It was the last day of Lemuel’s life. For seventeen years, he had wandered about Devers, the small English port, where he’d been born. As soon as he’d left the cute little kid phase behind, which didn’t take long, he’d learned that not being noticed was the safest way. His house was full of the larger, louder children, so Lemuel quickly learned to fade to the edges, to avoid standing out, to fit in without drawing attention.
Hiding was easy at home. His father was a prosperous businessman whose many ventures occupied most of this attention. Lemuel was one of ten children, so hiding during meals meant keeping your head down and diving beneath the roar of others. When he turned seven, Lemuel had quietly slipped out of the crowded room shared with his three older brothers. He found a quiet place in the attic, made a nice soft nest of old blankets, and settled in. He prowled amongst the old crates and found the library of an long dead relative that had never been unpacked. It became his school.
Lemuel was never sure if his brothers hadn’t noticed his departure or hadn’t cared. After the last brother moved away from home when Lemuel was thirteen, he packed up his few things and prepared to move back to his old room only to find that his younger twin sisters had already been moved in. He went back to the attic and part of him was relieved.
Lemuel’s education consisted of watching and listening. He sat on crates at the dock and watched the ships being loaded and unloaded. He came to understand the patterns in the mad jumble of dockside activity - the order of loading ships, the side deals for misplaced goods, the arrangements made to speed up the jobs, the insurance payments required to prevent damage while unloading. At night, the boy would lie in the thick grass that lined the shore and watch the sleek, dark ships anchored off the shore being swiftly unloaded into small boats that would silently disappear up the river.
And now that he was seventeen, Lemuel was wondering what he would do with his life. It was more difficult to hide now that he had grown. He was nearly six feet tall and people were beginning to notice him. During the day, he carried a broom around with him. Whenever anyone began paying him too much attention, Lemuel would begin to sweep with a steady, unenthusiastic motion. The person’s attention would quickly fade. Who notices sweepers?
At night, however, it was different story. After attracting the attention of the men in the small boats and being chased away with dire threats, Lemuel avoided the shoreline at night. He thought he recognized one of the voices, but he didn’t stay to see if he was right.
At dinner the next day, his father looked up from his plum pudding and peered at the faces around the table. He seemed to be counting under his breath. After counting the girls, he put down his knife and continued counting. When he finished, he looked at his extended fingers and counted again. Then he cleared his throat. Everyone stopped eating and turned to their father. Everyone except Lemuel. He never looked at anyone. It might invite a conversation. His father cleared his throat theatrically causing even the family cat to look up. Lemuel knew he must meet his father’s gaze.
“Um, son, come to my study after pudding,” his father said and he resumed his meal.
“Yes, Father,” mumbled Lemuel, and he too returned to his meal.
About a half-hour later, Lemuel sat down across the large mahogany desk from his father. His father looked up from the papers scattered across the desk and a fleeting smile flickered across his face.
“Well, uh, son, ...”
“Yes, of course, Lemuel. I believe your mother’s great-Uncle was a Lemuel, or something of that nature. I know he never married, but who can tell. Um, anyway, you see, we, your mother and we always did the best we could for you.”
“I know, Father.”
“It hasn’t been easy with, um,” he glanced below the desktop at his extended fingers, “with five daughters and four sons.”
“Six daughters, Father.”
His father quickly glanced at his fingers again, moving his lips as he recounted his digits. “Yes, of
course, six daughters.” He paused and then muttered, “Good Lord, six, really?”
“Yes, Father. There’s Angelica, Babella, Cynthnia, ....”
“Alright, alright, six it is. I’m sure they’re all around here somewhere, but now’s not the time.” His father fell silent, drumming his fingers and avoiding Lemuel’s eyes. Lemuel nervously waited to discover what time it was.
“You mother tells me you are eighteen ...”
“Nearly eighteen,” he continued. “And so it is long past time that we placed you in a profession.”
“Yes, father,” replied Lemuel, a cold wave of dread sweeping over him.
“Well, um, we, your mother and I, are very traditional people. We’ve always stayed true to the traditions that have made us what we are.”
“And what is that, Father?”
“None of your lip, um, boy.”
“Yes, well,” he cleared his throat noisily, “your profession. As you know, you are our, your mother and my,” he glanced again at his fingers, “fourth, yes, that’s right, our fourth son.”
“My eldest son, Oliver, will inherit the family lands and property, and so he has been trained to take up those responsibilities as is right and proper.”
“But Oliver is out until all hours and sleeps past noon every day, Father.”
Lemuel’s father lost the vague look that had possessed them and an unexpected steeliness came over them. “We don’t speak of Oliver’s comings and goings to anyone. Do you understand, Lemuel?”
Lemuel was startled by the sudden change in his usually befuddled father. “Of course, sir,” he answered swiftly.
His father relaxed and returned to the topic at hand. ”And then there is Daniel, my second son. He entered Holy Orders and has advanced rapidly in Rome. I purchased Julius, my third son, a commission with the 36th Royal Lancers. He is currently slaughtering infidels far from home.”
“But Father, we are not at war.”
“Julius doesn’t need a war to slaughter heathens. He doesn’t even need heathens.”
“Why is he serving so far from home, Father?”
“That was the agreement when I purchased the commission.”
“But Father, I don’t understand.”
“What is it you don’t understand, um, son.”
“Lemuel, Father. Father, I know how traditional you and mother are. But I thought that, traditionally, that is, the second son joined the army, and the third joined the Church.”
After a pause, Lemuel’s father stammered, “Well, um, you see, sometimes things don’t work out the way’d like.”
Seeing that Lemuel looked confused and was about to ask another question, his father headed him off. “Well, Lenny,...”
“Lemmy, when you brothers approached the age of entering their professions, well, certain, uh, things became apparent. We met with various religious orders about taking Julius, and they agreed to talk with him. They were never clear about why, but they all refused him. Several recommended the Jesuits, but they rejected Julius as well and recommended we try the Inquisition. It was the Grand Inquisitioner who recommended the Army and the foreign posting.
As it turns out, it was for the best, for Daniel was a gentle boy, who showed no interest in military training. He is not a healthy boy, you know, your brother isn’t. Your mother kept arranging for her friends’ daughters to come and visit and, well, Daniel was always be ill and stay locked in his room. And Julius, well, your mother had to be sure that none of the girls wandered off alone when Julius was around.
Balls were worse. Daniel had to go. We, your mother and I, insisted. We were determined that he would meet a fine girl girl from a good family. Offspring, you know. Have to keep the family line alive and all that.
He would go, would Daniel, but I don’t believe I ever saw him dance. No, no, that’s not quite true. There was that costume ball, but his partner was, well, frankly, very pretty, but rather, um, stout. Muscular even. When I asked him who his partner was he, your brother, Daniel, that is, just laughed. The last time I saw the young, um, lady, she was wandering in the gardens and Julius was following her. That may have been when Julius tripped in the garden, breaking his nose and blacking both eyes, I don’t remember exactly.
Anyway, we, your mother and I, were getting quite worried about the boys. So when all Daniel’s friends began to enter the seminary, and Julius had that little incident, um, misunderstanding really, with Mr. Feven’s parlor maid, switching the boy’s professions seemed like the only answer.”
“I see, Father. You, you and mother, that is, were very wise. But what about me?”
“Well, Lenny, a fourth son, well, that’s a tough one. It’s rather like a sixth toe. Something that draws attention at beach, but basically useless. I mean we, your mother and I, love you like a son.”
“A fourth son,” said Lemuel a touch of petulance.
“Hmm? What?,” answered his father, who had drifted off and now attempted to rally. “Well, today your mother took some time out from the work of marrying off all those daughters and reminded me that we needed to do something with you. It was nearly noon, Oliver was still asleep I remember, and I was feeling a bit hungry, and she insisted, so well, the thought just popped into my head, Leven.”
“Lemuel, Father. Lemuel.”
“Right, of course, Lemuel. What shall Lemuel do with his life? And there it was. Lemuel shall become an Annumpi.”
His father looked at Lemuel expectantly. Lemuel returned a blank stare. He shook himself. “Father, “ Lemuel asked. “Why must I be an Annumpi? Why must I spend my life wandering the Pampas herding spoltal?”
“What? Herding what? No, no, no, you’re to be an Annumpi. You know, up before dawn, making cakes and breads, afternoons and evenings off. An Annumpi, like Mr. Jenkins who makes those lovely cakes for us. It’s a respectable life.”
“No, Father, you mean a baker. Annumpi are spoltal herders. I read about them in Great-Uncle Cyril’s book. They live a lonely life in the tall grass with only their spoltal for company. And there aren’t any more of them. They’ll only be me.”
“Well, there you are then. Dead men’s shoes. The field’s wide open.”
“The field’s completely empty. It’ll just be the grass and me.”
“Not bakers? Are you certain?”
“Yes, Father. I’ve read The Lastoc of the Annumpi. They’re all gone.”
“So, I guess you’re a spoltal herder now,” said Lemuel’s father, having made his decision his mind was wandering away from his son.
“Yes, Father,” said Lemuel resignedly.
“Right. Well that’s tidied up then,” said his father, his hands nervously searching for a paper in the piles on his desk. “By the way, what is a spoltal?”
“Not sure, Father. The book wasn’t clear on that.”
His father located the paper he was seeking and tapped it thoughtfully. “Look here, son. “The Barnacle” leaves tonight for South America. You’ve got about a half-an-hour to gather a few things and pack them in one of the old chests in the attic. The ship leaves on the tide. Come by here on your way out and I’ll give you letter for Captain DeVilliers and some money to help you get settled. You better get going. “
“My son, the Annumpi,” said Lemuel’s father softly.
Lemuel looked at his father, hoping that it all had been a bad joke.
“Make me proud, son,” his father said. “Be the best Annumpi ever.”
No, it was all too real. Lemuel rose and went to gather his few things. The first thing he packed was his Great-Uncle’s copy of The Lastoc of the Annumpi. As he looked around his attic nest, Lemuel thought sadly, “I’m seventeen and my life is over.”