I have been told that he is the head of the Security Office for the new government.” 

Maria was stunned. She wanted to know how Villens knew this, but she decided to wait and let him talk. 

“My father anticipated that the letter would be intercepted, so he took precautions. First, he presented me as an incompetent and uninterested officer. It is true that I am uninterested in the military, but I am quite good at it. Men in my line have to no choice but to be good soldiers.  It is in our blood and how we are raised. My father suspects that I have left the military and he is attempting to convince the new government that I am unimportant and not worth the effort of arresting. He’s correct about that. I was totally innocent of involvement in Morales’ plot. I’m not sure why he didn’t trust me, but he never did. Neither did Rojas or his son for that matter. Morales hated my grandfather, who had made his life miserable when he was a junior officer. As for the Rojas family, I never got along with the son.”

“What was the problem between you two?,” Maria asked.

“He is a missesah, as my grandfather would say, who considered me a fool who did not recognize his special mission.”

“He is a good friend of Eduardo’s, you know,” Maria said.

“So I’ve heard,” said Villens. “I have also heard that Mrs. O’Brien’s boy’s rise from humble beginnings is due less to native ability and than to a willingness to adore the Rojas, pere and fil. In some circles, he is called the Irish Ramora. The Rojas’s are confident that they are the future of a great empire in New Spain. Flattery seems logical to them.”

Maria had met the Rojas men briefly, and she hadn’t seen them this way.  Of course, the brief meeting never got past Old World charm. She would have to think about Villens portrayal of the pair. “What is this about the Bedouin King?” she asked.

“That is both warning and advice. The story of Sheikh al Deleet is a favorite one in our family. The Sheikh was a Bedouin King in the first century of Islam. He had resisted conversion and kept to the old Arab ways that his tribe had followed for countless centuries. However the Sheikh had a problem. His kingdom lay squeezed between the eastern Christians in Constantinople and the Islamic Persians to his west. They were both pressuring him to convert, but he knew whichever faith he choose would bring the armies of the other down on him. The Sheikh was ruler of a small tribe and war with either one would crush him and his people.”

“The day came when the Sheikh had to decide. He sent for religious men from both faiths. For a week, they debated and performed services. They gave gifts and promised more. Finally the Sheik called the groups together. He told them he was ready to make a decision, but he needed one further question answered. Both groups agreed to answer his question.”

“The Sheikh began by asking the Christians who was better, the Muslims or the Jews. They answered immediately that the Jews were better than the Muslims. He then asked the Muslims, who was better, the Christians or the Jews. They quickly choose the Jews also. ‘That’s it,’ the King replied. I am converting to Judaism.’”

Maria thought for moment or two and then said, “Your father is afraid that you are caught between Morales and Rojas. He is suggesting you take a third, middle course. “

“Very good, but there is more,” said Villens. “He is also warning me that I will have to choose.” At this point, Maria and Lemuel came out of the kitchen and called greetings. They made more noise than normal to warn Maria and Villens of their approach. “Later,” whispered Villens, as he slipped the letter into his pocket.

“We’re sorry to interrupt,” said Rose. “If we are going to be back before dark, we need to leave soon.” She handed Villens a bacon sandwich wrapped in a napkin. “You need to eat, whatever we decide.”

“No, no, we’re ready, or I should say, I’m ready. What about you, Maria?” Villens asked.

“Let me run inside and get my notebook and drawing box. It won’t take minute.” 

With Maria’s departure, the scurrying about that marks the beginning of any expedition began in earnest. Lemuel gathered up the coffee mugs and returned them to the kitchen. Rose went to get the food basket she’d packed earlier that morning. Villens walked over the stables while he finished his sandwich. He returned with a small cart laden with shovels, a pick axe, a few small trowels, and several horse blankets. He wore a sheathed dagger and loaded his cavalry carbine and sword into the cart.


On her way to her study, Maria saw Doña de la Vega coming down the steps. “Excuse me, my dear,” said Angelica. “I seem to be out of perfume. Could I possibly borrow yours until I can send home for a bottle? I have admired your perfume since we first met.”

“Of course, Senora,” said Maria. “I’m afraid that all I have is a small amount that belonged to my mother. I’ll get it for you.” Maria turned to go up the stairs, but halted when Angelica put her hand on her arm. 

“I couldn’t possibly accept your kind offer,” she said. “You must wear your mother’s perfume. I will be fine sans perfume for a few days. By the way, I’ve been meaning to ask. Are you growing your hair longer?”

“A bit, I suppose,” said Maria.

“You should stop supposing, and make the choice,” Angelica said. “It already looks lovely. Longer hairs suits you. That handsome Villens seems to like it.”

Maria blushed, thanked her for the compliment, then hurried off to get her things for the trip. Angelica thought that if Maria could blush when she choose, most men would be defenseless. She sighed and wondered when she’d last blushed. Such is the price of a long, interesting life, she thought. It had been a long time since flattery or surprise had drawn a blush from her.


Villens wrestled the heavy cart out of the stable. The others noticed the weight of the cart and suggested that a horse or mule pull the cart. Lemuel pointed out the ground was still soggy from the flood and the path would pass over even soggier places. A horse or mule would get weighed down. They picked through the tools and discarded a few. Still, the cart would be difficult to maneuver.

“What we need is a strong back that’ll follow directions, and isn’t so heavy that it’ll sink in the mud,” said Lemuel. 

“I can handle the cart,” insisted Villens, but Rose interrupted. She knew that Maria and Villens would want to spend time together today and that didn’t include dragging a cart along. “Wait here,” she said. “I’ve got the answer.” Villens and Lemuel shrugged and then began a desultory examination of the tools, noting the strengths and faults in a manly way.

Rose returned in about fifteen minutes with Finn by her side. The boy could barely control his excitement at being considered. “He’s nearly sixteen, but he’s large for his age, and he’s as strong as most men,” said Rose. Finn beamed and swelled his chest to the breaking point. 

Villens walked over to Finn, never breaking eye contact. Finn stood motionless, growing increasingly uncertain as the unsmiling Villens drew closer. He stopped about a foot away from Finn, then slapped him in the chest with the back of his hand. There was a hollow thud, followed by air rushing out of Finn’s lungs. He doubled up and nearly collapsed, by Villens grabbed his arms and held him. Rose started toward Finn, but Lemuel grabbed her arm. Villens bent down and whispered in Finn’s ear, “Never pose, son. It makes you an easy target. Now let’s go. You’ll do fine.”

Maria had arrived while Finn was trying to catch his breath and Rose indignantly told her what Villens had done. Lemuel assured them both that this was standard young male-older male initiation behavior and Finn would not only remember it fondly, he would repeat the action as soon possible when he was the elder. 

“Men are dogs,” Maria said to Rose. “Pack animals that can be sometimes be housebroken.” Rose laughed, but she wondered what Vera would have done if she’d seen Villens strike Finn. Vera was a wildcat where her babies were concerned.

The party headed down the path, Lemuel and Rose leading the way, then came Finn with the cart, and Maria and Villens followed behind. The path was narrow and the group stretched out. The couples wanted their privacy and Finn did not want his struggles with the heavy cart to be obvious to the others. “You may be big dog here, Villens,” said Maria quietly, “But you will help that boy.” 

“I know,” he said. “Let him have his way for a while and then I’ll tell him you ordered me to take over. That way, I’ll be the weak one.” 

“Why do men make things so complicated?” Maria asked.

“Oh, it’s not complicated to do. It’s only complicated to explain to women.”

Lemuel and Rose discussed the house that Don Hernando was building for them. They discussed getting married. Rose had heard that the new government was promoting secular marriages performed by judges and justices of the peace. She assumed that Don Hernando would still be a justice of the peace under the new government. Lemuel said he’d ask the Don. If so they could marry soon and begin preparations to move into their new house.

They spent some time talking about Ethna. There was no one nearby in whom she was interested. She was of a marriageable age, but she had never expressed interest in anyone. There was a Bryant cousin or two who seemed interested, but she clearly wasn’t. Maybe Eduardo could find a place for her in the capitol were she could meet eligible young men from the new party. If only there was school for her, she was so intelligent, but she was twenty and the university in the capitol didn’t take women. Maybe Maria could help.

Rose told Lemuel about her husband, Declan. Declan was an Irish sailor she’d met when he jumped ship in Porto Royal. He’d been press ganged in Liverpool where he was visiting family. He was a scholar who had travelled from Trinity university to Liverpool to deliver messages to family members who had gone to England to find work. He made the mistake of wandering around the docks, drawn by the noise and bustle, and found himself sailing to Africa on a slaver.

He was a gentle man and unused to physical labor. The physical demands of sailing and the brutality of the slave trade sickened him. He nearly died on board, but he was determined that he would not be cast overboard, sewn in an old sail with British cannon balls at his feet. He fought the illness and when the ship docked at Port Royal on the Atlantic coast, he ran. 

He headed west, away from the sea, and ended up on the other side of the continent, on the land of Don Hernando. Pau found Declan collapsed on the road. He brought him to the house, where Mrs. O’Brien took him under her wing and nursed him back to health. Don Hernando’s family has always been opposed to slavery, so when Declan’s health returned, the Don put him to work writing anti-slavery tracts that were distributed in the capital.

Declan was a quiet man, a good man, and Rose soon fell in love with him. They married when she turned twenty, Ethna’s age, and soon had three children. Don Hernando insisted they live the large house with him and his family. He had grown quite close to Declan over the years.

It had been nine years since Declan had jumped ship and the risk of being recaptured by the British seemed negligible. Declan’s tracts had gathered a large readership in the capitol, so when he was invited to give a lecture at the university, he accepted. He travelled to the capital alone and was never seen alive again. Several weeks later his body washed up on the shore. 

“We’re not sure what happened to him,” said Rose. “Mother and Pau went to the capital, but answers were hard to find. Mother thinks the invitation was arranged by British agents who wanted the tracts suppressed. She thinks they followed Declan and either killed him or returned him to a ship from where he jumped overboard some later.”

“What do you think?” asked Lemuel.

“I used to think all sorts of things about it,” Rose said. “But then I realized it didn’t matter. Declan is dead. He was killed by the British. He was Irish, so that’s always a safe bet. I loved him and he loved me. We have three wonderful children. I was pregnant when Declan was killed. That is why I named my youngest after his father.”

Rose paused and stopped walking. She took Lemuel’s hands and looked into his open, honest face. “It has been a long time, Lemuel. I have been alone a long time. So have you. I love you. I am lucky to be in love again. Are you in love with me, or are doing what the Don wants?”
Lemuel smiled shyly. “You know it’s difficult for me to talk, to speak about how I feel.” Rose nodded and squeezed his hands. “If you can love an odd duck like me, think how easy it is for me to love such a generous heart as you.” He drew her to him and they kissed until the rattle of the cart gave notice of the others’ approach.


Pau was tending the fire at the forge when Anthony Bryant walked in. Before Pau could welcome him, Anthony asked, “Is Cupido dead yet?”

“No,” replied Pau. “He hangs on, but he is more dead than alive.”

“Is anyone helping him live?” demanded Anthony angrily. “Maria? Ethna?”

Pau picked up his largest hammer and effortlessly slammed in onto the iron  piece he was shaping for the green house. Without looking at Anthony, Pau said, “I’m going ignore that last comment out of respect to you and your grief over your father’s death. However, I will not ignore what could be seen as threats against my family.”

The two men glared at each other. The heavy hammer rested perfectly still in Pau’s huge fist. Anthony looked away and said, “I meant no disrespect and I would never harm any member of your family. Your family is my family and mine is yours. We will not be broken by the likes of Cupido Valenzuela.”

Pau placed the hammer gently on his workbench and shook hands with Anthony. “Why won’t the bastard die?” asked Anthony.

“He’s either too stupid or the Devil doesn’t want him,” said Pau.


Finn was unable to hide his difficulties any longer. He was panting and his muscles were strained to the breaking point. Villens tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Put it down, Finn. We all need a rest.” Finn slid off the arms of the cart and heavy load slammed to the ground. Finn walked two steps from the cart and dropped to the ground. Villens rummaged around the cart and found a tarp. He folded it up and tossed it to Finn to use as a pillow. 

Maria joined them and sat down on a rock. “Should we get Lemuel and Rose?” she asked. 

“Let’s let them have some privacy,” said Villens, settling on the ground next to Maria and using the rock she was sitting on as a back rest.  He stretched a leg out and kicked Finn’s foot. Finn, who was nearly asleep, sat up startled.

“Good job, Finn,” said Villens. “I’ll take over when we start again.”

Finn considered arguing, but then his good sense won out. “If you must, you must,” he said, and then he laid down to go to sleep. Maria went to the cart and found two burlap sacks to cover the boy. He was asleep when she reached him and covered him.

Maria and Villens sat and watched Finn for a while. When he had settled into a deep sleep, Maria said, “Villens, the letter from your father reminded me that I know almost nothing about your family. You have been living with mine, but I don’t know the first thing about your family.”

“I am the only son of a pirate Queen and her Egyptian lover. They raid the Atlantic coast leaving terror in their wake. I killed my first man when I was six and was captain of my own pirate ship at eight.” Villens seemed prepared to go on, when Maria noticed that Finn was wide awake and staring at Villens.

“Go back to sleep, Finn,” said Maria. “Villens head injury is acting up again.”

A disappointed Finn went back to sleep. “I really am going to have to shoot you someday,” said Maria to Villens. “For your own good.”

Villens leaned back against the rock and rested his head against Maria’s thigh. She glanced at Finn, but he was asleep. She stroked Villens hair as he began his story. “Let’s start with the founder of my branch of the Villens family. Please don’t shoot me, this is all true,” began Villens. “My Grandfather was Lucien Emile Villens. He was a cavalry officer in the French army. He was ruthless in battle and loyal to his troops. The problem was that he respected competence, not position, and he said what he thought. These are worthy qualities, but they do not serve in the army.”

“After a French defeat, in which he rallied the broken and scattered cavalry units and fought a rear guard action that prevented the army from being wiped out, the King called for my Grandfather to present him with a medal. After being given a royal ribbon for bravery, the King asked my grandfather to tell him about the action. The King expected to hear of my Grandfather’s heroic actions, but instead my grandfather said that if the idiotic General commanding the French Army hadn’t had his head firmly up his ass, the battle would have been won easily and the rear guard action would have been unnecessary. That General was the King’s brother, and only a timely escape aided by members of the cavalry saved my Grandfather’s life.”

“He ended up in Hesse, where he quickly rose to be the head of the Prince’s cavalry and a leading minister in the court. He helped the Hessians develop a heavy cavalry unit that was the envy of the German Princes. He would have stayed in Hesse, except that he was ordered to attack the countrymen of his new wife Arabella, and he refused. The Hessian Prince was disappointed, but he acted honorably and allowed my Grandfather and several of his officers to leave. He also granted them generous severance gifts.”

“Lucien was then recruited by a hidalgo who wanted to build up his cavalry. The only problem was that Lucien was Jewish. His family had ceased practicing Judaism, indeed most of the family had converted to Catholicism, but my grandfather belonged to part of the family known as ‘the Noseless Villens.’  It was said that every one of them had cut off their nose to spite their face before the where twenty.  The Noseless Villens would not convert, even though they never darkened a synagogue. They just refused to be told what to do. When asked by the Spanish Lord why he would not convert if he didn’t practice the Jewish faith, my grandfather said, ‘Any religion where the believers argue and bargain with their God is a religion worth keeping.’ The Lord laughed and promised that he would protect him from the Church.” 

“My grandfather spent many years fighting Spain’s enemies. As he promised, the Lord protected my grandfather from the Inquisition. When the Lord died, his heir was not as powerful, and the Church began to circle round with drawn knives.”

“Eventually it was decided to send my Grandfather to New Spain to escape the Inquisition. He was to serve as the head of a mobile band of troops that was to establish Spanish control over the Atlantic Coast of southern New Spain and then push inland. He was remarkably effective.”

“What about the Inquisition here?” asked Maria.

“Grandfather was no fool. He made it his business to protect priests in missions and to defend the houses and buildings of the Inquisition. He also befriended those who weren’t overly diligent, and they clamped down on the fanatics. As my Grandfather didn’t flaunt his Judaism, things went fine.”

“Grandfather was eighty-one when he died. He was thrown from his horse,” said Villens.

“He was still riding at eight-one?” marveled Maria.

“Oh, yes, in fact he was jumping a fence,” said Villens.

“Jumping a fence? Did the horse run wild?” 

“No, the poachers he was chasing had climbed the fence.”

“And he fell off?” Maria asked.

“Good Lord, no. Lucien Villens never fell off of a horse in his life. No, the horse pulled up. It would not jump and it threw him,” said Villens.

“The poor man,” said Maria.

“He broke his back. His last words were, ‘Shoot the God damned horse.’”


Ethna and Ronan stood in the new library admiring the beauty of the woodwork. “It’s time we made it a library,” said Ronan. 

“You mean books, right?” asked Ethna.

“Unless you want this room to be the Shelf Room, I think we need to get books,” replied Ronan.

Ethna had been dreading this moment. She hadn’t been in the old library since that horrible day. She still dreamed of the violence and the shooting. Ronan saw her hesitation and offered to get the books. “No,” Etha said. “No, Ronan, I’ll do it. I have to.” She walked slowly to the old library and put her hand on the knob.

Ethna’s throat was dry and her ears strained to hear through the heavy door. She knew the room was empty, but she feared she was wrong. She stood outside the room and slowly, meticulously, the bloody scene played itself out before her. She froze, trapped by the vision she had seen so many times. 

Then Ethna took a deep breath and shook her head to drive away the visions. He turned the handle and stepped in the room. It took her a moment to realize that she had shut her eyes. She opened them and the ghosts were gone. The bodies and the blood were removed. The damage had been repaired. The smell of the gun smoke still lingered in the fabrics, or was it in her mind? She couldn’t tell, but it didn’t matter. She opened the curtains and filled the room with light. She took down an armful of books and walked to the open door. “I will do this,” thought Ethna. “I can do this.” 

The rest of the day she came in and out of the room moving books. Eventually Ronan joined here and before long they were laughing about childhood adventures in the library. 


“My father is also a hero,” said Villens. “The natives attacked a mission where the Cardinal was visiting. My father and a small band of cavalry blunted the attack and lead the priest to safety. The Church honored him with an ornate golden cruxfix.”

“Is you father a Christian?” asked Maria.

“Oh yes,” said Villens. “He converted when he came of age. His father must have furious, but I don’t think they ever spoke of it. I once asked my father why he converted and he said that his nose was far too distinguished to waste. I am not sure how deep his Catholicism goes, but he and my Mother attend Mass and entertain the Cardinal and other priests at our home. It was the Cardinal who secured my father’s position as military commander of the Southern and Eastern regions of colony. I suppose I should country now. My grandfather resigned his commission when his son was promoted over him. I’ve often wondered if that wasn’t the aim of the Cardinal.”

“My mother is a charming, lovely woman whom all the men admire. I have heard some women say unkind things about her, but I assume that was jealousy. When you meet her, I am sure you will love her.”

“She sounds like death on daughter-in-laws,” thought Maria. “I must remember to hire a food taster.”

“I have a younger brother, Philip, who is studying Natural Science at the Ecolê in France. I’m sure you two will have a great deal to talk about when he returns.”

“My sister, Julianna, is a wonderful girl, about Ethna’s age. We must get them together. They will become fast friends, I am certain. Can you imagine the commotion caused by two such bright, lovely, and spirited girls? Sparks will fly! The sons of the local gentry will be poleaxed. Their mothers’ will be lining up to arrange marriages.”

“Of course, if you come to my home before we are engaged, you will drive all the men crazy, and I will be forced to fight duels day and night to defend your honor.” Maria was taken aback by this causal mention of engagement. Villens reached into his pocket and handed her a torn piece of paper. She recognized the paper. It was torn from his father’s letter. 

“This is for you,” Villens said. “Wait until I move the cart some way down the path, then read it.”

Villens stepped over the snoring Finn and slid in between the  arms of the cart. He lifted the weight onto the front axle and started down the path. Maria waited until she lost sight of him around a bend, then began to read.

“On Discovering an Unexpected Love

We met on an inauspicious, bloody day 
Denied us, an idyllic bower and lute,
Violence and death make treacherous clay,
Unpromising soil for love to take root.

But when the flood receded, stood revealed,
A blossom rare, strangely out of place,
The tiny seed in hard-baked soil, long concealed,
Flood drenched, sprung to life, our bond to grace.

Destruction, then introduction; flood, then bloom, 
Nature’s polar dualities oft times are wed,
As in you, your struggle to find the room,
For thought and feeling, for heart and head.

Come floods or blossoms, there cannot be,
A better life, than all of you with me.”

30 October 2010

Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner

Just in time for Halloween, here's Warren Zevon preforming Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner. This video is from a few short months before his death and his voice is very weak. The song loses something without his deep voice, but the Late Night Band adds so much that I didn't seek an earlier version.

This song grabbed me the first time I heard it. It is a tale of heroism out of time, heroism in an unheroic age.  Zevon's Roland is not a great warrior whose sacrificial rear guard action saves a Charlemagne. He is not a Rollo who establishes Normandy as the home of wandering Vikings from whom William the Conquerer will spring. This Roland is a mercenary who is betrayed by a colleague in the pay of the CIA.

Roland's revenge, his hunting down of Van Owen and his haunting of the world's messy on-going struggles (Ireland, Lebanon, and Palestine), turn him into the personification of the "small" wars that roll unchecked across the planet. The United States is not exempt from the lure of the Thompson gun, as shown by "Patty Hearst heard the burst / of the Roland's Thompson gun/ and bought it." I particularly like the "bought it" line. Patty Hearst didn't take up arms, she bought them. Shopping, then revolution.

Once, a warrior like Roland would have been a conquering hero. Today, after his personal revenge, the hero loses his personality. Roland diffuses into a destructive force that flows from battlefield to battlefield, pointless and uncontrolled. There is no place for heroes anymore. Or maybe the heroes are just different and I don't like the new ones.


This song also appeals to my love of narrative. In six short verses, Zevon tells a story neatly and precisely. The first two lines appeal to a heroic past that is long gone.  The setting is quickly established and action described in broad, clean strokes. In one verse, Roland's "comrade" Van Owen is introduced, takes the CIA's money, and kills Roland.

The story then turns to the dead Roland, sans head, tracking down Van Owen "in Mombassa, in a barroom drinking gin." That's it for the traitor and the headless Roland comes the Flying Dutchman of the Thompson gun, haunting battlefields around the world. It is as if he has become the spirit of the nasty, internecine wars in places like Ireland, Lebanon, and Palestine.

That story could have been a book, although without vampires or werewolves it would have no hope of publication.


Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner, Warren Zevon

Roland was a warrior from the Land of the Midnight Sun
With a Thompson gun for hire, fighting to be done
The deal was made in Denmark on a dark and stormy day
So he set out for Biafra to join the bloody fray

Through sixty-six and seven they fought the Congo war
Fingers on their triggers, knee-deep in gore
For days and nights they battled the Bantu to their knees
They killed to earn their living and to help out the Congolese

Roland the Thompson gunner...

His comrades fought beside him - Van Owen and the rest
But of all the Thompson gunners Roland was the best
So the CIA decided they wanted Roland dead
That son-of-a-bitch Van Owen blew off Roland's head

Roland the headless Thompson gunner (Time, time, time
For another peaceful war
Norway's bravest son But time stands still for Roland
'Til he evens up the score)
They can still see his headless body stalking through the night
In the muzzle flash of Roland's Thompson gun
In the muzzle flash of Roland's Thompson gun

Roland searched the continent for the man who'd done him in
He found him in Mombassa in a barroom drinking gin
Roland aimed his Thompson gun - he didn't say a word
But he blew Van Owen's body from there to Johannesburg

Roland the headless Thompson gunner...

The eternal Thompson gunner, still wandering through the night
Now it's ten years later but he still keeps up the fight
In Ireland, in Lebanon, in Palestine and Berkeley
Patty Hearst heard the burst of Roland's Thompson gun
And bought it

19 October 2010

A New Gang of Four

We have yet again attracted a litter of three kittens and a very young Momma cat to our yard. I swear abandoned cats must have a website - Fre füd.com - or at least a newsletter. I'll let KS wax poetic about this new horde overrunning our peaceful lands.

Here's the kitty video.

09 October 2010

The Lastoc of the Annumpi: Swords into Plowshares (Part 18)

Finn: Do people really turn swords into plowshares?

Villens: No. The furrows are too narrow.

Finn: That makes sense.


The rising sun lit the eastern window of Maria’s study. It was fully a study again as Cupido had been moved upstairs to the attic room that had been Lemuel’s until he returned to his modified home in the grass. The rays flashed through the window to illuminate a narrow shelf that was bare save for a tiny plant in a clay pot in the center. An orb of delicate, deep purple blossoms glowed in the early morning light. When he had seen how much Maria liked the flower, Villens had returned to the river bank and dug up the plant. The skeletons of two mice and a small dog had been relocated to create space for the tiny plant. There was much more space than the plant required, for Maria, although she’d never admit it, was hoping for more. She’d even mentioned to Villens that a small greenhouse would be nice.

Maria watered the plant and listened to the young girl’s voices drifting through the open window. The day was warm for the time of year and she’d opened the window to enjoy the breeze. Although the sun was barely up, Mariel, Fiona, and Margaret were hanging laundry in the yard. Mariel was too small to reach the line, but the teenaged cousins had grown as tall as their mothers , so they did the hanging. Mariel bustled about handing damp clothes to the older  girls and chattering away furiously. Theresa would be angry to have missed the adventure, but the girls couldn’t wake up the heavy sleeping six-year old.

 Maria watched from the window, sipping a cup of tea, while the girls hung Villens’ new outfits on the line. They giggled wildly when they reached the small clothes. Mariel danced around, waving a pair of briefs in the air. “Men can have few secrets from women,” thought Maria, “when we do all the dirty jobs.” The women and girls had responded magnificently to poor Lieutenant Villens’ need for clothes. They raided secret stashes of fabric. Old trunks containing fine clothes belonging to Don Hernando that no longer fit and clothes from Rose’s late husband Declan were raided for buttons and anything else that could be used. Rose insisted that they make a few things for Lemuel as well and all agreed. It had taken them a week, but today, after lunch, the women planned to present Lieutenant Villens and Lemuel with their new clothes. 

The women choose today as they wanted Villens to have a fine outfit to wear at the opening ceremony for the rebuilt bridge. For the past two weeks he had worn the odds and ends he found around the stables and a few castoffs from Pau, the only O’Brien tall and broad shouldered enough to fit Villens.  He and Maria had burned his uniform when he found the old clothes. While he was supervising the construction of the bridge, Villens looked more like a tramp working for a meal than the engineer in charge. He saved the Pau’s old jacket and pants for his nightly walks with Maria. 

Maria wasn’t sure what to make about Villens’ haste in building the bridge. He had promised that it would take at least a month and she had been looking forward to having him around at least that long. Yet, here it was only two weeks since the battle and there was the bridge, ready for use once the ribbons on both ends were cut. The ribbons had been her father’s idea. He would cut one end and Señora de la Vega would cut the other. He would make a short speech and if he did not mention Señora de la Vega several times Maria would be astounded.

She wondered if the letter Villens received from his parents last week hadn’t contained bad news requiring him to come home. They lived just north of Puerto Zephyr on the Atlantic coast. Villens did not like to talk about his family, other than to say his mother was a good women and is father had a difficult life. Maria noticed that Villens avoided the military patrols than occasionally passed along the capitol road. He was uncertain of his status after Morales’ defeat. Perhaps his parents had been involved in Morales’ plans and were in difficult straits with the new government.

The breakfast bell rang and Maria went to the kitchen to eat. Her father and Señora de la Vega were already seated, along with Ethna and young Declan, the twins, Daniel and Michael, and Mrs. O’Brien. Margaret came running in from the yard to take a tray to Cecilia, who refused to eat in the kitchen. The other girls followed and took their seats with their families. Rose and Lucinda were busy at the stove serving the food. Once the food was served, they joined the crowded table and all began to eat. Miguel, Villens, and Lemuel had been to work before sunrise and had eaten a breakfast fixed by Miguel.

Mrs. O’Brien watched Señora de la Vega and Don Hernando while she ate. She had to admit that the Señora had brought a vital spark to Don Hernando. And who would have thought that the great lady would insist that no trouble be taken for her and that she would be pleased to eat in the kitchen? Her children were another story. The daughter would be better off drowned. A waste of life that one was. It didn’t seem like the Señora spoiled her, but she was the most helpless creature that Mrs. O’Brien had seen since her family had that mule that kept banging its head on the fence post.
She was pretty though, with bright blonde hair and a narrow, elfin face. She was small and thin with long, delicate arms and graceful hands. Helpless and pretty, Cecilia quickly commanded the O’Brien men. Only Lemuel seemed immune. At times he was even rude to her, the only time the mild-mannered Lemuel had shown any kind of anger. Villens was polite, but tried to avoid her, although he was the main object of her attention. Don Hernando was kind to the girl, but his attention was on her mother, so he rarely noticed the daughter.

Señora’s son, Father Martìn, was a serious man who was waiting for some gray to lightly dust his hair so he could become august. He spent long private hours practicing augustnicity, as he thought of it. He stayed at the Valenzuela home for two days and then left volunteering to return the personal items of Cupido’s slain companions. Mrs. O’Brien couldn’t help wondering if he’d left because he’d run out of excuses for not eating in the kitchen. He didn’t seem like a priest who doted on pastoral duty. Lucinda took an instant dislike to the cleric and expressed the hope that he would go bald before he became a Bishop. It was Lucinda’s strong belief that behind the dignified bearing and elegant looks of the priest was little more than vanity and ambition. “So he’ll be a Cardinal then,” was Rose’s response, she being the religious skeptic of the family. During her WIDLING year she was pestered by a particularly annoying Benedictine who took undue interest in counseling young widows. Pau offered to have a word with him, but she choose to employ a carefully aimed knee and he quickly lost interest in the state of her soul and her cleavage.


Ronan and Victor were due back sometime today from the capitol. They’d gone to get glass for the library and to visit their Uncle Eduardo for a few days. He’d been elected Secretary of the National Convention, but as the convention was caught in a wrangle over regional representation, he’d have plenty of time to show his nephews around. Eduardo arranged for them to be awarded medals in a private ceremony with the recently promoted Field Marshall Rojas for their actions in the ambush of Morales, which was now known as La Captura de la Zorro. Victor was offered a Lieutenancy, but he politely requested if he could discuss the matter first with his family. The Field Marshall agreed, and gave the men the medals earned by the other family members, including posthumous awards for Big James and Little Jimmy Bryant.

After the ceremony, Eduardo took Ronan and Victor to dinner and chastised Victor for not accepting the offer immediately. “I don’t want to be in the army,” said Victor simply. “I’ve had a taste of it and I don’t enjoy killing men.” Eduardo was beside himself. He’d been hinting around for a commission since he’d arrived at the capitol, but the Field Marshall insisted that he was cut out for politics, not the military. Eduardo was moody during dinner, but he brightened when the three men went to a club where they listened to music, drank wine, and danced with stylish women who were friends of Constance Rojas, the Field Marshall’s niece and Eduardo’s guest. Constance kept a short lead on Eduardo, but Victor and Ronan were popular with the girls and danced with several partners. 

The next morning, while the men were waiting for the glass to be loaded, a message came from Eduardo. He had forgotten to give them a letter for Maria. If they could stop by his office at the hotel, he would appreciate it. They did so and a servant met them at the door with the letter. He passed on Eduardo’s apology that he was in an important meeting and could not be disturbed. They shrugged, Victor tucked the letter into his jacket pocket, and they headed home. If all went well, they’d be home for dinner. They passed the long, slowl ride by comparing their dance partners and wondering what the family would say Eduardo’s guest. Maria had kept silent about Eduardo’s letter to her, and most of the family thought they were still nearly engaged. Maria certainly had no such illusions.


After breakfast, around seven-thirty, lessons started. Mrs. O’Brien, Maria, Rose, and Lucinda had put their heads together and decided that the children need some structured education. Until then, the children of the family had read whatever was around, and picked up this and that from the adults, but it was time for the little ones to have lessons. The group assessed the strengths of the various adults about the place and decided that a tutor was unnecessary. Finn, Daniel, Michael, Margaret, and Fiona were to attend lessons Monday through Friday. Mariel and Theresa, eight and six, respectively, were excused from formal lessons, but as they could already read, they were expected to read everyday. Ethna and Ronan received private instruction in Science and Math from Maria and Villens, and in Geography and History by Don Hernando. 

The faculty of the O’Brien Institute, as Finn named it, (he called it the O’Brien Correctional Institute when only the kids were around), was made up of Maria for natural science, Villens for Math and Physics, Lemuel for Literature, and Don Hernando for History and Geography. Rose suggested deportment classes for the young ladies, but Maria vetoed the idea unless the young men also attended. Mrs. O’Brien suggested that occasional lectures on an “as needed” basis had worked for Rose and Lucinda, and should be adequate for their daughters.

After breakfast, Lemuel hurried to the old library to continue his lesson on “Paradise Lost.” He was excited because he was certain he had found way to  convince the children that Satan wasn’t the hero. Don Hernando dodged Lemuel, then pulled Maria aside in the small sitting room. “I’ve been trying to have a word with you, but we’ve both been so busy,” he  said.

“That’s true. I haven’t seen you so active in years,” answered Maria.

“Well, there’s so much to do. The library building, the bridge, our guests,” he said.

“You have been spending a great deal of time with Señora de la Vega,” teased Maria.

“She has always been a charming women,” admitted Don Hernando. “I only wish that she wasn’t here under such a cloud.”

“I don’t expect Cupido to last much longer,” said Maria. “Although I did not expect him to live this long, so who knows.”

“Who knows, indeed,” said Don Hernando. “I think it would be best if he were to let go. I think his body is simply operating without purpose other than to function. It’s time for him to go, but his body drives on. It cannot last.”

“How will Señora de la Vega take his death?”

“Like a rock. She and I are in agreement about his condition,” said the Don.

“What about Cecilia?,” asked Maria.

Hernando shook his head slowly. “There is not a big enough stage for the scene she will preform. I expect at least three fainting spells and a throwing herself on the coffin at the funeral. Angelica, that is to say Señora de la Vega, has promised to lash her to a seat at the funeral to avoid a scene.”

“I hope she has a stout rope,” said Maria.

They laughed, and Maria was pleased beyond measure that her father had reentered the world. She knew that she had Señora de la Vega, Angelica, to thank for bringing him back to life.

After briefly discussing a few small household matters, Don Hernando finally arrived at the purpose of his discussion with his daughter. He wanted to know if she would like the damaged library turned into a laboratory. Maria was ecstatic. The library would give her about four times as much space. Her study was overflowing with specimens and she had almost no room for experiments. Maria then mentioned that she was thinking about a greenhouse. Don Hernando said that he would think about building a greenhouse, but he wasn’t sure if this was a good time to build one. Maria quickly withdrew the request and assured him that it was only an idea and it could surely wait.


When the kitchen emptied out, Mrs. O’Brien, Rose, and Lucinda had a quiet cup of tea before clearing the breakfast dishes. With the girls in lessons, the washing up fell on the women, but they felt it was fair exchange. This quiet time allowed the sisters and their mother to visit and to share opinions about the happenings around the busy house. Rose raised the subject of their baby brother Eduardo’s abandonment of Maria for life in the capitol. “I always thought they’d go together,” she said. “But he flew off to the capitol without a word to any of us for nearly a week.”

“And then his letter to mother didn’t even mention Maria,” added Lucinda.

“I never could see those two together,” said Mrs. O’Brien. “He wanted a society wife. Maria could be one, but then she wouldn’t be Maria anymore, would she”

“Why do you think she spent time with Eddie?,” Rose asked.

“Lonely, I suppose,” said Lucinda and Mrs. O’Brien agreed.

“Well, she’s not lonely any more,” said Rose.

“Not with Lieutenant Villens around, that’s for sure,” replied Lucinda.

“They make a charming couple,” said Rose. “So tall and elegant. He has such lovely manners.”

“And such broad shoulders,” said Mrs. O’Brien.

“And he will soon have lovely clothes to match!,” laughed Lucinda.

“Indeed he shall,” said Mrs. O’Brien. “You girls outdid yourself.”

“You should have seen the little ones,” said Rose. “I do believe every one of them has a crush on Villens. If we asked them to draw a picture of a prince and princess, all the princesses would be self-portraits and all the princes would look like Villens.” They all laughed. Rose sliced pieces of cake. The dishes could wait.

“Well, it’s only fair,” said Mrs. O’Brien. “Maria has charmed the men in this family since she was a young girl. First all my boys were in love with her. Then Victor and Ronan were entranced. Have you seen the way Finn stares at her? The twins can barely talk when she is in the room. Even little Declan ‘s eyes widen when she is nearby. Your father said she was the loveliest young thing that wasn’t named O’Brian.” The sisters smiled at the careful compliment and the recollection of their father.

“I wonder that Lemuel isn’t under her spell,” said Lucinda teasingly.

“You be quiet, Lucinda,” said Mrs. O’Brien, who watched out for Rose. Lucinda was apt to tease a bit roughly and Rose didn’t always know how to defend herself. This time though, Rose was ready.

“I doubt he even notices her,” she said reaching into her pocket. She pulled out a small rose delicately carved from oak salvaged from the rebuilding project. “Lemuel made this for me. We have been seeing quite a bit of each other. He’s a special man and I have reason to suspect he thinks I’m special also.”

Mrs. O’Brien and Lucinda admired the carving, which was wonderfully executed, and wondered how they hadn’t noticed Lemuel’s interest in Rose.


Lemuel ended his lesson early when he noticed that the twins were doodling portraits of a heroically muscled Satan rising majestically from the Lake of Fire. He was shaking a massive fist at Heaven, where pathetic angels in weedy robes peeked out from behind fluffy clouds. Finn also contributed to the difficulty by asking awkward questions about the idea of it being better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.  As a younger brother, he saw the point. Margaret was puzzled why God hadn’t simply destroyed Satan and wondered if was only English angels that fight. Lemuel considered abandoning the poem and moving on to A Pilgrim’s Progress as an antidote, but decided that would be horopecic.

When Don Hernando heard the children leaving their lesson, he slipped in to catch Lemuel. He had also been trying to talk with Lemuel privately for quite a while, but having houseguests and a construction project on-going had kept them both occupied. He asked Lemuel why he looked so glum and Lemuel explained his difficulty. “It’s the fault of the Protestant King murderers,” said Hernando dismissively. “What can expect< If you want heros, read the story of El Cid.” Lemuel agreed to consider the idea.

“What I really wanted to talk about is your future, Lemuel,” said the Don settling into a chair by the window. “Come sit with me for a few minutes and tell me of your plans.”

Lemuel pulled a chair over to the Don and stared out the window for a while. When he began, he spoke haltingly, unaccustomed to sharing his thoughts. “I have been thinking about the future, that’s true,” he began. “As you know, I returned to my home in the grass, but it’s not the same. I found a peaceful refuge there for years, but it nearly cost me my mind and my life. Thanks to your kindness and ... the kindness of others... I have been drawn back into the world. My rebirth was a bloody one ... “

“As was mine,” interjected Don Hernando.

“... but perhaps that is what was required. I don’t know. But I do know that I want to be a part of the world, here, with people I have come to respect, to admire, ... to love.”

“I’m pleased to hear this, my boy,” said Don Hernando beaming. “Particularly as it fits in with my idea of how to repay you for actions in defense of my home and family.” Lemuel shook his head and waved a hand disparagingly.  “No, no, you risked your life,” insisted Don Hernando. “That is a debt that cannot be waved away. It is a debt of honor that I will repay gladly.”

Lemuel was about to speak, but Don Hernando held up a silencing finger. “I have thought about what a man needs to be happy. He needs satisfying work, an income the frees him from worry, and a family to love. I would like to give you the first two and put myself at your service in any way to assist with the last.” Lemuel seemed to be struggling between withdrawing and interest. Don Hernando reached out and patted him on the knee. “It’s alright. I know this a great deal to consider, but it’s time for you to take on responsibilities. You know this.  You said as much.” Lemuel nodded briskly in agreement. 

“Here is my plan,” said Don Hernando. “I would like you to be my secretary with the primary function of relocating my Annumpi collection to the new library. I will pay you forty reals per annum, paid quarterly. I am willing to advance you to ten reals. I will also do whatever I can to help you and Rose make a life for yourselves, starting with use of a cottage I will build for you and the children.” Having, he thought, neatly wrapped up Lemuel’s future, Don Hernando sat back and awaited Lemuel’s answer.

The mention of Rose in such a matter of fact way caused Lemuel’s emotions to surge and nearly overwhelm him. He thought that he had kept his feelings for Rose hidden from everyone, even Rose. Especially Rose. If Don Hernando could see through him, did everyone know his secret? Had he made a fool of himself before everyone?

Don Hernando could see his distress and stepped in to rescue him. “You were not indiscreet, son. Angelica, Señora de la Vega, spotted it. She has a sense about these things. I thought that you were in love with Maria, but the Señora laughed at me and told me I was being an old fool.” Hernando smiled when he remembered the chastisement, as he always did when remembering time spent with Angelica. “She told me that any woman with a brain could see that you were in love with Rosa. Are you?,” Don Hernando asked.  “If it helps, Angelica is confident that Rose in love with you.”

“Yes,” was all that Lemuel could say. He looked terrified.

“Does she know?,” asked Don Hernando.

Lemuel thought about the Señora’s remark. She must know, he now realized, for Rose had brains. “I have not told her in so many words,” he said, thinking of the carved rose.

“Well, it’s about time,” said Don Hernando rising to feet and clapping onto Lemuel’s uninjured hand. He pulled him over to the window and began to point out plots of land. Lemuel knew the Don was speaking, but he couldn’t understand a word. He struggled to gather himself and push down the panic welling up inside him. Being in the world was difficult.


When Rose left the kitchen, the door had barely closed before Lucinda blurted out, “Lemuel? I know Rose has a soft spot for the wounded and orphaned, but that Lemuel is a strange one.”

Mrs. O’Brien answered, “He has had a strange life, but that is not the same as being a strange one. He has come out of his shell since the attack. He’s trying. What more can one ask?”

“Where will they live?,” asked Lucinda. “Don Hernando has kindly allowed her and her children to live here since Declan was lost, but it’s an imposition on the Don’s generosity to live here as a married family.”

“Like you and Miguel,” replied Mrs. O’Brien, irritated at her daughter’s questions.

“We work for Don Hernando in exchange for rent,” said Lucinda stiffly.

“Which is your business, and I don’t see Rose questioning it,” said Mrs. O’Brien in a tone that indicated the matter was concluded.

“What shall they live on?,” Lucinda continued, still sMartìng from the mention of her housing arrangements. “He doesn’t have a penny.”

“Remind me again how much money Miguel brought to your marriage,” her mother replied. It was up to Lucinda to either absorb the blows or drop the subject.

“The children,” Lucinda said, switching areas of attack. “What about the children?” 

“Margaret fusses over him like a mother hen when she isn’t dreaming about Villens. Declan follows him around begging for stories. Ethna is practically a woman and will be happy with anyone who makes Rose happy. I see no problems with the children.”

Lucinda opened her mouth the speak, but Mrs. O’Brien cut her off. “Lemuel is a comencho. As for the rest of Rose’s family, anyone who objects to Lemuel will answer to me.”

Lucinda closed her mouth and put away the pot she had finished drying. She had to admit that Lemuel was a good man. She had to.


Ethna and Ronan’s studies were interrupted by the cries of the youngsters tearing across the lawn toward the stables. “Looks like Lemuel dismissed the little miscreants early again,” sighed Villens. “That’s enough for now,” he said, “Although I’d like it if you two would spend some time working on the proofs I assigned you. You are escaping early, you know. We’ll work through them tomorrow.” The cousins picked up their slates and slipped down the back stairs to avoid the crush of the kids on the main stairs.

“Let’s take a walk by the river,” said Ronan. “It’s a nice day.” Ethna agreed and they stashed their slates in an unused stall before walking across the gravel of the stable yard to the path that lead to the river. They passed the bridge and waved to Pau who was attaching a ribbon across the span of the bridge on the far side. A matching ribbon blocked access to the bridge on the near side. After lunch, a ceremony was planned to open the bridge. Don Hernando had insisted on the ribbon cutting even though most of the others thought it was a silly idea. The kids, however, where excited and had even formed a makeshift band to play at the event. Ethna and Ronan walked for a while, soaking up the warm sun and watching the river bounce over the rounded rocks. It was hard to believe that this tiny river, not much more than a stream, had been so destructive just a few short weeks ago.

When they reached the spot where Villens had found the flower, Ethna asked Ronan if he thought much about the battle. Ronan and his younger brother Finn had been at the bridge when Morales’ men had attacked. Ronan said, “I don’t like to talk about it.”

“Me either,” said Ethna. “But I think we need to.”

Ronan and Ethna were born two months apart and were so close as children that they were called the Twins, until Daniel and Michael came along with a better claim to the title. As they grew older, they survived a crush on one another, and when that faded they remained close, closer than most brothers and sisters. 

“It was awful,” said Ronan staring straight ahead. “We saw the soldiers ride up and I thought they were going to ask for food or a drink, but they demanded we send the ferry across. Someone quickly pulled the rope from the block which made the soldiers angry. The pulled their pistols and fired. Two of Miguel’s cousins were hit. Finn and I dragged them to safety behind a barricade we’d built. Pistol balls flew all around us.”

“When we made it to the barricade, shots started from behind those big rocks across the road from the bridge. It was just like Big James had said it would be. Finn and I were the only ones who could fire a rifle. We tried to shoot, but the musket fire had us pinned down. I could see through a crack in the barricade that a soldier was shinnying across the guide rope to get at the  ferry. I slipped my rifle through the slot and killed him.”

“The solders on the bank started screaming and firing round after round into the barricade. We hunkered down and waited it out. Then the muskets stopped firing. Finn and I peeked out and saw the soldiers with their backs turned toward us looking at the rocks. We took aim on two of them and killed them. Big James and Little Jimmy popped up from behind the rocks. They must have killed the men behind the rocks and taken the dead men’s loaded guns, because they quickly shot four of the soldiers. The few that were left scattered. Big James waved his hat to me and disappeared. That was the last I saw of him or Little Jimmy.”

Ethna listened without interruption. When he finished, she told him her story. He too didn’t interrupt, but he took her hand and held it tight. When she finished they held each other while they cried. Ethna felt exhausted, but safe, protected by Ronan’s strong arms. The panic she’d struggled to hold back slipped away. The memories remained, and her stomach still tightened when she thought of the guns in the library, but she could control the panic now. 


Villens followed Lemuel’s lead, also dismissing the children early. They would have a half-hour or so before the ceremony and he would have a chance to recover from a severe headache. Why could the children not see that four different answers to an addition problem meant that at least three of them were wrong? He enjoyed working with Ronan and Ethna, but the younger ones were a complete mystery to him. Even when counting on their fingers they came to the wrong answer. How in God’s name could three children subtract five from twelve and get thirteen?

He decided to seek adult company as an antidote to the children. Pau was hanging Don Hernando’s ribbons for the ribbon cutting ceremony. Villens changed into a new suit of clothes and headed down to the bridge. He waved at Pau and they met in the center of bridge. Villens stamped his boot in the exact center, as he always did, and was pleased when a solid thump reverberated from his bridge.

They talked about the bridge and complimented each other on the design and the speed of construction. Then Villens asked Pau if he knew of a place to get iron, a good quantity of iron. Pau thought that the shipyard could supply some, but the mine was the best bet. Villens wondered if the mine would sell iron to them and Pau said they would if Señora de la Vega told them to as she was the majority shareholder. Villens grinned and held out a sketch for Pau to see.

“How would you like to build that?,” he asked.

Pau grinned. “I’d need Finn and Ronan. Victor might even have to help, but, yes, I’d like to build that.”

“Well then let’s build it, but keep it to yourself for a bit,” said Villens. “I’ve got a few loose ends to tie up.”


“Oh, mother, why I must attend this silly bridge opening nonsense?” The petulant whine was immediately identifiable as Cecilia’s trademark verbal sneer. “I’m sure the bridge is quite nice, but it is just a bridge. My only interest in the bridge is that it will allow me to return home more quickly than fording the river.”

“Do try and be human, dear,” said Señora de la Vega, wondering once again what a horrible mother she must have been to have given life to Cecilia and Cupido. One might be an excusable accident, but two? She sighed and wondered how long her boy was going to hang on. He never did know what was good for him. “How callous I have have grown,” she thought. Then she considered the messes that she and her husband had pulled the foolish boy out of time after time. The only lesson he seemed to learn was that he always got pulled out of his messes. Not this time. He’d finally gone too far.

“You’re not even listening to me, mother,” said Cecilia, notching her whine up an octave. 

“I was praying for your brother, dear,” she said sweetly.

“But what about me!,” Cecilia objected. “He hasn’t even regained consciousness. You and the old man ....”

“Don Hernando Valenzeula,” interjected the Señora irritably.

“Yes, yes. Your latest conquest. The two of you dragged me away from home with the story that Cupido was dying. It’s been nearly three weeks. Either he isn’t going to die or he’s going to do it incredibly slowly. Either way, I need Eloise here, now! I simply cannot continue without a maid. These servants of the Don’s are incompetent and insubordinate. If that Ethie girl talks back to me again I shall slap her.” Cecilia halted her tirade to take a breath.

“I wouldn’t do that, dear. Ethna killed two men in your brother’s idiotic assault on this house,” said Señora de la Vega casually. “You must realize that the O’Briens are not servants. I suppose they might have been once, but since the death of the Don’s wife, they have become his family. This house is like a large farmhouse in the country with a huge family living in and around it. If you would join us for meals, you would understand how things are.”

“I will never eat with the servants in the kitchen. What if my friends’ found out? How would I explain it to Jorge’s family? Why they might call off the marriage! Oh this hair! I must have Eloise to manage my hair. I simply must have her!” Cecilia tossed a silver plated brush onto the dressing table and began to sob dramatically. She carefully tilted her head to and fro so the tears rolled evenly down one cheek and then the other.

“You are getting married soon, aren’t you, dear?,” asked the Señora, who had closed her eyes and was rubbing her temples with her fingertips. “You could always get pregnant, you know. To speed things up.”

“Mother!,” exclaimed Cecilia.

“Yes, of course not, you might ruin your lovely dress,” said the Señora. I have to get those two married, she thought. Such pretty things without a serious thought between them. When this is over, I must speak with his mother. Perhaps the Don will speak to his father. I will waive the dowry. I will pay the dowry, if needed. 

She looked at the clock and saw that it was time to go down and meet Don Hernando for the ribbon cutting ceremony. She glanced in the mirror and saw a woman in her late fifties looking back at her. Considering she had turned seventy in May, she was satisfied. She would have preferred her late thirties, but, but a miracle was unlikely given that she wasn’t on the best of terms terms with the Church. “Come, dear,” she said to Cecilia. “We mustn’t keep everyone waiting.”

“I have a headache,” announced Cecilia, switching to petulance. “I’m going to lie down.”

“Do, dear,” the Señora replied. “I’m sure all that dressing and hair brushing has exhausted you.” The Señora had no difficulty nonnicing her family when they practically begged for it.


Don Hernando had seen Ethna and Ronan and he suspected what they were talking about. He knew that they both were shaken up by their recent experiences. He liked Ronan, but he wasn’t close to him. Pau and Vera, his parents, would take care of him. Ethna, however, was another story. He recognized so much of Maria in her and so much of Isabella, Maria’s mother, as well. When her father died, Maria and Don Hernando had reached out to her. Rose was at a loss to help her oldest daughter. Ethna was so different from her. Maria remembered the loss of her mother and soon the two were inseparable. The Don had come to think of Ethna as his other daughter. When she was little, he would call her his cuckoo and tell her that she was his daughter dropped in someone else’s nest.

When Ethna left Ronan to return to the house, Don Hernando leaned out of the window and called to her. She joined him in the sitting room and he asked how she was doing. She said she was fine and he didn’t pursue the matter. Instead he decided to talk about the future.

“Villens tells me that you were quite interested in the plant he stumbled upon,” said the Don.

“Oh, yes,” she replied, eager to change the subject. “I think plants are fascinating. Maria and I would like go collecting soon. Villens has said he will accompany us.”

“That sounds like an excellent idea,” said the Don. “But I’d like you to consider something else.” Ethna leaned forward in her chair and focused on Don Hernando with undisguised interest. Don Hernando always admired how she would never play the coquette. 

“Would you like to assist Lemuel to relocate and catalogue the library?,” he asked. “You would, of course, be paid for your efforts.”

“I would love to!,” Ethna cried and she threw her arms around Don Hernando. He laughed and hugged her in return.

“Of course, once the repairs are made you could shift over to the new lab and assist Maria. There may even be something to do with plants later on,” the Don added.

“I can’t wait,” Ethna said. “Does Maria know?”

Before he could answer, Señora de la Vega entered the room and warned that they’d be late for the ceremony if they didn’t leave right away. Ethna leapt out of her chair and laced her arm through the Señora’s. Angelica peeked over Ethna’s shoulder at Don Hernando who was beaming at Ethna’s excitement. The Señora shrugged and let Ethna guide her to the bridge, all the while listening to Ethna talk excitedly about her plans for the lab and the library.


Everyone gathered around the rebuilt bridge in the unseasonal warmth and bright sunshine. Pau made a very short speech about how he’d never been so proud of everyone as he was when working on this fine bridge. Mrs. O’Brien talked about the bridge that was there when she was a child and how it swayed and bounced when you rode a horse over it. Villens thanked Don Hernando for allowing him to design the bridge, all the O’Briens for their tireless efforts, and Maria for inspiring him to complete the bridge without accidents. Everyone laughed and applauded, but Maria was uncertain what Villens was getting at. She was sure that something was going on, but she didn’t know what. Maria didn’t like the feeling. Not knowing annoyed her.

Don Hernando had pulled out two pairs of scissors from his jacket pocket when Rose and Lucinda called to him to wait. The children’s band had not performed yet. The Don apologized for his oversight and returned the scissors to his pocket. Little Ossian stepped out of the tangle of children. It’s possible he was pushed. At four years old and missing his front teeth, he was chosen to introduce the band by Margaret, in a callous appeal to cuteness. The assembled crowd hushed as the band pushed and shoved and sorted themselves out. Ossian stood calmly in the front of the band sucking his thumb. When the band was ready Margaret hissed at Ossian to go on and introduce them.  He turned to look at her, having completely forgotten what to say. She loudly whispered, “Ladies and Gentleman - the O’Brien Musical Academy Performing Band.” Ossian pulled his thumb out of his mouth and said, “Ban.” Daniel and Michael began to pound on iron pots and the performance was on.

No one could agree on what they’d played, but everyone agreed the children played loudly. Since the instruments were homemade, percussion dominated, although the older girls had fashioned wind instruments from dried reeds. Ossian joyfully clanged a triangle Pau had made for him. When the piece wound down, and the twins had been silenced by the removal of their ladles, it was agreed that musically there was room for improvement, but the band won the Spirit Award. The children cheered and the adults applauded.   Maria noticed that Finn was absent. She hoped he wasn’t upset about being caught between the children and adults, as he so often was.  He would’t be fifteen forever, she thought.

When the excitement of the performance died down, Don Hernando stepped to the ribbon. “I will not make a speech,” he announced and the cheers drowned out the rest of his words. He waited for the noise to die down and then resumed. “I would like ask my good friend Señora de la Vega to come up here with me.”

Señora de la Vega looked startled. She clearly had not been expecting this. She carefully set down Ossian, who had climbed into her arms after the performance, and walked over to Don Hernando. “Here I am,” she said. “What should I do?”

The Don smiled at her and explained. “This bridge connects our side of the river to yours, Señora. Sometimes that has been good, sometimes not. Now when I see the this bridge, I see a connection between you and I, and that makes me very happy.” He handed a pair of scissors to her and Señora de la Vega cut the ribbon on the near side. The two walked across the bridge and cut Don Hernando cut the other ribbon. The Señora applauded and turned to him a whisper something. The Señora spoke so softly that only Lucinda heard, but that was enough. “I hope you often use this bridge to come and see me, Hernando,” she said and she kissed him.

Cecilia was watching the ceremony from her window through mother of pearl opera glasses. When her mother kissed the old man in front of everyone, she started to faint. Then she remembered she was alone and muttered, “Damn,” with easy familiarity. "This is so smied."

In the silence that followed the kiss, a loud thwock resounded from the other side of the house. It sound like an axe cutting wood. Everyone was torn between asking about the sound and wanting to hear the whispered conversation on the bridge between the Don and the Señora. Another thwock seemed to shake everyone from their dazed state. “Don Hernando?,” asked Villens. “Shall we?”

“Yes, I think so,” said Hernando. “Please lead the way, Villens.” 

“Follow me, everyone, if you please,” said Villens and the race was on. 

The children didn’t wait to follow anyone. They heard the noise and were homing in on it. Ronan and Ethna scooped up Ossian and his six year old sister Theresa and they joined the mad rush. The adults waited for Don Hernando and Señora de la Vega to make their way, arm in arm, to the head of the crowd and then they fell in behind them. Lucinda and Rose held back to talk about the shocking kiss. Mrs. O’Brien shocked them further when she commented that Samuel Rodriguez, the cobbler, had been showing his interest in her. He’d molded her shoes specially to fit her bunions. “Maybe word this’ll give him a kick in the rump and get him moving,” she said. “I won’t be well-preserved forever you know.”

As the crowd rounded the house, Finn came into view. He was pounding a large wooden stake into the ground. He’d already set numerous stakes and when he set this final one, he looked over his work, comparing it to a drawing on a piece of paper. Satisfied with his work, he shoved the paper in his pocket and rested the hammer on his shoulder. Villens stepped into the staked area and raised his arms to quiet the crowd. Everyone stopped talking and waited for Villens to explain. Don Hernando nodded at him to go on, so he began

“Friends, I have a special surprise to share with you today. It is my pleasure to announce that you are looking at the site of the finest greenhouse in New Spain. Finn has very exactly placed pegs where the corners of the building will stand.”

Maria gasped. The greenhouse would be huge. Villens was looking straight at her and she felt like he was talking to her alone.

“Don Hernando has asked me to design it. Señora de la vega has kindly offered to share the cost. Pau and Miguel and their crews will build it. Maria will fill it with beauty and science,” he paused then seemed to remember where he was. “Don Hernando, Señora de la Vega, I cannot thank you enough for this opportunity. May I suggest the greenhouse be named the Angelica de la Vega Botanical Gardens?” 

Señora de la Vega blushed and tried to wave away the suggestion. Don Hernando laughed and said, “I had already decided to honor the Señora in such a manner. The only question is her surname.”

Maria started clapping and everyone joined in. Señora whispered to the Don, “Oh Hernando, not here, not on front of everyone. We must talk. We’re  not children. Be sensisible.”

Don Hernando silenced the crowd with a raised hand and said, “It seems I have spoken out of turn. We will choose a name later. Now let us eat and drink an declare the rest of the day a holiday.” With this, the freed children roared. Their teachers clapped only a little less uproariously.

“The food is set up in yard,” called Mrs. O’Brien. “Let’s get to it.”


Villens and Maria found themselves at a table with Rose and Lemuel. They ate and talked and admired the wooden rose Lemuel had carved. Villens suggested that perhaps Lemuel could carve some decorations for the greenhouse.  Maria told Rose how Villens had allowed her to think that he was rushing the work on the bridge so that he could leave, while all the time he was plotting to convince her father to build one.  She asked if Rose had known about the greenhouse. Rose said that only the Don and Villens must have known or everybody would have known.

While she was talking with Rose, Maria kept glancing at Lemuel. She knew that she needed to apologize for her treatment of him. He had proven himself to be a good man and he clearly was attached to Rose. “Lemuel, do you have a minute?,” she asked.

He had been listening to Villens tell a story about his family, but he turned to her and said, “Of course, Miss Velenzeula.”

“Please call me Maria,” she said. “I have taken the liberty of calling you Lemuel for so long, it is the right thing to do.”

“Maria, it is then. What may do for you, Maria?” Lemuel asked. Rose and Villens observed the scene intently.

“If you are free tomorrow, how would like to come with Villens and myself to investigate that mound where you found the Annumpi artifact?,” Maria asked. “Perhaps Rose can get away also.”

Lemuel smiled broadly. “I think I can get away. I have a very understanding boss. What about you, Rose?,” he asked. 

“I’d love to. I’ll make a picnic lunch.”

“Isn’t anyone going to invite me?,” asked Villens.

“No, I don’t think so,” said Maria. “After your little game. I’m ordering you to come. Wear old clothes and bring a shovel. Lemuel’s hand is too weak to dig and I won’t do it all myself.”

“Latrine duty it is, ma’am,” said Villens snapping off a professional salute. The couples laughed and then smiled at each other when they realized that they were couples.


Angelica and Hernando had slipped away from the party and found a quiet spot on a side porch overlooking the kitchen garden. They sat on two battered, wicker chairs and sipped cider from champagne flutes. “You should have waited before making your dramatic semi-proposal, Hernando,” Angelica said.

“Is this a rejection then,” Hernando asked.

“Was there a offer to reject?,” she replied. “I know that you and I have been around, Hernando. We have married and had families and buried a spouse. But that does not mean that marriage is an inconsequential thing to be decided on a whim.”

“I’m serious, Angelica,” Hernando said taking the flute out of her hand and holding her hands in his.

She winced and said, “Be easy. I have arthritis in both hands.”

He apologized and loosened his grip.

“I think you may have gotten caught up in the drama of the moment,” she said. “I think you have been working very hard to help everyone over the terrible events that brought us together again. I worry that you are proposing to help me through Cupido’s death which cannot be far off. We have known each such a very long time. If you hadn’t been so shy and I hadn’t been such a shameless flirt, who knows, we might be an old married couple with grandchildren and ....”

“Would we have had Cecilia?,” Hernando asked.

“I doubt it,” said Angelica. “She is exactly like my mother-in-law. How that woman could SPHINGE.”

“You’re right, Angelica,” said Hernando. “I have tried to make things right. It’s my duty as the head of the family. I have mourned too long. It’s unseemly. However you are wrong to think I’ve proposed to you to help you. My inept proposal, which I shall deliver properly, I assure you, my proposal was to help me. Violence shocked me into action, but you have brought me back to life.”

Angelica looked at him and saw the nervous nineteen-year old who wanted to ask her to dance, but could get the words out. She blinked away the memory of how she’d laughed at him. “You’ll have to do propose properly,” Angelica said. “ And that includes a nurse for Cecilia.”

“I will ask you father for your hand this very evening,” said the Don. “He’s buried at St. Ludens’, is he not? Up front, near the altar?”

“You’ve always been an idiot,” Angelica said. “Now give me kiss before any of our nosy children track us down.”