Dancing at Whitsun
Title: Dancing at Whitsun, 885 words
Author: Michael Wombat
The fiddlers outside the pub struck up “The Nutting Girl”. Gordon bowed, and drew her into a lively stepping dance. Her new white linen dress flowed about her nimble ankles, the green ribbons in her dark hair dancing a lively jig of their own as the couple whirled in happy enjoyment across the village green. As the tune ended, the other couples clapped and laughed, but Gordon took her hands in his and bent to kiss her gently.
“Marry me?” he whispered.
“Yes, oh yes,” said Jeannie eyes moistening. “I’ll always be yours. You have my heart forever, you know that.”
“I know…” he said, hesitantly, “I know too that my unit leaves tomorrow. I have to go. But I will return.” He squeezed her hands, his grey eyes full of promise. “Nothing can stop me being with you. I will return, and we will be married next Whitsun, if you think it not too long a wait?”
“We first met last Whitsuntide,” she smiled “Our special time. Oh, that will be perfect!” She flung her arms around his neck and kissed him full on the lips. The crowd of villagers around them burst into spontaneous applause.
Twenty yards away Mrs. Bickerdike and Mrs. Lowry leaned on the latter’s garden fence, looking out onto the village green, which held a lone figure. They watched Jeannie as she clasped her hands together in delight and nodded joyfully, gazing up at nothing with a huge smile on her wrinkled face. Then, slowly, though there was no music, the old woman moved her feet, treading as gentle a measure as age would allow across the lush grass. Her bare feet were stained as green as the tattered ribbons threaded in her sparse white hair. Her gaunt arms encircled the thin air.
“What’s that old bint faffing about at?” asked Mrs. Lowry. “Is she a bit doolally?”
“Oh aye, you won’t know. This is your first Whitsun here, isn’t it?”
“It is. We flitted in ’90, and we were away in Filey the last couple of years. Why, what’s to do?”
“That there’s Nutting Jeannie,” Mrs. Bickerdike told her, adjusting her pinny across her ample bosom.
“She is nuts then?”
“Nay. Well, aye, happen, but that’s not where she gets that name. If you listen close when she dances you can hear her humming a tune – ‘The Nutting Girl’ it’s called. That’s why folk call her Nutting Jeannie.”
“Never heard of it.”
“Aye, well, it’s an old tune. Sithee, fifty year back there were allus a Whitsun dance on the green. Girls’d get dressed pretty, be-ribbon their hair, and dance with their beaux. Came the war, and all the young men went off to be wasted in battle – husbands and brothers and fathers and sons. And fiancés.”
“Aye, Jeannie’s young man. Their last day together was the Whitsun Dance in 1942, just afore the last few village men went off to do their duty. Her young man – Gideon, I think – announced their engagement in The Royal Oak that evening. Next day he went off and were blown to smithereens in France.”
“Chuffing hell, the poor bugger.”
“Aye. It devastated Jeannie, of course. And you know, she never looked at another man. Oh, her parents tried to get her interested from time to time, but she’d have none of it. She’d given her heart to Gideon, and no bugger else was worthy of it.”
“Poor cow,” decided Mrs. Lowry.
“Aye. Anyroad, every Whitsun since that she’s put that ragged white dress on and danced on the green. Rain or shine, she’ll be there, dancing with her invisible lover. Still doing it now, see? Still waiting for her man to come home again.”
“Definitely doolally, then. Lost her marbles.”
“Mebbe so, but don’t you think it’s dead romantic? Staying faithful to her one true love for half a century?”
“No, I bloody don’t.” Mrs. Lowry sniffed. “God knows how she’s managed all that time without a man to warm her nethers.”
“Aye, well, not everybody’s sex-mad like—oh my God!”
Jeannie had crumpled to the warm ground, and now lay awkwardly. A soft breeze tugged at the ragged hem of her dress, and one scrawny arm moved falteringly in the air.
Mrs. Bickerdike and Mrs. Lowry ran across to her and knelt at her side.
“Jeannie, love, are you alright?”
The old woman looked up at Mrs. Bickerdike, a worried expression on her face.
“Where’s Gordon?” she creaked, her voice like sandpaper on skin.
“I don’t know a Gordon, love.”
“He’ll come,” Jeannie sighed, barely audible now. “He promised. He’ll…”
The wrinkled old lips emitted a gasp, and a horrible rattle. A light left her rheumy eyes, and they stared blankly up at the scudding clouds.
Mrs. Bickerdike gently lowered Jeannie’s eyelids so that the dead eyes were covered.
“She’s gone,” she said, sadly.
Jeannie ignored her. She did not care. She and Gordon were strolling hand-in-hand in Spring sunshine through groves of white blossom, by fields of young corn, to the forest of oak trees at the end of the lane.