27 August 2010

The Lastoc of the Annumpi: "We Have Met the Annumpi" (Part 13)

Friday, 23 May 1801

For the next four days, the O’Briens, Bryants and their allies were busy shoring up their defenses and preparing their trap for General Morales. Repairs had been made to the out buildings and main house. A large camp was established about a half mile deep in the grass. The camp was supplied with food and ammunition. Caches were buried at various sites in case the defenders were forced to scatter. Miguel and his family built a small forge in a clearing, in case the main forge was destroyed. 

Their main concern was the bridge over the swollen river. Heavy storm runoff from the mountains showed no sign of letting up. Pau did not have any beams long enough or heavy enough to span the flood. Even if they had the materials, Pau and Maria were no longer certain that rebuilding the bridge was a good idea. What if the silk stockings used the bridge to attack them? Cupido and his silk-stockinged gentleman thugs were horsemen. A dozen horsemen sweeping over the bridge could wreak havoc. After much discussion, they decided that if they could get enough heavy rope and if they could build a three or four rafts, they could create a floating bridge or a pulley system to maneuver a raft quickly from one side to the other.

Since Fergus had been fired on, the family took increased precautions. Two people were stationed at windows on either end of the attic. One window looked out across the river and the Capital road that paralleled it. From this window one could watch the intersecting road that was the most likely route that anyone coming from the de la Vega ranch would take. The other window, which was in Lemuel’s room, commanded the southern exposure. From it, Lemuel could see a loop in the river that in normal times was shallow enough to ford. The ford would be a dangerous place to cross until the flood subsided, but de la Vega might chance it, so Lemuel kept a vigilant watch.

Lemuel’s health had greatly improved under the care of Maria and the regular meals overseen by Mrs. O’Brien. Maria had examined his wounds and found no sign of infection. His injuries from the badger were not as bad as she had feared. She reminded Lemuel that he was incredibly lucky that the badger had partially sedated. Lemuel’s wounded shoulder was beginning to knit, but it would take quite a while before they would know the extent of the permanent damage. Maria had not told anyone at the time, but she had been afraid that he might lose the arm.

Every since his first meal with the family, Lemuel had asked to join them at every meal. He had needed assistance the first few days, but he could now manage the stairs with the help of a stout cane lent him by Don Hernando. On level ground, Lemuel could make slow and steady progress. 

Lemuel was eager to do whatever he could to help. His strength was still limited, but his mind grew sharper everyday. At first, he had to force himself to endure the noise and congestion of the busy house. Now he was beginning to look forward to the activity. He still tended to stay out of the way, but when he could help, he would speak up and join in. The O’Briens had grown accustomed to him, although Maria was still not quite convinced.


Friday night, before heading back to house for dinner, Pau and Anthony went to the camp to check on the progress that Pau’s boys had made. The entrances to the paths through the grass were carefully placed so that they could not be seen from the road. This entrance was the one that would be used to reach the river crossing point. The men entered the barn and crossed over the the open center to a stall filled with old farming equipment. In single file, they skirted the rusted pile of broken tools and found the loosened boards in the rear of the stall. They pulled the boards inward and squeezed through. They now had about ten yards of open ground to cover to enter the grass. The bulk of the barn completely obscured this open ground from the river.

Once they entered the grass, they had to wade through the vegetation until the path began about twenty yards in. They could then walk briskly down a path wide enough for people to walk two abreast. When they approached the campsite, they heard unexpected noises. The boys, and everyone for that matter, had been instructed by work as quietly as possible. They could hear loud, unfamiliar voices coming from the camp. As they stopped to listen, they primed the pistols they been carrying since Fergus was shot at. When they heard horses, Pau and Anthony unslung their muskets. They silently made their way down the path, but stayed close to the edge in case they had to dive into the grass for cover.

At the camp, there were two horses tethered to a tree branch. They were large, powerful horses, but their saddles were functional and well worn. They were free of the silverwork favored by the silk stockings. Ronan and Finn were lying face down in the dirt.  A man dressed in brown wool pants, a rough cotton shirt, and a leather jacket was sitting on Finn while forcing Ronan down by twisting his arm behind his back. The man who was pinning the two O’Briens to the ground was laughing at Victor who was suspended a foot in the air by the largest man Pau had ever seen. The man’s shoulders and chest were so wide that the burly Victor looked like a scrawny adolescent  in comparison. His thick arms wrapped around Victor, pinning his arms to his side.

The huge man tossed his head back and laughed. His thick silvered hair hung down to his shoulders. “What did I tell you, Jimmy?,” he called to his partner. “The O’Briens couldn’t guard a doll house.”
Before Jimmy could answer, the big man doubled up and collapsed forward onto Victor. Jimmy barely had time to make out the figure that appeared behind the falling giant, when he was knocked to the dirt by a well aimed kick to his side. Anthony stepped over Pau’s boys and rolled his victim over so he could see his face. “Oh Jesus, Pau. It’s Big James and this must be Little Jimmy,” Antony called to Pau.
“Just like the damn Bryants to start celebrating before the fight's over,” Pau said reaching down to help Big James to his feet. Victor was checking if all his parts still worked before attempting to stand.

Big James took Pau's proffered hand and allowed Pau to pull him up.  “Did you have to go after my kidney?," Big James asked. "I’ll be pissing blood for a week.”

“I’m sure you’ll cauterize the wound before dark, you old reprobate,” said Pau. “And will you two get off my boys.”

Anthony and Little Jimmy had taken a seat on Ronan and Finn to watch the entertainment. “You mean these mighty warriors are your sons, Pau?  Had I know that I would’ve been frightened before we thumped them.”

The boys staggered to their feet, and soon all six men were eyeing each other. Pau pointed to his sons, and said, “This is Victor, Ronan, and Finn, my sons.” Gesturing to the newcomers, he said, “This is Big James and his son, Little Jimmy. Big James is your Grandmother’s little brother, although he’s more a walking natural disaster. And this one that helped me whip you two idiots is Anthony, your nephew Jimmy’s boy. “ 

“I thought you looked familiar, son,” said Big James. “Now why is it that your father didn’t name you Jimmy? He’s named after me, you know.’

“Perhaps he felt that you used the name up,” said Anthony.

“Likely. Likely,” said Big James, laughing loudly. “Though I’ve left a bit for Little Jimmy here.” 

“Alright,” said Pau, “We’d better be getting back. If mother finds out we’ve be gabbing out here when I should have brought you to her, she’ll tan my hide.” The group made their way along the winding paths to the entrance behind the big house. Pau’s boys took the horses to the barn and Pau led the Byants to an unexpected family reunion.


After everyone had been fed and the kitchen restored to order, Mrs. O’Brien sat down on a heavy rocker on the small rear porch and smoked a clay pipe. She loved her family, but a quiet smoke on a cool evening was an opportunity not to be missed. When she heard tentative footsteps behind her, she didn’t even have to turn around. “Evening, Maria, Ethna. I’ve been expecting you. If one you would bring me a brandy, I think it’s time we talked about the Annumpi.” A hand immediately delivered a brandy. 
“Well, isn’t that pleasant. Someone’s been thinking.” She sipped the brandy and sighed deeply. “Ethna, would you see if Mr. Hawkins would care to join us. Ethna, why don’t you get Margaret, Fiona, and Finn, as well. And leave the poor boy be, please.”

It took about fifteen minutes for the everyone to gather and get settled. Ethna brought kitchen chairs out onto the back porch for Maria, Lemuel, and herself. The others sat with their backs against the house or plopped on the steps. Finn lay nearby in the grass where he could keep an eye on Ethna who had been making his life miserable all evening. Ronan had wandered over and joined his brother. The group waited in silence while Mrs. O’Brien decided how to begin.

“You can’t imagine my surprise when heard Mr. Hawkins here talk about the Annumpi. He actually did more than that, he tried to live like one. I couldn’t understand why a boy from England or his father would have even heard of the Annumpi. And then he said that they had read that piece of claptrap that that useless, slack bellied, addled brained, moralistic blockhead Daniel Defoe spewed out. That man couldn’t see a mouse whiddle without writing a pamphlet about it. If a cat chased the mouse, he’d have a book, and if a dog chased the cat he’d have a sequel.”

Lemuel raised his hand timidly, and asked, “Do you mean Daniel DeFoe, the man who wrote ‘Robinson Crusoe’ ?”

“I hope there’s only the one. Drank a lot, ink all over his cuffs, huge wig that looked like he had a sheep’s bottom stuck on his head?” 

Lemuel nodded.

“It seems that Mr. DeFoe couldn’t imagine what to write after ‘Robinson Crusoe.’ He didn’t stop writing, but even he was getting tired of his all those pamphlets and the constant moralizing. He needed an adventure story to wrap around his lay preaching or he was going to be hard up to make a living. So he thought, foreign location, innocents persecuted, exotic people, some attacks on the Spanish and Papists, fill in the slow places with plodding Protestant theology and illustrations of the English as God’s gift to the lesser races, and there you have it. Sales surge, income soars, a new wig or two, and maybe even a small country place as a gift from an aristocratic admirer.”

“Now I have can respect any man who has hustles to earn his living. It’s been a long time since we Bryants and O’Briens could laze about all day. But it’s not right to make things up and pass them off as the truth. There’s a name for that kind of person. If father where here he’d say, ‘Protestants,’ and I think that’s a wee bit harsh, though there’s something to it. No, I was thinking of mountebank, but the two do tend to overlap now that I think on it.”

“To return to me point, Defoe needed a story. He went his to coffee house to see if he could find some help without revealing his intentions. A writer will steal a plot faster than a cat will steal a piece of chicken. It just so happened that an English merchant captain was in the coffee house and DeFoe struck up a conversation with him. The captain had just returned from New Spain. DeFoe fed him cup after cup of coffee and listened to his tales without hearing anything that he could use. And then it happened. He heard the scene he built “the Lastoc of the Annumpi “ around. 

“The captain’s story was true, that’s the sad part. DeFoe turned it into a novel, and wrote it so badly, so turgidly, that many an innocent reader couldn’t tell if it were a novel or, what’s the word, Maria?”

“Ethnography,” Maria chipped in quickly.

“That’s it. So DeFoe added things that were true, made other things up,called it a novel so people would think he made it all up, and many people thought the whole thing was true anyway.” 

“Take the Annumpi,” said Mrs. O’Brien. Maria, and Lemuel exchanged a glance, part challenge, part apology. “DeFoe would have us think that there were these people living around here named the Annumpi. He tells us how the dressed, what they ate, and what they looked like. He writes about this thing called a spoltal and nobody has any idea what he’s talking about. When I was girl all this was often debated. I heard people say that spoltal were hairy dwarfs. Others claimed they were ugly dogs.  Still others said they were a cross between a marmoset and and eagle, but that last one was from cousin Nemo, so it didn’t carry much weight.”

“What I do know about the Annumpi is this. When the Spanish first reached the grass, the saw that the people here were poor. There was no gold in sight. The people in the mountains had so much gold, they made golden booties lined in wool for their dogs. So, being practical men, the Spanish slaughtered the mountain people, seized their mines, and send slaves from other areas to work them.”

“The Spanish tried to get the people from the grassland to work the mines, but they refused. They refused to even speak to the Spanish. The Spaniards didn’t even know what to call the people, so the called them “la gente de la pampas.” The Spanish used their whole bag of tricks on the grasslanders, but they simply would not work in the mines. Meanwhile the grasslanders retreated deeper into the grass. When the Spanish would march into the grass, they would rarely find anyone, but they’d leave with fewer troops than went in.”

“Eventually the Spanish decided that enough was enough. They hadn’t come all the way across the Atlantic to be made fools of by natives. They threatened to burn the grass, if the grasslanders didn’t submit. One man walked out of the grass. He had learned a bit of Spanish and said that he spoke for the people. He told the Spanish that the people had fled to the coast and had gone where the Spanish would never find them. He asked the Spanish not to burn the grass, as it had been their home for many generations. He said that it was no value to the Spaniards, and asked them not do destroy it.”

“The soldiers seized him and knocked him to his knees. He was beaten and questioned, but he said no more. The Spaniards finally agreed that they would not burn the grass if he told them the name of his people. It galled the Spaniards that even this fact had been withheld from them. He considered this and the said, “Annumpi.” Of course, he was killed and the grass was burned.” 

“The Spanish were convinced that the people were still in the grass and had tried to deceive them. When the fires finally burned themselves out, the Spanish searched through the countless acres of burned land. They were looking for bodies, as well as for the gold and silver that the Spanish were convinced was hidden in the grass. They found nothing.”

“Many years later, the grass had returned and the Spanish still avoided it. When fevers or other illness crept over the land, the Spanish would say it was the breath of the Annumpi. When the O’Briens and the Bryants came here, the Spanish allowed us to live between the river and the grassland. They wanted us to be a buffer between the ghosts of the Annumpi and themselves.”

“Imagine our people’s surprise when they met people who were living in the grass. The people had watched us until they were certain that we were not Spaniards. One of their people had spent so much time watching us she could speak enough English that we could talk with her.”

“We had heard about the Annumpi from the Spanish and we asked her if she was one. She laughed and waved our people closer. “I am Annumpi,” she said pointing at herself. Then she pointed at the O’Briens and Bryants gathered around her and said, “You are Annumpi.” Our people were confused. They didn’t understand. The women seemed to be enjoying the confusion, but then she took pity on the us. “We are both Annumpi,” she repeated. “Annumpi means ‘We have no home.’ ” 

Mrs. O’Brien stopped to finish her brandy. She out her pipe to her lips and the spell was broken. Maria was the first to speak. “When did take place?,” she asked. 

“My Grandfather was there. He was a young boy. The Annumpi was Miguel’s great-grandmother.”

“Where did they go when they fled the Spanish?,” asked Ethna.

“Some hid in the caves above Arena Amarilla, but most went to the small islands off the coast.”

Lemuel rose from his chair and walked painfully over to Mrs. O’Brien. He rested his hand on the arm of her rocker for support and then leaned down and kissed her on the cheek. Wiping a tear from his eye, he turned away and walked into the house. Maria rose to follow him, but Ethna reached out and grasped her wrist. Maria stood there until the door closed behind Lemuel, then she shook off Ethna’s grip and walked away from the house until she could no longer be seen from the porch.


The younger folks had wandered away. Ethna waited until Lemuel had time to make it through kitchen, then she went in and poured another brandy  for grandmother. When she returned to the porch her grandmother was sitting alone. She had relit her pipe and was gently rocking. Ethna pulled Lemuel’s chair closer and sat by her grandmother. Neither said a word. Every now and then a voice from inside the house would be heard or a night bird’s song would cry out. The regular squeak of the rocking chair had just about eased Ethna to sleep when a deep bellow nearly knocked her out of her chair. 

“Old woman, have you seen Bridget Bryant, me big sister?,” roared Big James as the stepped out of the darkness. 

“Good Lord. Is that Big James? Surely some kind soul shot that heap of trouble a long time ago,” answered Mrs. O’Brien.

“Many have tried, but I know the trick of making them miss,” said Big James. In two strides he was on the porch and over to Mrs. O’Brien. She was rising to meet him when he scooped her up and lifted her out of the chair. He gave a hug only a little looser than the one he gave Victor. 

“Put me down, you eejit,” she cried, smacking him on his broad back.

“What a skinny old lady you’ve become,” he said, lowering her into her rocker.

“You ate so much food when we were little, all our stomachs shrunk.”

“Little Jimmy, come here. Meet your Aunt Bridget.”

Little Jimmy stepped forward. “Come a little closer boy,” Mrs. O’Brien said. When he did, Mrs. O’Brien could see that her nephew was about two inches taller than her father, but he must have wwighed fifty pounds less.

“It looks like you da’s still eating more than his share.”

Little Jimmy blushed. “He thin, but he’s made of wire, he is,” said Big James rising in defense of his quiet son. “He whipped two of Pau here’s boys on his own.” Little Jimmy blushed again. He also knew that he would have to be alert around Ronan and Finn. They were pretty tired of being the butt of the joke.

Pau climbed onto the porch and motioned Big James into the empty chair. Little Jimmy sat on the step. Pau motioned to his boys and the three of them went inside. Soon Pau returned with a chair and the boys carried glasses and a bottle. Ronan poured drinks and they settled in.

“Where’d you appear from James?,” asked Mrs. O’Brien.

“Me and me boy just came back from America,” he said.

“Thanks right. You were in Philadelphia, must have been, oh, twenty years ago,” said Mrs. O’Brien.

“More like twenty-five,” said Big Jim. “It was when I lost Mary and the baby to the flu.” 

“That’s right, the pour souls. We lost so many that year.”

“I didn’t know that, as I left when my Mary died. I couldn’t see staying.”

“Well, tell us, James, what have you done with yourself? And how did you come by this fine lad?,” ask Pau setting the bottle by Big James. Everyone settled in. Big James didn’t seem the kind to pass up the opportunity to tell a tale. 

Big James filled his glass before he began. “I never wanted to stay in Philadelphia, which is good thing, as I had to leave in a hurry. I got there just before the colonists started shooting at the British. I wasn’t of the boat an hour before I saw this man being chased by three Red Coats. I wasn’t in a curious mood, or a generous mood, but since Mary died I didn’t care what happened to me, so I laid into the three Brits. One died and the others had some parts that didn’t work quite right anymore.” 

“Some of the American’s friends dragged me away and hid me in a basement. They wanted to know why I helped their friend and I told them I didn’t know you needed a reason to thump Red Coats. Well, they were determined to help me, and before I knew it I was in the Appalachian Mountains with a bunch of Donegal lads. We never set foot off those mountains the rest of the war, but we damn sure made certain the Brits had to take the long way around the mountain.”

“During the war, I married one of the fellow’s sisters, and she had Little Jimmy here. She was a Carr from Killybegs. Maddie was her name. She had a hard time during the war, as all the women did. The Brits went after them to get to us. But after they hurt some of the women, we tracked down the Red Coats and managed to convince them that they were better off playing by the rules.”

“After the war, me, Maddie, and Little Jimmy headed west through the Cumberland Gap. We met up with Daniel Boone, you might have heard of him.What a character. Could talk his way out of anything.  Seems he married a cousin of ours. Him and me fought Indians all the way to Detroit and back.”

“You wouldn’t believe the land there, Bridget. There’s no end to it and it’s nearly as green as Itreland. And after the war, there wasn’t a Brit in sight. The government gave me some land for my service, but with all that other land out West, I kept thinking there’d be better land just a little further on. Besides, I have to admit, I’m just not a farmer. I was a sheriff for a while in the Western Reserve, but that was hard on Maddie and Little Jimmy. I’d be gone for weeks, sometimes months at a time.” 

“And then Maddie got sick, so I took her to her sister’s place near Fort Pitt in western Pennsylvania. They had doctors there, but it was too late to do anything. About a year ago, we laid her to rest. Then the boy and me decided it was time to come home. We heard about the flood, so we hired a fishing boat to drop us of on the Arena Amarilla, and here we are.”

Mrs. O’Brien caught Big James up on the births, deaths, and marriages that  had taken place in the quarter century since he’d left. Pau told him about the situation with Morales and de la Vega. When Pau was talking, all hos joviality left the big man and a seriousness that was deeply hidden surfaced. Big James began asking questions that Pau hadn’t thought about. The two men walked to the river were the bridge had been and were Pau still planned to cross the river. 

“See those rocks over there?,” said Big Jim. 

Pau did. He’d seen them his whole life. 

“The way a soldier sees them is that two or three men firing from behind those rocks could keep you pinned down across the river. The rest of the plan is pretty good. But you know that Morales is going to send scouts into the mountains to make sure the road is clear.” Pau hadn’t thought of that.

“Here’s what we’ll do,” said Big James. “We’re going to convince the scouts that there’s fever in the mine. Half the time there is anyway, the way the Spanish work those slaves. That’ll keep them from taking a good look and spotting you high base.”

“What if we they don’t fall for it?,” Pau asked?

“Then me and the Bryant’s will kill them,” said Big Jim. 

“And the men behind the rocks?,” asked Pau.

“I’d already planned on killing them. It’s like this Pau, when you start planning to aim guns at soldiers, you better be ready to use your guns. This is a war your talking about, son. You need some soldiers.” 
Big Jim put his empty glass on the porch and stretched. “It’s been a long day, folks. Tomorrow Little Jim and me have to find a way across the river to get to the Bryant side of the river,” said Big James. He grinned at Pau and said,”You got big ideas, Pau. Good thing my boy and me came back.”

26 August 2010

The Lastoc of the Annumpi: Surveying the Damage (Part 12)

May 2nd, 1801, Casa de las Pampas

Eduardo, mi querido, I pray you are safe. I understand why you could not tell me that you were leaving, but my heart nearly stopped when I saw you galloping through that horrible storm. I trust that you were able to slip past the silk stockings, as I am certain that they would not set foot outside on such a day. Can you I imagine any one of them with even a speck of mud on them? Blood, yes, but mud? Never.

Victor was a wise choice to accompany you. He is steady and silent,  a good man. There has flooding here and damage from the wind. I will go the camp today and see if there has been any damage. Do not worry, the camp will be ready when you return with our friends. 

The bridge is out. I will go with Pau to investigate. We will repair the bridge before you return, or find another way across.  If nothing else, Pau and Miguel can make a raft or a pontoon bridge. Of course, I will not be able to visit the high base, until I can get across the river. Ronan and Fergus are strong swimmers, perhaps they can make it across, but not yet. The river is too wild and filled with debris.

I questioned Lemuel. Before I talk of him, I need to know if you knew he was here for so long. It seems that at least your mother, Rose, and Ethna have known of him for four years. Did you, also? I can’t imagine how you couldn’t have. Why did you not tell me?  He says he has been here for fourteen  years, although I’m not sure I believe him. I not sure what to believe about him. Could he be a British agent? If so, why would he have been here so long? How do we know if he has been here as long as he says he has?

I do not like an Englishman showing up at this time. Everything is so delicately balanced, the slightest shift can destroy everything. What if his attack on Cupido was intended to set Cupido’s people against us? Is it possible that the English want us out of the way so the Northern approach to the capitol is controlled by Cupido’s men? The British could land north of   Puerto Seguro and march down the Capitol. Morales controls the land to the North and he could have allied with the British, but that is unlikely. He hates the British.

I wish you were here, Eduardo. Events are moving so quickly. I must go, there is much to do. Be safe, mi querido. Come back to me quickly.



Maria folded the letter and carried it over to a shelf lined with skeletons of small mammals. She knew that Eduardo would never read the letter. He would be back in two weeks and he would be on the road for most of the time. Still, it made her feel that he was close, that they were talking together, and she very much needed that closeness.

Carefully sliding two mouse skeletons aside, Maria slipped a short, stout scalpel blade into a seam in the plaster wall. She flicked her wrist and a panel swung back on hidden hinges revealing a small wall safe. She quickly spun the dials, opened the heavy door, and placed the letter on top of a pile of papers. Several small sacks of reals were pressed into the rear of the safe. Before she closed the door, she placed Lemuel’s poison in the safe also.


The storm played out a little before dawn. As if to make amends for its absence yesterday the blazing sun drove all clouds from the sky. It felt more like summer than late fall. The children were unable to control themselves after yesterday’s imprisonment. They chased each other madly around the grounds, acting out the adventures of Mariel and Fiona, complete with bears, pirates, ghosts, and monsters chasing the lost girls and threatening them with all sorts of hair raising violence. The screams and laughter could be heard all through the house, but after yesterday’s scare, no one cared to quiet the happy din.

Don Hernando had invited the entire O’Brien clan to have dinner at the house. Mrs. O’Brien had told him about Cupido’s gang’s actions, and he was appalled. He offered to open his house to all of the O’Brien’s and then suggested that all have dinner so he could extend the invitation himself. Mrs. O’Brien accepted and sent Ethna and the twins to spread the word.

As soon as the breakfast dishes were cleaned, preparations began for dinner. The kitchen soon filled with Mrs. O’Brien, her daughters, and a changing selection of grandchildren bustling about. Throughout that warm day, the stove never cooled, as a stream of cakes, pies, and breads flowed from the ancient iron heart of the kitchen. As the day wore on, space was made for a ham and several ducks. Beans were soaking, rice was cleaned, and squash were cubed. Mrs. O’Brien wandered from pot to pot, dipping in a wooden spoon in each, and sampling the dishes. Sometimes she would nod and move on, other times she’d add a pinch or two of one of the seasonings stored in pottery jars on a rack above the stove. 

Lead by Pau, the men and the older boys had divided into groups to inspect the property and determine how things stood. Pau and his boys, Victor, Ronan, and Finn, checked the butchering shed and the bridge. Miguel Sanchez, Lucinda’s husband, and his brother, Rafael inspected the metal working shop. Fergus, Pau’s youngest brother, and Rose’s brother-in-law, Kevin went to round up the livestock and drive it to the large corrals on Don Hernando’s grounds. Maria and Fergus would then would examine each animal for injuries. Antonio, Dougal, and Brandon, the Bryant cousins who had been staying with Pau and his wife Vera, would help Fergus with the livestock.

Ethna was given the task of organizing the older children to form a communication network that would run messages, supplies, food, and whatever else was required between the kitchen and the various locations across the grounds. Fiona, Margaret, Daniel, Michael, and Declan were the runners. Ethna found whistles for everyone and they worked out a quick code. Soon the squad was flying about with military precision, their staccato whistles filled the air alarming any bird within earshot.  

Maria was on the front porch with her father surveying the extent of the flooding when she heard several quick bursts on a whistle followed by Declan rounding the corner of the house. He made the mistake of trying to whistle while running up the front the steps. He stumbled and Maria was sure he was going to land on his face and swallow his whistle, but Don Hernando surprised them both by springing to his right and catching the boy who hadn’t stopped blowing his whistle. 

Don Hernando set Declan on his feet and, seeing the boy’s cheeks fill, reached down and popped the whistle from his mouth. The stopper removed, Declan disgorged the trapped air and covered Don Hernando’s jacket with spit. The boy was mortified. He stood with his chest heaving and   his eyes bulging out of his head. 

Don Hernando very slowly drew out a crisp white handkerchief. He carefully mopped the spit off of this jacket, then said to the horrified boy, “Was there something I could do for you, Declan?”

“Miss Maria, Sir, Miss Maria” said Declan struggling to get the words out.

“Yes, what about Miss Maria,?” asked Don Hernando. “You must try and breathe, young man,” he added.

Declan rocked back and forth twice as if building momentum, then blurted out, “Uncle Pau wants to see her at the bridge.”

“Your Uncle Pau would like Maria to come to the bridge? Is that correct?,” asked Don Hernando.

Declan nodded vigorously.

Don Hernando precisely folded the soiled the handkerchief and decided not to return it to his pocket. He then turned to his daughter and said, “Maria, my dear, it’s for you.” With that, Don Hernando solemnly made his way to his library and was not seen again until he was called for supper.


As she neared the bridge, Maria was surprised to see Mrs. O’Brien with Pau. She expected that Mrs. O’Brien would spent all day in the kitchen supervising the dinner preparations. Maria could see them examining the supporting post that had anchored the bridge. They couldn’t get  any closer than eight feet to them because of the floodwater. 

Pau heard Maria’s footsteps and called her over. “Look there,” he said pointing to the shattered tops of both posts. Maria wasn’t sure what she should be looking for. 

“What’s going on, Pau? I don’t understand,” she said.

“Look at top of the posts, at the place where the stringer tore away. See the charring? An explosive charge was used to destroy the bridge.””

Maria shaded her eyes, then she saw what Pau had seen. “So someone destroyed the bridge and tried to make us think the storm washed out it out,” continued Pau. He waited for Maria to consider what he said. 

“Who would this? And why?,” she asked, accepting Pau’s conclusion and moving on to the next issue.

“Someone who wants us on this side of the river for a while,” said Mrs. O’Brien. 

“But why?,” Maria asked.

“If we cannot cross the river we cannot get to the road,” Pau answered.

“And we cannot stop anyone who is using the road to get to the capitol,” Maria added.

The three started back toward the house in silence until Maria said, “Do you think we can fix the bridge before Eduardo and Victor return?” 

“We will try,” said Pau calmly.

“And will can always build a raft or a floating bridge,” added Mrs. O’Brien.

“Either way we need guards on the bridge,” said Maria. “Once we repair it.”

No one answered. They all knew that things were happening, and they hoped that they would be ready.

While Mrs. O’Brien was examining the bridge, the activity in the kitchen continued unabated. Lucinda and Rose’s happiness at the safe return of their daughters had carried over to today. They had decided to make baked apples as a special treat for the girls. Pau’s wife, Vera, was tending to the meat and poultry. She was mentally portioning the ham and ducks to determine if there would be enough for the whole family. “Are the Bryant boys coming, do you think?,” she asked.

“I am sure they are,” answered Rose. “Don’t you think so, Lucy?” 

Lucinda smiled at Rose’s slipping into her childhood name. “If there’s food those boys will be here. They eat like horses. We need to marry them off so   they don’t eat you and Pau out of house and home.”

They all laughed while imagining Maria with Antonio, the oldest of the Bryant’s. Vera was the first the speak. “But not Maria,” she said. 

“Not to worry,” Lucinda said. “Maria scares those Bryant boys to death.”

“Lucinda, what about Ester’s sisters? Or Miguel’s?,” asked Vera.

“Ester’s sisters are married. Miguel has two sisters, Maria and Lupe.”

“Well?,” asked Rose. “What they like?”

“They are good girls,” said Lucinda somewhat distractedly. She was preparing a sauce that was at a delicate stage. “They’re not like Ethna.”

Rose stiffened at this unexpected slight against her daughter. 

In the silence that fell over the kitchen, Lucinda’s words returned to her ears and hammered on her brain to get her attention. When she realized what she said, Lucinda clapped both hands over her mouth as if trying to force the words back in. “Oh, Rosie,” she cried, “Forgive me, Rosie. That’s not what I meant. I only meant that Miguel’s sisters are very traditional. They want to get married and have a family. Ethna is different, you know that. She wants many more things. She doesn’t know what she wants yet. You know I love, Ethna, Rosie. Please, don’t be angry.”

“You mean they are like you and I,” said Rose. “And my Ethna is something else.”

“Well, yes, I suppose so,” said Lucinda. “But that isn’t bad. You know I adore Ethna, Rosie.”

“Yes, yes, you do, I know,” said Rose. “And I know Ethna can be difficult.”

Both women turned their attention to their cooking. Vera wondered if she should say anything, but she didn’t want to get between the two sisters. She suspected that this exchange was not about the marriageability  of Miguel’s sisters or of Ethna, but about the foolish risk Ethna had taken yesterday. 

“I’m going to take a tray to Lemuel,” announced Rose. “Would you keep an eye on the baked apples, Lucy?”

Lucy accepted the peace offering gladly. “Of course, Rosie.”

“I’ve barely had time to check on him since yesterday morning,” said Rose, as she placed some fruit and a glass on milk on the tray. 

“I won’t be gone long,” Rose answered, placing a sandwich on the tray, and backing through the door.

“Take your time,” Vera called after her.  “We can handle things down here.”


Maria walked back to the house with Mrs. O’Brien and Pau. When they walked a short way from the bridge and had left Pau to go check on the butchering shed, Mrs. O’Brien asked, “Maria, how did your visit with Mr. Hawkins go?”

“Not so well,” Maria answered. 

“Oh? What happened?,” Mrs. O’Brien said. Maria did not want to have this conversation, but she knew Mrs. O’Brien too well to know that she could not avoid it.

“I lost my temper. He is infuriating, Mrs. O’Brien. He lives in a dream world. Or maybe he wants us to think he does. It’s absurd! His life is his business, I know, but his dream world has crashed into our real world, and at a very bad time.”

Mrs. O’Brien stopped walking. Maria took a few steps before she noticed, so she had to turn around and face Mrs. O’Brien. 

“Before you tell more about Mr. Hawkins, Maria, I want to know that Eduardo will not be harmed. He is smart, capable, and experienced. You are right, things are moving quicker than we expected, but Eduardo will return to us in time. You will see.” Mrs. O’Brien reached out and drew Maria to her. She hugged Maria and smoothed her hair. 

Mrs. O’Brien’s hugs had reassured the volatile Maria ever since her mother had died when Maria was very young. If you could convince either to discuss their relationship, which is unlikely, they each would deny that Mrs. O’Brien had taken on a maternal role, but they would both agree that a special understanding existed between the them. They had come come to rely on each other’s strength and on their sensitivity to each other’s emotions. Which is why Mrs. O’Brien could tell that Maria was not reassured, that something was still upsetting her.

Maria lingered on briefly in Mrs. O’Brien’s embrace, then she gently, but firmly pushed away. Mrs. O’Brien released her and gave her a quizzical look. The two women stood face-to-face by the bank of the flooded river. As the muddy river swept past them carrying the debris left by yesterday’s storm, a current of confused emotions flowed between them. Mrs. O’Brien knew that she had hurt Maria somehow, but she didn’t know what she had done.

“What’s wrong, Maria?,” she asked softly.

In the simple question, Maria heard an echo of the countless times she’d turned to this woman for comfort. “Why did you not tell me years ago about this man?,” she asked.

“I was worried that if he was hiding from some trouble, you and your father might be accused of helping him.”

“But your family knew and you didn’t trust father and me?,” said Maria as she struggled to hold back her temper. 

“I was sure that he was harmless, a crazy man. But if he had done something, I didn’t want anyone to be able to go to the authorities and accuse you or your father of helping him. You must believe I had no idea how long he’d been here or that he would decide to do what he did.” 

Maria considered Mrs. O’Brien’s words. She couldn’t help but think that if Eduardo was here, if she knew he was safe, she would not be so upset. The familiar uncomfortable recogintion that her growing attachment to Eduardo was chipping away at her independence returned to Maria. “Balance,” she thought. “I must find a balance.” Had Mrs. O’Brien heard those thoughts she would have chuckled. She had long ago come to terms with Maria’s intense, headlong pursuit of her passions. Balance was not in Maria’s nature. “I’m worried that the incident with Cupido the other night will drive all of the families associated with the de la Vegas,” aded Maria.

Maria looked at the river and looked at Mrs. O’Brien. “Come,” she said. “Let’s go home.” The two women returned to the busy kitchen silently walking side by side. A short way down the path, Maria slipped her arm in Mrs. O’Brien’s who gave her a gentle squeeze.


Lucinda was surprised that Rose returned from visiting with Lemuel so quickly. She saw that Rose was upset, but she could not tell why. Rose had returned to the kitchen and resumed her tasks without saying a word to anyone. “Well, it looks like nosy little sister will just have to ask,” Lucinda thought.

“How is Lemuel?,” Lucinda asked. Vera jerked her head toward Rose. 

“His injuries are healing nicely. No infections,” was all Rose said and then she began to poke and prod the ham as if she wanted to make certain that it was not alive.

Vera caught Lucinda’s eye and tapped her own shoulder then motioned to the door. Lucinda shook her head. Lucinda knew that Rose and Vera were close. Whatever was upsetting Rose, Vera’s presence had nothing to do with Rose’s unwillingness to talk about it. Lucinda decided to take the direct approach.

Lucinda folded her arms over her breast, leaned back slightly so she look down her nose at her sister, and in a flawless impersonation of their mother said, “You know you’re going to tell me, young lady. I always get the truth out of you in the end. So why not tell me now before this kitchen fills up with the Lord knows many people I have to feed tonight?”

Rose shook her slowly and suppressed a smile. Vera tried to turn a guffaw into a cough and nearly strangled herself. Rose suspended her assault on the innocent ham and sat down at the table. “Something is worrying him. I’ve never seen him so anxious. I asked what was wrong he and didn’t want to answer. He finally told me that he didn’t know to repay us. He has nothing, Lucy.”

Vera brought Rose a cup of tea and sat next to her. “Rose, honey. I don’t want to upset you, but I need to ask you something. I haven’t met him. You have spent more time with him than anyone. Do you think he is in right mind?”

It was Lucinda’s turn to watch for a reaction. She couldn’t believe that Vera had asked such a question, but she had to admit it was the question that she’s been afraid to ask. 

Rose’s eyes flashed at Vera and Lucinda thought, “Well, that’s that.” Rose was the gentlest of the O’Brien’s, but she had also inherited her mother’s temper. “Absolutely not,” said Rose defiantly. “Lemuel is no madman. I don’t why he did what he did. I don’t know why he came here and lived the way he did. I don’t think he knows, not completely at least. He’ll tell me when he needs to and I’ll listen. Maybe I can help him find out.” Rose ended abruptly, realizing that in her anger she had veered off into areas that she had meant to keep to herself. 

Lucinda came to her sister’s aid. “Do you think he’s strong enough to join us for dinner?,” she asked.

Rose brightened at the thought. “I don’t know. Perhaps, if one of the men can help him down the steps.”

“Why don’t you go ask him if he would like to join us?,” said Lucinda.

“I think I will,” Rose said, and she stepped swiftly out of the kitchen. Lucinda and Vera weren’t certain, but they thought they might have seen just a hint of a skip in her step.

“Our Rose,” thought Lucinda. “The patron saint of lost puppies.”


When Don Hernando heard the size of the dinner party, he insisted the meal be switched to the dining room. After a round of polite refusals and polite insistence, the offer was accepted. The agreement that it would be better for the children to eat in the kitchen clinched the deal. Don Hernando did not mind if the children ate the dining room. He rather enjoyed being around the little creatures for short periods of time when their parents accompanied them. No, it was the mothers who would not accept their children eating in dining room without a complete scrubbing and careful dressing in their best clothes. 

The only difficulty with the agreement was where to draw the line between adult and child. Ethna and Ronan, at nineteen and eighteen, belonged with the adults. Beside, no one could image Rose telling her daughter that she had to eat in the kitchen. It would take at least two adults to deliver that news to Ethna. Ronan, tall and strong like his father, fit right in with young men.

The problem was Pau’s youngest son, Finn, who was fifteen, Lucinda’s oldest girl, Fiona, fourteen, and Rose’s other daughter, Margaret, fifteen. When Pau showed up, his wife, Vera asked him what he thought. “Finn needs to be with us tonight,” he said. So Finn joined the adults. 

When Margaret and Fiona were told that they were to eat in the kitchen and mind the six younger ones, the were upset, but they’d expected as much when then heard dinner had moved to the dining room. When they found out that Finn was eating with adults, they were furious. “I am six months older than him and much more mature,” declared Margaret. “I’m only four months younger than him,” added Fiona, “And my guinea pig is more mature than Finn.”

The attack on Finn continued unabated with a thorough going critique of his cleanliness, intelligence, morality, physique, verbal skills, and manners, with special emphasis being laid on tendency to indiscriminately pick his nose and fart. The girls had sequestered themselves in a small dressing that Ethna had claimed so she would have a private place in the busy house. When Ethna returned home to prepare for dinner, she found two upset young ladies sitting on her bed. Margaret was near tears and Fiona was choking the life out a pillow, while adding a punch at random intervals. Ethna had always liked her cousin Fiona.

After ordering the girls off her bed, Ethna assumed a look of royal disinterest appropriate to the granting of an audience to lower quality supplicants. She listened to their petitions, and while agreeing with their portrait of the unfortunate Finn, she saw the wisdom of her fellow adults’ decision. Ethna, as is common with older sisters, rejected the doctrine of stare decisis, so even if the girls had remembered that Ethna had joined the adults when she was thirteen, the point would have been moot. It is always the case that some people are more equal than others.

The girls waited anxiously while Ethna, their only hope, considered the options. The girls would stay in the kitchen. If they didn’t the twins would be the oldest and there’s no telling what havoc would ensue. But how to soften the blow? “There’s no way to change things,” said Ethna. The girls were crushed. “But, I will talk to Maria and see if she will take the three of us into town soon.” The girls’ spirits rose slightly, but Ethna felt like she had to do more. “And I will make Finn’s life a living hell for the next three days.” That did it. Sympathy, rewards, vengeance. What more a child ask? The girls marched of satisfied and Ethna turned to the business of dressing for dinner.


Don Hernando Valenzuela rested his palms on the heavy lions’ heads that leaned forward from the arms of his ornately carved dining chair. He thought of his father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-great-grandfather who at sat in this chair. Never had any off them witnessed a dinner like this. There were no liveried servants standing silently between each guest. Instead the harried O’Brien sisters and sister-in-laws spent the meal in and out of their seats fetching dishes from the kitchen. Don Hernando thought it was as if the sans culottes had swarmed out of France and swept through his isolated corner of New Spain. But his table full of loud laughing people did not smash their way in, tearing all down before them. He had invited them in. He had lived hand in glove with them since the death of Camille so many years ago. Somehow, he, a Royalist who loved the Old Spain, the Spain of Charles V, had become a kindly, adopted uncle of this sprawling family descended from Irish gentry who would not accept the rule of the British. The English called it “going native.” 

From his place at the head off the table, Don Hernando had delivered a short welcoming speech, and other than that he exchanged a few pleasantries, but mostly he just ate and watched. He noticed that the families clustered in groups. Mrs. O’Brien and Maria shared the foot of the broad table. They spent most of the time in serious conversation between themselves.

On Mrs. O’Brien’ s right sat Pau, her oldest son, the his wife Vera. Next to her was Finn, their youngest, then Ronan, then Victor and his young wife, Maria. Before long Pau and Vera will be a grandparents, thought Don Hernando, and Mrs. O’Brien will add a new title, great-grandmother.

Fergus, the youngest O’Brien sibling, and his wife Ester, and Brandon, one the Bryant cousins from the mountains, completed the left side of table. Ester sat on Don Hernando’s immediate left and he could not have asked for a more delightful companion. She told him amusing stories of her children, Theresa and Ossian, and of her life as a small child in the capitol of Puerto Seguro. If he where honest with himself, Don Hernando would admit that she could have talked of anything. Her youth and dark beauty were captivating to his old eyes.

The side of the table held Ethna, Rose’s oldest girl, Lucinda, and her husband, Miguel Sanchez. He would have been amazed if Ethna had sat anywhere other than next to Maria. Ethna idolized his daughter and Don Hernando felt that was it should be. Don Hernando and Miguel had become unlikely friends, and would often sit in the the library in the evening, sharing a bottle of wine and talking about the history of the grass. Miguel’s easy good humor never failed to lift Don Hernando’s flagging spirits.

Next to Rose sat Anthony, the oldest of the Bryant boys as everyone called them, and two seats from him sat his brother Dougal. Don Hernando hadn’t had much of a chance to meet the Bryant boys, but they carried themselves well and were well-mannered. They were solidly built, not very tall, and good looking. Maria told him that they were intelligent, quiet men that she thought quite highly of. She didn’t mention that they weren’t married, but Don Hernando had overheard Rose talking to Lucinda about how Anthony would be a perfect match for Maria. Don Hernando had watched Anthony closely during dinner. Anthony tried to engage Maria in conversation several times, but she showed no interest. Rose had even tried to help out, but Maria only wanted to talk to Mrs. O’Brien. After a while poor Anthony looked quite deflated. “What am I to do with that girl,” thought Don Hernando. 

Between the older Bryant boys sat the strange man who had lived in the grass for so long. He was named, Lemuel Hawkins, a name that made Don Hernando thinks of pirates. Maria once had pointed out to him that all English names made him think of pirates, but this one really did. The Black Hawk. The Bloody Hawk. The Talons of the Hawk. Don Hernando had a well developed romantic imagination, but even his imagination could not transform this rather pathetic figure into a terrible pirate.

Lemuel Hawkins was still very weak. Two of the Bryant boys had carried him downstairs on a chair. He ate little and drank only watered wine. He only spoke when addressed and then only a little. It was earlier in the evenng that Lemuel made a favorable impression on Don Henando.

Before dinner, Don Hernando was reading his library. There was a knock on the door and he went to open it. Standing in the doorway were two of the Bryant boys, and between them was Lemuel Hawkins. The Bryants had lifted him into a standing position and were supporting his weight while trying not to make it obvious that he could not stand on his own. Lemuel’s weakened legs hung limply. 

“I want to that thank you, sir, for all that your family has done for me. I do not deserve such kindness.” Lemuel tried to bow. “I am in your debt.”

Don Hernando was moved at this display of courtesy, but he wasn’t sure what to make of this man in the attic. His own health did not allow iDon Hernando to climb the steps to the attic, so he had not yet met the young man. Maria did not want to talk about him. Lemuel may be English, and that is a great deal for Don Hernando to overcome, but the courteous act struck home with the Don’s romantic streak.

Don Hernando looked at Lemuel and wondered if, after the long meal, he was strong enough to talk for a while. “Mr. Hawkins,” he said in a voice loud enough to stir Lemuel. “If you are finished with your meal, would you like join me in the library? You will the library much more comfortable.”

“Certainly, Sir,” answered Lemuel gratefully. “I am ready anytime these gentlemen are free to assist me. I’m afraid my legs aren’t quite up to walking yet.” The thought of escaping the crowded room was a tremendous relief to Lemuel.

And so they went, after Don Hernando had thanked everyone for coming, complimented the cooks on the food, Ester for her charming company, and Mrs, O’Brien on her notable family. Don Hernado lead the way to the library and Lemuel was carried in his chair by Antonio and Dougal. As the boys helped Lemuel into one of the large leather chairs, Don Hernando poured them a glass of port. The three men stood and and talked while they drank. “If you need us, just call, Sir, but we need to be getting back to the others,” said Anthony. “Thank you for the excellent port.” 

Don Hernando showed them to the door, then returned to Lemuel. He offered Lemuel a drink, but he asked for water only. After getting himself a sherry and water for Lemuel, Don Hernando sat facing Lemuel and said, “Now, sir, what you like to talk about?”


After Don Hernando and Lemuel left the dining room, the room quieted and a tension spread through the diners. The family was watching the end of the table were Maria, Pau, and Mrs. O’Brien sat. Maria waited until the last conversation died out then began. “My father saved us a lot of trouble. Mrs. O’Brien and I were working on a stratagem to manuever the two of them out of room and he did the job for us.”

“It’s getting late and we have much do over the next few days, so let’s begin. We want to make sure that everyone knows how things stand,  so Pau will start by telling us about storm damage.”

Pau wiped his mouth and tossed his napkin onto his plate. “It’s not bad. Mostly minor roof damage. Miguel and his brothers will see to it. Fergus and the Bryants rounded up the animals. We lost two sheep, and few chickens, but that’s all. Once Miguel has repaired the forge, he’ll get back to building the small forge in the clearing. Ronan, Victor, and Finn will finish checking on the supplies we’ve stashed in the camp and at the high base. So far, everything is fine. One crate was damaged, but the boys saved most of the contents. 

Etha had an idea that I think we should use. She tells me the hermit’s shack could be rebuilt and expanded as a safe place for the children. It is well hidden and high enough to stay dry, and a creek runs close by. After we make our repairs, I suggest we build there.” Pau looked about to see it there were any questions.

Fergus said, “We’ll need to supply it.”

Mrs. O’Brien spoke up, “I’ll be talking about that in minute.”

“Anyone else?,” asked Maria. No one spoke.

Mrs. O’Bien saw there were no questions and began. “I checked the food we’ve put up. We didn’t lose much. Not enough to even talk about. If the roofs get repaired quickly, we’ll be fine. And I know that Miguel’s gang will take care of that.” Miguel nodded. We can shift some food, blankets, and wood to this new shed. But what about the animals? Is there any way we could hide them in the grass?”

“I’ll look into, Momma,” said Fergus. “When Eduardo gets back, he’ll help.”

Mrs. O’Brien sat back and waited for questions, but none came, so Maria took over. “Pau didn’t mention the bridge, so I will. We all thought the flood had washed it out, but Pau has convinced me that it was destroyed by an explosion before the flooding started. We don’t know who did it or why they did it, but until the flood waters recede, we are cut off from the Capial road, from town, and from the mountains. I hope it does not mean that our high camp has been discovered.

What I am going to tell you now must remain with us. These are dangerous times. I thought that the attack by Cupido de la Vega and this associates on  Jose and Kevin was a personal attack directed at me. It would be like the silk stockings to attack you to get at my family. They see the O’Briens , Bryants, the Sanchezes, and the other families who live among us as our peons. But now I think I was mistaken. Someone wants us to be trapped on this side of the river. The flood has achieved that end, but the bridge was destroyed before the flood. Someone wanted to make certain we could not easily cross the river.

This is what I think is happening. I have spoken with your mother and Pau about this and they agree. Two weeks ago, Eduardo relieved a message from the capitol about General Morales. Eduardo’s associates have evidence that Morales is planning to overthrow the government and seize control. As you all know, Spain is old and weak and Napoleon has swallowed it whole. 

I don’t know if General Morales is in the pay of the French or even the English, or simply has dreams of glory. I do know that no one around this table wishes for an ignorant bully like Morales to grab this land. Cupido de la Vega has thrown in his lot with Morales. They are cut from the same cloth. This revolt will provide Cupido with opportunities to settle old scores. We must be careful.”

Fergus, painfully shy and usually mute in large gatherings, shocked everyone by interrupting Maria. “I was shot at today. From across the river. It was two of de la Vega’s men. The ones called Gigante and Sancho.”

There was a buzz of excited talk that ended instantly when Pau’s deep voice cut through the noise. “Why didn’t you tell me?,” he demanded.

“I can take of myself. I know where they drink every night,” answered Fergus angrily.

“Fergus. Everyone. Listen.” It was Mrs. O’Brien intervening between her sons. “We cannot take personal revenge. Jose has promised me that he will not seek retribution for his house, but will act with us. Morales has many wealthy people on his side. We must be smart and act when the time is right. I am not saying to accept the insult. I am saying to hold it to your chest, to keep it alive until we can deliver our best blow.”

Fergus and Pau seemed mollified, so Maria continued. “We have information that the attack on the capitol will come by sea. Two English frigates are carrying the main force. Morales and his a few of his officers will arrive in the capitol via the northern Capitol road. He wants to ride into the capitol at the head of an army. He refuses to be set off a British ship in the company of British Marines. 

As you know, the Bryants, your mother’s people, live in the mountains southeast of here. The Capitol road goes past our land and turns south when it reaches the mountains. Eduardo and I went with the Bryant boys and found a location where we believe we can trap Morales and his troops. He should have no more than three hundred men.  All we have to do is to keep them from getting through the mountains for a few days, and the revolution will fail. We should be able to raise at seventy-five men. If we plan our attack carefully enough that should be enough. Once it is obvious that Morales has misplayed hand, their will be a struggle within the army and capitol. That should our corner of the world in peace, at least for a while.”

Maria could see that some of the people were frightened. Others, like Fergus, would have ridden out immediately to fight. She also knew that the extended family did not agree what was the best course to take in these hard times. She and Eduardo’s pro-French views were one of the things that had brought them together. But it was Republican France that held their loyalty, they detested Bonaparte. Her father and some of the other older men from military families were staunchly Royalist. In the capitol and other ports, there were men known as “Washingtonians,” who admired the American leader and longed for a Cincinnatus to rise up to lead them. Morales tried to appeal to these men by spending much of his time on his plantation, but his coarseness and bad manners belied his efforts. 

There was a small group of Bonapartists who were supported financially by France. They were used by the various French intelligence ministries to spy and pass bribes. The English also had agents, although their chief means of influencing the region was through the two Frigates and three tenders they detached from their African fleet.

The another group that was invisible to the others consisted of the small-land holders who lived and worked on the marginal lands. They wanted to stay clear of the civil wars that everyone could sense were brewing. They were being pulled and pushed to line up with one side or the other, and they did their best to avoid  committing to anyone. They came from many backgrounds. Some could trace their families back to before the Spanish arrived. Others had settled after fleeing their homes. What united them was a mistrust of authority and an independent streak. They were called “Personnes sans Valuer,” by the French, “Los Inutiles” by the Spanish, and “Bloody Nuisances” by the English. Mrs. O’Brien preferred “the Annumpi.”

23 August 2010

The Lastoc of the Annumpi: Two Conversations (Part 11)

It took about a half-hour for the swirl of activity around the girls to settle. They were half-carried, half-dragged in the kitchen where their wet clothes were stripped off them, and they were wrapped in towels while water was heated. A large wash tub was filled and the two younger girls were scrubbed clean, then they were wrapped in blankets. The blankets were pulled tightly around their chests and hung loose around their legs, so it looked as if their heads were peeking out of the crater at the top of a woven volcano.  A dose of cod liver oil each, and a warm glass of milk completed their resurrection. This entire procedure was accompanied by alternating bouts of chastisement and expressions of relief from aunt and mother. Sometimes Lucinda and Rose coordinated their reactions, but often they were at cross purposes. It hardly mattered, however, because Mariel and Fiona were in a daze from the twin storms, the material one outside and the  maternal one in the kitchen.

Mrs. O’Brien sat at the long table and watched her daughters revel in their joy over having their daughters safely home. She could not help but see herself as a young mother fussing over her own wayward children not so many years ago. Mrs. O’Brien was greatly relieved to have the girls back home, but she would talk with them later. It was their mother’s time now. Besides, the men were still out there. Some of the older boys, as well. And if the rain continued, the creeks would rise and the river might flood. Perhaps that would be a good thing just now, she thought. The river separated the Valenzuela’s and O’Brien’s from Don Cupido and his friends.

Ethna refused to be scrubbed clean in the kitchen with her cousins.  She wrapped a towel around her wet hair and marched up the stairs to the bathroom on the second floor. She locked the door and began to fill the deep tub with cold water. She did not want to ask for any heated water to by brought up from the kitchen. As the bathtub filled, she stripped off her wet things and wrapped a towel around herself. She began to shiver, so she pulled a second towel around her. The running water reverberated against the iron bathtub and drowned out the sound of Ethna crying. 

It took Maria a while to calm her father. He had been working at his desk when Maria herded the three mud covered girls through his library. He explained to Maria that this was simply too much. The girls could have just as easily gone to the kitchen door, he pointed out. Why had they disturbed his library? 
Maria reminded her father that the important thing was that the girls were unharmed. They were disoriented by the storm or they no doubt would have gone directly kitchen. She told her father that they were good girls who meant no disrespect, and more such calming platitudes until the old gentleman’s feathers had been well and truly smoothed. That’s what Maria said. What Maria thought was that Ethna had brought the girls to her because Ethna knew she needed Maria’s help. 

Before she left the library, Maria asked her father about the missing book. He remembered it. It was part of his collection about the early history of the grass. He was surprised that the book was not on the shelf. He assured Maria that he had not removed the book, and that he would search for it. Maria thanked him and went to the kitchen to see how the girls were doing.

Maria could not approach the girls. Lucinda and Rose were so thrilled to have the girls safely home, they were swarming around them and Maria could not break through. She carefully stepped around the tub, but not before stooping and playfully splashing water in the girls’ faces. Maria skipped away before the girls’ could retaliate or their mothers could complain.

Mrs. O’Brien called Maria over to her. Maria sat down and said, “What was Ethna thinking?” 

“She is impetuous, like other young women I have known,” replied Mrs. O’Brien.  “She was caught up in the excitement about the hermit and she wanted to do something to make him feel welcome.”

“You make it sound like he is going to live here with us,” said Maria, ignoring the comment about impetuous young women.

“He is injured. He can not leave until he is strong. And where will he go? He cannot live alone in the grass. That is not a life for a man.”

Maria glanced over at Lucinda and Rose, who were still fussing over the girls. “This is not the time to discuss our guest. But we must have a discussion, you and I, Mrs. O’Brien.”

“I agree,” answered Mrs. O’Brien. “And you are right. This is not the time.”

Maria rose to leave, but Mrs. O’Brien gestured to her to wait. She reached into her apron pocket and pulled out “The Lastoc of the Annumpi.” “It is your father’s copy,” she said. “I borrowed it yesterday.”

“Why?,” asked Maria, reaching for the book. 

“The same reason you were looking for it, I expect. There were some things I needed to discover,” Mrs. O’Brien.

Maria took the book and stood for while trying to form the questions she want to ask the older woman, but the questions would not take shape. Finally she gave up and said, “I am going to talk to our guest.”

Mrs. O’Brien nodded agreement and added, “Rose will be busy for a while with the girls.” 

“That might be for the best,” said Maria.

“I will see to it,” said Mrs. O’Brien.

Maria flashed a conspiratorial smile smile at Mrs. O’Brien and slipped out of the kitchen without Rose noticing.


Before returning to the attic, Maria stopped on the landing and sat on the window seat. Behind her, the rain lashed on the leaded glass diamonds. As a child this had been her favorite place to read. Many nights she would sprawl on her stomach across the red velvet window seat reading and wake up in her bed the next morning. Her father claimed that she was a sleepwalker and that she took herself to bed. She refused to believe this, so one night she only pretended to be asleep. When her father hoisted her over his shoulder, she threw her head back and yelled, “Aha!” at the top of her lungs. Her father jumped and nearly dropped her down the stairs. The game quickly became a became a favorite nighttime ritual of Maria’s. “How strange,” thought Maria. “I haven’t thought about that game for years.” 

Bringing her thoughts back to the present, Maria flipped through the book. She wished she had more time to read it, but for now there were a few points she wanted to be clear about. She sat quietly, flipping through the pages and reading short passages for about ten minutes, then she closed the book, tucked it into her pocket, and went upstairs to have a private conversation with the hermit.

Maria knocked on the door and entered when she heard Lemuel’s answering call. She was surprised that the door was unlocked, but then she remembered that Rose had left with a key with Lemuel and that the only other one was in her pocket. Maria used her key to lock the door behind her.

“Did I wake you, Lemuel?,” she asked as she took a seat by the table.

“No, the thunder woke me be a short while ago,” he replied.

“The rain has not let up,” said Maria. 

“No, no. Is Rose coming?,” Lemuel asked. Maria could see that she was making him nervous. The observation did not worry her.

“In a while, she is taking care of the girls. They were caught in the storm. They were covered in mud and soaked to the skin.”

“Where were they?” he asked.

“They were at your house, Mr. Hawkins,” said Maria.

Lemuel opened and closed his mouth, unable to form words. “They went to your house so they could bring you your things,” said Maria. She spoke in measured tone. Her voice was flat, without affect. Lemuel was growing agitated. 

“How? Why? I didn’t ask them to.” His questions spilled out as he responded to answers not yet given.

“How? Well, it seems that Ethna, Rose’s oldest girl, has been spying on you while you were spying on us. Why? I suspect Ethna has enjoyed seeing her mother happy and thought that making you happy would please Rose. No, I’m sure you didn’t ask them to, but our actions have consequences, Mr. Hawkins, whether or not we intend these consequences is irrelevant.” 

Lemuel was taken aback my Maria’s words. Without thinking he glanced quickly at the chair where Rose usually sat. It was empty. Maria noted his glance and waited for him to speak.

“You say they brought my things here?,” he asked, his voice trailing off noticeably.

“Yes,” was all Maria responded.

“But the rain. Were my books ruined?,” he said

“Your books were a little wet, but they will be alright. The foolish girls had enough the sense to take a tarpaulin.” 

“May I see them to thank them?” asked Lemuel. “My house must have been destroyed,” said Lemuel.

“It was,” said Maria. “Ethna and two her young cousins were in it when it collapsed.”

“My God! Were they injured?,” Lemuel asked. His agitation was increasing rapidly. Maria knew she had to be careful she didn’t push him too hard, but she doubted she would be a good judge of how far he could be pushed. She was too angry to carefully select her words.

“I don’t believe so,” Maria said cooly. “They are young and strong.”

Lemuel groped around for something say. “This storm goes on and on. The creek behind my home may be out its banks by now.”

Maria decided that she had waited long enough. She did not want Rose walking on them. “Mr. Hawkins. I need to talk to you about some important matters. I have waited until we alone do so. Do not look so panicked. I did not lock the door so I could seduce you. I have locked the door so Rose cannot come in until I am through. We need to talk without your guardian angel threatening me with her sword of righteousness.”

Lemuel was stunned, but he rallied in defense of Rose. “You are being unfair to Rose. She has been a good nurse to me, nothing more.”

“Perhaps, Mr. Hawkins, but you see, I know Rose. She loves. She loves her children. She loves her mother. She loved her late father. She still loves her late husband. She loves my father, and though I often irritate her, she loves me. Do not misunderstand me, I am not mocking or belittling her. Rose loves sincerely. It is her nature to love. Now she loves love you as well. That much is clear to anyone with eyes. I want you listen to to me closely now, Mr. Hawkins. Do not take advantage of her love.”

Lemuel looked shocked and then indignant. But not angry, Maria noted. “Isn’t it the father’s or brother’s place to deliver such warnings,” Lemuel asked acidly.

Maria was unfazed. “Her father is dead. Her brother is a good man, but slow. I am the one making the warning.”

There was a tense pause and both stepped back and considered the other. Maria had established the nature of their exchange. It was up to Lemuel to try and keep up with her.

“Enough of Rose,” said Maria. “That is you for two to work out. Although I should warn you that her daughter, Ethna, is a formidable young woman who will not stand meekly by and see her mother badly used.” That was she all had to say about Rose. Now Maria was ready to get at the heart of the matter. Questions had been building up in her since the confused scene that ended with her shooting Cupido. Had she been wearing gloves, this is when she would have taken them off. 

Lemuel feebly tried to defend himself by saying,”I would never use any woman badly, especially Rose.”
Maria  did not respond. Instead she tossed “The Lastoc of The Annumpi” onto the cot. “So this is your guiding light, your ethnographic study of the Annumpi?”

Lemuel reached for the book and gripped it tightly in both hands. “Yes. It is my guide to the Annumpi.”

“How many years have you live in my father’s land?,” she asked.


Maria tried to conceal her shock that Lemuel had been among them for so many years without being discovered. “Have you located any Annumpi yet?,” she continued, hoping he hadn’t noticed her surprise.

“You know I haven’t.”

Maria’s questions always seemed one step ahead of Lemuel. It was as if she already knew the answers, and what she wanted was to force Lemuel to face the answers.

“What was that strange garment you wore on the night Cupido shot you?”

“It is called a gesconat. It is a cloak made of spoltal fur.”

"And you were given this gesconat by these Annumpi you never met?”

“Of course not. I bought it in Puerto Seguro.”

“Ah, the Annumpi have moved south to the capital. Perhaps they have acquired positions in the Viceroy’s household.”

Lemuel was stung by Maria’s sarcasm. “Why are you acting this way? Why are being so cruel?,” he demanded.

“Why can you not see what is right in front of you?,” Maria responded.

“Why are you treating me like this?,” asked Lemuel. Maria heard the slight whine in his words. She pressed on with renewed vigor.

“Treating you? This is not about you. You are no longer the lost seventeen year old avoiding life in your little English sea side town. That was sad. For a man to continue to act in that manner is pathetic. There is no place in the world for Don Quixote anymore. You barged into my life and started something that you cannot even imagine, much less understand. If you had not been in that yard attempting your insane rescue of an injured badger, this whole dangerous affair could have been avoided. 

I can handle Cupido. I have handled him since I was thirteen. But because of you, I had to shoot him. Because of you, a good family has lost their only mule, a boy has been beaten, and a house has been burned. And all that was just the opening act.”

Lemuel stared at Maria without speaking. She waited for a few moments to let her words sink in and then began questioning him again.

“Your ‘gesconat,’ as you call it. You say it is made of spoltal fur?”

Lemuel was relieved to have a direct question to answer. “Yes. Look here.” He opened the “Lastoc of the Annumpi” and pointed to an illustration of a short, slight man wearing a hooded fur cloak than reached to the ground. “It is described right here.”

“You make an excellent Scholastic, Mr. Hawkins, but perhaps it is time you joined this new century and relied on reason. In your time in my house you have rarely inquired about others. We know a great deal about you, but you know little of us. So let me tell you a little about myself.

I have devoted myself to the study of natural science - comparative anatomy, to be more exact. In the course of my studies I have developed a fair bit veterinary expertise as well. When an animal is sick or having a difficult birth I am often called. That is, I am called by the women, after the men have stood around the sick animal for while, thoughtfully scratching themselves for a while, and then forced a gallon our so of Grandfathers cure-all down the poor animal’s throat.

Mr. Hawkins, I know animals. Especially, mammals, which I have to admit are the easy ones. Your coat was made of rather shabby raccoon pelts, patched with squirrel. It also had enough fleas in it that, had they had been properly trained, the coat could have walked in its own. I’m sorry to have to tell you that Mrs. O’Brien insisted the thing be burned along with the other clothes you were wearing. I agreed.”
Lemuel would not look up from the illustration he was staring at. Maria wondered if he were trying to will himself into the woodcut. “No escape there,”she thought, as she had no intention of letting him off the hook. “Have you deduced why you never saw an Annumpi yet? No? Keep thinking.”

Lemuel did not respond. Maria was afraid that she might have pushed him too hard, but she wasn’t about to stop.

Maria pulled the bottle of poison out of pocket. “Mariel found this little bottle in your hut. Ethna was quick-witted enough to take it from the child and bring it to me. I will examine in my lab when we are through here, but you can save me some time. What is it, Mr. Hawkins?”

Lemuel ducked his chin. “It’s poison,” was all the said.

She twisted the bottle so the skull and cross bones faced him.”You don’t say. I didn’t think it was a pirate’s love philter.”

“I use when I hunt rabbits and birds.

“With your handy darts? The ones you shot Cupido with?,” she asked.


“What type of poison is it, Mr. Hawkins?”

“It’s made from chokeberries. The instructions are in this book,” said Lemuel flipping through the pages trying to find the correct passage.

“No, you misunderstand me. What system of the body does this poison affect?,” Maria asked her question slowly, as if gearing down to reach Lemuel’s low level of understanding.

“Pardon me?,” was all he could think to say.

“You don’t know, do you?,” Maria asked. She was determined that Lemuel would face up to reality, if only while the door was locked and it was just the two of them in the room.

“I know it stops the rabbits from running and knocks the birds out of the sky,” Lemuel offered defensively.

“Did it ever occur to you that eating poisoned game might not be a good idea?”

“I was never sickened,” said Lemuel.

Maria was unwilling to tolerate even the mildest demonstrations of bravado. She dismissed his comments with, “This is not the first instance in your life story that supports the assertion that God looks after fools.” Lemuel flinched as if she had struck him. “You’ll have to do better than that,” thought Maria, “as I have no intention of letting up.” 

Maria returned to her questioning. “Before you poisoned Cupido with your darts had you even considered what your poison might do to a human?”

“No,” answered Lemuel, “I was intent on saving Eugusto.”

“From me, I believe,” Maria reminded Lemuel. “But you shot Cupido”

“Yes, I did. He was going to shoot me, remember? Why are so concerned about that man?,” demanded  Lemuel, his temper rising. 

Maria’s voice had risen during this last exchange, but now she pulled back. Her eyes bored into his and her voice, though softer, was insistent and commanded his silent attention. “‘That man’ as you call him is the only son of the most powerful family in the region. His family were once poor grain merchants who begged for my family’s trade. Now they own most of  my family’s land and we depend on them to keep us afloat in lean years. 

Now his people are striking back against my family and those close to us. The O’Brien’s will not accept what has been done to them. Things will get worse if I do not find a way to stop this. I did not ask that your door be locked to keep the children from bothering you. I did it to protect you from Cupido friends. Why do you think we put you here in the attic? I am hiding you, while I try to pour oil the waters you have so severely troubled.” 

Maria’s anger swept over Lemuel silencing him. Maria sprang from her chair and was pacing around the room in an effort to gather herself. Lemuel wasn’t sure how to respond. He wanted to run. He didn’t care about the storm or his destroyed house. Instead he said plaintively,“I just wanted to save Eugusto.” 
Maria closed her eyes, lowered her head, and took a deep breath. She held the air in her lungs for long time then let it out in a slow stream. She raised her head and looked at Lemuel with pity and something else that he could not place. For the first time, he noticed the circles under her eyes and her paleness.
Maria swept her thick hair out of her face with her hands, and began again, determined to make Lemuel understand the situation that faces the family and him. “Remember when I said I knew animals? Listen to me carefully, Lemuel. If there were ever such things as spoltals, I could not say, but I do know, without a doubt, that there are no spoltals now.”

Lemuel cut in sharply,”You are wrong. I know Eugusto was a spoltal. I held him in my arms and I knew.”

“So you are pitting the mystical wisdom of an English whaler’s son against the judgment of a natural philosopher who has systematically studied the local fauna and who, while she makes no claims to patience, happens to be quite a bit brighter than you appear to be.” Maria knew it was time to leave. Her exhaustion and frustration were getting the better of her. She decided to just go without saying another word, but Lemuel wouldn’t let her.

“I don’t know why you speaking to me this way. I do not want to anger you, but you are wrong. You are wrong about the gesconat, and about Eugusto. You are wrong about the Annumpi. You are wrong about it all.” Lemuel sat forward  in the cot, defying her to contradict him.

“And will you go to your grave defending your muddlings also, Mr. Hawkins?” 

Lemuel turned away from her unblinking stare. Maria couldn’t be sure, but she thought he might be crying.

“It is time to go,” Maria thought. Forcing herelf to adopt a gentle voice, Maria said, “Look at the book, Lemuel. This time you must really see it for what it is. I have looked at it again to refresh my memory. I read this book as child. I want you to look at it with your eyes open. With the eyes of a man who has the opportunity to join the world. If you are brave enough to do so, you will see that “The Lastoc of the Annumpi” is not an ethnographic treatise. It is a stilted romance written in a clumsy, awkward style. It is a novel, Lemuel.”


“Father, I am not a nice person.”

“Nonsense, my sweet, you are being silly.” Don Hernando handed Maria a brandy, then carried his sherry to his chair. 

“As always you are blind to my faults, Poppa. It is one of the things I love about you.” Mary stretched her legs toward the fire, and yawned. She could understand why her father so often napped in the library. She sipped the brandy and and reveled in the timeless quiet of her father’s library.

“Maria, it is so nice to sit with you. You always are running about these days," said Don Hernando. “Your dress is lovely,” he added.

A tired smile crept over Maria’s face as he looked at her father. She knew he hated her working clothes, but he would never object. He looked older than he she remembered. How long had it been since they sat and talked? 

“Father, let’s eat in the dining room tonight, just the two of us. No, even better, let’s eat in here and you can show me what you’ve found in your histories and records.”

“What an excellent idea! You close your eyes for a moment, while I go let Mrs. O’Brien know.” As Don Hernando was leaving the room, he said, ”This storm must surely end. We must be up to the thirty-eighth day by now.” The old family joke elicited a little smile from Maria before she closed her eyes and drifted off.


Maria jerked awake, uncertain how long she’d been asleep or what had woken her. Ethna, she remembered, I have to talk to Ethna. Maria saw that she’d only been asleep for fifteen minutes. Her father had not returned. She debated putting of seeing Ethna, but she finally decided it would be better to get it over with. Then she could spend a quiet night with her father and slip off into her study to sleep when he dozed off.

Maria went to kitchen to she if Ethna had joined the others. Rose told Maria that Lucinda, Ethna  and the twins where in Maria’s study cleaning the mess the girls had made. Maria was surprised that she had not heard them while she was in the library, but the storm was still howling and Lucinda always tried to keep the little ones quiet when they were near the library.

Before Maria could turn around and go to her study, Ronan and  Victor, Pau’s oldest boys showed up at the kitchen door. They couldn’t stay, but Pau had sent them to tell every one that the creeks and the river were out of their banks and the bridge was out. The house and out buildings were on a small rise, so they’d be fine, but the Valenzuela’s and the O’Brien’s were cut of from town and the main road. They were also cut off from Cupido and his friends, Maria thought. Mrs. O’Brien was watching Maria and seemed to read her mind. “It’s an ill wind, indeed, eh, Miss Maria?,” she asked. 

“Indeed,” answered Maria, relief flooding her tired body. The flooding had had given everyone a few days to cool off.

Rose gave the boys some cold chicken and flasks of sweet, hot tea. Before they left, Ronan asked after Ethna. The young girls and were still there in the kitchen, but Ethna was not with them. “She’s fine,” said Mrs. O’Brien. “She’s with her mother.” 

“That’s good,” said Ronan. “We’ll spread the word that everyone’s fine.” 

“Ethna’s not out of danger yet,” muttered Maria darkly, but a thunderclap drowned out her voice.


Maria found Ethna in her study with Lucinda and some of the younger children. They were mopping up the mess the girls had made when they stumbled from the rain. By the looks of things a considerable portion of the storm had squeezed in with them. Muddy puddles had formed on the canvas floor sheets that lined the room. They were oiled to protect the floor from the messier procedures required by Maria’s field of interest so the moisture caused no damage.

Maria wanted this last task over with so she could rest and think. Perhaps even nap on the cot she kept tucked away in a small alcove. But first, Ethna. “Lucinda, could you please let that be for a while? I would like to speak to Ethna alone.”

“Of course, Miss,” said Lucinda. “We’ll come back later.” Lucinda led the younger children away, and could not help wondering if Rose should come and stand by her daughter. No, that would never do, she thought. Ethna would furious if she thought her mother had swept in to defend her. “Peas in pod, those two,” thought Lucinda, eyeing Ethna and Maria. “You’d think Maria was her mother, not  Rose.” Lucinda swept the children before her, leaning down and whispering to them in a carefully modulated volume that, “we must go now, I would hate to see any innocents injured.”

Ethna stood up and pressed on her lower back to loosen the tightness of her aching muscles. Maria pointed to a chair by a low bookshelf and gestured for Ethna to take a seat. 

“Thank you, Miss,” said Ethna, her prim speech a form of oral curtseying.

Maria had no stomach for playing games tonight. “Do not call me, Miss, Ethna. We been through this so many times. You are nineteen. I am twenty-eight. My name is Maria.”

“Yes, Maria.”

“And you can stop adopting that note of false humility. You have been using it since you were four any time you needed to wriggle out of an unpleasant situation. If you continue to adopt that annoying tone, I shall filet you and and your clean your bones for my studies. Do you understand?”

“I do,” said Ethna, all subservience tossed away and just a hint of defiance in her voice.  Maria was pleased that Ethna was through playing games.

“Good,” said Maria, satisfied that the terms of this interchange had been understood. “Ethna, how could you have been so stupid as to take those two children into the grass to loot Mr. Hawkins’ home?” 
Ethna instantly shot back. “We didn’t loot anything. We heard that Mr. Hawkins had awakened and thought that he would be worried about his things. We thought that Mr. Hawkins would appreciate having his things with him.”

“We?,” asked Maria.

“Me. It was my idea. The girls came along to help with the cart.”

“Good. Let’s try and get things correct from the beginning. It will save time.”

Ethna nearly apologized, but she bit down on her words. Maria did not seem to notice.

“And you just happened to know where his house was? The house in which he lived unnoticed for fourteen years?”

Ethna was thrown for a second. The O’Brien’s had only known of his presence for about five years. But Ethna recovered quickly. “I had been observing him for some time. And you know I can find my way in the grass. You taught me.”

Maria scowled and thought, “That’s not all I taught you,” then she decided to move on. “So you were doing a good deed. That is your position, is it?”

“I was,” Ethna replied. “I wanted make Lemuel and mother happy.”

Maria did not rise to the bait. The last thing Maria wanted at this time was to discuss the developing relationship between Lemuel and Rose. “How nice,” Maria nonniced. “Everyone should be happy. And the opportunity to invade Mr. Hawkins’s home and thoroughly search everything he owned was a sacrifice you were willing to undertake to further the poor gentleman’s happiness?”

“No, that’s not how it was. I just wanted to help.”

“I am accustomed to trust and honesty between us, Ethna.” Maria waited but Ethna, her jaw clenched, did not reply. Maria moved on. 

“How long have you been alive?”

Ethna was thrown off balance and was angry at herself for not being ready for anything. “You know I’m nineteen, Maria.”

“Where have you lived for those nineteen years?”

“Here, Maria.”

“Who taught you about the weather patterns of this area?”

“You did, Maria.”

“Have you recently lost to eyesight?”


“Have you recently lost your wits?”


“Then how is it that you could not see this storm building in the east? How could you not notice those huge, black storm clouds piling up in great mountains practically over your head?”
Ethna had no answer.

“In the face of the coming storm, you took two small children into grass that is at least a foot taller than them.” It was not a question, but a charge laid against Ethna.

“I did,” was all that Etha could say.

Maria tossed her hands in the air and said, “I give up. I expect better of you, Ethna.”

Maria’s obvious disappointment in her stung Ethna. She lashed out. “You would have gone when you were my age.” 

Maria flicked the barb away. “Oh, I see. I am so old I have forgotten the thrill of nearly drowning my young cousins.”

“You know what I mean,” replied Ethna heatedly. “When you were my age you took me on expeditions in the grass to find specimens. I was no older than Fiona.”

Maria wanted this exchange to end. She’d had enough. “A nice rhetorical flourish that, but the situations are not comparable. Do you ever remember us setting out on an expedition when the sky was about to drop a second Great Flood on our foolish heads?”

Ethna decided their was no point in soldiering on. “No. Of course not. I am sorry I was so foolish.” 
Maria judged that it was possible that Ethna was sincere.

“It’s about time,” said Maria wearily. “I thought for a while there I was going to have break you arms, you stubborn girl. Now finish cleaning that mess you made, then go and see if your aunt will forgive you. And do it quietly. I am going to lie down.” Maria stood up and started toward her cot. She knew that someone would come and get her when dinner was ready. As she stepped around Ethna, she said, 
“And while I sleep, would you please do whatever you can to stop this infernal rain."