The townspeople respected him all the same.

Harold Mortimor frowned far too often. He was an old man who’d lived through wars, had chosen to live a solitary life ever since, and you would have expected a bah humbug attitude, or at the very least, an unhappy man. Especially since he didn’t make friends, or go out of his way for anyone, but didn’t ask for anything either. He lived, from an outsider’s point of view, almost a reclusive lifestyle in the old house his father had built years ago and which he’d single-handedly maintained. Given his age, that was a considerable feat in and of itself.

The townspeople respected him all the same. He’d served his country honourably, seemed content with his existence, worked doggedly at maintaining the inside and outside of his house while keeping the substantial grounds manicured and rife with flowers. According to the owner of Monty’s Hardware Store, he always paid on time, showed courtesy and respect to all the staff members whenever he was in the store obtaining supplies. In fact, he suggested they’d struck up a friendship of sorts, discussing local issues and sometimes world events, so it was something they both looked forward to.

He attended every town-hall meeting and although he rarely verbally participated, he would send notes to city council for consideration on any topic he determined noteworthy. What’s more, his ideas were spot on and adopted on several occasions.

Consequently, when Marta Harris bought the adjoining property, a young woman around twenty-five years of age, who appeared to enjoy life to the fullest, everyone expected an outburst at the very least considering the number of parties she held. But time passed and nothing exciting happened.

Marta was considerate too and prior to each occasion when people were invited over, she’d always wander over to Harold Mortimer’s house, knock on his front door, explain the evening’s events, even inviting him to attend, although he always refused.

He could be seen later during the evening sitting on his front porch with a cup of coffee in hand, elbows resting on his knees, his head turning from time to time as if contemplating the possibility of joining in. During the entire evening, he’d make trips inside for something to nibble on, or drink, always returning to his deck chair to relax.

Therefore it astounded the townspeople when they heard the following day, after one such event, that he’d accepted Marta Harris’s invitation for an evening spent painting. He’d turned up in his best bib and tucker, hat in hand, and entered politely. Everyone present walked up to him, shook his hand and invited him to take a seat and choose whatever paints he’d like to try welcoming him as if it were the most natural thing on earth.

When the evening was over and he was about to leave, with the greatest of respect, he doffed his hat at everyone present, thanking them for a wonderful evening. His gracious warm smile encompassed everyone present.

Normally, this unprecedented incident would have had tongues wagging endlessly, but instead, when the subject was broached, anyone present at the time simply smiled nodded and kept mute about it. They all agreed, they’d thoroughly enjoyed his company as he’d had them in stitches with numerous tales from his youth and as it turned out, he was an incredible painter. He’d obviously been hiding his light under a bushel. They were all secretly hoping he’d agree to attend another evening.

As it turned out, on every occasion that painting was involved, they could count on Harold attending. It became a regular proceeding, and his presence added a spark to the occasion and he was welcomed into the bosom of the other local aspiring artists.

One day months later, he returned the invitation to everyone he’d met through Marta. They were to spend an evening painting at his home. Needless to say, they were all excited at the opportunity of obtaining a glimpse into Harold’s life and home, but more importantly, it seemed too wonderful an opportunity to miss since they’d welcomed him with open arms and it was touching he wished to return the favour.

Once inside, they were each, awed by the beauty surrounding them. His walls were lined with what could only be considered masterpieces of art. Paintings of family, all long gone, gardens, flowers, even a self-portrait that was incredible. After complimenting him on his work, they got down to painting, and at some point during the evening, he produced red and white wine along with cheese, grapes, crackers and invited everyone to partake. The evening flew by with everone grateful they participated.

It became a turning point for Harold. He often spoke to everyone he met, or at least smiled and nodded. He participated in local events and could be seen enjoying the company of many villagers. He seemed far happier, more content and he was.

He wrote a thank you note to Marta, in which he invited her over to pick her favourite painting which she did, and she hung it on her wall with joy and pride. It was an exquisite painting of her home and gardens flanked by the dividing fence, with a plethora of flowers on his side. It was beautiful and to her at least symbolized the delightful friendship that had sprung from that first invitation.

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