Under The Elm Tree – Episode 12

THE hall was softly lit, and had been hung with Christmas decorations. Long strips of brightly coloured crepe paper had been twisted and crisscrossed over the ceiling, while paper chains hung in festive loops around the walls with bunches of holly pinned in the corners.

The musicians had set up their equipment on the small stage at the far end of the room, and were testing their instruments.

Kitty felt a rush of excitement. She couldn’t wait for the dance to start.

She looked around, waving as she caught sight of Queenie. Already the hall was beginning to fill up. Girls in pretty knee-length dresses stood beside tables pushed against the wall, while the boys in their best suits congregated on the other side of the room, talking and laughing together.

There was a sudden hush as Colonel and Mrs Stonethwaite entered the hall. With the colonel’s military bearing and his wife beside him dressed in sapphire blue, they almost looked like royalty. It was a local custom that the owners of Wembury House would grace the Christmas festivities with their presence, though they only ever stayed for the first dance.

The band leader, smartly dressed in dark suit and bow tie, stood up and tapped the microphone that had been set at the front of the small stage.

“Time to kick things off,” he announced. “Take your partners for a waltz, please.”

Colonel and Mrs Stonethwaite took the floor. Everyone watched as they moved alone around the dance floor. When they came back to where they’d started, there was a rush across the room as partners were found, and soon couples were sweeping elegantly round with them.

Sid claimed Kitty for the first dance. She tried to keep a little more distance between them than usual, but he held her firmly, whisking her round the room enthusiastically.

They had just extricated themselves from a crowded corner of the dance floor and were circling once again when suddenly Kitty’s heart seemed to trip. Surely that was the boy who’d come into the shop for some sweets? There, over by the bar. But Sid twirled her around, and when she faced in his direction again, there was no sign of him. Had she imagined it?

The music stopped and Colonel Stonethwaite stepped on to the stage and marched across it to stand in front of the microphone.

“As you know,” he began, his clipped tones echoing loudly around the room, “our country is facing the possibility of war.” Kitty looked up at Sid to exchange a grimace, but he was staring at the stage. “Volunteers are needed in order to prepare our towns and villages in case of attack,” the colonel continued, “and that includes Wembury, of course. There are many different ways in which you can help, and I urge you to add your names to the list at the back of the hall. That is all, thank you.”

He and his wife walked out of the hall with gracious waves and gentle applause from the onlookers. There was an outbreak of chatter when they’d gone and a scurry of activity as people signed their names on the lists. Kitty, Margaret and Ivy opted for first aid courses, and Sid signed up to help cut down railings which would be sent off to be used in the munitions factories.

Two lindy hops and a quickstep later, Kitty told Sid with a laugh that she needed to catch her breath. She was following him through the crowd to the bar when she felt a tap on her shoulder.

“Would you like to dance?” a deep voice said.

Alan Spink

I am a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. I enjoy working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, I also write fiction and enjoy watching football and movies in my spare time. My one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.