Thursday, 12 July 2012
The Dancing Dog
There is a pub in our town called The Dancing Dog. It's owned by a tall silent woman, nobody knows her name. The bartender is a cheerful man called Riley. There was talk that the two of them were an item, but when Riley got married to a blonde from a nearby town that died down.
Liz was telling me how the pub got its name. It seems that when the building was first built The Woman as she is known bought it and moved in upstairs. She had a dog of indeterminate breed that was often called Hound by her as in 'Hound sit' or 'Hound here'. The dog was a medium animal. Not a big dog like Anson's bulldog or a small dog like the preacher's wife's peke. Hound was a white dog with a tufted coarse coat and a black patch over one eye that gave him a jovial piratical air. Mostly he was a law unto himself, but it was clear that he loved The Woman.
So The Woman bought the building and Hound would sit outside watching the people go by. The Woman had got a lot of money it was said and didn't know what to do with it. At first she lived quietly visiting the library most days to borrow books and read in the park with Hound at her side, his head in her lap.
She had a strange and varied taste in books as if she were interested in all kinds of things. She hardly ever read novels, mostly biographies or factual stuff. She drank her coffee black as her dark hair with one spoon of brown sugar in it. She rarely smiled and when the few men tried to talk to her she dismissed them as one dismisses a minor nuisance like a mosquito.
Kids around town thought she was a witch though I don't quite know why. She always wore red and green. if she wore a red dress she would wear green shoes. Sometimes, though rarely she wore black, but then she would wear a splash of red and a burst of green with it. A couple of old women thought she might have faery blood in her, but I don't know.
One evening she was seen sitting on the porch of her new home. She was reading a book as usual with Hound sitting by her watching the street with a smile on his face. I should say that Hound was a friendly dog, as friendly as his mistress was cool and distant. Most people loved him except the preacher's wife and a few cats who would eye him suspiciously, though he never chased a cat unlike Wilton's mean old cur. So anyway The Woman was sitting reading with a drink of something on a table by her chair. It was a fine summer evening when the sky is stretching and thinking of bed and the sun is going through her wardrobe looking for a red party dress to wear.
A tall man rode through town on a rather fine horse with elegant slim legs and a long thick mane of hair. Oh, the horse had fine slim legs and a thick mane too, some knowlegeable people said the horse was Arabian, but Liz said she just thought it was a fine horse and that was enough. The man stopped the horse in front of The Woman and said clearly,
"A fine dog my dear and a finer mistress."
Liz made a face and took another sip of her martini.
"So The Woman barely looks up from her book and says,
"Yes he is a fine hound and I am far too fine for the likes of you sir."
Then she goes right on with her book and Hound looks up at the man and turns, yawns and lies down at The Woman's feet."
Then the man frowned and shook his head.
"You weren't so cold in Ashdown Woods as I recall," he said.
"It was a long time ago and I was a different woman and now I've grown up. Tempest is looking well I see. The way out of town is the way Tempest is facing. Follow the road and go back into the woods where you belong," says she rather coolly.
Now as Liz pointed out, you don't name a horse unless you know the rider, so those few folk who heard that felt their ears twitching to know more. But the man shook his thick mane of dark hair and looked at Hound.
"If you'll not dance, your dog will I've no doubt," he said.
Then he whispered a word to his horse and rode on out of town to who knows where. The Woman frowned at that and took Hound indoors with her. That was that for the night. The Sun put on her red dress and went out partying. The night went to his bed along with the rest of us and we dreamed dreams.
The following morning as The Woman was taking her walk into the park with Hound following there came a group of musicians to practise. That was not exceptional, they often came to practice and some folk would come and sit on the grass and listen. But this time when they started to play their audience was distracted by a sharp cry. They turned and Hound was up on his hind paws dancing to the music. The group played and Hound danced and The Woman became more distraught. She put away her book and swept up Hound in her arms, the dog still dancing.
"No doubt the strange man had cursed poor Hound," Liz said shaking her head.
It happened that from that moment on when music was heard near him, Hound would up on on his hind paws and dance away, his ears flapping, his front paws flopped over. People would think it sweet, but The Woman would be furious and demand that the music stop. She would sweep Hound up in her arms and dash away home, tears flooding down her face.
The news went all around town until one day an old woman went up the street to where The Woman lived and knocked on her door. That in itself was thought to be brave. The Woman mostly kept to herself, but the door opened and the old lady spoke to The Woman and was invited in. A little later the old woman came out of the house and went back home. Soon after, The Woman came out of the house followed by Hound. She walked up the street to the bookshop with her firm decisive stride and Hound trotted after her. Around his neck, for the first time ever, was a fine collar of black leather with shiny steel studs.
The Crillon boys, wicked with mischief ran after her playing a flute and singing, just to make Hound dance. The Woman turned briefly with a face like thunder, but Hound just stopped and looked up at her inquiringly. Not a jig was in him and the Crillon boys ran off before The Woman should deliver her wrath upon their ears.
A little after that, The Woman had workmen in to create her building into a pub. She hired Riley and a young talented woman called Sylvie as chef. The first night was advertised in the paper and people could not help but smile. She had called the new pub, 'The Dancing Dog'. Everyone came that first night mostly out of curiosity. What they found was a handsome large room with tables and a stage at one end. Customers were seated and Hound was at the door to greet them all. The Woman was nowhere to be seen. She left Riley and Sylvie to do their stuff and to greet customers. Halfway through the evening a band came up on the stage and played music quietly but with panache. Hound turned, looked at them and yawned before trotting off to the door to the kitchen to see if he might get scraps. He was used to his collar by then.
"Now," said Liz, "All I'll say is this. Steel has iron in it and that stranger who put the dancing curse on Hound was neither a wizard or a witch. There have been faerie folk in our woods for centuries, my grandma says and she should know. A faerie woman tried to call her away when she was little, but her mam had put a shiny steel cross about grandma's neck and the enchantment protected her. That's all I'm saying."
I smiled at her, shook my head and went to the bar to get more drinks.