Friday, December 21, 2012

More waaaaay backstory about Mal's parents and life on Shadow. Square Dance.


Light and Shadow, Part 2

Square Dance

* * *

It wasn’t until the Harvest Fair that he actually had a chance to speak with the new teacher. Like most ranchers, Dean spent much of the Harvest Fair doing business. A number of his prime Shadow Angus cattle were on exhibit, and between attending the bull calf judging event (one of his bull calves was awarded the blue ribbon on account of his excellent conformation, which pleased Dean to no end), auctioning off some of his two-year-old steers, arranging the sale of a freemartin, bidding on a new bull, and generally glad-handing all and sundry, Dean was plum tuckered out. Although he’d brought along a change of clothing, he considered calling it a night and skipping the Harvest Dance altogether. But that was before he overheard Miss Eugenia Weirleigh-Wigglesworth (why did the woman have to have such a gorra—dawg-gone nine-syllable name?) telling Penny Hwong that she was sure lookin’ forward to going to the dance that evening.

A minute later, Dean had slipped into one of the back stalls of the Heifer Barn to change into his glad-rags, and was giving himself a fresh shave.

* * *

Soon as he heard the sound of the fiddles, his tiredness evaporated. He didn’t know why, but something about fiddle music made his feet want to dance. His momma always told him, that a sure way to a woman’s heart was to ask her to dance, and to know how to do it properly. “Women like a man what knows how to dance,” she told him. “A man who don’t whine about how dancin’ ain’t manly, and don’t act like he’d rather be shooting the breeze with the men-folk out back than leadin’ his partner out to the dance floor.” Dean had applied himself to the task, and was a fine stepper. He stood up for every dance, and despite the sorry gender imbalance of the neighborhood, he rarely lacked for a partner.

The Harvest Dance was packed. Not only was it the social event of the season for the entire Northside, but Cottonwood Cousins was one of the finest stringbands on the whole wide world of Shadow. The smile rarely left his face as Dean danced and talked with his partners between dances. The music was so good, even the duty dances weren’t no chore. He danced with Mrs MacEachern, the cook he’d recently hired to manage the growing culinary needs of his ranch; Mrs Bahri and Widow Oistrakh, who’d helped him after his parents’ sudden demise; Miz MacLeod, the Shepherd’s wife; and did his good deed for the night in asking Shen Zhang’s kid sister to dance. She was young and gangly, not yet blossomed into womanhood, and she was being ignored and left to sit on the sidelines. She was of an age where her sole idea of happiness was to dance all night without having to sit out, and all it took was his invitation to change her evening from a tragedy to a pure unadulterated shininess. He escorted her right up to the center of the floor in front of the band, and her transformation from ugly duckling to swan was complete—a heart-warming sight to see. She didn’t lack for partners after that.

Of course, it wasn’t all duty dances. Dean Reynolds was a popular dance partner, and he had his choice of the loveliest, liveliest women of the Northside, as he danced Two Little Sisters, Glencoe Mills, and a long string of square dances he couldn’t put a name to. Still, he hadn’t caught a sight of that schoolteacher.

At last, one of his favorite squares was being called. It was called “Cheat or Swing,” and considering how looked-down-upon cheatin’ was on Shadow in real life, it was amazing how popular this dance was on the Northside. It was Dean’s favorite dance to sit out, because although it started as a regular square dance, with couples chaining, starring, circling, and whatnot, at some point the caller would slip in the call “cheat or swing!” and all hel—heck would break loose on the dance floor. ’Cause that call meant the active couple had a choice—swing each other, or choose to “cheat” and swing somebody else. That included other people in the square—or in another square—or indeed anywhere in the dance hall. It was Dean’s policy to lurk on the sidelines, waiting for the call, and then swoop in and take an unsuspecting lady by surprise, swing her before she knew what hit her, and disappear like a shadow soon as the next call came. Then he’d move to another part of the floor, figure out who he’d like to swing next, and wait for the next “cheat or swing.”

He was in the middle of this dance—having flirted with both the Monegal twins, “cheated” the Northside’s newest bride right out of her husband’s waiting arms, and managed to take Girasol Bennet so much by surprise that she squealed like a stuck pig—when he finally spotted her. Miss Eugenia Weirleigh-Wigglesworth, Core-bred teacher lady with the pretentious nine-syllable name, dancing Shadow squares like she was born to it. When the caller sang out, “Cheat or swing!” he was ready.

She wasn’t expecting someone from outside her own square to claim her for a swing, but her surprise was quickly followed by laughter, and as he gazed into her beautiful blue eyes, he was smitten. He waited until the swing was nearly over. “Dean Reynolds,” he introduced himself. “Pleased to meet ya.”

“Eugenia Weir—” was all she had a chance to say in response, before the call changed.

“Next dance?” he asked quickly, and she nodded, before her corner claimed her for an allemande.

* * *

The next dance was a slow waltz, as Dean knew perfectly well it would be. For five whole minutes he had Miss Teacher Lady all to himself, and plenty of time to talk. “So you’re the famous Miss Eugenia Weir,” he began, teasing. “May I call you Jeannie?”

“Actually, it’s Eugenia Weirleigh-Wigglesworth,” she corrected, but she was smiling. Gosh, he loved her dimples. “I have no reason to be ashamed of my family name, but the longer I spend here, the more out of place it seems.”

“So change it,” he blurted. Stupid! What was he saying? Too fast.

“Change it?” she asked archly. “Change it to what?”

“Well, it’s got too many syllables,” he joked, as a way of covering for his gaffe, speaking his mind unfiltered like that, especially when his mind seemed bent on constructing pie-in-the-sky fantasies without his say-so. “Here on Shadow, when something’s got too many syllables, we shorten it. There’s a family down by Lytle Cove, used to be called Fotheringhay. Got tired of spelling and pronouncing all that extra 废话 fèihuà, so now it’s Fong.”

“And how do you propose to shorten my name, Mr Reynolds?”

“Call me Dean. I think first of all we gotta deal with the overabundance of syllabification. For instance, there’s Natalya Bhukkanasut, lives down by Shell Bluff. We all call her Nat B.”

“Hmm. And so my name would be…?”

“Jeannie Dub,” he answered.

“Jeannie Dub!” she exclaimed. “Would you care to explain the derivation of this moniker?”

“Jeannie’s clear enough. See, Eugenia’s a mighty fine name—”

“It means ‘well born’,” she explained.

“I figured you for a blue blood,” he smirked.

“A blue blood? Hardly!”

“Why not? You got an excellent conformation—nice topline, superior neck conformation—neither too long nor too short—fine shoulder width indicating good capacity in the heart and lungs, exceptional teeth and ideal eye structure.” He could have added that her rump conformation was nice and wide, a good indicator of fertility and ease of calving, but he was sure he’d get slapped for making a comment like that, and held his tongue. At her confused look, he explained, “I’m a rancher, Miss Jeannie, and I got an eye for good bloodlines.”

She was silent a moment, and he was unsure how she’d taken his comment. But he hid his insecurity behind a cocky, confident grin. At last she spoke. “I do believe you just compared me to a cow, Mr Reynolds.”

His smile grew. “Properly speakin’, that would be a heifer I reckon.” Now was definitely not the time to point out how lay-folks’ misuse of the term “cow” to refer to any and all bovines irked rancher-folk.

“Oh, 对不起 duìbuqǐ, I’m still getting used to the terminology. But seriously, a cow? Is that how you Shadow gentlemen impress a lady? By comparing her to a cow?”

喂 Wèi, cows are shiny!” he objected. He feared he had overstepped his bounds. But to his great relief she began to laugh.

“I’ll have to say, that’s definitely unique in my experience. I’ve never before been likened to a cow. Or, not in a complimentary way. At least, I think you meant to be complimentary. Now, would you care to return to your explanation?”

“Explanation?” he replied, stupidly. Her brilliant smile and musical laughter were knocking all the good sense out of his head.

“Of my nickname. Jeannie Dub.”

“Oh, right. Well, it’s ‘Jeannie’ because clearly you gotta reduce the excess syllabification of that mighty fine name ‘Eugenia’.”

“And why ‘Dub’?”

“Ain’t it obvious?” he asked. She shook her head, but she was still amused, he could see it in her eyes. Her absolutely gorgeous blue eyes. “There was an old farmer, lived over by Warring Station—which ain’t there no more, so I suppose that bit of geography ain’t overly helpful—anyways, his name was Walter Dubose, but everybody called him Dub.”

“Short for ‘Dubose’?”

He shook his head. “Short for ‘Walter’.”

“I’m afraid I don’t follow.”

“Nothin’ to be afraid of, Miz Jeannie. I’m here to protect you,” he smirked. She gave the closest thing to a snort of annoyance that a proper lady could allow herself, so he hastened to add, “W. Dubose. But double-you is even longer to say than what it stands for. So, Dub.” His grin widened.

“So I’m ‘Jeannie’ Weirleigh-Wigglesworth. ‘Dub’ for double-you.”

對了Duìle . Though properly speakin’, I oughtta call you Jeannie Dub-Dub, seein’ as you’re hyphenated.”

She was tempted to slap him for his cheekiness, he could tell. Truth was, they weren’t yet intimately acquainted enough (seriously, five minutes?!) for such playful shenanigans, and in any case…At that very moment the music swelled to its final climax and he twirled her round expertly, so that her skirt belled out and she sank down into a curtsey like a princess, while he bowed gracefully over their extended hands.

He straightened up. She remained sunk in the curtsey, as her skirt slowly deflated around her.

“Umm…” Why wasn’t she getting up? Had he inadvertently hurt her? He took a step back in panic, before he saw she was laughing at him with her eyes. She stood up at last, and laughed aloud, those beautiful dimples of hers coming into view as she did so.

“You were standing on the hem of my dress, Mr Reynolds,” she remarked.

“Dean,” he reminded her, although why he was reminding her of his identity following such a goof-ball, un-smooth move, he couldn’t fathom.

“Thank you for the dance…Dean. Would you save a dance for me in the second half? I haven’t had so much fun in years.”

* * *

The band took a break after that waltz, and Dean managed to monopolize Miss Jeannie Dub-Dub’s attention for most of the intermission, reluctantly letting her go shortly before the end of the break. People would talk if he didn’t let her mix and mingle, and do some more mixing and mingling hisownself.

He made sure to ask Miss Jeannie Dub for the last square dance of the evening. It was a rowdy and complicated one called Crazy Eights, another one of his favorites, and it involved a lot of balance-and-swing your partner (no cheatin’ allowed).

“This one a bit complicated for you?” he asked her, though he was seriously impressed with how seamlessly she moved—like she’d been born to the Shadow style of square dancing.

“Not at all,” she answered. “There’s actually a very similar dance done on Londinium. I learned it at Miss Taylor’s Dance Academy.”

“Similar, eh? Wouldn’ta guessed that.”

“The Londinium version is…shall we say, somewhat more sedate?”

Dean took the next opportunity to balance with a startlingly loud stomp followed by an impressive leap, one of his trademark moves.

“That’s just what I mean,” Miss Jeannie remarked, as they began to swing with a high velocity pivot turn. “On Londinium, it’d be more like…well, next time I’ll show you.”

Next time the balance-and-swing came up, he let her take the lead, and mimicked her mincing steps for the balance, while the so-called “swing” involved a ridiculous slow-motion rotation while touching only the backs of their raised hands.

“Have to agree, ma’am, sedate is the proper word for it. Or maybe pretentious.”

She laughed again, and it was music to his ears. He couldn’t get enough of her smiles, her laughter, and the sparkle of those remarkable blue eyes.

* * *

When the band struck up the last waltz immediately following the Crazy Eights square, Dean simply held up his arms in ballroom position, Miss Eugenia Weirleigh-Wigglesworth stepped right into them, and they began to dance once more. He was the luckiest fella on the Northside, the one with the beautiful new schoolteacher in his arms, gliding around the dance floor effortlessly, as if they were made for each—wait. What kind of thoughts were these? They didn’t even know each other! Not really. Still, when the last note faded away, and the last bow and curtsey were made (thankfully without a repeat of the embarrassing dress-stepping incident), he felt as if he did know Jeannie Dub much better than he had a right to after spending such a short time in her company.

“Will you see me again?” he asked her, as they said their goodnights.

“Of course. I’ll see you in church tomorrow, won’t I?”

That was good news and bad. She’d noticed him in church then. His diligent attendance since her arrival on the Northside had not been in vain. Still, that wasn’t at all what he meant. He wanted to ask her out. Court her.

“And perhaps you and I can take tea together, afterwards, at my lodgings,” she added.

He detested tea. Always drank coffee. But for her, he’d drink bilgewater, and gladly, so long as he got to do it in her company. “I’d love to,” he answered, and they parted with a warm handshake.

So his first proper date with her was going to be a tea party in Miz MacLeod’s parlor, chaperoned by the Shepherd. Shiny.

* * *




废话 fèihuà [nonsense]

对不起 duìbuqǐ [excuse me]

喂 Wèi [Hey]

對了Duìle [That’s right]

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Friday, December 21, 2012 8:25 PM


So something that I find interesting is how Jeanie takes to the Shadow church. Being form the core that seems unexpected.

Also her family is sure to be tearing their hair out. I can't imagine they approve of her even out on the rim. Let alone when they find out she's courting one of the backwater rubes instead of the nice young neighbor's son with the arranged marriage since they were ten.

Saturday, December 22, 2012 5:06 AM


Interesting little side story, waiting to see where you take it.

Friday, December 28, 2012 3:14 PM


I did laugh at Dean Reynolds explanations and the dialogue was a treat though I too was surprised 'Jeannie' was core bred and not from Shadow too. You really know a lot about all the square dancing and such, be interesting to see how the story develops. Shiny! Ali D :-)
"Yu can't take the sky from me!"

Friday, December 28, 2012 4:55 PM


Thanks for your comments.
Bytemite -- Jeannie's family has mixed feelings about this whole Rim adventure that their daughter has embarked upon. Although they approve of the public service spirit that moved her to enroll in this Teacher Corps venture, they're not entirely happy that she's teaching in such a remote and (in their view) underdeveloped location.
Nutluck -- well, we'll see. Although I have a fair amount of this story written, and a number of ideas about what's in it, even I don't know exactly where this will go at the present time!
Ali -- thank you, so glad you liked the dialog. Over the course of writing my series of stories, I realized I had developed a fair amount of headcanon about Mal's family background. This is what came out of it. I certainly had fun writing the square dance scenes.


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“Vaccinations?” Jayne asked, with a stupid expression. “Fer chickens?”

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Extreme measures as more things go wrong

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In which we find out more about Miranda

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Inara and Zoe have a little palaver