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.”
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?”
“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.”