The two dormer windows jutting from the roof of the old house were eyes looking out over that spot near the edge of the Nueces River bottoms where Round Lake lay like a pearl reflecting the gray and pink of sunset. These eyes had watched in vain for the return of their dead master, Empresario James McGloin, through many sets of seasons. And now in the spring of 1874 the old home was no longer an empty seashell roaring with waves of memory. Beneath its roof Patrick, his nephew, and Mary Ann McGloin, nee Molloy, and their three sturdy children had now given it a second soul. It began to vibrate with life when they had moved in the fall of 1873. [Edward F. McGloin to Patrick G. McGloin August 23, 1873. Deed Records San Patricio County Courthouse, Vol G, pp. 19-20]
Mary Ann McGloin stepped onto the front gallery directly below the windowed roof. Her calico dress covered her rotund body and the smile that lit her square face and deep-set, blue eyes could always calm the storm of rage and hurt when her children came to her for comfort. Her heavy breasts had suckled all her "little ones," and her hands bore evidence that she had worked hard to rear them. Her day's work done, Mary Ann watched the sunset play upon the clouds until twilight with dove-down softness fell upon this bit of Ireland nestled off the coast of Texas. All the while she was thinking how, at last, this place was becoming a part of her. She could feel herself taking it to her bosom as she had taken her three children. So imbued was this spot with Texas history, and so deep was the sentiment attached to it by the town folk of San Patricio, that she felt almost like an intruder when it was here she came to live.
It was different with her husband Pat, whose heart had long ago taken root here. Since the death of his uncle, Empresario James McGloin, in 1856, the house had stood vacant, and Pat had longed to rescue it from its abandonment. It had been the empresario's bequest to his youngest son, Edward, a minor, who did not wish to live here. Deserted except for the screech owls screaming from the attic, the house stood, a stark silhouette against a moonlit sky. When it became a rendezvous for gamblers, Pat resolved to protect it from such desecration. To the rattle of dice on the floors and to the raucous voices of dissolute men, antes wore piled before a fire which danced and crackled in the stone fireplace. Then heaping more wood upon the embers, shuffling and dealing the cards, they would turn to poker until dawn while the odor of whiskey permeated the room which once had been the bedroom of the empresario.
Outraged, Pat cried out, "The home of Empresario James McGloin---a gambler's den! Tis a disgrace." "Tis indeed a disgrace, Pat. Almost a sacrilege," Mary Ann would agree. [Oral tradition has it that he gave 30 mares for the property, but the deed states that he gave $800 for 250 acres and the house]
The day upon which Pat obtained the deed to the homestead and its surrounding acreage from his uncle's heir in exchange for thirty mares was a day of triumph for him. But it was a time of uneasiness for Mary Ann. She did not know whether she would ever feel at home in a house that had been the fulfillment of a man's dream, yet the Lord had allowed him only a year to enjoy it. To the left was a parlor where the empresario laid out in his coffin, a mere fifty-seven years old. Having outlived his wife, Elizabeth Cummings, he had been a lonely man until 1853 when he married the spinster, Mary Murphy. To Mary Ann his spirit had not strayed far from Round Lake. All through the fall and winter she had felt like a guest always aware of her host even though she tried to tell herself that this was, irrevocably, her home.
But now it was spring, the season of miracles, when even the outcast has a feeling of belonging. An awareness of kinship with the builder of the house crept over her, and with it came the acceptance of it as home. Lavender phlox and yellow buttercups growing wild had sprung up and were peeping through the grass like nosegays scattered over a green carpet. It stretched the length of the sloping banks to the edge of the lake whose ripples gently licked the sand. Red hollyhocks bloomed sedately against the picket fence, and in the flower beds, rimmed by colored glass jars, purple four o'clocks had popped open, wrinkled, and closed. In the side yard facing the lake a deep well stretched open its jaws to swallow the wooden bucket hanging above it. A silence hung over the place interrupted only by muted sounds from the barnyard. There was a fluttering of wings as chickens were flying to roost. The calves, not yet having heard their mothers approaching, emitted a few feeble baas, then settled down to wait. The clank of a cowbell jarred Mary Ann out of her reverie. Down the treelined lane running along the west side of the house and grounds came Mab, the bell-cow, with her herd behind her. The cows, slowing their measured, plopping steps to wrench the weeds which lined the lane became visible splotches of red and white seen through mesquite sprays. Mab lifted her head until her black nose pointed skyward, then straining her belly, pushed out a lusty moo oo uh. Her followers took up the cue and bellowed to their young penned near the barn. The impatient baaing of calves was the answer.
Pat, his head bowed, his beard brushing his blue-shitted chest, plodded behind the herd until it reached the open gate of the milking pen. He seemed oblivious to his evening chore. So accustomed was he to fetching the milk buckets, that it was only the pull of habit which made him turn when he reached the back of the house. He had been thinking of the empresario. Since Pat was a child, he had revered his uncle. Hadn't he and his brothers followed him to Texas in 1845. [Gilbert, brother of Empresario James McGloin, came to Texas from Ireland in 1845 with his children: Alexander, James, Olivia and Patrick G.]
He could scarcely believe that for almost a year he had owned the spot where his uncle had planned to spend the rest of his life. The empresario had planned, built, and dreamed of occupying this house when he was still living in his cabin facing the square of the old colony town of San Patricio founded by him and his partner, John McMullen, in 1830. Here Pat was watching the sunsets even as his kinsman had done. He wondered if he too had felt the rapture of the short Texas dusk, or had he missed the lingering twilights of Ireland? Had he ever felt, as he did now, that there are moments when all the world is one, that even the spirit world is near?
"Yes," he muttered to himself, "Uncle Jimmie was that kind of man." Then he thought how brave and sensible he was, how calm and unassuming. During the trying days of colonization, during the Texas Revolution, and during the time of the Republic of Texas, he was always there ready to help those who came, even after Texas joined the Union. Yet there must have been times during all this turmoil that he felt at peace. Did the serenity of Round Lake remind him of his native Ireland? Did the ghost of McMullen that returned to haunt him make him wish to leave his cabin on the square? Or was it that lakes fascinated him as they always had back in Ireland? Pat was inclined to believe that the lake was a magnet which had drawn him from the center of the colony to settle almost two miles away and build the first frame house to be built in San Patricio.
Like an automaton, Pat strode up the long, narrow gallery facing east on the lake-side and running along the ell which was the kitchen. He reached for the milk buckets, hanging clean and aired, but instead of going toward the pens, he was irresistibly drawn to the lake. He walked toward the stile which climbed the yard fence separating the house from its banks. Feeling the gentle breeze cooled by the water, Pat was sure now that it was this magic that had cast a spell over his uncle and that the murmur of the lake had whispered to him to spend his last days near it. In spite of the lowing of cows and the baaing of calves, Pat climbed the stile to sit while the silver of evening descended upon him.
Mary Ann, breathing deep of the fragrance floating across the water from the yellow pom poms of the huisache, waddled toward the east end of the front gallery. At this time of day she could get a perspective on her worlds. It was here that she fingered her rosary to count the Hail Marys by decades as she recited them inaudibly, but with moving lips. Comforting and strengthening were these moments stolen from a busy day of sewing, cooking, cleaning, and keeping her children at peace. Milking time in the evenings was the only part of the day that she could call her own. After this, she would have no solitude. Her merry-faced lads would be rushing in for supper.
She pictured the kitchen which she had left a short time ago. She was sure all was well there. The pot of cornmeal mush was set back on the wood stove. She could almost hear the intermittent sounds of the great mush bubbles as the steam had burst slowly through each one. The eggs to be soft boiled were counted out on the table, and the tea kettle, sitting on the front lid was shooting a shaft of steam above the open grate so that the burning wood cast blocks of copper on the floor made splintery by many scrubbings. The aroma of fresh parched coffee, cooling in two black bread pans, filled the room.
She would not have to go back until she heard the footsteps of Pat and the plump plump of two buckets brimming with warm sweet foam. The last call would be the padding of feet as her "little fellers" gathered for supper. But until then, this time was her own. There was no need for hurry. Her strong hands reached for the bannisters to steady her waistless, pregnant form. Clutching the rail, she leaned forward to look out over the lake. There it was, a round mirror, pinktinted by the sky, while on its opposite bank mesquite trees, spreading their plumage, were becoming indistinct in the haze. From their branches came the coo of the mourning dove, sad and mellow, across the water.
The peace which settled over her now was one of those rare moments for which no worldly surroundings can account. Mary Ann, practical woman though she was, experienced this deeper feeling which she recognized as being apart from the ordinary peace which she looked forward to from her stolen moments on the front gallery. Presently, as if springing from the center of the lake, she saw a fairy-like lady dressed in green skimming so smoothly along that she might have been on solid ground. It was only the side of her that she could see. On her head she wore a green poke bonnet; her skirt was billowy and her waist small. Mary Ann stood transfixed in the moment that she saw her. As real and as beautiful as the sight of a pelican's dive was that of the lady in green whom she watched until she disappeared. It was not until then that Mary Ann realized that there was anything above the natural order in what she had seen. But she now knew that this was no commonplace occurrence. The realization struck her like a bolt of lightning, and she shook with a nameless fear. Frozen where she stood, she gasped in half whispers, "The saints be praised! Could she be a ghost?" Her large frame was inert and paralyzed, and the flesh seemed to be shaking loose from the bone. Her heart was a caged prisoner pounding the walls of her chest; her breath was sucked in shallow gasps.
Regaining the solidity of her knees, she bounded toward the front door. Like a boat rocking in rough waters she sped down the narrow hall, through the dining room and finally into the kitchen, whose warmth received her like an old friend. She thought, "I'll stay here until Pat comes with the milk. " But each moment seemed longer than the last. Her mind groped for disproof. Having no success, she reached for a plausible explanation. Irish though she was, she had always been one of the few Irish women of the town who had never claimed the experience of seeing visions. Often she had lost patience with the others when they would gather round the food-filled tables at the wakes and begin tales of ghosts and apparitions. She was impatient with herself because she could not deny nor explain what she had seen. Now she would be put with the rest of the "visionaries. " Passing her chagrin to the Lady in Green, she blurted out, "Well, if you must have this time to skim the lake, I'll stay in my kitchen. And well may you have it!"
The warmth of the kitchen and its hominess did not allay her fear nor take the place of another human being. She felt the need to tell Pat. She would go out to the pens and stay until the milking was done. Then after supper when the "little fellers" were in bed, she would confide in him. She stepped out on the back gallery. Astonished, she saw Pat sitting on the stile and pensively looking out over the lake. "Pat," she cried as she made her way to the stile. "It's not on the front gallery I'll be sitting at milking time!" "What ails you, woman? You're as pale as a ghost!" "That's what I've seen, Pat. A ghost!" "Consarned, if you aren't getting like the women at the wakes!" His tone was full of annoyance. She had broken the quiet of the evening's spell. "Sure you're an old Irish scold, but don't be scolding now, Pat." "All right, Mary Ann, go on," he said forcing tolerance. "She was dressed in green and she wore a green bonnet." "Nonsense, woman." "Skimming the lake she was-" "But I've been sitting right here" And you're sure you didn't see her, too?" "On the lake, you say?" "'Tis true, Pat, believe me." His attitude of incredulity had changed, and he looked at her with compassion. "Now don't be afraid, Mary Ann." She knew by the tone of his voice that he believed her. "I saw her. 'Tis true. But who would be coming to haunt me? Now if it had been a young man, like my brother, George Molloy--God rest his soul! But a lady dressed in green! Who might she be?"
"'Tis a lass he left in Ireland." He put a protective arm around her ample shoulder. "And why are you so sure?" "Because Uncle Jimmie told me of her once." Bewilderment shown on Mary Ann's face as Pat settled down on the stile and began to speak thoughtfully. "It's strange," Pat mused aloud, "Since I've been sitting here, I've been thinking of some of the things Uncle Jimmie told me when he was mourning the death of Aunt Eliza. I was just a wee feller tagging along at his side. `Back in the old country,' he said, 'I loved the lakes. I used to watch the sunset paint the sky with God's own colors. A certain lass would stroll down and sit quietly beside me. She said she'd love me for aye. Once she was dressed in green. It seemed to bring out the copper in her hair.'" "Go on, Pat. You've never told me this before." Mary Ann spoke quietly minding not to break the spell. " 'Well, Pat,' he said, 'one of these evenings when we were standing there by the lake, and she, dressed in green, was in a fret with me because I hadn't noticed her new dress. Now isn't that like a lass? So she said to me in a mischievous way, that when she died, she would haunt me, and it would be on a lake, and she'd be wearing her green dress and bonnet. I laughed and told her I'd be waiting.'" "God rest her soul! Get out your rosary, woman." "You think, 'tis praying for her I must be doing?"
"Yes, and we'll have a Mass said. There's a feeling I have that Uncle Jimmie came here to wait for her." "But he took unto himself a second wife and brought her here . . ." "It's no matter. Now I'll be wondering no more why he chose this spot." "'Tis praying for the lass I must be doing, Pat. God rest the lady in green. " Pat climbed down the stile, gathered the milk buckets and walked toward the milking pen. Mary Ann, afraid no longer, pulled the rosary from her large apron pocket and began to count her Aves as she watched the lilac curtain of darkness fall over Round Lake.
From San Patricio de Hibernia: The Forgotten Colony by Rachel Bluntzer Hebert (Eakin Press, 1981)
For years the wild china tree had stood like a giant watchdog at the front portico of the old house. And now its heavy branches in the grip of the season's first norther clawed at its sides and roof. Rooted deep in the earth, it stood a symbol of strength to the house and family it had guarded. The widow Dougherty, more familiarly known as "Rach," lay in her bed listening to it scratch the window panes. She heard the rustle of fallen leaves and could picture the wind scattering them down the clearing. Propping herself up on her elbow, she saw the lake rippled by wind and shimmering in the light of the September moon. She pulled the counterpane over her as she felt the chill of the norther and pressed her frail body into the feather bed. The moon riding high on shifting blue-black clouds threw shafts of light in at the windows.
She could see the furniture in the large high-ceilinged room almost as plainly as she had before she had blown out the kerosene lamp. She saw the bulk of the massive wardrobe which stood opposite the four-poster bed in which she lay. The washstand, with its washbowl and pitcher, was easily discernible. The mirror of the dresser and the face of the large hanging clock shone in the soft light of the moon. Quietly she lay in the semidarkness, but sleep would not overtake her. She reached under the pillow for her rosary. She had already said it at her kneeling bench in front of the little altar of the Virgin which she had set up in her room, but now as she lay there alone in the house, it was comforting to finger each bead even though her thoughts were not always on her "Aves".
Widowed by Professor Robert Dougherty, in 1881, she had been left with a boarding school for boys. Saint Paul's Academy, a huge, square, two-story house, painted olive green, but now peeling and graying with the years, was made of Florida cypress sailed in to Indianola in 1874. Unadorned, its plainness was relieved only by two octangular porticoes, one on the front, the other overlooking Round Lake. From 1876-1881 lads from South Texas and Mexico poured and droned over their books in eager search for knowledge. Her husband's dream of an academy for boys lasted only five years, but she had nothing for which to reproach herself. She had proved a real helpmate. Without her pioneer training from a practical Dutch mother, who with her brood of seven came from New Jersey to the Irish colony of San Patricio in 1854, the boarding school would not have flourished. As she recalled the last five years she could almost smell the warm fragrance of the eight crusty loaves of bread which she had baked every day. In the spring when the ropes of wild grapevines, which lassoed the trees, had leafed out and begun to bear small clusters of hard, green balls, she sated the appetites of young boarders with second helpings of green grape pies. Then when her husband died in 1881, their dream had come to an end. But the widow Dougherty was not one to lament and mourn over shattered dreams. Now she turned her thoughts to her family-her three sons and four daughters whom she had reared-by the grace of God-into fine men and women in spite of the hardships of pioneering in an Irish colony in Texas. They were all well and making their way. Her heart swelled with gratitude as she dwelt upon the thought.
A lone cock crew in the barnyard and an occasional lowing of cattle split the heavy silence of the night after the first gusts of wind had subsided. She breathed deep of the fresh, cool air. There was something in the smell, the tang, of the first norther which always thrilled her. And yet, there was within her a feeling of apprehension, a waiting for something to happen, an unreasonable anxiety which, no matter how many times she pushed it out of her thoughts, would find the door open and slip in. Impatient with herself, she flounced to her right side, and then to her left. She thought of the work that was always waiting for her to do in the morning. And now she admitted to herself that she was wishing she could hear the rattle of Juan getting the milk buckets, the clump clump of his arm-load of wood as it fell into the wood box on the back gallery, the clanks of the stove lids as he made the fire, and most of all the familiar smell of boiling coffee as its fragrance reached her room at dawn in the mornings. "Ah, Juan is truly a comfort," she thought and thanked God for him.
When the widow Dougherty opened her eyes after having forced them closed to fight her wakefulness, she saw the room suddenly darken. She argued with herself, "It's only the clouds outriding the moon. Goose, that is what you are Rachel Dougherty. Why should you feel like this?" But she opened her eyes wider, as if by staring she might penetrate the darkness. She looked for the familiar objects that she had seen so plainly in the moonlight, but there was no use. A chill shook her slight form sunk deep in the feather bed; the wild china tree clawed at the roof; there were no sounds from the barnyard to keep her company. Suddenly she felt strangely alone. The house and the tree which had always seemed human now became only what they really were, and offered her no protection against the eerie silence and the fear that was settling over her spirit. The clock struck twelve. A voice from the far corner of the room cried, "Rach! Rach! " She immediately recognized it. It was her dead sister, Millie. The voice seemed to come nearer with each word, and when it was as if it hung above the foot of the bed, it appealed to her urgently, "Phene is in trouble. She needs you."
The widow Dougherty sat bolt upright in her bed. "Mill! Mill!" she cried, but there was no answer. Too terrified to move, she sat there trying to grasp the meaning of what she had heard. Her first impulse was to bury herself in the feather bed, pull the covers over her head, and try to convince herself that what she had just heard was not real. But she knew better. She was as sure that she had heard Millie's voice as she ever was of anything in her whole life. She had not been thinking of her sister, Phene, who was taking care of Ida Wood, Millie's afflicted daughter. Now the thought popped into her head that perhaps Ida had had another spell, and who knows, it might be her last. They had been more frequent this year. It had all come from that blow on her head when she was small. "Poor Ida," she reproached herself aloud. "Why hadn't I thought of you?"
She flung back the covers and stepped to the floor. She made her way to the kerosene lamp, although she scarcely needed it for the room again was flooded with moonlight. With trembling fingers she lit it and reached for her wrapper. The bare board floor was cold to her feet as she felt for her slippers. Once she got them on, she made her way through the long, wide hall lighted only by the faint gleam from her lamp in the bedroom. The back door, blown open by the rush of the norther, creaked as it swung on its hinges. She drew her wrapper close to meet the autumn wind and descended the steps into the backyard. Fear, like the pressure of the wind, pushed her shivering form toward Juan's one-roomed jacal which stood by the corrals. She felt the need of the presence of another human being, and instinctively headed toward Juan's, but she knew she must not frighten him. She could not afford to have him leave the place.
She approached the door and rapped as hard as her bare knuckles would permit. "Juan Juan," she called. The husky tones of her voice slapped back at her. She scarcely recognized them as her own. A shuffling within reassured her. The door opened, and Juan slight stature appeared, fully clothed. At one glance she noted the light ducking trousers bagging at the knees, the darker shirt opened the neck and the stoical Indian face under stubby graying hair. He did not appear as one who had just been roused from sleep. With for~b! calm she asked, "Were you awake, Juan?
"Si, Madama. The commotion of the horses waked me. I had a feeling-a strange feeling-. You know what it means when horses snort and run in the corral at night?" His words sent a current of fear through her. She had heard horses behaved in that fashion. But she ignored his question ordered firmly, "Hitch Chino and Baldie to the buggy---" "But madama," he put in in astonishment, "Que pasa? Where are you going at these hours?" "To Beeville-now-as soon as I can get ready." "Alone?" He persisted, undisturbed by her apparent impatience with him.
"Yes, Juan, alone. You're working cattle tomorrow. I need you here." She hoped she sounded firm, for she knew that deep within her she was wishing he would ignore her commands and come along. "Madama Riche, why do you go at such an hour?" With an expressive gesture of his short arm toward the eastern horizon he pled "Wait until the sun rises-if you must go alone." The widow Dougherty was vexed at his persistence for precious minutes were passing, yet a feeling of warmth passed over her as she realized that it was prompted by his anxiety for her. She must tell him the truth. She stepped nearer to him and said, almost in a whisper; "I heard a voice---my dead sister's voice. It said Madama Phene was in trouble."
She waited for his words as he stood there motionless. Silently, he made the sign of the cross, and then said simply, "A voice from the other world." There was no hint of incredulity in his words, a simple affirmation of his belief in the supernatural. "Let it be with God" he said humbly, and turned toward the corral. She watched Juan shuffle off toward the pens, and presently she heard the jingling of harness and smelled the odor of dried manure as the horses ran about reluctant to be bridled. And now as she faced the old house plainly visible in the moonlight, it seemed to her a monstrous spector. Her dread of entering it mounted with each step that brought her nearer to it. She was thankful that her kerosene lamp burned within, else she might not have the courage to enter. It was not the first time in Rachel Dougherty's life that she had known fear, but she had always seen to it that her actions would not betray it. With this thought to brace her, she entered the house and walked straight to her bedroom. There it was as she had left it. Comforted by the familiarity of the things about her, she began to dress hurriedly. No time was wasted in the choice of her apparel. Her underthings lay on the back of the chair, and there was but one choice of a dress, her black silk. She brought the lamp over to the dresser and combed the gray hair which hung in two long braids to her waist. Her clear blue eyes looked back at her from the mirror, and a small black sailor hat topped a face now faded, but bearing still the marks of beauty. From the wardrobe she took a long black coat. When she put it on, the warmth it afforded reassured her. Then without hesitation, she blew out the lamp and felt her way to the back door. Once in the yard, she could see the gleam of Juan's lantern, and she hastened her pace when she saw that he already had the horses hitched to the buggy.
Juan stood holding the reins as she appeared. Silently he handed them to her, saying as she climbed into the buggy, "Take care of everything, Juan." "Si, madama, " he answered obediently. "Adios," she said gravely, loosened the reins, and reached for the buggy whip. "Adios. Que le vaya bien, madama." Juan stood lantern in hand, watching her disappear into the darkness. Long after he could no longer see the buggy he could hear the thumping of hoofs and the grinding of wheels. He pictured her passing through the river bottoms where Chepita's ghost walks between the twin mesquites; he could see her going alone over Lookout Hill where the mysterious horseman gallops noiselessly down the road. A wave of fear set his heart to pounding. "Dios mio, it is a night for ghosts," he said aloud as he turned to go back into his jacal.
Phene Sullivan sat by the bed and at intervals stopped breathing herself as she watched for the inaudible breathing of her niece. Since twelve o'clock Ida had been sleeping peacefully---ominously so, Phene feared. The candlelit room revealed the pale features of a delicate girl of nineteen whose strength was spent in the violence of the spell that had seized her. The disconnected phrases uttered after the first paroxysm had passed ceased, and it was as if the physician, Sleep, had ministered to her his most soothing potion. The vigil had been hard, and Phene in her anxiety longed for Rach.
After the clock struck three, Phene Sullivan's tense fingers relaxed on her rosary, and her head began to nod with an overpowering need for sleep. She slumped in her slipper rocker, her shoulders bent with the care of others. Her small maiden form, wiry and alert when awake, seemed to have crumpled when sleep lifted the strain that lay upon it. Suddenly every muscle in her body again became taut. She had been awakened by the pounding and rattling of a team and buggy. Glancing anxiously at Ida, she stepped to the window, hunched forward, cupped her hands over her temples to shut out the gleam of the candle in the room, and peered into the night. The moon hanging low in the west was the lamp by which she saw a buggy draw up to the hitching post. She could see the small figure of a woman step from it and fasten the horses to the post. "Glory be to God," she breathed, "if it isn't Rach." Her heart beat wildly within her as she tiptoed downstairs to the front door. "Rack," she whispered, "I knew you would come."
The widow Dougherty held her trembling sister close. "What has happened, Phene? Is it Ida?" "Yes. She's had her worst spell. I don't know what to do. She's sleeping now. O Rach, I'm glad you're here. I knew you were coming." A silence fell between them, as if each waited for the other to begin. "How did you know, Phene?" Rach's voice was insistent. "Let's sit here in the hall, Rach. We musn't wake Ida, but I've got to tell you. It was so strange, this thing that happened at midnight. " he paused, as if reluctant to start.
"What is it, Phene?" "Well, it was twelve o'clock. Ida was restless and spent. I was' standing by her bed when suddenly I heard a voice---your voice-cry "Mill! Mill!" It seemed to come from the foot of the stairs." She pointed to the spot, then grasped Rach's hand for comfort, but finding it colder than her own, quickly released it and went on, "For Ida's sake I tried not to appear startled nor afraid, but as I walked toward the hall door, Ida sat up in bed and said, "I heard Aunt Rachel, calling mother." Then she fell back on her pillows. After that she mumbled a few words---and went into a peaceful sleep. Could it be that this strange thing brought her release from the suffering which is usually the aftermath of her attacks? What do you think? Rach, do you believe we could have heard your voice?"
"Yes, Phene. Such things do happen," she declared convincingly, "Or how should I have known to come to you tonight?" "How did you know?" she asked in amazement, "I might have known that something prompted you to come, or you would not have ridden alone in the dead of night." "At twelve I heard Mill's voice say, 'Phene is in trouble. She needs you.'Mill-Mill-' I called, but there was no answer." "My God, Rach, that is what we heard you say," Phene interrupted.
There was a moment of silence and the clock struck four. The widow Dougherty went on, "If you had asked me yesterday whether I believed in spirits visiting the living, I would have told you that it was nonsense, imagination, that all the stories we've heard of ghosts since we came to Texas are only tales concocted by the superstitious Irish folk of San Patricio; but tonight as I drove through the river bottoms and past Lookout Hill, I didn't look to the right nor to the left. I didn't want to see Chepita nor the horseman, and I felt that if I but looked about me I might see them. I am convinced that these ghosts appear for a reason---The Green Lady, Las Tres Mujercitar, and all the others. "
"It's strange, Rach, to hear you talk like this. " A silence fell and she added, "I've always believed them." The two sisters started when they heard a plaintive voice call, "Aunt Rachel-Aunt Rachel." The widow Dougherty rose and stepped lightly up the stairs to the bedroom door. The room bore an atmosphere of comfort with its lace curtains, its flowered carpeting, and its marble-top pieces. And yet, there was something about it that stifled her as she entered. She thought of the room she had left at home, bare though it was by comparison, and she would not have traded it for this. "Could it be," she thought, "that the suffering which had been endured in this room had attached itself to the walls?" The massive Victorian bed in which the girl lay emphasized the smallness of her wasted body. Her hands were pale and lifeless on the counterpane, and straight yellow hair hung in braids from the pillow. Large gray eyes which dwarfed the test of her classic features seemed to be staring expressionlessly at the wall.
As the widow approached the bedside of her niece and clasped the thin fingers of her hands, Ida turned her eyes on her aunt, and the shadow of a smile hovered over her lips. "Aunt Rachel, you've come?" she whispered. Her aunt checked the emotion that rose within her and answered pleasantly, "Yes, dear, the old place is lonely with all the children gone. I thought I would visit you and Phene." "I'm glad you've come." Her voice seemed stronger. "I've had a dream---a nice one. I tried to keep from waking so it would last. Sit down on the bed, Aunt Rachel." The widow could feel a slight pressure of the hand as Ida began to recount her dream in reminiscent tones. "I was at your house again---a small child. The wild china tree was in bloom, and its tiny white blossoms were falling on me as I played in the swing under it. I wished to make a shower of blossoms: So I climbed up it and shook the branches. Not satisfied, I went higher and higher. I was happy and free as I looked out over the cedar trees and the lake. I could see you and mother picking wild grapes from the vine that covers the anaqua tree. Your tubs were overflowing with the big purple balls. I called to you to look. As I did, I fell. You screamed and ran to me. The look on your face frightened me for a moment. You were pale and trembling. 'Mill-Mill,' you cried. Mother came: And when I saw her, I was no longer afraid. There was a smile on her face as she took me into her arms. She carried me into the house and soothed my bruises. Then she rocked me in grandma's rocker and sang the most beautiful songs---"
The widow Dougherty did not move, but forced a smile and put in calmly, "It was a nice dream, my dear." She hoped that the girl would not continue. She seemed tired from the exertion of talking, but Ida pressed her hand to indicate that she was not yet through. "Maybe I dreamed it because I would like to go back to your` house and live those days over again, or maybe-" "Yes, Ida, I want you to come back when you get stronger," her aunt quickly interrupted, fearing that she might interpret the dream as she herself had. Ida looked about her as if the spell cast by her story had receded. The animation with which she had told it faded, and her large sorrowful eyes looked beseechingly at her aunt. "No, I'll never go back while there's life in me. But I want to lie in the parlor by this window, where the strong arms of the wild china tree can spread above me. I want all our old Irish friends to come. My wake must be like the ones you took me to in San Patricio where people spend the night talking and telling old tales. Let the coffee pots be put on, and the pound cakes be made. Let them pray over me, but don't let them be too sad. I'm leaving pain behind." Then she added in a whisper, "And going to my mother."
"But my dear girl, the doctor says we must take you to Galveston, and there you will be made well again." The widow could feel the tips of her niece's fingers grow cold, but Ida said, "That's why I wanted you to come. Don't let them take me." Ida sank deeper into her pillow. Her eyes closed with exhaustion. The widow Dougherty rose to summon her sister, but Phene was standing in the door. Their eyes met with instant understanding. Phene could not restrain her tears, but quietly took up her vigil in the slipper rocker near Ida's bed. The room was oppressively silent. -Before the new day dawned Death came with padded feet and retreated. The widow Dougherty, her eyes glassy with unshed tears, was the first to break the death-filled silence, "You heard what she asked of me?"
Phene bowed her head in affirmation, "She always loved your old place, Rach." "She shall come. It is the last thing I can do for her." The widow Dougherty reached for the sheet to draw it over the lifeless features of Millie's daughter. An innocent soul had slipped into another world, but her body lay like a statue of Saint Agnes in the great Victorian bed.
From San Patricio de Hibernia: The Forgotten Colony by Rachel Bluntzer Hebert (Eakin Press, 1981)
Long before tall, angular Harry Timon brought his young bride, Millie Sullivan, to live in the low-flung ranch house formerly owned by John Whitehead, this Texas ranch was destined by a trick of nature to be known as The Bayou. It had taken centuries of flooding rains to cut the deep gash which had laid open the earth so that a stream could drain off some of the overflow of the Nueces River. This was the ranch's claim to distinction. Like others it was shaded by the pale green lace of an occasional mesquite and dotted by scattered prickly pear; the same intoxicating fragrance of the yellow huisache blossoms permeated the air in the spring; the same awesome hush of twilight lifted the human heart. Yet there was something besides the Bayou that set it apart. It was as if, when twilight crept in and darkness fell, it was clutched in a spell of expectancy which communicated itself to the trespasser.
This is what Millie felt when she first came there to live. Often at dusk that feeling became so overwhelming that it brought on an uneasiness at being there alone. But as time passed, she became more accustomed to her isolation caused by the inevitable days and nights of a cattleman's absences. But in the five years that she had lived on the Bayou Ranch, she never attained complete unawareness of the eerie atmosphere which pervaded the old ranch house and its surroundings. However, she neither questioned it nor wondered at its meaning. She had come to accept it as a part of her life as she had her three children.
Perhaps her acceptance of so strange a feeling was because of her spiritual leanings. Her convent-bred mother, devout and prayerful, had schooled her in the belief that the souls of the dead are neater than we dream. They are dependent on our prayers-seeking, ever seeking the intercession for them by those on earth. So Millie grew up taking upon herself her share of the burden of these hapless souls, and prayers for them she considered her daily duty. It was the 2nd of November 1909. A norther had chilled the early evening air. By nightfall it was cold enough for a fire in the bedroom fireplace. Now she watched the flames leap up the chimney. Harry had gone to market some cattle and had not yet returned, but the possibility that he might comforted her. Still she decided not to wait for him.
Upon entering the bedroom by the front hall, the first object to attract the eye was the mantel with its striking clock. In the lefthand corner of the room near her high-backed Victorian bed was a bed in which her two small daughters lay soundly sleeping. She walked over to them and drew the woolen blanket to their shoulders. Then with deliberate movements she undressed and put on her long sleeved, white night dress. She turned to the marble-top table where the kerosene lamp burned, to reach for her prayer book. Kneeling down by the bed, she suddenly remembered that it was All Soul's Day. She turned to the "Prayer for the Souls" and read it twice over. Finally, she rose. Lowering the wick of the lamp, she held her hand as if to shade the chimney. With one puff of her breath, the flame was extinguished. After she had climbed into bed and stretched out, the thought came to her, "I'd better stay awake till the fire burns down. It may spit a live coal beyond the hearth." It was their custom to watch the logs turn to embers ready to be covered with ashes for tomorrow's fire. Tonight she would watch the fire burn down from her bed.
As she lay there with the firelight playing upon the furniture and with only an occasional crackle of the burning mesquite logs to intrude upon her thoughts, her eyes strayed to the dimly lighted board walls. Their bareness was relieved only by some family pictures. She did not need the light to discern the faces looking at her from their deep shadow-frames. She was as familiar with them as she was with the image of her own face in the mirror. On the wall opposite her bed were two low-sashed windows. On the space between these windows, hung the picture of her father, Joseph Sullivan. She could see in her mind's eye the piercing gray eyes, the chiseled features, characteristics of the Sullivan clan of San Patricio. Millie knew she was not his pet. Annette, the beauty of the family, was his unquestioned favorite. She could see his impatient eye, his low threshold of irritability. Millie was possessed of a quiet, simple, inward beauty that he could not see, though it shone in her face. She never ceased to pray for him because there had seemed to be something gnawing at his soul, else why would he have taken his own life? He had been left with his Dutch grandfather in New Jersey when he was seven and did not see his family in Texas until after the Civil War. He had been a Union volunteer, was wounded at Bloody Angle in the Battle of Spottsylvania, and he was proud of it. He did not feel that he belonged in this nest of ex-Confederates. The war on the battlefields had ended, but feelings still ran high among the veterans of San Patricio.
On the other side of the window in the corner of the room hung the likeness of her mother, Theresa Holly. Born in Austria, orphaned by the death of her father and mother by yellow fever upon their arrival at the port of Galveston, Texas, she was reared in the Ursuline Convent there. Theresa Holly Sullivan still lived in the old Sullivan house at Round Lake. Over the mantel on either side of the mantel clock, two large pictures of Harry's father and mother dominated the room. Ellen Keating and John Timon were true pioneers. She had been his helpmate through the years. He, having come under the auspices of his uncle, Empresario James McGloin (Uncle Jimmy), at the age of fourteen, had amassed by his own efforts a fortune in lands. Much later he was slain by an unknown assassin in his house on Mesquite Street in Corpus Christi. Tragedy had struck the Timon family, and the assassin was never apprehended, nor the exact manner of his murder known.
On one side of these large pictures was a picture of Walter, the youngest son (of Ellen and John Timon) whose twin had died in infancy; and on the other side was a picture of Ambrose, nicknamed "Ammy," their son of twenty-six, educated, sensitive, who had lapsed into a state of depression. Once when lying on the bed, he saw a gun half hidden by the dresser opposite him. He was obsessed with the idea that it was the only "way out" of this melancholy state. So with it he ended his life. Millie would always pray for the soul of Ammy, for both she and his family felt a great sadness over his death.
While Millie thought of these people, some living, and some dead, the fire gradually began to smolder. She heard the far-off yelping of the coyote and the bark of the dog in defiant answer. In spite of the drowsiness that had come over her, sleep seemed to be playing hide-and-seek. She tried lying quietly with closed eyelids thinking perhaps she had strained her eyes looking so intently at the pictures in the semi-darkness. There was complete silence now. The coyote and the dog had ceased their exchange of hostilities; the fire no longer crackled; even the ticking of the mantel clock seemed suspended. She opened her eyes. The first thing that met her gaze was a hand which hung in the path of her vision. She saw it clearly in spite of the increasing darkness. She set her vision higher, and she could discern the blurred figure of a man, tall and angular, facing the mantel clock as if he had come to see the time. Although she strained for a better look at him, there was not enough light left from the fire for recognition. If she had dared, she could have sat up, leaned toward the foot of the bed, and reached out to touch him. But something held her back. She lay there in a state of complete paralysis.
Now the mantel clock ticked with its accustomed regularity. With measured strokes it struck twelve. The realization that there was anything unnatural or strange about what she had seen had not burst upon her consciousness. Her mind was desperately trying to cling to the commonplace and the real. Struggling against the impact of what she had beheld, she thought, "The hand resembles Harry's." Holding to the thought that it was his hand, she called out in a hoarse whisper, "Harry!" But the figure stood motionless. "Harry!" she cried again more urgently. The realization took hold. Harry is gone. It is not Harry. Her heart beat wildly. Her head had been propped up on her pillow. Automatically, it slid down, and the comforter, as if by its own volition, climbed to her neck. She lay there, her throat too constricted to scream, every muscle of her body as taut as a violin string. She started with unblinking eyelids, unable to turn her head from this man who stood in the center of the room facing the mantel clock. Suddenly, she saw a band of flames, small in the beginning, encircle his waist. She continued to stare, frightened, but fascinated. The flames increased in height until they licked his shoulders. Instinctively, she breathed, "Lord, have mercy on his soul!" She felt a sense of power rise up in her. The flames began to lower until they were no longer visible. And as they disappeared, so did the figure. The only accompaniment to his disappearance was the flutter of wings at the window.
For the short period in which the image of the man had been visible, Millie's awareness had been heightened by the challenge of fear, and her senses made keen and alert by the thought of danger. But now with the object of her attention gone, she lay there dazed in mind and spent in body. She could not collect her thoughts to the point of trying to figure out or explain what she had just seen. Mechanically, she reached for her rosary. Deserted by sleep, she lay there---she did not know how long-yet all the time whispering a continual succession of Aves. Slowly she began to relax. Then the words from the Maccabees, "It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from their sins," dropped like manna upon her anxious mind. How strange! she mused, that she had always taken these words for granted. She had never doubted their truth, but now they had become a living, vibrant reality. They had been sown in the soil of her mind as so many seeds, and now they had germinated. She hoped that they would always live and grow and bear the fruit of prayer for the dead. She would pray for this soul-always.
The first cock crowed. As dawn burst over the Bayou Ranch, a dawning peace began to settle over Millie's spirit. The eerie atmosphere that had haunted her these five years, she knew, had lifted. It was replaced by an air of heart-lifting contentment. She felt like singing, even as Pippa did, "God's in His Heaven, All's right with the world."
[NOTE: This story was told to the author (Rachel Hebert) by her cousin, Millie Sullivan Timon. She said that the same apparition had been seen by County Judge Walter Timon at the house of his father on Mesquite Street in Corpus Christi. It is said that Mrs. Mary Dunn Magown saw the same ghost at the Bayou Ranch when she came once to stay with the Timon children when Millie and Harry were away. The Bayou Ranch was sold to Roy Jackson of Corpus Christi, and the house later burned down]
From San Patricio de Hibernia: The Forgotten Colony by Rachel Bluntzer Hebert (Eakin Press, 1981)
OF DEWITT COLONY TEXAS