The first six months were the most difficult; I was constantly hungry, I was continually cold, the fires of my lust raged like the Inferno and my body underwent the pains and rigours of clearing itself of all the gin I had consumed. It was the first night as I lay shivering under my rags that I realised that not all my shaking was due to the cold. I thought about gin, the warmth that fills the belly, that fire that fills the soul and I yearned. Never have I yearned so. I needed it to warm me up, to raise my spirits, to make me forget where I was. All I could think as I twitched and quivered was gin. Gin, gin, gin, gin, gin.
The morning arrived, the birds sang and the sun began to warm the shady woods but I didn’t care, I lay and thought of gin. I sensed someone coming towards my hermitage but I didn’t open my eyes. I heard the thunk of a clay jug and plate being set down by me but I still could do nothing but shake and think of gin. I remembered all the times of spinning sickness followed by oblivion, times that I had regarded as the lowest in my life but were now elevated to something rich and heavenly. I may have lost my senses, I may have puked and pissed all over my garrett but I had that garrett to myself and I had gin. In the hermitage, I wasn’t even permitted to mew quietly to myself.
It was midday or so when I could open my eyes. I still quivered and my head felt like a weight upon my neck but I could focus enough to pour the water down my throat in one long stream. I then managed to chew a few bites of bread enough to squeeze them down my throat before laying back on my rags and twitching.
The sun was lowering when I saw the most incredible sight. Moving gracefully through the woods towards me was a pair of unicorn. I looked again, willing the unicorn to be horses. They were the size of a Shire Horse but sleek as Darley’s Arabian. Their muscles pumped under their skins which lightly covered legs of enormous power but their skins were not those of a horse, they shone. It was not the brash shining of a footlight, or the overwhelming glare of lightning, they glowed the way the pearls on the rich ladies used to glow when a candle lit them. Nor could I ignore the fact that the creatures had horns. Those horns started in the middle of their forehead and came out a length that was almost as long as their bodies; they started thick but spiraled off into a fine, sharp point, at once as gentle as a baby’s fingernail but dangerous as a sabre. These were not horses however hard I tried, they were unicorn and as I listened closely, I could hear them speaking.
“This isn’t what an Ornamental Hermit is supposed to do is it?”
“Perhaps not, but I’ve been watching him for days, he’s been very entertaining. Much better than Sir Tanghall’s hermit, his just sits and mopes and the Duke of Arbury’s keeps going to the public house.”
“I think your think your man might have known the inside of a few of those, I’ve seen men like this before at the prison.”
“You have? I thought it was some sort of religious thing.”
“No sir, nothing of that sort.”
“It’s nothing to me anyhow. I paid to be entertained and I have been, though I must confess myself a little disappointed to find he was not in religious ecstasy.” The unicorn turned to go and I want to call out to them to help, I want to shout in my pain and agony but even in my weak state I am fearful of somebody watching me and telling.
It was a week after I saw the unicorns that I woke up feeling clearer then I have ever before, as fresh as a new spring morning but also more hungry than I can ever remember. I went over to the lake and splashed water over myself, clearing the corners of my eyes and wetting my face. Then I returned to my hermitage and sat with my Bible and read until Mary came with my regulation of food and water. I heard her crashing through the bushes before I saw her and when I did, she was beautiful. She looked fresh, fresher than a new spring morning, fresher than I swim in the Bath Spas, fresher even than Eve on that first morning. My pleasure was increased by the bowl of food she was carrying and the jug of water.
“You are not smiling are you Mr Hermit?” she teased, “because a smile is a form of communication you know.” I knew very well and that an eye could say ten thousand words and I knew that my cock was also communicating strongly but I tried to take the happy expression off my face and resume my neutral, hermitlike and thoughtful one. “You have much reason to be happy,” she said. “You look extremely well.” She set down the crockery, nodded politely and walked back off. The food consisted of leftovers, but good leftovers; good bread and even a little beef. I ate heartily, biting large and chewing little, whilst reading about John the Baptist in the desert and thanking God that I did not have to live on a diet of locusts and honey.
I had the most pleasant morning imaginable but as midday and then late afternoon approached, I felt a hunger that grew into a profound ache. As I had once longed for gin, now I longed for food and I decided that it was time to properly explore my new abode and, if possible, find something to defeat my roaring hunger. I spent the morning collecting mushrooms and eating almost ripe plums and waiting for my improvised coney trap. It was long after evening when I finally caught one and I carried it and my mushrooms home in triumph where I cooked them over the fire and cooked the mushrooms with the rabbit. I sat full and happy and returned to my Bible, which I had decided to read straight through.
Mary woke me the next morning by prodding me with her foot, I looked up at her healthy face but noticed her empty arms.
“Master has told me to inform you that if you do decide to live off the land, you shall get no more vittles from the kitchen.” She walked off, leaving me with no food or drink to look forward to till the next day. I spent that day hungry, as I spent every day since, rationing out my food and drink to last me through and concentrating instead on my reading and pondering. Although I didn’t know any Latin, I read those books also, guessing at sense and meaning as close as I could but coming up gibberish. Thus did I spend my years.
After the novelty of my being had vanished I lived the next few years like a stray dog permitted to live in my little part of the grounds. Most people who saw me now, saw nothing more than a scraggled cur; the rich sneered at how I had sold my humanity and the servants resented the fortune I would later receive as money for nothing.
I grew to live like a dog also. Flies and insects that took up residence in my beard and hair constantly pestered me but I was too weary of life to wash them out. I regularly patrolled the area in which I was allowed, urinating on trees to bushes to keep the foxes out. Although I lived like a dog, I did not grow cynical, instead I fell in love.
Mary was assigned to bring my food to me every morning. Each night as I went to bed I would have difficulties sleeping before falling into dreams filled with her face, nightmares where I spoke and spoke but she could not hear me. When I awoke with the birds, I lay with my eyes shut, waiting for her to knock on my table, a needlessly polite gesture for a man who’s abode only had three walls. Those meetings in real life were worse than the ones in my dreams, in my dreams she simply could not here me but in reality I was unable even to speak. I considered talking to her, if not speaking I considered scratching a message on the mud floor of my hovel but I knew I would not be able. If I broke the first commandment of my hermitage then the years I had spent alone, hungry and worthless would have no purpose or benefit.
I had a plan, or as close to a plan as my increasingly addled mind would allow. I had been counting the days internally and knew when my contract would be finished. I would stand, I would take Mary’s hand in mine, declare that I was now the owner of five-hundred pounds, that I could shave and wash and wear fine clothes and that I would like nothing better than for her to join me as a wife. We could set ourselves up in comfort and the thoughts I had been thinking all those years could provide enough copy as would maintain our wealth. I would eschew acting, gin and all wrongdoing and we could live a rich and virtuous life together.
When the day arrived, Mary was late with my food. At first I was concerned until I reasoned it out that as my contract was over, I would no longer be given the scraps from the table. I stood up, creaking with vastly aged bones and walked through the brambles and bushes and back into the formal garden I had hardly seen in the time of my incarceration. I walked confidently as I could on my overgrown toenails, frightening the gardeners and causing everyone to run from me. I opened the back door of the house and followed the sound of breakfast where I found Lord Broadfield and his family being served by Cullins the footman, Mary and other staff I had never seen. There was the sound of dropped silver knives as I entered and all mouths were agape.
“Lord Broadfield,” I said, my voice sounding cracked and foreign. “I have served my time as you have requested. I have pondered and considered as requested and I have read the Bible umpteen times through, I request my reward, the occasion to bathe and smarten myself up and the loan of some clothes. I also request Mary’s hand in marriage, so we can live like gentlefolk on my five-hundred pounds.” I bowed a low bow to Lord Broadfield who tipped his head to me.
“Cullin’s, who is this fellow again?” he said.
“Your ornamental hermit, my Lord.”
“Oh yes, I remember, dirty man in the garden. Do you remember this agreement I had with him?”
“Yes, my Lord, were he to stay in silent hermitage for five years he would be given five-hundred pounds.”
“Oh yes. I remember, it was on April the 15th, I had won that tremendous bet on the fly racing. What is the day today?”
“April the 14th, my Lord.”
“April the 14th? So it has not indeed been five years then?”
“No, my Lord.”
“Well, what provisions were I to take if he failed his task?”
“You were to through him out as he stood.”
“Have it done.”
“With pleasure, my Lord.”
So I was cast out of the house, filthy and in nothing but my hessian sacks, left to shout my message to any that will hear me. Cold and alone, an ornamental hermit on the steps of St Paul’s in Covent Garden
HERE ENDS THE HERMIT’S STORY.