Colonel Julian and Other Stories (28 page)

‘Nice and Comfortable,' she said. ‘I got my own eggs and things. Commercials all say it's a home from home.'

She eyed me up and down with the coy girlish glances: in the naked electric light the powder on her face was like mauve crust, and the rings on her fingers glittered like lumps of emerald and white and rosy sugar.

I asked her how much the tea was. She said sixpence and then, at that moment, there was a noise of another car drawing up on the gravel outside. I put the sixpence on the counter, but she did not notice it. The tearless blue eyes were fixed on the door instead.

‘Well, Mr. Parkinson!' she said. ‘Well, of all people!'

‘Hullo, hullo, hullo.'

A man in a large grey tweed overcoat and a silk blue muffler and a pair of driving gloves that crouched on his hands like black kittens came stamping up to the counter.

‘God, it's cold, May, it's cold,' he said. ‘It's turning for snow. It's enough to——‘

At that moment he saw me and began laughing. ‘Well, you know——'

Winking, he laughed again and took off his gloves and slapped his hands together. The sixpence lay on the counter, but she did not notice it, and the man said:

‘Tuck up close tonight, eh?' He laughed once again. ‘Got to keep warm somehow.'

‘Staying?' She said.

‘You bet. And a cuppa tea please.' He shuddered with cold and she picked up the two boxes that held the medals.

‘I'll just run up and put a hot bottle in the bed,' she said.

‘Got your bag, Mr. Parkinson?'

‘I'll slip and get it, he said. ‘Left it in the car.'

He went outside and she stood for a moment behind the counter, holding the medals. The face that seemed carved from candle-grease appeared all at once to have stiffened. There was no smile on it. The coy girlishness had gone from the eyes; and on the mauve, crusty cheeks were two small rows of scars where the rings had bitten hard on the flesh.

‘Good night,' I said. ‘And thank you.'

‘Good night, sir,' she said.

By the time I reached the door she had turned away and was already taking the medals back upstairs. At the door Mr. Parkinson blundered hastily through, carrying his bag.

‘God, it's cold,' he said, and a moment later, as I stopped outside, I heard him call:

‘Bring the bag up, May, shall I?'

I walked across the gravel and stood by the car, putting on my gloves. The flat fields were quite dark now and the wind, sea-borne and icy, was rattling nakedly through frozen reeds on the dyke sides.

Upstairs in the café there was a light in the bedroom. Just before I started the car I saw her come to the window and pull down the blind. It was one of those old blackout blinds left over from the war. It shut out the light completely.

I stood thinking for a moment longer of the mother who had earned the money and the son who had earned the medals; and in that moment there was no sound in the cold air but Mr. Parkinson's laughter.

A Note on the Author

H. E. Bates was born in 1905 in the shoe-making town of Rushden, Northamptonshire, and educated at Kettering Grammar School. After leaving school, he worked as a reporter and as a clerk in a leather warehouse.

Many of his stories depict life in the rural Midlands, particularly his native Northamptonshire, where he spent many hours wandering the countryside.

His first novel,
The Two Sisters
(1926) was published by Jonathan Cape when he was just twenty. Many critically acclaimed novels and collections of short stories followed.

During WWII he was commissioned into the RAF solely to write short stories, which were published under the pseudonym “Flying Officer X”. His first financial success was
Fair Stood the Wind for France
(1944), followed by two novels about Burma,
The Purple Plain
(1947) and
The Jacaranda Tree
(1949) and one set in India,
The Scarlet Sword
(1950). Other well-known novels include
Love for Lydia
(1952) and
The Feast of July
(1954).

His most popular creation was the Larkin family which featured in five novels beginning with
The Darling Buds of May
in 1958. The later television adaptation was a huge success.

Many other stories were adapted for the screen, the most renowned being
The Purple Plain
(1947) starring Gregory Peck, and
The Triple Echo
(1970) with Glenda Jackson and Oliver Reed.

H. E. Bates married in 1931, had four children and lived most of his life in a converted granary near Charing in Kent. He was awarded the CBE in 1973, shortly before his death in 1974.

Discover other books by H. E. Bates published by Bloomsbury Reader at
www.bloomsbury.com/HEBates
.

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For copyright reasons, any images not belonging to the original author have been removed from this book. The text has not been changed, and may still contain references to missing images.

First published in Great Britain in 1951 by Michael Joseph

‘For Valour' first published in Great Britain in 1951 by Modern Reading

This electronic edition published in 2016 by Bloomsbury Reader

Copyright © 1951 Evensford Productions Ltd

The moral right of the author is asserted.

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eISBN: 9781448215140

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