Being Young and in Love
The door swung open all in a rush, and they entered with a breath of midnight wind. She didn’t look at us, but back up to him, as though for reassurance, tucking a few wayward strands of hair behind her ear again. They both had dark hair and were dressed in foreign dark clothes. Being young and in love, they didn’t give their surroundings much notice, most of their attention being taken up by inner exploration, down the passages of the human heart. Yet they did not take a shadowy table in the corner – unexpectedly, she wanted to sit up at the bar with the rest of us. She perched next to me, as it happened.
Ours is not a large town, and so their arrival was something of an event. Ned and Tailor took up their game again with practiced indifference, Dennis scowled into his ale, and Agatha gave the man a drunken greeting from where she sat pressed up against the wall. The two of them waited, looking at the empty floor behind the bar, and whispering lowly in foreign accents. She took out a small book from her pocket and pointed at something in it and laughed triumphantly; he grabbed it away of a sudden, and then she tried to reach over and take it back, though her playful slaps seemed like caresses. I am not as provincial as the others, having some trade here and there in the country round. So I laughed at their antics and obligingly asked if they wanted a drink.
“Wine, wine!” she purred, but seeing my look, he shook his head. “Beer is fine,” he said.
I jumped down from my stool and went around to the other side of the bar, and gave him a pint of the usual, and her a half pint.
“I’ll start you a tab,” I added, seeing there was no money forthcoming. “What’re your names?”
Their names were Ted and Hanna.
“We’re not from around here,” Ted volunteered in his clipped accent, smiling rather sheepishly.
"Well it doesn’t hurt to see some different faces for a change. You come up from London?”
“Oh, London!” she breathed. Then she looked up at the water-spotted ceiling, as though London were there. “It was beautiful, with the river, and the gardens, and all the wendy-windy streets.”
“Not to mention the smell,” I said, unable to help myself.
“And the Tower!” she breezed by me. “So magnificent!”
“My father was there. He found it rather less so,” Dennis pronounced with a scowl.
“That’s because he was in the wrong parts though, weren’t it?” Agatha sang out, sipping her barley water merrily. “Down in the – ”
“Right then, what can I do you for?” Dirk came out from the back at last, wearing his hat at a rakish angle. Whether he’d been back there with Janey or simply asleep I couldn’t tell, for his hair would have been mussed either way. The young lovers looked towards me inquiringly, and I pointed out the tab. “Ted and Hanna,” I added, by way of introduction.
“I can read!” Dirk pointed his angular nose at the young couple. “Been out for a midnight stroll? Wander too far over the moonlit heath? Har har!”
They laughed politely at his impertinence, apparently taking him for a wit. But when asked if she wanted to meet our tavern mouse, Henry, whose front door was just at the base of the bar, she sat up straight, leaning into him for support and looking down with some trepidation. Having got his rise, Dirk retired, and I reintroduced London into the conversation.
“I’ve been there myself, once. Long walk. Never seen so many people in one day, the day I wandered the streets of London. Corn Hill and Fleet and Greyfriars … so many streets…”
But now she was whispering into his shoulder again, her lips so near his that from behind you’d think they were kissing. After a lengthy private conversation filled with nervous chuckling, some decision seemed to have been made by the pair. She turned back to me just as I had finished my pint and was thinking of shoving off.
“Do you have a … a place to stay in this town?”
“You can stay at the tavern here. There’s a room in back. Or, at my house. That might be better,” I added, thinking of Dirk and Janey.
“Your house? That’s very kind,” he said, somewhat surprised at the offer. He had taken out an apple, and was cutting it carefully in half – one half for each of them.
“Well, the room in back,” I began, but it was then that the door swung wide again and Blaise the shepherd, more or less our village idiot, came bursting in. “There’s plague! Plague in London! The whole city shut down – bodies in the streets, they say! And in Lincoln, and Bath! Sir Thomas just rode by with three knights. They’re summoning all the peasants to the manor house!”
As he said these words I heard the little church bell begin clanging disconsolately. Dennis swore and rushed out, and Agatha began wailing.
“Didn’t you say you came up London way?” Ned asked in a deadly voice, as he and Tailor began edging past the young couple towards the door.
Then it was just me and the lovers. I guided them through the back room, roused a shrieking, naked Janey from the rushes, and pointed to a footpath that led the opposite way from the manor.
Being young and in love, they took it in stride, and their bodies seemed to melt into one as they strolled under the murky stars, down past the mill pond and into the woods.