Dancing in the Wind Snippet: OPEN YOUR EYES, WILLIE

 

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Dancing in the Wind: The Story So Far

The story opens in 1916. The world is at war, Irish freedom fighters have just staged an armed rebellion in Dublin, and the three characters we first met in Her Secret Rose are deeply unsettled. The world famous poet, WB Yeats, “having come to 50 years” has decided it’s high time he was married and, by coincidence, the 1916 Rising has just made a widow of the love of his life, Maud Gonne. Maud’s thoughts are more political than personal. She is frantic to get to Ireland to join the freedom fighters there. While her daughter, Iseult, now 23 years old and as beautiful as her mother was at that age, longs for love, escape, and artistic achievement.

As three talented mavericks try to redeem their past against a background of escalating war and revolution, can they rise to what they truly need from each other? This novel is narrated by Rosy Cross, a working-class Irish woman, who’s spent her life investigating the involvement of these people in the infamous murder of her sister.

Iseult Gonne c. 1918

Iseult Gonne c. 1916

WB Yeats c. 1916

WB Yeats c. 1916

Dancing in the Wind: This week’s extract: A MOMENT OF TRUTH

Iseult offers WB an elegantly gloved hand. He takes it, kisses it, eyes going briefly to Maud’s picture on the wall.

“I had just been looking at her 20-year-old image,” he says. “It added to my confusion.”

Iseult hands her coat to Mrs Old with a sweet smile.

WB follows her lead. “Yes. coat. Good. And teas. Yes. Mrs Olds, tea for our visitor?”

“Actually dear Uncle, could I possibly have a whiskey?” asks Iseult. “After a day at Cousin May’s, I feel a need for something stronger  than tea.”

“Whiskey?” repeats WB, as if he’s never heard of such a drink.

“Dear me, don’t look so shocked. It’s evening. I am not a child.”

“What age are you now?”

“How utterly vile of you!” She laughs, rummages in her bag, locates her cigarettes, offers him one. “Such a question. And to a lady of my advanced years.”

Willie laughs again. “Mrs Olds, whiskey, please, and two glasses.”

He takes a cigarette, lights hers first, then his own, happy to have the activity to settle for a second. And to enjoy the sight of her fine figure leaning forward into the flame.

“I shall have to beg your mother’s forgiveness if she knows we were smoking,” he says.

“For pity’s sake! Has she been complaining of my hobby to you too? Honestly, does she really have so little to say to her friends?” She throws her head back, inhales deeply. “I was very thankful to my ciggies on the way over, I can tell you. They facilitated a plausible coughing fit whenever I was asked for my papers”.

She jumps up to act out the small melodrama.

“’Your papers, Miss!’

‘I have no papers, Sir!’

‘This is highly irregular!’

“Sir, that is precisely what my mother said to my father! And why I have no papers’”

WB chuckles uneasily at this slightly off-colour joke. He enjoys a blue joke with friends… but Iseult. A different matter. He does not for a moment believe she really said anything of the kind. This evening, everything about her is musical theatre. Mimicry. She is acting the well-brought up young lady with a Bohemian edge for his amusement.

Is he amused? He decides he is.

“Yes,” she says, sitting back down with a sigh. “This war has proven wretchedly inconvenient for children of dubious parentage.”

Mrs. Olds comes back with the whiskey and two drinking glasses and stands in place, arms folded across her ample bosom. WB takes the hint.

“I believe Mrs. Olds should remain,” he says. “To preserve the proprieties.”

“Oh Willie, don’t be a dowager!”

Again, she smiles charmingly at Mrs. Olds, who backs out, reluctantly, leaving the door open. Iseult gets up and crosses the room to close it. “Grant me this small taste of life, Uncle Willie, then I shall hop back inside the straight-laces of a well brought-up lady.”

She kicks off her shoes, settles back into his settee with her drink, puts her feet up.

He pours the drinks, hands her the whiskey, says, “So tell me, what has you looking so very pale”?

“Too much responsibility.”

“Oh, my dear, has it been terribly bad?”

“She is like one possessed.”

“Poor Maud. It is hard for you to understand. For us, this Rising…”

“Oh, I do understand. Believe me.”

He sees her face. Of course. MacBride. He had thought so much about what MacBride’s execution might mean to him and Maud that he had forgotten all about what it might mean for Iseult.

WB leans forward, awkwardly pats Iseult’s hand. “You would not be human if you did not object”.

“My objection is not one I feel I can voice.”

“You must be frank, my dear. You have too few opportunities.”

“It’s that I don’t care”, she says. “I don’t care about the Rising! I don’t care about the executions of the pugnacious Irishmen. No, not even of that most pugnacious of Irishmen that Moura mistakenly took as a husband. Oh Willie… (in tones of great despair) I don’t even care about the WAR.”

Willie, deadpan after silence, “Well, that is certainly frank.”

Their eyes meet and they laugh.

“So, you see, my dear uncle, what egotistical mediocrity can hide behind a young lady’s benevolent eyes? And now I may have scuppered my mission”.

“Mission….”?

“I have been sent to convince you to come to Normandy to be Saviour to The Great Madame Maud Gonne MacBride, champion of Ireland’s oppressed, widow of The Vainglorious Martyr of the Irish Rising.”

Now he is chuckling, loud and belly full.

“Also doting mama to ten-year-old Seán MacBride, Ireland’s pipkin messiah and slightly less doting to yours truly: bastard ne’er do well with a talent for lyric dance and irony. Trailing also: the stalwart Mary Barry Delaney, Irish rights walrus and general factotum. Oh, and lest we forget! Dear old Josephine, the cook, who may surprise us and turn out to be a spy for Kaiser Wilhelm. Oh, you may laugh, Sir, but she makes a suspiciously authentic strudel.”

“I don’t believe I’ve ever received a more charming invitation”, says Willie.

Iseult curtsies.

She perches on the arm of the chair, and changes tone. “Do please come, we are greatly in need of our Noble Saviour.”

She takes an envelope from her pocket.“Here’s Moura’s real letter, not the cleaned up one for the war censor.”

Willie squints at it, “My eyes have gone to the devil of late and I’ve been writing all day. Would you”?

Putting on Maud’s voice to read, Iseult reads the letter.

My dear Willie. I am very busy with affairs of law just now. The front is sixty miles away at the Marne. Some days we hear the guns like distant thunder, but we’re told the Germans are unlikely to get much farther into France, as supplies run low and the bodies of soldiers pile high. Thank you for taking Iseult under your wing. I’m certain London will do her good. Get her to show you some of the things she’s been writing, especially…

“Oh, for Heaven’s sake!” Iseult puts the letter down, lights a second cigarette from the end of the first. She picks back up Maud’s letter, skims the pages… “So… tra la tra la… more squid ink and blather about my failings… Ah. Here’s the crux of it…” Imitating Maud’s voice again, she reads on: “…I have been denied a passport, told by the authorities that I must ‘remain quietly’ in France. This is insupportable, Willie. I need you to exert your influence with your English friends in high places” …

Iseult holds out the letter to him. “More blather but nothing worth the candle. No. There’s the size of it.”

He takes off his glasses, shines them with his handkerchief.

“Well Uncle, you are not exactly jumping to attention.”

“My dear… I already answered Moura on this. I am expected at Coole.”

“Moura did not think this a sufficient excuse.”

“Lady Gregory expects me… Theatre affairs. Important theatre affairs.”

“And Moura being widowed, Uncle Willie. Does that mean anything?”

“I’m not sure if this is a proper question from you, dear.”

“At such times, decorum must take a back seat, don’t you think.”

Poor WB. She has him rightly trapped. Shaded corners of the room seem to him to be holding their breath, waiting to pounce. That slant of light that had induced quietude in him earlier now feels oppressive, like a heavy, cathedral, hymn. A requiem.

But for what?

“The point is,” he says, slowly, guardedly. “The War Office may permit me to travel but they are certainly not about to allow Moura to Ireland. The last thing the English authorities want at this time is Madame Maud Gonne MacBride loose in Ireland”.

Iseult takes pity on him. She’s halfway there. She decides to take a walk around the room, give him a good look at her. At  his desk, fingers the jumbled contents that pour from the oxblood leather box. Letters. A spiritual journal. Other notebooks. More pictures of Maud, of Constance Markievicz before her marriage. She picks up a poem: “Her Praise”, silently reads the first line: She is foremost of those that I would hear praised. She replaces it, beside the works by other poets and artists. Aubrey Beardsley. Oscar Wilde. Arthur Symons. Paul Verlaine. Symbolist, astrological and tarot drawings.

On she walks, aware, without looking, of his eyes on her, of his shyly obscene needs, as she stops again in front of her mother’s publicity portrait. Maud in her youthful days, dressed as Joan of Arc. Iseult stares up at her mother, the age she is now herself.

“Back then I would have died to serve her and thought it happiness,” he says.

“Ah! Your burning, beating heart, Moura’s apple blossom hair, bound and wound about the sun and stars and piteous moon”, replies Iseult.

“You laugh at us?”

“Oh Uncle Willie, no. All of those poems inspired by Moura. I know them by heart. I adore them.” She quotes with sincerity, “But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you…“. You are the only one, outside the family, who sees this in her.” She speaks more gently. ” But this Irish rebellion… it has made her… ”

“I too find myself greatly anxious…”

“Too much responsibility” Iseult says, ruefully,

Touché”, he replies. “And too much reminiscing. The very thing you came to London to escape”.

He tops up her drink, indicates that she should sit back down.

“If Maud does get to Ireland, shall you remain in France? Are you happy there now?”

“Normandy is breathtaking or suffocating, depending on whether one is outdoors or in.”

“Moura tells me you have employment.”

“She nagged Le Loup into getting me a job”, she says. “A secretarial post with the Army’s aviation committee. Ugh!”
Willie, chuckling, asks, “How is your father”?

“The same,” she says. “I saw him in Paris, on the way over. He is impossible”, she says. “Absolutement. It has no hold on me, this job of his. A few hours in the afternoon, writing business letters. I did it only because Moura said I must.”

“She no longer encourages your writing?” asks Willie.

“I cannot blame her, Willie. I have been hopelessly indolent.”

“But this job… it leaves sufficient time to write?” he asks.

Iseult flicks her hand, “I cannot claim it as an excuse.”

Willie leans back in his chair, revealing a paunch. “This plan of Maud’s… It would be foolhardy in the best of times, but with this war going on… Christ himself couldn’t vouch for her with the British authorities. She’ll be seized at the first English port.”

“My fear is leaving France without proper papers and not being allowed to re-enter. I cannot live in Ireland, Uncle Willie.”

No more can he. He feels transparent. He is but a whiff of ether, slight as the exhalation it would take to say her name.

But whose name?

“All this is academic,” Iseult says. “You are going to come to Normandy and pass an idyllic summer by the sea. Moura shall think you have come to help her but really you will talk sense, as only you can, into this well-intentioned lunatic we both adore”.

“Hmm…”

“You shall marry her and keep her safely tucked away. Then after the war, you can escort her wherever you both shall choose,” Iseult says.

“And you can remain in your beloved France,” says Willie. “And not have to go to Ireland. Yet.”

Precisement!” exclaims Iseult. “Not yet. Not ever, I hope.”

My memoir.” WB continues. “Such an amount of reading. So much organization. And my eyes. Perhaps, if I should come to Colleville, you would consider assisting me?”

“Oh yes please Uncle Willie! I should love that.”

“You would learn much for your own writing from the exercise.”

“And I should love to know more about you and Moura in that time,” she replies. “She is foremost of those that I would hear praised.” This is her?”

“Yes. Fools forget her, confuse her with another, or gossip still. But if I found some beggar sheltering from the wind (he begins to quote his own poem):

If there be rags enough he will know her name
And be well pleased remembering it, for in the old days,
Though she had young men’s praise and old men’s blame,
Among the poor both old and young gave her praise”.

“I am pleased to know this, Uncle Willie and so pleased to do this work. And to see Moura protected.”

“Not so fast, my dear. It is not yet certain… I need to speak to Lady Gregory. And I have a condition.”

“Just name it”, she says. “It is done.”

“There must be no more Uncle Willie”, he says. “You are 23. It is time to do away with Uncle.”


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