David by Raymond Hopkins - HTML preview
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A river wound its lazy way past what had been a medium sized town house in years gone by, a house converted to a modern cafe which nevertheless still retained the impression of antiquity. In the muddy brown water, large, grey backed fish flicked their tails lazily, searching for food without noticeable enthusiasm amongst the reeds. A variety of small birds chittered and squabbled in the treetops and on the ground, industriously clearing the area of tourist scattered crumbs. It could have been almost any one of a hundred similar places, pretty, popular and probably expensive. A steep cobbled street ran past, surfaced thus to give the long vanished horse a firm grip on the road in icy weather. The cobbles were new, having been put down only a few months earlier in an effort to keep, or rather to restore, what was felt to be the original character of the area. Motor cars, indeed all traffic larger or more powerful than the ordinary pedal bicycle had been banned from this stretch of road, offering a sort of oasis in the middle of thundering traffic noise. There were several people in the ever popular cafe. In a corner near to the delicately rounded bay window were two blue rinsed late middle aged women, heavily beringed, heavily made up and looking rather overdressed by the more casual fashions of the day. While not cold, they both wore furs. One leaned forward and spoke in a deliberate and purposeful stage whisper that could be heard several tables away.
’Just look at that couple over there. Talk about beauty and the beast. Have you ever seen anything like it?’
Her friend looked in the direction indicated and saw an attractive youngish woman talking earnestly to a man who was appreciably, perhaps even considerably older, holding his hand across the table and gazing with appeared to be devotion into his face.
’Can you see those scars? I don’t know how she can bear to look at him. Isn’t it revolting? You’d think he would sit so that other people can’t see his face so readily.’
’Yes, I noticed when we came in. Dreadful, isn’t it? A bit tactless, even,’ answered her companion. ’He’s a lot older than she is, too. You’d think he’d have more sense at his age.’
’Well, that’s men for you. I suppose she is pretty.’ The speaker sounded doubtful.
’I expect that some men are attracted to that sort of thing, but no, I wouldn’t call her pretty. Not exactly. Not with that type of suntan. Permanent, you know, I suppose she has to take what she can get, all things considered. Of course, with a face like that, I don’t suppose he has a great deal of choice either.’
The scars were certainly noticeable, one in particular crossing the man’s scalp and stretching clear to his cheek bone, deep and livid in appearance. As the penetrating whispers continued, the young woman turned her head and stared at the older women, who returned the stare with arrogant interest. Resolutely she rose to her feet. The man grasped her hand and spoke in a low voice, but she simply shook her head and crossed the floor to the opposite corner. What she said nobody could hear, except for the recipients of her anger, who quickly picked up their belongings and left the cafe. The young woman came back to her companion and sat down again, while the other customers turned to their refreshments and following the usual conventions, continued their own private conversations and pretended they had witnessed nothing.
’That didn’t take long,’ remarked the man, mildly. ’What did you talk about?’
’I simply told them the truth. Where, and how you got those scars, and just why I think you are the most handsome man in the world.’
He raised an eyebrow, distorting his face in the area of the deepest scar. ’Is that all? They seemed to leave in a bit of a hurry.’
A flush rose on the woman’s face. ’Well, I may have said one or two other things.’
The woman’s eyes looked away for a moment, gleaming with amusement, and she pursed her lips. ’They claimed they had never been so insulted in all their lives, so I invited them to listen a bit longer, as I was sure I could improve on my speech. I may have used some strong language, too.’
He gave a short, barely suppressed laugh. ’Only may?’
’Oh, all right. I know all the words, and I did use some strong language. That’s when they left.’
’You didn’t make friends then?’
’I didn’t, but nobody abuses the man I love, not in my hearing, anyway. After what you have been through, David, I have no intention of letting you suffer that sort of foolishness.’
He took her hand, stroking her slender fingers pensively. ’I’m not as young as I was, but I’m not exactly deaf. I got the distinct impression they insulted you as well.’
’Well, yes. That doesn’t matter. I’ve heard that sort of thing all my life. There’s nothing very strange about it, you know that.’
’Yes, I know,’ he replied. ’I guess you never really get used to it. If it was me, I’d be fighting back and giving as good as I got, if not a good deal better.’
’I tried that once,’ she said. ’It doesn’t really work. On the contrary, it tends to encourage more of the same. You just have to learn to ignore it.’
’As you just ignored our two friends just now?’ he smiled at her.
’That’s completely different,’ she said. ’I was complaining for you, not for myself.’
They sat silent for a while, remembering the experiences of the recent, and not so recent past.