Word Count 1,546
Note: This story was inspired by the October 2005 list of holidays and observances. It was originally posted to the Yahoo Lancer groups on October 18 of that year. I made some revisions in October of 2014 before adding it to the files for the Lancer FanFiction group on Facebook. The superstition I refer to is purely the creation of my imagination. I was unable to find anything that stated the reason this particular observance was ever started.
The single word assaulted Johnny Lancer’s ears like the clang of a hammer beating on an anvil. He grinned. Teresa had best give up trying to sweet-talk Jelly into shaving his beard. Hell would freeze over first.
Teresa O’Brien continued to plead her cause. “But Jelly–“
Jelly Hoskins shook free of the small hand clasped around his arm. “Them calf eyes won’t do you no good neither.”
“I said no, and nothin’s gunna change my mind.” Jelly folded his arms across his chest.
Teresa’s doe-eyes begged for help. Johnny shook his head as he stepped back with both hands raised, palms out. “Leave me out of this.”
“Nope.” Walking backwards, Johnny pointed as he spoke. “This is between you and Jelly.” Then he whirled and left the courtyard. There was no way he was going to be wheedled into helping Teresa get Jelly to give in.
Johnny hurried to the barn, flung open the door, and barged inside. He nearly collided with his brother.
Scott Lancer grabbed Johnny’s arm. “What’s the rush?”
“You headed to the house?”
“I wouldn’t if I was you.”
Scott’s brows lifted. “Why not?”
“T’resa’s still tryin’ to talk Jelly into shavin’ his beard.”
“Is that what you’re running from?”
Johnny nodded. “You know T’resa once she gets somethin’ in her head. She’d bound and determined everyone on this ranch is gunna observe No Beard Day.”
Scott chuckled. “She does have a stubborn streak at that.”
The deep, familiar voice sounded out of breath. Johnny turned to face his father. At the sight of Murdoch’s heaving chest, he couldn’t help smirking. “Looks like you just came from the house, too.”
“And if I did?” Murdoch Lancer sounded defensive.
Johnny tipped his head and toed the dirt. “Oh . . . nothin’. I, uh, take it Teresa hasn’t convinced Jelly to part with his beard, yet.” He fiddled with one of the concho buttons on his pants as he met his father’s gaze once more.
Murdoch shook his head. “No, she hasn’t.”
“Why’s she so set on Jelly shavin’ anyway?” Johnny couldn’t see any reason for Teresa being so persistent. She had never complained about Jelly’s beard before.
Murdoch let out a long sigh. “It’s an old Irish custom of her daddy’s. Every year on the eighteenth of October, he would shave off his beard. He said the custom began years ago in the old country. According to a legend that was passed down for generations in his family, all of the men had to be clean-shaven two weeks before All Saint’s Day or the household would face famine the following year.”
Scott crossed his arms. “Teresa’s father didn’t actually believe that, did he?”
Again Murdoch shook his head. “With Paul, it wasn’t so much about believing in superstitions as it was in following the traditions of his ancestors.”
Johnny chewed at his lip as an idea sprouted and grew. “I’m surprised Teresa hasn’t used that angle on Jelly. He’d shave in minute if he thought he’d bring disaster down on us.”
Murdoch swiped a hand across his upturned lips. “He would indeed.”
All three men laughed. A short while later, they ended their discussion and went about their business for the day.
Johnny and Scott rode out to the south range to check on fences. They didn’t get home until nearly suppertime. Jelly was nowhere in sight when they arrived at the corral. Johnny wondered if the old man was hiding out, but he kept his thoughts to himself until after his horse was cared for.
The Lancer brothers stopped at the water pump that was out front of the house and washed off what they could of the day’s collection of dust and grime. When they were done, Johnny grabbed the towel Scott tossed him. “Ya don’t suppose T’resa won him over, do ya?”
“Won who over?” Scott’s voice pitched upward like it had that day more than a year ago in Morro Coyo when they had first learned they were brothers.
Johnny mumbled Jelly’s name into the towel.
Scott drew in a long breath. “I wouldn’t bet my life on it. Jelly’s pretty proud of that beard. He’s not going to be easily swayed into parting with it.”
“Yeah.” Johnny laid the towel beside the wash basin and grinned. “Ol’ Jelly’s probably in his room right now fussin’ over it.”
The brothers shared another laugh and went on to the house. As they walked into the entry hall, Teresa greeted them from the arched doorway of the main parlor. “Good. You’re back. Supper’s all ready. I’ll let Maria know you’re here and go call Jelly.”
Teresa was gone before either brother could speak.
Johnny called out as she went out of site. “Nice to see you too, T’resa.” He laughed again and swatted Scott on the arm. “Come on, brother. I’m hungry. We don’t want the food ta get cold on our account. It don’t pay to rile the cooks . . . especially Maria.”
A short while later, after a quick change of clothes, Johnny settled onto the chair next to Teresa and across from Scott at the long dining table, which occupied the space in front of the bookshelves along one wall of the oversized parlor. Murdoch was seated in his normal place at the head of the table. The chair beside Scott was still empty.
Johnny reached for a biscuit. “Where’s Jelly?”
Teresa moved the bread plate closer to Johnny. “I called him. He said he’d be here as soon as he finished cleaning up.”
Johnny grinned at Scott. “What’d I tell ya?”
There was no mistaking Jelly’s grumpy voice. Johnny looked toward the nearest French door, which now stood wide open. His jaw sagged, and he stared as Jelly closed the door , strutted over to the table, and sat next to Scott.
Jelly kept his head up while rubbing his chin. “It’s been itchin’ me, lately. Doc told me a while back I should get rid of it for a few days. Let whatever’s got it irritated heal up.”
“Did I say anything? Did I?” Johnny tried to sound hurt but wasn’t sure he’d pulled it off.
“Didn’t have to.” Jelly’s chin lifted a little higher. “I got eyes . . . and they work right well, too. You can think whatever you want, but this had nothing to do with Teresa.”
“Of course it didn’t,” Murdoch said. “I had to do the same thing once.”
Jelly’s eyes widened. “You did?”
Teresa turned toward Murdoch, her chair letting out a tiny squeak. “When did you have a beard . . . and why’d you quit growing one?”
Murdoch’s finger went to one side of his nose, and Johnny watched it slowly slid down the crevice of the man’s cheek, around the corner of his mouth, and come to rest over the dimple in his chin.
“It was a long time ago.” Murdoch paused and coughed. His hand then came to rest on the edge of the table. “Like I said, I had to shave it off. By the time my face healed, I had become accustomed to being without it. I tried to grow it back once, but it itched so bad that I gave up.”
“See?” Jelly’s chest rose. “Ain’t nothin’ unusual about a man havin’ to shave off his beard on account of his doctor’s orders.”
Johnny propped an elbow on the table and covered the grin he couldn’t stop from spreading across his face. “Never said it was. I knew it had to be something like that. I was just tellin’ Scott you’d never shave it off on account of some silly old superstition.” He looked over at his brother. “Didn’t I, Scott?”
Scott nodded. “That’s right, Jelly. He did.”
“What silly old superstition?” Teresa scowled at Johnny as she spoke.
Johnny ducked his head and went about buttering his biscuit.
Murdoch cleared his throat. “I’m sure Johnny didn’t mean anything specific. He was . . .”
When Murdoch faltered, Scott quickly came up with an explanation that made no sense to Johnny. Teresa seemed satisfied, though, and that was all that mattered. Her father’s tradition had lived on, and not a beard remained on the Lancer ranch.
Johnny smiled down at his plate. If there was anything to that legend, eighteen seventy-two should be a good year. He immediately scolded himself for even thinking there could be anything to it and went to filling his plate. As Scott would say, a man’s beard, or lack thereof, couldn’t possibly guarantee the success or failure of his crops. That was left to fate . . . unless God chose to intervene. Wasn’t it?
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