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All Hallows by Mary Whimsey

Word Count 6,301

I must admit that I have broken a cardinal rule- it isn’t beta.  

I apologize if I got something wrong about the beliefs surrounding Día de Los Muertos.  There is only so much you can learn on the internet.

Thank you to Sandy for giving my stories a home.  Thank you to Adriana for her help with Spanish and her encouragement.


Scott lay quietly in his bed.  He was awake and knew that it was morning.  He wiggled his toes and his fingers.  No pain.  A good sign.  He tried his arms and legs.  A little stiff but functional.  Now for the real test.  His eyes still closed; he sat up.  Ah, there it was, the twinge across his back and ribs.  Still, it was better.  Good enough that he would dress completely, including his damn boots.

For a solid week, Teresa, Maria, Mariah, and Frau Metz refused to let him go further from his bed than the veranda.  Johnny and his father had been no help.  If it hadn’t been for the English lessons he gave Frau Metz and little Elise, he would have died of boredom.

He opened his eyes and glanced out the window to note the sun had barely cleared the horizon.  With a bit of luck, he could get out of the house before anyone saw him.

Dressed for riding, he carefully made his way down the stairs.  The house was oddly quiet.  Normally this time of the morning, he could hear the woman in the kitchen preparing breakfast.  Puzzled, he walked out of the house to the barn.  His favorite horse was in the corral.  The bay trotted to the fence when he heard Scott’s low whistle.  Scott rubbed the horse’s nose in greeting.

The morning was pleasantly cool and dry.  The rolling land beyond the corrals showed faint signs of green thanks to the light rain a few days before.  Scott thought about how different the climate was from New England and felt an eddy of melancholy.  He loved autumn in New England.  The fresh air, the sharp blue skies, and the mosaic of golds and reds on the mountainsides.  It was invigorating, a time for returning to school and starting new ventures.

This land was so different.  Here it was the rains of autumn to which everyone was looking forward.  Rains would green up the dry brown grasses of the long hot summer just when New England turned brown and grey for the cold, snowy winter.

Scott supposed he would have to go to the high mountains to the east to see snow.  He pushed away the melancholy.  At least cooler air was shared by both places, and with it, the desire to do something, that something being a good long ride today.  He looked around the oddly quiet barnyard.

Where was everyone?  He was sure it wasn’t Sunday, the only day of the week the ranch would be this quiet.  He saw one of the boys carrying a milk pail toward the hacienda kitchen.  A couple of the new hands, anglos like himself, were feeding the horses kept close to the main barn.

Scott scratched the horse’s forehead with a promise of a good ride later.  He turned to walk back to the house.  He heard Johnny and his father talking and followed their voices to the walled garden near the kitchen.  This garden was one of his favorite places on the ranch.  The ground was studded with cobblestones worn smooth over the years.  There was an arbor in the center with a grapevine growing over it.  The large leaves were starting to turn yellow at the edges.  Here and there, thick purple clusters of grapes hung down.  Beneath the arbor were a table and chairs.  Against the thick adobe walls, roses espaliered.  The canes were thick with the last blooms of the season.  La Señora’s roses, Teresa called them, bushes planted by his mother long ago.

His father stood by the table with an ironstone mug in his hand.  He turned when he heard Scott at the gate.

“Good morning, son.  How do you feel?” asked Murdoch, his voice slightly less commanding than Scott was used to hearing.  This was a trend that started after the conversation the three Lancers shared the morning after Scott was caught in the flash flood saving the little Metz girl.  A painful but hopefully cathartic conversation for father and sons.

“I’m much better, sir,” answered Scott.  He half-turned back towards the barn with a wave of his hand.  “What’s going on?  Where is everyone?”

“Heading to the cemetery,” responded Johnny sitting in one of the bentwood chairs by the large table. “It Día de la Muertos.”

“Day of the Dead?” queried Scott hesitantly.  His Spanish was improving, but he was still unsure of the exact translations.  He noticed the table was covered with a cloth and set for breakfast.  “What is the date?”

“November 1st,” answered his father tapping his fingers against the side of his empty coffee cup.

“All Saints Day.” Scott was surprised that somehow he had lost a few days during his convalescence.

Murdoch nodded.  “According to the church.  It is a little different here.”

“Yes, it is a celebration day,” said Teresa coming through the kitchen door with the coffee pot.  She rushed to fill the cup Murdoch was tapping.  “Sit down, Scott.  We are having breakfast out here.  Frau Metz is fixing it.”

Scott sat with a smile.  In general, the food at Lancer was good, if spicier than he was used to.  Since the unexpected arrival of the German woman, the quality of the baked goods had significantly improved.  “Tell me about this celebration.  Is it like Halloween?”

“What’s Halloween?” asked Johnny and Teresa together.

“All Hallows Eve,” said Scott holding his coffee cup out to Teresa.

 For a moment, he was surprised.  Halloween was a popular holiday in the east.  The confused looks on Johnny and Teresa’s faces reminded him that he was a long way from his Boston childhood.

“It’s a, well… a children’s holiday.  They dress up in outrageous costumes to threaten their neighbors with pranks if they don’t fork over treats of some sort.  Ghosts and goblins are popular.”

Johnny grinned over the rim of his cup.  “Sounds like fun.”

Murdoch gave Scott an appraising glance.  He took a sip of his coffee and said, “Did you participate in Halloween activities?”

Scott knew why Murdoch was asking.  His grandfather was a Puritan to his core, and trick-or-treating and pumpkin carving was as pagan as Christmas trees as far as the old man was concerned.

“Well, you know, thanks to the famine in Ireland in the ’40s, Boston is now an Irish city.  They brought their customs with them.  As Johnny said, those customs were fun.  It didn’t take long for the city’s children to appropriate them.  My Lowell cousins always invited me to their parties, and Grandfather wouldn’t say no to Cousin Rosemary.  I believe she reminds him of my mother.”

To Scott’s great surprise, Murdoch actually chuckled.

With a broad smile, Teresa returned to the kitchen.  She came out a minute later with a large platter of sausages, followed by Frau Metz carrying a cast-iron skillet.  She set it on the table with a bit of a flourish.

“Apfannkuchen?” asked Scott. This day was getting better and better.  Now, if he could just persuade his father he was well enough to go for a ride.

“Ya,” answered the smiling blond woman.

Johnny looked at the skillet with suspicion.  “What is it?”

“Apple pancake,” responded his brother.  He invited the German woman to join them.  She shook her head, saying she had to feed the children.  Scott suspected that she was excited about having the run of the kitchen, which brought his thoughts back to Día de Los Muertos and why everyone was at the cemetery.

Teresa took her seat as Murdoch divided the pancake between them.  

“I think I remember Daddy talking about Halloween when he was little,” Teresa said.

Murdoch nodded.  “There was a Celtic festival called Samhain held in the fall, and they built bonfires and dressed up to scare the ghosts away.  It was believed the barrier between the living world and the land of the dead was thin at that time of year.  The Catholic Church, the only church at the time, folded some traditions into All Saints Day or All Hallows, a day of remembrance.  

“When I was a boy in Scotland, it was a very solemn day.  The folks here seem to believe the dead are friendlier than in the British Isles.  I’ve heard it said that the Aztecs had a festival for the dead.  The church might have had the same idea here with pulling in the old traditions.”

“Today, they gather around the graves of children.  They bring toys and special foods, sing songs and tell stories.  It is both sad and happy.  After breakfast, I’ll join the families,” said Teresa pouring Murdoch more coffee.  “Tomorrow is the day adults are thought to come close.”

The three men heard the tremor in her voice.  It had been just a year since her father’s violent death and Teresa’s first Día de Los Muertos without him.  Noticing the worried expressions, Teresa forced a bright smile saying, “Is a church service all you have back east?  I mean, for adults?”

“In Vermont,” began Scott, understanding Teresa wanted the attention diverted from her.  “On the Garrett family farm, the tradition is to clean up around the graves in the spring.  I wouldn’t say it was a celebration, although there are a lot of stories told about the past.  Most towns celebrate Decoration Day to remember those who died during the war.  That’s in the spring too.  All Saints is a very traditional church service.  Halloween is more for children.  I don’t think anyone expects the dead to attend the parties unless there is a medium present.  Although I do find it interesting that both the Celts and Aztecs thought the barrier between the living and the dead thinned.”

Murdoch lowered his head to hide his smile.  It was so like Scott to find some scholarly idea in a simple discussion.  Murdoch thought of his father, the schoolteacher who had been so disappointed that his clever son had no interest in scholarly pursuits.  He would be proud of this grandson.

“What’s a medium?” asked Teresa topping off Murdoch’s coffee.  “Would having a medium present let the dead attend the parties?”

“Um, well, there is a religion, a Christian religion, I suppose, that has been very popular since the war.  The belief -not so different than what is believed here – is that the dead live in an invisible world, much like the living world.  And some people can communicate with the dead.  So they have a seance where the sensitive, the medium, communicates with the dead.  They pass messages between the living and the dead.”

“Is it a party like our parties?” asked Teresa carefully.

“No.  As it happens, I’ve been to one.  You’ve heard me speak of my cousin Daniel.  His older brother died of wounds received at Gettysburg.  Their mother, Evelyn, was devastated.  She keeps the room he died in as a shrine.  Not long after the war, she became very interested in Spiritualism and had a well-known medium come to the house.

“Daniel felt sure she was being taken advantage of.  It is the custom to give a donation to the medium.  He wanted me there as an observer.  I don’t know if all seances are conducted in the same fashion.  I know the medium spent several hours in the room by herself before the rest of us joined her.  

“We sat in candlelight in a circle holding hands.  The medium, a middle-aged woman, dressed in layers of gauzy grey scarves, closed her eyes and started to moan after a few minutes.  Suddenly the candle all went out.  The woman said there was someone there who wanted to speak to his mother.  She went on to say that he was without pain and happy where he was and was anxious to visit with her often.  It was..,”  Scott shrugged his broad shoulders.

“A good show?” Interjected his father drily.

Scott nodded.  “I’ll give her credit for talent and creativity.  She managed to portray exactly the son poor Evelyn wanted.  The truth is Thomas was a bully and cared for no one but himself.  He took advantage of his mother’s gentle, loving nature in life and now someone else was doing so with his death.”

“What happened to her, to Evelyn?” asked Teresa anxiously.

“She visits with him regularly through the same medium.”

“But you said the woman was a fake!”

“I believe that she is.  I believe the vast majority of those who claim they speak with the dead and have special messages for the grieving widows and mothers are charlatans.  But,” Scott shrugged.  “Cousin Evelyn believes she is actually communicating with her dead son, and it gives her comfort.  The medium is smart enough to keep her charges low, so Evelyn’s husband is willing to pay them.  And so, at least among Evelyn’s friends, the woman is known as an honest, simple soul with a gift.”

Teresa studied his face for a long moment.  Finally, she said, “You don’t believe it is possible.”

Scott felt trapped.  He had no idea what he believed anymore.  He had seen scores of men he knew killed in battle, his cousin Willie, one of his closest friends, among them.  Surely if the dead were going to visit the living, he would have been visited.  He had not -unless one could count his nightmares.  Still, he didn’t want to say anything that would upset Teresa.  Especially not on a day with such importance to the people on the ranch.  He wasn’t sure precisely what Teresa or Johnny thought about visiting the dead, but he knew they were brought up in the tradition.  He wanted to be respectful.  Scott glanced at his father in hopes of getting a clue of what he should say,

Murdoch cleared his throat.  “I think Scott is correct.  Many charlatans take advantage of those who grieve, and their dishonesty does not make honest grief any less so.  As I’ve heard all my life, the Lord works in mysterious ways.” He nodded in the direction of the graveyard.  “This tradition is older than Christianity itself.  It has a weight all its own.”

Scott stifled a relieved sigh.  There was wisdom in what his father said.  He had not claimed belief but had acknowledged its importance.  Scott could see that it gave Teresa something to hold on to.

Savoring the sweet apple pancake, Scott realized Johnny had been very quiet throughout the discussion.  It was rare that Johnny didn’t ask a question or make a comment.  And Scott couldn’t imagine Johnny didn’t like the apfannkuchen.  He’d expected him to gulp his piece down and then ask hopefully for more.  Something in their conversation about Día de Los Muertos was distracting his brother.

Softly he said, “Johnny?”

Johnny glanced up at Scott, then huffed out a breath.  He spoke reluctantly.  “I want to visit Mama’s grave on Día de Los Muertos, but every year it seems like I’m further away.  I wonder now if I could even find it.  It just had a wooden cross, probably rotted away by now.”

“Where is she buried, Johnny?” asked Teresa, her expressive eyes filled with tears.

“Kino del Madilene.  A little town not too far from Nogales.”

Scott looked at his brother. Johnny’s dark head was bowed over his plate as if hiding his expression.  Scott felt he was.  He suspected Johnny’s blue eyes were shiny with unshed tears.  Scott couldn’t remember being told how old Johnny was when his mother died, but he thought he was in his early teens.  Certainly old enough to have known and loved her well.  From what Johnny said and the little Murdoch said, Maria Lancer was beautiful, vivacious, and unpredictable.  She was the sort of woman who deeply affected the lives of her son and husband- both in good and sad ways.

Scott’s own mother died when he was two days old in a small town somewhere between the ranch and San Fransisco.  His survival was a matter of chance.  It was troubled times in California- the transition between Mexico and the United States.  Murdoch sent Catherine away for her safety while he stayed to defend the ranch.  By some stroke of fortune, the agent Harlen Garrett sent to find his daughter did find her a day before she died.  The man had Catherine properly buried, found a grieving mother to wet nurse the infant Scott, and returned to San Francisco to sail for Boston. 

Of course, Scott had no memory of his mother.  When he thought of his early childhood, the wet nurse became his nanny, he remembered with fondness.  She died when he was seven.  Even so, he knew his mother in a way.  Unlike Murdoch, her Boston and Vermont families spoke of the past and those long gone.  Scott’s grandfather, his great aunt Laura, and his cousin Rosemary all wanted Scott to know his mother and spoke of her often.  There was a lovely portrait of her and a sister in his grandfather’s study.  Scott had grown up reading her books and playing with her toys, living in her childhood home.  When he discovered the thin book of Spanish words and phrases she’d compiled while she lived on the ranch, he’d had a rare mystical sense that she had written it just for him, knowing he would be there one day.

He intended someday to make a pilgrimage to her grave out of respect.

Scott looked around the table.  Murdoch was looking off into the distance, his feelings unreadable.  Johnny’s head was still bowed.  Teresa was watching him with tears in her dark eyes; tears for Johnny, tears for herself.  It was such a beautiful day, yet sadness clung to them.

Scott considered what he might say that would respect his brother’s feelings and cheer him a little.  As was his nature, he thought of the practical.

“You know, in a few years, you’ll be able to take the railroad east aways and then go south into Mexico.  Trips won’t take more than a week,” offered Scott between bites of pancake.  Saying so reminded him he should tell his father about the opportunity the coming railroad would present for selling lumber from the ranch.  He’d been hesitating because he would have to admit he’d done some business for his grandfather’s firm when he was in Sacramento selling the cattle.  Even with the easing of tensions between them, Scott was not looking forward to bringing up his grandfather’s business to his father.

“That’s hard to believe,” said Johnny frowning.  “It takes close to six weeks on horseback.  I sure would like to be there some year.  Makes me sad to think Mama is so neglected.”

Murdoch rubbed his hand across his chin as he said, “Johnny, you know I had Pinkertons looking for you and your mother in Mexico.”

Johnny nodded.  He glanced at his brother in confusion.  Neither had an idea why Murdoch would bring up Pinkertons now.

“Well, it seemed they were always one step behind you.  The fact is, a couple of months after her death, one of the agents tracked the two of you to Kino.  Of course, you were long gone by then.  He put me in contact with the village Priest,” Murdoch paused.  He stood and walked to the garden gate.  He could feel the questioning gazes of the three at the table.  He cleared his throat and went on in a voice lower and slower than his normal growl.  “I’ve been sending money to have novenas said for her on her saint’s day for the past eight years.  Her grave is being tended and there is a stone cross.”

Johnny’s blue eyes widened as his frown deepened.  “Why would you do that?  She ran off from you.”

His father turned to him.  “She was my wife,” said Murdoch in the tone of voice they all knew closed a subject.

Scott glanced at his father. Murdoch stood drinking his coffee and looking out over his land.  His shoulders were stiff and his expression was blank.

Scott had to give his father credit for trying to be more open with them.  It was clear from the very first day Murdoch avoided even thinking about the past.  His wives were a particularly difficult subject.  Scott found it somewhat amazing that one very difficult but honest conversation would profoundly impact his understanding of his father.

Though all the years of his growing up, on the rare occasions he thought of his father, it was as an uncaring man.  He realized now Murdoch cared, but he had little skill in expressing his feelings.  Except for anger.  Murdoch was very adept at expressing anger, thought his son with a smile.  And he was nothing if not responsible.  It was no surprise that he paid for the care of Johnny’s mother’s grave.  Scott supposed that he also paid to have Scott’s mother’s grave tended in the little town he was born in and she died.

“You are very quiet, darling,” said Murdoch gently to Teresa.  “Are you feeling well?”

Teresa looked up to give him a weak smile.  “I’m fine.  I was thinking of the families that left during the troubles.  Their children’s graves won’t be decorated.  The others won’t have time to think of them.  They have so many of their own to mourn.  You know, when I was little, I was so upset about the really old graves.  I thought those spirits would be so lonely and disappointed.  So Dad and I would make molasses candy.  It was the only food he knew how to make.  We’d put a little on each of the old graves and sing silly songs like Froggy Went a Courting.  After a while, those long-dead children didn’t seem like strangers anymore.”

Scott felt a lump in his throat.  She was so young and had known so much sadness.  Yet her heart was open to others, even the dead.

“Hey, Teresa?” said Johnny brightly.  “Do you still remember how to make that molasses candy?”

“Of course I do, Johnny,” she laughed genuinely.  “I will be happy to make you some.”

“Well, that would be good if those spirit kids are willing to share.  I know a few silly songs too.  Unless there is something you need for me to do today, Murdoch, I reckon I’d like to spend the day with the folks.”

“Oh, Johnny, would you?” asked Teresa eagerly.  “It will be so much more fun with you.”

“You go right ahead, son,” said Murdoch softly with a hint of pride.

Teresa stood and gathered the dishes.  She walked back to the house and said, “I’ll help Frau Metz with the dishes.  Then I’ll make that candy.  Thank you, Johnny.”

“You want to come along, Scott,” asked Johnny, glancing at his brother.

Scott considered for a moment, then shook his head.  “No.  You and Teresa belong to the tradition, and I would just be horning in.  It might take something away from the families’ celebrations for the greenhorn easterner to be observing.  Just watch out for her.  She seems a little fragile this morning.”

With a sigh, Murdoch said, “This will be hard for her.  She and Paul used to spend the second day at her mother’s grave, and now he’s buried there too.  She’ll be alone.  Of course, she’s sat at his grave many times over the months, but I think she really believes in the tradition.  Tomorrow will be harder being alone.”

“Not alone, sir,” said Scott with a glance at his brother. Johnny nodded back.

It was difficult for Scott to think of visiting spirits as anything but superstition.  His strict Congregationalist grandfather had raised him to respect reason and be suspicious of anything related to what the old man still called the papists.  He also understood that his father took no part in the traditions.  In the months they’d been on the ranch, Scott had seen no indication his father held any religious beliefs; he certainly didn’t practice any rites.  Despite not believing in the visiting spirits, Scott would support Teresa in any way he could, even if that meant eating her father’s favorite food and singing his favorite songs while sitting beside his grave.  He smiled as he decided this would not be an experience he’d include in his next letter to his grandfather.

Scott was oddly touched that his father joined him for his ride.  Murdoch said he wanted to get a closer look at the cattle brought down from the summer pastures, and it was a good excuse.  Though Scott thought it was just possible that his father was still worried about him.

They rode for several hours.  The weather was pleasant; a clear blue sky and slightly cooler temperatures.  Along the creek, the cottonwoods were shedding the last of their deep golden leaves.  The hills beyond them were slowly giving way from the brittle brown of summer to a gentle gray-green.  Scott had heard someone say how green the pastures were growing.  He tried not to laugh.  They were the color of sage, not what Scott thought of as green.

It was a quiet ride.  Occasionally, Murdoch would comment about the coming winter and what still needed to be done to prepare.  Scott would ask a few questions in order to know what was expected of him.  Most of the time, they rode in silence, and it was a slightly more comfortable silence than in the past.

Heading back to the house, they skirted the edge of the old cemetery.  Scott rather liked old cemeteries.  It had been his intention to explore this one, but there was never enough time.  It laid to the south of the main house on a low hillside.  The stones were small, some well-weathered.  Today there were as many live people as dead.  He could pick out each of the family groups gathered around graves.  Teresa and Johnny were standing beside old Mariah, laughing at what the older woman was saying.

Scott wondered how many children Mariah had buried there.  As was true of most graveyards in the world, there would be more children in that yard than adults.  There was something rather wonderful about all those folks turned out in brightly colored clothes, laughing and singing as if death were just another state of being for those they loved.

Scott Garrett Lancer prided himself on his ability to adjust to any social situation.  He was the perfect extra gentleman all Boston society hostesses needed and the man to stand around in the favorite tavern of the stableboys of Beacon Hill; he’d had tea with English nobility and dinners with Parisian can-can dancers.  He knew how to dress and behave in churches and brothels.  But, as he followed Johnny and Teresa through the Lancer Ranch graveyard, crowded with the vaqueros and their families; the graves decorated with late-season flowers and colorful ribbons, he was at a loss whether to smile or look solemn when the people greeted him.

 Teresa walked ahead with determined steps.  She wore a pretty green dress printed with small flowers.  Her thick dark hair fell past her shoulders in soft waves, held off her face with a wide green silk ribbon.  The ranch women watched her climb the slight rise to the far corner with gentle sorrowful gazes.  She accepted the warm embraces and good wishes of many who passed with a distracted air.

The Lancer brothers followed her.  Johnny carried a guitar borrowed from a vaquero, and Scott carried a basket packed with what he understood were the late Paul O’Brien’s favorite foods and a thick blanket.

Teresa stopped in the shade of a massive blue oak, its blueish-green leaves turning brown.  A few leaves drifted in the light breeze towards the ground.  Before her were two simple chunks of  granite.  Naturally rough except for a polished face where the names and dates of O’Brien and his wife were craved.

After a long pause, Teresa knelt to pick stray leaves off the graves.  She was speaking in a voice too soft for Scott to hear.

Scott read the inscriptions.  Paul O’Brien was 43 when he died.  Teresa’s mother’s name was Isobel Lopez de O’Brien.  She was buried with an infant son, and the dates of their death matched.  Teresa would have been three.  Just another piece of the past about which no one ever spoke.

Johnny spread the blanket between the graves.  He sat down, cradling the guitar in his lap, and began playing.

Scott smiled as he recognized the melody of the old song Green Grows the Rushes.  It was the first song he’d sung with his brother to keep the cattle calm during the night on the spring round-up.  If Scott remembered correctly, one of the vaquero, Mariah’s younger son, said that Murdoch and Paul O’Brien sang the song to the cattle over the years.

Scott felt a swell of pride in Johnny for his thoughtfulness in playing the song by the graveside of a man he’d never met.  He realized Teresa was singing softly.

Scott squared his shoulders.  He still felt unsure of himself.  He looked back at the gathered families.  He could not help but wonder what they expected, what they experienced.  Did they believe they caught glimpses of the dead or heard beloved voices?  Were they naive, or was he too cynical?  No, nothing had prepared him for this experience.

Scott placed the basket he carried on the blanket.  He sat down and began singing with his brother and Teresa.  It was pleasant.  Satisfied that the graves were tidy, Teresa sat with them to eat the picnic lunch.  She talked a little about her mother.  She had very few actual memories of her.  Her father told her Isobel was beautiful, that Teresa had her laugh and slight frame.  As she fell into familiar patterns, she relaxed.  She talked about her father and told stories he told her about his boyhood in Galway and the time he spent aboard a clipper ship.  The stories had an air of fancy about them.  Too pleasant, too easy to be the remembrances of a poor orphan boy from a poor county.  Scott realized that Teresa understood her father’s boyhood could not have been so full of cheerful adventure.  But she told the stories in the spirit he had told them to her as a small child.

Scott felt himself grow comfortable as the day went on.  The vaqueros and their families came up the hill to pay their respects to the man many had known for over twenty years.  They told more stories and sang more songs.  Scott understood among those in the graveyard were some who, like cousin Evelyn, honestly believed their departed loved one sat invisible beside them.

All in all, despite the colors being brighter, the songs being Spanish, and the food being spicier, it was not so different than the sunny spring afternoons he’d spent with his Vermont family tidying the family plot and remembering those who had gone before.  Perhaps, thought Scott, the very act of remembering, of enacting the age old traditions, did indeed thin the veil between the living and the dead.

He was listening to Miguel tell about Paul O’Brien’s first spring round up.  He claimed the man they all thought of as tough at old boots burst into tears when the calf bawled as the branding iron seared its hide.  Laughing with the rest of them, Scott noticed Abuela Mariah slowly climbing toward them.  He knew Mariah had a busy couple of days.  She had lived her whole life on the estancia.  Her parents, siblings, children, her husband and many friends were buried here.

Her short, stout figure made steady progress.  She wore an elaborately embroidered blouse and a long blue skirt.  Her gray hair hung in a braid down her back.  In her arms, she carried a large spray of pink roses.

Scott was sure the roses were from those in the walled garden, La Señora’s roses.  Carefully tended for thirty years, they grew from the rootstock his mother brought from Boston.  In the garden of the Beacon Hill house, he grew up in roses of the same rootstock.

Mariah didn’t join the group around O’Brien’s grave.  She walked on up the hill to the shade of another blue oak.  Scott was curious about who might be buried there.  It was a particularly lovely spot with a commanding view of the cemetery, the little village of adobe houses where the vaquero families lived, the great walled garden, and the rambling main house.  For as far as the eye could see was Lancer land.

Scott stood to follow her at a respectful distance.  He watched as the old woman knelt to brush away the brown leaves.  With great care, she laid the roses in front of the large granite marker.

Without thought, Scott followed her until he stood at the foot of the grave, staring at the inscription carved deeply into the stone.

Catherine Garrett Lancer
May 1820.            December 1846
Beloved wife, mother and friend.
She opens her mouth in wisdom,
And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
Proverbs 31:26


Scott heard concern in Johnny’s voice and felt his hand on his shoulder.  He became aware of Teresa standing beside him.  He took a breath to answer his brother and found he had no words.

“You didn’t know,” said Teresa softly.  “I never thought to tell you.  I guess no one thought to tell you.  I am so sorry, Scott.  I was so wrapped up in my own feelings.”

Scott slid his arm around her to pull her close.  He kissed her forehead.  “Is -is it just a stone for remembrance, or is she-” The words felt thick in his mouth.  Scott couldn’t understand why he was so affected.  He knew his mother was buried somewhere.  What difference did it make if it was in that small town where she died or here on the ranch?

“She is at rest here, son.”

Scott closed his eyes.  As always, in times of emotion, Murdoch’s brogue was more pronounced.  Scott knew his father was standing behind him.

“I wish I could tell you that I brought her home.  I didn’t.  I was too bound up in my anger and my grief.  Work was all there was for me then, and I pushed everyone and every thought away.”

Scott turned slightly to look at his father. Murdoch was a few feet away.  He held a bottle of whiskey in his left hand and a mass of lavender and purple Michaelmas daisies in his left.  Whiskey for his friend.  Flowers for his wife.

“How then?” asked Scott, still holding Teresa close.

Murdoch took a shuddering breath.  “I told you Paul and your mother were close, like brother and sister. Paul took her death hard.  He was young, Johnny’s age.  She’d taught him to read.  She’d been for him a bit of gentleness in a harsh world.  He was furious with me because I -I hid in the work.  We fought.  He left.  I thought it was for good.  I didn’t care.  I didn’t care about anything then.  A few months later, he came back driving a wagon.  He and,” Murdoch paused to look around at the people gathered around the graves.  He spoke louder, “Paul and many of the people of the ranch chose this place for Catherine to rest.  The next morning  Paul was back in the saddle working the cattle.  Your father was a stubborn man,” he said, looking at Teresa, then he glanced at his sons.  “Almost as stubborn as your father.”

Johnny and Teresa laughed softly.  Scott smiled.  He looked past his father and realized the families in the graveyard were all looking at them.  Murdoch had been on the ranch for thirty years.  He was the Patron, separate from the vaqueros.  To the best of Scott’s knowledge his father allowed, but did not participate in, the traditions of the his people.  Yet there he stood with whiskey for his friend and flowers for his wife.

“Why didn’t you say something yesterday when we talked about Mama’s grave?” asked Johnny.

“I don’t know.  I suppose I’d convinced myself Scott already knew, so there was no need for me to say anything.” Murdoch drew himself up.  He turned back to Scott and held out the flowers.  “She loves these flowers.  She brought the seeds with her from Boston.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Scott softly.  He took the flowers and turned towards the grave where Mariah still knelt.  Behind him, he heard Murdoch ask Johnny if his mother had taught him a song called Wild Mountain Thyme.

In answer, Johnny started to strum the guitar.  Murdoch began to sing in his rich baritone, and Teresa’s pure soprano joined him.

Will ye go, Lassie go?

And we’ll all go together

To pull wild mountain thyme

All around the blooming heather

Will ye go, Lassie go?

Scott knelt by the stone.  Across from him, the old woman who’d known Catherine Lancer on the ranch smiled at him.  As he laid the lovely delicate Michaelmas Daisies with the deep pink roses, Mariah touched the granite stone, saying.

“Vea, señora, finalmente su niño vive en su hogar con su familia .”

Scott smiled as he translated the words.

You see, señora, your child is finally home with his family.

October 2021


Thank you for reading! The authors listed on this site spend many hours writing stories for your enjoyment, and their only reward is the feedback you leave. So please take a moment to leave a comment.  Even the simplest ‘I liked this!” can make all the difference to an author and encourage them to keep writing and posting their stories here.  You can comment in the ‘reply’ box below or email Mary Whimsey directly.



6 thoughts on “All Hallows by Mary Whimsey

  1. This is a lovely little story that shows the mix of cultural traditions through Scott. I always imagined that Catherine had been brought back to Lancer


  2. What a wonderful story. You made us feel every emotion they were feeling. Thank you and eagerly awaiting more from you!


  3. Your story is beautifully told, rich with tradition and emotion. I enjoyed it very much. Thank you for sharing.


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