Author: The Yankee Countess PM
The Bransons are visiting Downton and it's All Hallows Eve; their daughter wants to share one of the favorite traditions with the entire household. Fun and sweet Branson family fluff, featuring a majority of the Downton cast. Happy Halloween!Rated: Fiction K - English - Family/Romance - Sybil C. & T. Branson - Words: 4,207 - Reviews: 13 - Favs: 17 - Follows: 1 - Published: 10-31-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8660032
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HAPPY HALLOWEEN! So I really wanted to write something sweet and fluffy featuring the Branson's, and because so many of our Halloween traditions (here in the US) come from Ireland, I really wanted to have a piece that reflected that, so here it is! A little Halloween/Irish folklore, most of which I got from a children's book on the "History of Halloween" and from Wikipedia. Also, I wrote this "assuming" that Halloween festivities weren't a big thing in Britain, at least not at the time, and that pumpkins were still new as well; I know that people grow them there now, but they are native to North America, so I decided to pretend that not a lot of English households used pumpkin. If I am historically inaccurate, I apologize!
This story, in some respects, is a "sequel" to my fic Father of the Bride, meaning that it belongs in that universe. At the end of that fic, we meet the Branson's first-born child, and learn that Sybil is nine months pregnant with her second child. I always imagined that story ending in the late summer months, so this story picks up about one to two months where that one ended (in 1925). Reading Father of the Bride isn't necessary to read/enjoy this story, but by all means, if you wish to, give it a read :o)
Please leave a comment and share with me your thoughts! Hope you enjoy, and Happy "Great Pumpkin" Day!
By The Yankee Countess
October 31, 1925
Katie Branson was bouncing around, impatiently waiting for her father to get down to the kitchens, eager to get started on the present her great-grandmama had brought all the way from America. She wasn't alone in the Servant's Hall; standing around her were people whom she saw as extended uncles and aunties, including her Auntie Anna and Uncle John, who didn't live at the big house anymore, but recently bought an inn in the village of Ripon, where they served as innkeepers. Auntie Anna was sitting in a chair, sipping a cup of tea, her hand trailing over her swollen belly, the same kind of belly Katie remembered her mother having not so long ago.
"Where's Da?" Katie groaned again, peering past the Servant's Hall entryway, before rushing back to the table, as if she were afraid her present would get up and walk away. "The sun has almost set! It will be dark soon!"
"Calm down child," Mrs. Hughes laughed, trying to tame the little girl, which was a Herculean feat in its own right. "He's probably just upstairs, helping your mummy, but he'll be down here soon."
Katie only groaned again, but tried to not let herself fall prey to a tantrum. She remembered how her great-granny Violet once explained to her, in a very firm voice, that tantrums, even for little ladies, were most "unbecoming".
She loved coming to England to visit her Grandmama and Grandpapa. She had been born in England, and even though she was too young to remember it, had lived for almost two years there, until it was alright for her and her parents to return to Ireland. She was told that everyone at her grandparent's house, Downton Abbey, had become very "attached" to her, and therefore her parents tried to make sure they could visit at least once a year. Normally those visits were in the spring or summer, and once they came for Christmas. But this was the first time they were here in the autumn…which meant it was the first All Hallows Eve she was away from her Nan.
Just as Katie loved her Grandmama and Grandpapa and all her family in England, she also loved her Nan and aunts and uncles in Ireland. Nan would look after her while Mummy worked at the hospital and her Da worked at his newspaper office. Nan would give her sweets and tell her stories, stories about faeries and leprechauns and other magical creatures. And sometimes…her Nan would tell her stories about ghouls and ghosties and long-legged beasties! Katie would tremble in her Nan's arms as she acted out the stories by using her hands and creating shadows on the wall. Katie would sit on her Nan's lap, and watch transfixed, as her fingers told these stories, and even though they were spooky and sent a shiver down her spine, Katie was never afraid when her Nan held her close. She especially loved the story of "Stingy Jack", one that her Nan would always save for All Hallows Eve.
But this year, they were to spend the holiday at Downton, and Katie couldn't deny to her Da when he saw her sulking face just before they made the trip, that she was worried All Hallows Eve would more or less be ruined, because of this change.
Enter Great-Grandmama Martha! Great-grandmama always sent her postcards from America, at least once a month, and kept telling her that when she was older, Katie could come and visit and see all those places on those postcards. Katie would also practice her writing to great-grandmama, and told her in her last letter, how much she loved Ireland in the autumn. She even went on to say what she and her Nan would do for All Hallows Eve! So, it was a great surprise when great-grandmama had arrived, carrying something large and round and orange in her hands…
"What is it?" murmured one of the kitchen maids, as she gazed at the round orange object sitting atop the table in the Servant's Hall.
"It's a pumpkin, you daft girl!" Mrs. Patmore groaned.
The kitchen maid, named Ivy, seemed to take a little offense at this. "Well I've never seen one before."
"It's a kind of squash," Auntie Anna clarified. "They come from America, but some of the farmers are starting to plant them here, now."
"Great-Grandmama says they use them instead of turnips for carving jack-o-lanterns!" Katie grinned.
Now it was Mrs. Patmore's turn to look confused. "A what?"
As if on cue, her great-grandmama swept into the Servant's Hall, cloaked in her finery, diamonds and all. "Ah! There she is!" her great-grandmama announced, smiling down at Katie who couldn't help but giggle. She liked her great-grandmama; she was very…sassy (at least that was the word she had heard her Da and Mummy use).
Following her great-grandmama were her grandfather, Uncle Matthew, and of course, "DA!" she cried, rushing to his arms, and giggling as he swept her up off the ground and gave her a big kiss on the cheek. "What kept you? I've been waiting and waiting and waiting!" she groaned in a rather over-dramatic fashion, one that she had heard her Uncle Matthew refer to as her "impression of Aunt Mary".
"I know, I'm sorry love," her father apologized, before glancing around at the other servants. "Have you been a good girl?"
"A little…rambunctious, perhaps..." Mr. Carson murmured from the corner where he stood. Mrs. Hughes turned and gave him a look, to which he quickly added, "but she is five, of course."
Katie nibbled her bottom lip and met Mr. Carson's gaze. He was a bit grumpy, the butler at Downton Abbey. But then he would sometimes sneak her a secret smile, one that she felt he only shared with her, and just now as she caught his eye, he gave her a little wink, to which she couldn't help but giggle.
"Well, come on! Let's get this party started!" her great-grandmama hollered in her rather loud, brash voice. Normally this would be the time when her grandfather would mutter "Americans" under his breath.
"Beggin' your pardon, but…what will you do with it?" Ivy dared to ask, her curiosity winning out over whether or not she should speak before being spoken to.
Great-Grandmama Martha didn't seem to mind the question, despite the frowns from Mr. Carson, Mrs. Hughes, and Mrs. Patmore. "Well, I think that's best left to Little Miss Katie," she grinned, and Katie giggled but nodded her head.
"Good idea," her father smiled, still holding her. He took a chair near the table where the bright orange pumpkin sat, and settled Katie on his lap so she was facing the rest of them. "Why don't you tell everyone the story that your Nan told you about 'Stingy Jack'."
"Me?" Katie gasped.
"Go on," her father encouraged. "Surely you know it by heart, now."
Katie nibbled her lip a little nervously and looked around the room. They all wore kind expressions and some of them even looked eager to hear the tale. "Alright," she began and took a deep breath.
"Once upon a time, there was a man named Stingy Jack. He was called this because he was a trickster, a liar, a thief, and he also drank quite a bit…kind of like Uncle Kieran—"
"Katie," her father warned.
A small snicker of laughter could be heard from where her grandfather and Uncle Matthew stood.
"Sorry," she whispered, and then quickly continued before she could get into any more trouble. "So one night, Jack was in a pub, bragging about all the bad things he had done to whoever would listen. Little did he know, that sitting amongst the listeners was…the Devil himself!"
A soft gasp went up from the crowd. Katie thought she overheard her grandfather murmur to her Uncle Matthew, "is this story really appropriate for a child?"
"Is it any more appropriate than Grimm's fairy tales?" her uncle countered.
"Good gracious," Mrs. Patmore murmured. "Well, I can only guess what's going to happen to our fine 'hero'," she muttered.
"The Devil wasn't sure if Jack was really as bad as he claimed, or if it was all a load of poppycock!" Katie continued. "So the Devil decided to follow Jack…and see if the stories were true!"
"Blimy," Ivy gasped.
"It didn't take long for Jack to realize he was being followed. When the Devil revealed himself, Jack knew his life was at an end! So he fell to his knees and begged the Devil one last request before he was taken—to drink one last pint of ale."
"Good grief," her grandfather muttered in the background. "And the Irish wonder why we sometimes associate drinking with their lot."
"Go on, Katie," her father encouraged once again, after exchanging a somewhat sour expression with his father-in-law. "What happened when the Devil took Jack to a pub?"
Katie nodded her head and continued. "So Jack drank his pint of ale with great satisfaction, and then when time came to pay for the pint, Jack asked the Devil if he would settle his tab, by transforming into a silver coin."
"I think I'm going to like this story," murmured Mr. Barrow, her grandfather's valet to Miss O'Brien, her grandmother's lady's maid.
"It was all a trick, wasn't it?" Alfred, the very tall footman, asked.
"Wow, can't put anything past you, huh kiddo?" her great-grandmama joked, which earned a bit of a snicker from some of the other servants.
"Jack took the coin, and put it in his pocket! Also lying in his pocket was a crucifix!"
"Naturally," her grandfather sighed.
"So the Devil was trapped!" Ivy added.
Katie nodded her head. "That's right. The Devil couldn't transform back so long as the crucifix was there. So Jack struck a deal with the Devil—"
"Never a good sign," Mrs. Hughes sighed.
"Jack would release the Devil, in exchange for ten more years of life."
"Only ten?" Mr. Barrow asked. "I would have asked for an eternity."
"Why am I not surprised?" Mrs. Hughes muttered.
"Then what happened, Katie?" her father asked, hoping to keep everyone focused on the story.
"So ten years pass, and Jack sadly hasn't changed. He's still just as bad as the day when the Devil had found him. Now the Devil has returned, determined to take Jack this time. And once again, Jack asked for a last request."
"Well, I suppose it's a comfort to know that the Devil is no wiser," Mrs. Hughes muttered to Mr. Carson.
"What did Jack request this time, Katie?" her Uncle Matthew asked.
"An apple," Katie explained. "An apple to fill his belly. So the Devil took Jack to an apple tree, but Jack asked the Devil to climb it for him, since he had a bad leg."
"Sounds familiar," her Uncle John murmured to her Auntie Anna.
"What happened?" both Alfred and Ivy's voices simultaneously asked.
"While the Devil was up in the tree fetching the apple, Jack was planting crucifixes all over the ground, thus preventing the Devil of climbing back down!"
"Clever," Mr. Barrow murmured.
"Did Jack make another deal?" Alfred asked. "I hope it wasn't another ten years."
"No, this time Jack said he would remove the crucifixes and let the Devil go…if he promised to NEVER take his soul!"
"I'd say that's even better than eternal life," Mrs. Hughes muttered, her eyes catching those of Mr. Barrow's.
"So the Devil agreed, and Jack freed him from the tree. And the years passed, and Jack grew old. But he never changed, really. He was still a trickster, a liar, a thief, and a drunk—"
"What a charming moral tale for a five-year-old," her grandfather groaned.
"Just wait," her father whispered to him.
"The time came for Jack to die. Because the Devil couldn't take his soul, Jack went to heaven. But he was stopped short of entering by Saint Peter, who told him he couldn't come in due to his horrible lifestyle."
"Ah, see? There is a moral!" her Uncle Matthew grinned at her grandfather.
"Then what, Katie?" her grandfather asked.
"Well, since Jack couldn't enter heaven, there was only one other option. So he went to the gates of he—" she paused, and decided to change her words to avoid shocking her grandfather further. "To the gates of the Underworld," she continued, "And begged to be admitted in. But the Devil saw how he could take his revenge on Jack. So because of their deal, he denied him entry, BUT, he did offer this to Jack…to take an ember from the fires, and place it inside a hollowed turnip. He would carry this lantern and roam the Earth for all eternity. The Devil meant for Jack's lantern to be a guiding light for the spirits who were seeking the Underworld. But for Jack, the light was a warning; he would use it to ward off evil spirits, as well as warn all souls of what can happen, when you live a life like Stingy Jack's." With that, Katie ended her story with a small bow of her head, and everyone in the kitchen clapped.
"Well done, kiddo," her great-grandmama grinned. "My Irish nanny told me the same story, when I was a little girl."
"But…what does that have to do with the pumpkin?" Ivy asked.
"Why, it's to make our Jack-O-Lantern, of course!" Great-Grandmama Martha exclaimed.
"But…I thought the story said something about a turnip—"
"In Ireland we use turnips for jack-o-lanterns," her father explained. "But when immigrants traveled to North America, they began to use pumpkins instead."
"And this will be Katie's first pumpkin jack-o-lantern!" her great-grandmother grinned. "Courtesy of moi."
"So…how is it made?" Mrs. Patmore asked.
"I think I best be handling that part," her father grinned, putting Katie on the ground and rolling up his sleeves to his elbows. "Tell them what we'll need, love."
Katie nodded her head and turned to Mrs. Patmore. "May we please borrow a sharp knife and a large wooden spoon?"
Mrs. Patmore smiled at the child and told Ivy to fetch the requested items. As soon as the knife was in her father's hand, he immediately went to work, slicing it into the pumpkin's top, where the stem extended. He made a face as he tried to cut around the stem. "Lord, it's tougher than a turnip," he muttered through gritted teeth.
"Most American things are," great-grandmama said with what Katie had come to refer to as her "sassy" grin.
Finally, her father managed to finish cutting what she knew would be the opening for the jack-o-lantern. He gripped the stem, and with a grunt, managed to rip the top off…causing a great gasp as long, stringy pieces of pumpkin came with it, as well as large, light-yellow seeds.
"Ugh, that's disgusting!" Alfred grimaced at the sight.
"Do people actually eat these things?" Ivy gasped.
"Not these particular pumpkins, no," her great-grandmama explained. "But with a smaller one, you can make delicious foods—the pie is divine."
"Pumpkin pie?" Ivy gasped, looking to Mrs. Patmore to see if this was possible. Mrs. Patmore merely shrugged her shoulders. Katie was curious as to what pumpkin pie would taste like; she would have to remember that whenever she made her trip to America.
"This is much messier than I expected," her father muttered, trying to scoop out some of the pumpkin's stringy and seedy innards with the proffered wooden spoon.
Her great-grandmama sighed and rolled her eyes. "Here, let me," and before her father or anyone else could protest, let alone get a word in edge-wise, her great-grandmama had her rings off, her own sleeves rolled up, and had pushed her father out of the way, digging her own hands into the pumpkin and scooping the insides out…with her bare hands!
"Martha, is that necessary?" her grandfather gasped at the sight.
"Robert, haven't I always been telling you," she grunted as she threw down a heap of seeds onto the table. "That when you want something done right…send a woman to do it?"
Katie giggled and clapped her hands. Yes, she liked her American great-grandmother very much.
Even though there was a shared expression of disgust around the room, everyone was fascinated, watching her great-grandmama work. Within a matter of minutes, the pumpkin was magically hollowed out, and Ivy was pinching her nose just slightly, as she tried to remove the innards to the rubbish heap. "Hey missy, don't just throw that away! Go through it and remove the seeds; you can toast them!" Great-Grandmama Martha hollered at the kitchen maid. Ivy's face paled and she turned to Mrs. Patmore, her eyes practically pleading with her to not make her do such a task.
While the idea of toasted pumpkin seeds sounded interesting, Katie was more interested in watching her father pick up a smaller carving knife, and once again resume the place where he had sat earlier. "Now watch!" Katie practically commanded, grinning and taking both her grandfather's and Uncle Matthew's hands as she locked her eyes on her father's careful, steady fingers. Indeed, everyone leaned in closer to watch as her father began to carve two triangles on the pumpkin's side…and then began to carve out a large, jagged line. "Don't forget the nose, Da!"
He turned and smiled at her. "Circle or triangle?"
She rolled her eyes at her father's silly question. "Triangle of course."
He chuckled and then began to carve the triangle she had requested. Soon it became obvious to everyone what exactly it was that her father was doing. "It's a face!" Ivy gasped.
Katie grinned and nodded her head. "It's much bigger than the faces you've carved on the turnip jack-o-lanterns."
"That's right," her father murmured, adding the finishing touches with his knife. "And I must confess, this part was easier with a pumpkin."
"Thank you, great-grandmama!" Katie hollered, the volume of her voice imitating her great-grandmother perfectly. The woman smiled and nodded her head in thanks.
"Now the finishing touch," her father murmured, turning to Mrs. Hughes who already had the candle ready. He placed the candle carefully inside the pumpkin through the hollowed out top, and everyone gasped and stared as the light brought forth a somewhat eerie glow, from within the newly carved pumpkin. "Well Katie, what do you think?"
"Perfect!" Katie exclaimed, which earned an adored chuckle from the room, as well as a clap of hands. "Can we go show Mummy and the others?"
"Lead the way," her father replied, carefully picking up the jack-o-lantern and following his daughter as she excitedly ran up the stairs.
The nursery door was open, but Katie knew it was still polite to knock. She also knew she had to be careful when it came to making loud noises around the babies. Two women were seated in rocking chairs, one holding a tiny bundle, while the other bounced a growing boy on her knee. Another woman stood close by, and was the first to turn and greet her at the door.
"Hello darling!" her grandmother sweetly cooed, and Katie immediately went to give the loving woman with the American accent a hug. "I understand you've brought a present to share with us?"
She grinned and then turned to the two women. "Mummy, Auntie Mary, may I?"
Her mother smiled and nodded her head, as she carefully switched the tiny, sleepy bundle that was her new baby brother, from one arm to the other. Auntie Mary also smiled, but kept her hands firmly around her little cousin's middle; the boy had just recently learned how to walk, and he liked to get his fingers into everything.
A soft gasp filled the room as Katie stepped out of the way, letting her father move into the nursery holding the lit jack-o-lantern, and placing it carefully on the windowsill. "Oh Tom…" her mother gasped. "I think you've outdone yourself this year!"
He chuckled. "Thank your grandmother; she was the one who brought the pumpkin!"
"It's lovely!" Auntie Mary murmured, to which her little boy giggled in agreement. "Matthew, we may need to make this our own tradition."
Katie heard a groan escape her grandfather's lips, but her grandmother was there to squeeze his hand and shush him. Her Uncle Matthew looked a little wary at his wife's words. "I don't know if I have the same skills as my brother-in-law. And I can't imagine doing something like that on a turnip."
A collected chuckle went up around the room. "I want to show Auntie Edith and Great-Granny Violet!" Katie announced, her voice filled with excitement.
"Don't worry, they'll see it when they arrive for dinner," her grandfather reassured. Auntie Edith was married now, and lived in her own house with Uncle Anthony.
"Speaking of which…" her grandmother murmured. "It's time that we all get ready. Come along, Katie; let's let your baby brother get some sleep."
Katie sighed, but nodded her head, knowing her grandmother was right. She went over to the small bundle, and gave a sweet kiss to the top of his fuzzy head. "Sweet dreams little brother; and don't worry. Old Jack's light will keep you safe from the ghoulies and beasties that roam this night."
Her mother smiled and then carefully placed her brother, who had already dozed off, into his bassinette. Auntie Mary also placed her squirming boy, who was also beginning to grow sleepy, into his own crib, before moving to take her husband's offered arm. Katie took the hands of both her parents, and just before leaving the nursery, paused to take one last look at the smiling pumpkin's face. Yes, she missed her Nan, and her Irish uncles and aunties. She missed celebrating All Hallows Eve in Dublin. But she was glad to be here, amongst her loving English family (and its American members, too), and she was very happy that some traditions from home, were able to travel with her.
Now just because I know there may be some out there who are wondering-don't worry, there is a nanny/nurse in the nursery, so the babies aren't left alone with an unsupervised burning candle :oP
ALSO, in case you were wondering, in this universe, Edith and Sir Anthony did eventually get married (and she is having a successful career as a novelist) Daisy wasn't mentioned because she's living with her father-in-law, Mr. Mason, and learning all about running a farm, and Jimmy...he's just not there. But the point is EVERYONE IS HAPPY (except maybe Violet, who has to put up with Martha visiting) ;o)
THANKS FOR READING! PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT! :oD