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A Man of a Few More Words - by Swan Morrison

The Hermit

I paused on the footpath and glanced back at my holiday cottage in Elton, a tranquil village in Derbyshire’s Peak District.

Turning again, I approached the rocky outcrop of Robin Hood’s Stride and then followed a track eastwards to a formation known as Hermit’s Cave.

On reaching this exposure of Derbyshire sandstone, I noted a man in ragged clothes kneeling to tend a small herb garden. I wondered if this might be the Master of Ancient Wisdom - a hermit about whom I had heard in the Duke of York on the previous evening.

Salvia officinalis combines well with onion and breadcrumbs to form stuffing for poultry,’ volunteered the stranger without looking up.

I reflected that this was, indeed, sage advice. ‘You grow many herbs,’ I observed.

The man rose and looked at me. ‘It’s one of the ways that I sustain this lifestyle,’ he said. ‘The landowner allows me to live here in exchange for some of my Thymus vulgaris.’

I glanced at the entrance to the cave. ‘Ah, a thyme share property,’ I noted. ‘Are you a hermit?’

‘No,’ he corrected, pointing to the north-west. ‘A. Hermit’s my brother. He lives in a cave near Over Haddon. I haven’t seen Arthur for a while – he’s a bit of a loner. I’m E. Hermit. You can call me Elton.’

‘Named after the village?’ I surmised, shaking his hand.

‘Actually, mother was a fan of Bernie Taupin’s songs,’ Elton replied. He suddenly paused as if listening to a message carried on the wind. ‘Sooth, sooth, sooth, sooth,’ he said.

‘You’re certainly a soothsayer,’ I ventured. ‘Are you also an exponent of arcane practices in Wicca?’

‘You’re astute,’ Elton observed. He beckoned me to follow him into his cave where he revealed many examples of furniture and baskets woven from rattan and bamboo. ‘Ah, cane practices in wicker are my other source of livelihood.’

My attention was drawn to a pole, intricately carved with symbols. ‘Is this mystic?’ I enquired.

‘No,’ Elton responded. ‘Your stick is over there.’ He pointed to where I had propped my walking pole. ‘This one’s mine. Have you come to learn of the Ancient Wisdom?’

‘I have, Oh Wise One.’

‘Then you may ask three further questions,’ he replied, ‘but then you must go.’

I thought hard and chose my questions carefully. ‘Firstly, I would like to know the secret of peace and tranquillity,’ I said.

‘Just tell people to bugger off,’ Elton advised.

I was astonished by the brilliant simplicity of his teaching.

‘Secondly,’ I continued, ‘what is the meaning of life?’

Elton appeared thoughtful. ‘It is the condition that distinguishes organisms from inorganic objects and dead organisms,’ he explained. ‘It is manifested by growth through metabolism, reproduction, and the power of adaptation to environment through changes originating internally. That’s from Collins, but you can consult any dictionary.’

‘I never thought of that,’ I confessed.

‘And your third question?’ Elton enquired.

‘How do you get on the list of an NHS dentist?’

‘To be frank,’ he responded, ‘I’ve never been able to work that one out, myself.’

Elton returned to his herb garden, picked some Anethum graveolens and placed it in my hand.

‘Dill we meet again,’ I said and went on my way.