Archive for November, 2013


The Hermitage: A British Story (Part 2)

The rays of the onyx confounded Lord Albon; they were too radiant for his eye to gaze on! He stopt—He thought he saw the spirit of his friend, deck’d in angelic lustre! But Astianax relieved his confusion, and cries out: “My noble Lord, this meeting affords me infinite delight. My pilgrimage is ended: My vow is fulfiled: Behold, I have borne the ashes of the Hermit, Paul Du’Monte, to this their resting place! And, my Lord, the will of Providence sends forth unhop’d for circumstances to aid the completion of the prophecy. Hence, departing, I shall approach the throne, and crave from royal bounty, the restoration of my lost possessions…”








Astianax’s fourteen-year occupation of the Hermitage is carried out in obedience to Paul Du’Monte himself, who appears in corporeal form, allowing Astianax to recognise him as – surprise! – the mysterious hermit who lectured him on the right way to live. (Although if he had lived the right way, he would never have had to flee into the mountains. Hmm…) Paul orders Astianax to remain in the cell, to devote himself to prayer and meditation, and to read the book – the one book – that the cell contains:

“On the day in which thou shalt attain the last of these few folios, on that day the will of Heaven shall lead thee hence. When thou departest, carry forth my ashes, and let them rest amidst my ancestors.”

One book that lasts fourteen years, hey? I’m betting it’s George Reynolds’ The Mysteries Of London. Both volumes.

Paul then makes a dramatic exit by crumbling into his component parts, leaving Astianax to gather up the dust and transfer it into an urn prepared for that purpose. A quick prayer later, and he settles in for a good read—

Already were fourteen years elapsed in this abode; the book of wisdom yet remained unfinished, and the latest page of knowledge was far distant—

(“Book of wisdom”? Okay, not George Reynolds…)

—but all good things must come to an end, and finally:

The book of knowledge turned as leaves toss’d by the breeze, and shewed this last most sacred sentence: “The essence of all human wisdom is religion; in prosperity, it guides the giddy spirits to the paths of rectitude; and, in adversity, it blesseth us with confidence in God.” Astianax perused the lines; no sooner were they read, than the book closed…

And immediately, Astianax hears someone calling him by the name he has carefully concealed from his mountain friends. He hurries out of the Hermitage to find himself face to face with – surprise! – Grinvil, the rumours of whose death were greatly exaggerated. The disappearance of Astianax in the wake of his attack upon his friend had him written off as a suicide in most quarters, but Grinvil never believed it and kept searching for him. At last, after hearing the story of Paul Du’Monte from some mountain men, and also that “the promised one was come”, he was certain he had finally discovered the retreat of Astianax.

After explaining that it was Polidore who arranged for him to be at the bath house at that particular time, Grinvil reveals that Lord Melvil was killed by lightning during the terrible storm that accompanied Astianax’s flight into the mountains, and that his heir, Geoffrey, “contemning the bigotry and insolence of churchmen”, subsequently refused to hand Astinanax’s estate over to the church. Furthermore, the treacherous Polidore is also dead, having keeled over after taking communion: either struck down by God for his sacrilege or, more prosaically, by a poisoned wafer, courtesy of his old friend Father Paul.

That’s the good news; the bad news is, Grinvil has been unable to discover what happened to Jessalind.

But first things first: a group of noblemen, including the new Lord Melvil, are rebelling against the king. Grinvil insists that Astianax accompany him back to civilisation, to take up arms on the royal side. Accordingly, having carefully packed up Paul’s ashes, Astianax bids farewell to the Hermitage.

Now—ever since Astianax’s retreat into the mountains some fourteen years ago, passages describing his surroundings have been appearing more and more frequently in the text. Some of these passages are quite lengthy, but none of them to date are a patch on what Astianax bursts forth with – and forces Grinvil to listen to; hasn’t he suffered enough? – as they pitch their tents after joining the forces of the loyal Lord Albon.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give to you—a man who has had no-one to talk to for the past fourteen years:

“Whilst we attend to the works of Nature, we receive innumerable testimonies of the benevolence of that great Existence, whose eye superintends, and whose breath pervades the universe. Every landscape is the manifestation of the presence of its all-powerful Author: Every individual object in this scene bears inexpressible beauties, which exceed human imagination, leading us at once to astonishment and adoration: See how the velvet-verdant carpet, which overspreads the lawn, is embroidered with flowers, and fringed with shrubs, irregularly scattered round: The autumn dresses yonder woods in a variety of colours: The foliage of the shadowy sycamore is gilded, the oak puts on his russet, the holly half conceals her ripened berries with her evergreen, the trembling poplar mixes its silvery hue amidst the dusky elms, and, here, and there, thro’ the thick grove, the white-skin’d birch seems to conceal its nakedness. Amidst the windings of the woods, the river shews its shining lakes, where the glad spirit of the streams, laughs at the dancing myriads of the sun beams. Their fleecy multitudes whiten the extended pasture, browsing around the hillocks, and with their bleating wake solitary echo from her Silvan grot; all intermixed, the lazy oxen stand sullenly, and recollect the flowery feast, whilst the gay fantastic colts play round their dams, vaulting in airy sport, the dams cast looks askance, and neigh maternal cautions to their frantic rounds. On this hand, golden furrows gladden the ascent, and load the reapers arms with wealthy sheafs. The yellow hills stretch out the distant view to yonder heathy mountains, where Barrenness sits sullenly, and frowns on Sloth; and, whilst she eyes her haggard bosom, furrowed over by storms, with extended arms she grasps the cumbersome clouds, to veil her desolation. Wilder the aspect on the other hand, which terminates the prospect; the vale extends itself to such a distance, that, tinged with azure hue, it seems to mix with Heaven; the nearer objects are o’ertop’d in gay perspective with objects still behind. Hamlets and rills, and cottages delightfully dispersed, and mingled with the various tints of trees and streams, of pastures, corn, and fallow. The church spire thrusts its head above the smoak which clouds the town; and there the solemn ruins of a castle nod upon the cliff and precipice, and tremble o’er the brook below, whose frighted Nereides hide them in the reeds which wave along the marsh. Oh! thou most splendid, thou descending orb of light, how wonderful, how delighting! From thy abounding glory are shed forth the golden streams which paint the western Heavens: To thy blazing chariot wheel gay vegetation, ever young, and fair fertility, with joys prolific wait: Now the slant rat overstretches all the valley, and there, behind the hill, the beams shoot up aloft, and skirt the pale grey, and the crimson clouds, with rich embroidery: But, whilst we contemplate the beauties of the scene, behold, far east, the horizon stands crouded with ascending vapours; and thou day-imparting constellation, hastenest thy career, and drives the rosy-footed hours beneath the mountains: As objects are withdrawing from our view, another sense finds pleasure: The bleating of the sheep, the voice of cattle trudging down the plain, and mourning for the pail, salute my ear; the song of yonder blackbird perch’d upon the thorn, the calling notes of every tenant of the spray; the cooing of the doves that lodge in dusky pines, the rustling gales which wanton with the alpine leaves, the ivy-cover’s sage, who whoots his trembling prayer to deities of darkness, the deep ton’d cadence of the distant water-fall, the voice of busy men who hear the harvest home, the clangour of the smith’s laborious hammer from his hovel, the dashing of the streams which turn yon mill, the barking of the cottage cur, who waits impatiently the long protracted steps of his dear peasant master, with the solemn sound of curfew bell which dies along the dale, as thus united or intermixed, afford delightful harmony. Through all thy glorious works, almighty Lord, the enraptured spirit of the human mind wanders forth, and full of wonder, full of praise, dwells on each object, till in itself enlarged with the pure flame of adoration; through unbounded space it bends inspired imagination, and presents itself prostrate at thy throne, full of humiliation, reverence, and gratitude; paying to thy divine existence, that worship which human language never can express.”

“Which human language never can express”!? Quite the comedian, our Astianax. On the other hand, Grinvil proves sadly lacking in a sense of humour, letting slip the opportunity to respond, “What? Sorry, I wasn’t really listening.”

(In the original edition of this novel, one of the physically small but large-fonted publications typical of this era, that paragraph runs for nine and a half pages. My giggling fit started on page 3…)

However, the novel itself provides a punchline of sorts: the inspiration of Astianax’s rhapsodising is also the scene of battle, and the beauties of nature are soon obscured by piles of mutilated human bodies, a great many of them put there by Astianax himself; after a three-page speech about the horrors of war, of course.

But not all of the bloodshed is to Astianax’s, uh, credit, even though he “slaughtered like a pestilence”:

One competitor alone fought for the King, and almost equal’d the hero in his claim for glory! Mounted on a dappled roan, a gallant steed, that toss’d his silver main aloft in air, a young man braved the greatest terrors of the war! The red teints on his horse’s glossy skin, seem’d like a shower of blood! A crimson plume covered his helmet, and crimson ribbons bound his armour: Amidst the carnage of his sword, he was known only by the name of the Bloody Knight! Where’er the foes rush’d on, and gained upon the royal troops, there he attacked!… He forced his way, and, meeting with Lord Melvil, braved him to engage; unhors’d him, and, amidst his amazed vassals, severed his head from off his body; and bore it by the hair aloft to view! The spectacle dismayed the rebel troops;—they fled!—Whilst he approach’d the King, and made the offering which ensured the peace! The rout was general!

Gee, I wonder who this could be?

By the way: I hope you see, what I mean!—about colons, commas, and, exclamation marks!

The king, whoever he may be, wishes to reward the homicidal youngster appropriately, and sends one Lord Morton to inquire after the boy’s condition. We learn that his name is Leo Du’Monte and that, in addition to bearing on his shield, A lion argent on a bloody field, supported on a rising sun; the coat of the Du’Montes, and therefore being a descendent of the Dukes of Belfort, he is the grandson of one Alfred of Normandy. However, one of his distant forbears having managed to forfeit the family title, and a more recent one the family estate, the boy has been compelled to make his own honour in combat. Hearing Leo’s history from Morton, the king restores to him both his family’s title and lands.

And it is via the young Leo (“young”, indeed! – given the exigencies of the plot, he can’t be more than fourteen! [And now I’m doing it!!]) that we learn what fate befell Father Paul, after the miscarrying of all his dastardly plots:

“The disappointment drove the monk to madness: For many years a raving horror harrowed up his soul; and, in his malady, the most distracting desperation wore down his carcase to the grave.”

Like I said at the outset, this isn’t a proper Gothic novel; otherwise, we would have seen Father Paul’s soul being harrowed up, and his carcase being worn down to the grave by distracting desperation. In graphic close-up.

Meanwhile, Astianax is wandering around for apparently no reason but to rhapsodise over nature for another ten pages or so (although not all in one paragraph). Eventually he reaches the old mansion house, which is a ruin except for the wing containing Norban’s armour, where he offers up the following Ode To A Pelican Who Might Be My Ancestor (?):

    Thence there seem’d to awake, a slumbering pelican, which sat supported on the casque, and shook its snowy plumes; then stretching forth its fair white wings, as if preparing for her flight, on either side the vast extended plumage reach’d, displaying all her ample breast, where every silver feather shone, spotless and burnish’d as the Seraph’s heavenly buckler, when he stands array’d in the glowing arms of light; with a mighty sound she took her way aloft, and, as she mounted to the realms of Heaven, a lucid train, such as the sun beams shoot from out the evening cloud, traced her passage to the skies.
     Astianax, gazing upon the vision, breathed this short ejaculation: “Blessed spirit of the mighty Norban, have the labours of Astianax gained thy approbation? Have these accomplished toils procured thee peace? Is the hour at hand, which shall restore thee to the regions of felicity?”

Having taken care of the burial of Grinvil, who in the course of battle sustained yet another fatal injury, Astianax goes to his own family vault to fulfil his obligations to the saintly Paul:

    Amidst the hallelujah, and the chorus, Astianax lifted up his face, and, to the strain, accompanied his voice. Forth from the urn a livid lambent flame arose, which shot its quivering point aloft, and fill’d the vault with fragrance. On the breast of Astianax, the onyx spread a blaze of light, such as surrounded the heavenly form of Gabriel, when sped to earth on errands of divine import, to patriarchs of old.
     Over the urn two cherubs, with their lucid pinions, hovered; and, catching the ascending flame, wafted it to Heaven: Whilst all above, the choir of aereal voices, with the sounds of many trumpets, sung his requiem…

A “noble youth” is watching all this with great interest, but before he can speak Astianax is accosted by Lord Albon, who announces that he has become enamoured of a certain female taken captive in the wake of the battle, and plans to marry her immediately – whether she likes it or not.

Gee, I wonder who this could be?

The bride, with collected resolution, at length looks up. Her looks struck on Astianax, the lustre of whose amulet had reach’d her eye! She started! stretch’d her arms to catch assistance! shriek’d and fell! And, as she fell, from her fair hand drop’d a dagger, which she had concealed, to prevent the odious espousal! Odious, as contrary to inclination!

Gratuitous, as unnecessary for clarity!

All this is rather mortifying for the prospective bridegroom:

Lord Albon thought himself abused, and called to his attendants for his sword: “Here are tricks,” cries he, “and subtleties, and holy frauds, which interpose between me and my purpose, and would deprive me of my bridal joys.”

This, mind you, is after about five minutes of “My husband!” “My wife!” “My mother!” “My son!” “My father!” “Your father!?”

However, Astianax has by now patched things up with Heaven, and as Lord Albon draws his sword, another terrible thunderstorm breaks directly overhead. When the panic subsides there is an opportunity for explanations, and at length, Lord Albon – who doesn’t exactly seem like the sharpest knife in the drawer – was convinced that this was more than artifice.

Leo is embarrassed to discover that he has inadvertently usurped his father’s lands and title and immediately offers them back, but Astianax replies that he wants only the mansion house and its grounds. By this stage Lord Albon has had a chance to pull himself together and, rather oddly, gets the final word:

“Above the selfish sentiments of partiality for my own happiness, sincere joy fills all my soul for your restored felicity, and your rewarded merit. And you, Lord Belfort, full of valour, and warm with principles of honour; go on and scorn the little gains of self-enjoyment, when an emulation of the God, whose image it is you wear, prompts to the exercise of virtues, in the field of life. For in virtue only true nobility consists, and self approving conscience calls it happiness.”

And, oh yeah, sorry for trying to hack you to death with my sword back there…



The Hermitage: A British Story (Part 1)

“I am now a stranger to you; some little time will reveal my real character… But, young man, beware; for ere we meet again, a multitude of perils will beset thee. Arm thy breast with every virtue; cloath thee with patience; trust in Heaven; loose not thy confidence in God, even in the very moments of thy greatest afflictions. The hand of Providence conducts the events of this life, by ways so mysterious to man, that what we esteem the greatest evils, often prove the passage to prosperity and happiness… Virtue consisteth not in wrestling with the will of fate, but in sustaining the trials of life with fortitude and resignation; supporting the mind from falling through lassitude into despair, or from impatience being severed with rashness and headstrong resolution. The Author of every event trieth the heart of man; and, in his own good time, bringeth forth the fruits of virtue and of honour. To wait with patience, to submit with resignation, and without complainings, to sustain the evils of mortality with perseverance, and with piety, to stand erect before the frowns of life’s adversity, scorning to incline to either hand, either to forlornness, or to impetuosity; but, looking forward with faith, depending on the will of Heaven, is to work out the labours of propriety: For God ordaineth, and his minsters execute. What ever is, derives its origin from Heaven.”



Though it is by no stretching of definitions a Gothic novel itself, William Hutchinson’s The Hermitage: A British Story is a valid and important inclusion in the timeline of Gothic fiction. Published in 1772 (and popular enough to run to a second edition, which was reissued in 1775 as The Hermitage Of Du Monte), this short novel seems to be the first overt literary response to The Castle Of Otranto, pre-dating Clara Reeve’s The Old English Baron by five years.

The Hermitage was published anonymously, but its author was later identified as William Hutchinson, an antiquarian and topographer. In addition to publishing a number of non-fiction works in these fields, Hutchinson edited the poetry of his brother, Robert, wrote three plays (only one of which was ever performed), and produced several works of fiction. One of them, most frustratingly unavailable, is listed as A ‘Romance’ After The Manner Of ‘The Castle Of Otranto’ – which if nothing else lays to rest any doubt about Horace Walpole’s influence on Hutchinson.

Whatever the non-fiction that was his bread and butter may have looked like, as a novelist Hutchinson’s writing style might best be described as “idiosyncratic”. The early stages of this work are rather stiff, but as he warms to his task Hutchinson lets fly with exalted sentiments, overflowing emotions, adjective-laden descriptions, and wildly over-used punctuation – he’s particularly addicted to commas, colons and exclamation marks; not so much to full-stops – the latter of which helps him to construct some run-on sentences of truly awesome magnitude. All this contributes to an oddly structured novel, with flourishes of action at the beginning and the end, and an extended lull in the middle; although I’m sure William Hutchinson wouldn’t be pleased with my saying so, given that the middle section deals with the redemption from sin of his central character.

Historically, the importance of The Hermitage lies in the way it shows us how writers would begin to pick the eyes out of The Castle Of Otranto, working and re-working its tropes and playing variations on a theme until, some twenty years later, a new genre of novel was born. There are supernatural elements in this novel, but – like Clara Reeve after him – William Hutchinson shies away from Walpole’s enthusiastic embrace of the unearthly, confining them to a few scattered flourishes. All three authors do agree, however, that any such manifestations must emanate from God in the service of Providence. Religious themes are prominent in The Hermitage, with a nobleman withdrawing from the world to expiate his sins through prayer and repentance, and much emphasis placed upon complete submission to God’s will; although frankly, I take issue with the novel’s assertion that good must necessarily come out of evil. (If something terrible happens to you, that’s just God paving the way for a nice surprise.)

Sharing billing with God in this novel is Nature, with impassioned descriptions of the landscape becoming more and more frequent as the narrative progresses (if you thought Ann Radcliffe invented that sort of thing, think again), so that on the whole The Hermitage sits comfortably under the deist / sentimental umbrella; although it goes further than most deist novels by not merely decrying the church as corrupt, but managing to be virulently anti-Catholic despite being set in pre-Reformation England. It also differs from most other pseudo-historical works of this period in that it never specifies when its events are taking place, nor the identity of the king whose affairs figure on the fringe of the story; although given that when a clash occurs between the monarch’s forces and those of certain rebellious nobles towards the end of the novel, the king is backed up by forces from Normandy, we might infer that this novel is set a great many years earlier than the language and behaviour of its characters tends to imply.

Nevertheless, and with a wonderful disregard of the historical record (particularly for an antiquarian), William Hutchinson gathers up all of late 18th century England’s religious prejudices and dumps them several hundred years in the past, opening his novel with a bitter clash between a certain nobleman who, From a mind enlarged with learning and benevolence, had embraced certain principles differing from the Romish church, and the Abbott of a nearby monastery who, From the contracted habits of his education, had hardened his soul with every severity of superstition.

Hmm. I’m not altogether sure that “the Romish church” was an expression much in use in England prior to the 17th century, but that doesn’t stop William Hutchison:

His blind bigotry induced him to think, that, in distressing one who dissented from the church of Rome, he rendered essential service to the God of all; through zealous frenzy he devised a thousand treacheries, and a thousand snares to oppress and injure Periander.

Father Peter’s first manoeuvre is to forge a title deed to Periander’s estate and to use it to convince the local liege lord that he has a claim on the property. (It is later revealed that Father Peter is working on the fears and superstitions of Lord Melvil, convincing him to buy salvation by endowing the church with land and money.) Nothing loath, Lord Melvil institutes legal proceedings against Periander, while Father Peter rounds up some Catholics, “deluded through their blindness into zeal”, to swear to whatever he tells them to. Periander, for all that his knowledge of God exceeds that of the existing church, is so shocked that his enemies are not instantly struck down by Divine retribution that he, well, dies:

    He confided in the God of justice, and smiled at the devices of his enemies: But too late he perceived, that the workers of iniquity were not always corrected by the instant hand of Providence. He was at length alarmed with the reality of his danger; his paternal bosom felt apprehensions for his son; his age was disturbed in the midst of its infirmities, and the hand of care grasped at his fainting soul.
    Periander did not long sustain the shock, he sunk into the arms of death. With filial devotion, his beloved son Astianax laid him in the vault amidst his ancestors.

And it is Astianax who will be The Hermitage‘s central character; I hesitate to say “hero”. Astianax shares his father’s religious views – and then some – musing thus:

Already learning gains a rapid progress in the land: The shades of ignorance are dispersing, as the vapours in the valley mount upon the morning rays, to bring on a serene meridian. The crafts and artifices by which the church have hitherto held the vulgar in bigotry and superstition, (an iron arbitrary reign), are gradually dissipating under the beams of learning; the darkness is stricken, the terrors and goblins vanish, the authority of Rome wasteth away!… My prophetic mind presages to me many degradations of the church… The insolence of priesthood will exist to the last verge; till at length the total dissolution of these monasteries, these convents, these cathedrals and colleges, like shackles on the hand of liberty, worn in ages of supine indolence, will be torn off…

“Prophetic mind”, indeed.

With the battle for the estate still ongoing, Astianax defiantly takes up residence in the halls of his ancestors, and immediately has a strange experience:

As he walked pensive to and fro, on a sudden, behind him, at the further end of the gallery, he heard a clash of armour: Turning hastily, he observed the buckler and shield to shake, which once his great ancestor Norban wore; and in which, in Palestine, he testified his valour to the Saracens. He regarded the event as accidental, and on pursued his melancholy walk: Hearing the sound again, he looked up, and perceived the coat of mail to tremble on the crooks where it hung, and the gauntlet moved as if it beckoned him…

Obeying the strange command, Astianax discovers a small cross of onyx concealed within the armour, which throughout the story operates like a sort of holy mood ring, warning of danger or heralding triumph. As soon as Astianax puts it on:

from every point of the cross, there fell warm drops of blood; and, with a horrid clangour, the armour shook in every joint! Surprise now changed to fear. Have I, says he, with sacrilegious hands, polluted this fair gem? and is the spirit of the mighty Norban offended at my rashness? Again the armour shook! These uncommon appearances increased his amazement; as, if danger was near, he laid his hand upon his sword, and, looking around, seemed to expect an enemy. His enemy was there! The insatiable ecclesiastic, not being content with the slow progress of the laws, in the oppression of Astianax, and not being appeased by the death of the good Periander; but taking advantage of the liberty which these times of bigotry afforded to the churchmen, he past through the apartments of the house uninterrupted, and sought the heir of Periander in his retirement, to accomplish his infernal purposes by his assassination…

Finding Astianax on his guard, the monk is thwarted; but he is nothing if not persistent:

Conscious evil filled the guilty mind of Father Peter with terror and self-condemnation. His soul let go its bloody purpose, and, for a moment, relaxed into remorse; but for a moment only: For the succeeding thought turned on a future time to execute his project…

Soon afterwards, Astianax meets an ecclesiastic of a different stripe. While he is out hunting, he encounters a mysterious hermit who utters the speech quoted up above, essentially counselling a game of “moral statues”: whatever happens, just put up with it; you’ll be glad you did. Astianax vows to follow the hermit’s advice, but of course does nothing of the kind, otherwise we wouldn’t have a novel.

Astianax marries the lovely Jessalind, and for a time is blissfully happy and content. He also forms a close friendship with a young man called Polidore, who one day, with a great show of reluctance, tells Astianax that his wife is unfaithful, and that the other man is his own kinsman, Grinvil. Almost mad with jealousy, Astianax listens only too eagerly to Polidore’s revelation of a secret assignation at the bath house (!). Waiting hidden from sight, he watches as Jessalind approaches. No sooner has he heard a man’s voice address her than he—

…bursting into the anti-chamber of the bath, discovered the disconcerted and alarmed Jessalind, with the treacherous Grinvil! For jealousy, for madness, this was evidence sufficient. The emotions of Astianax’s breast stifled his words; he only had power left him to call Grinvil to defend himself. Grinvil would have parlay’d, but Astianax rushed on. The terrified Jessalind fainted! Sword met with sword, and, in the bosom of Grinvil, the horrid steel was plunged!

But Grinvil isn’t quite dead, and he manages to declare Jessalind innocent before losing consciousness through loss of blood. The appalled Astianax is left to realise that he has forfeited everything by his act of insanity. Expecting every moment to be arrested for murder, he bolts, determined to find some retreat where he can conceal himself until things cool down, and he can petition the king for clemency. He heads into the surrounding hills with Lord Melvil’s men in hot pursuit. A thunderstorm of the most tremendous violence engulfs the land, which Astianax immediately interprets as a sign from a justly wrathful God…

Meanwhile, Lord Melvil confiscates Astianax’s estates, turning the heartbroken – and pregnant – Jessalind out of the mansion-house; while Father Peter meets with his co-conspirator, Iago Polidore.

Astianax’s erratic steps lead him up into the mountains, into a scattered community of shepherds. His behaviour causes most of the inhabitants to believe him mad, but the patriarch of the community reads him correctly and gives him a stern lecture about bowing to the will of God that recalls to Astianax’s guilty mind the hermit’s precepts. He then resolves to try and expiate his sins by withdrawing from the world:

    “I seek some place for my retirement, where Innocence and Truth have formed their habitation; if they, ere this, are not escap’d to Heaven. I have forsworn the busy world, and seek to form some Hermitage, where I may spend my life in prayer and meditation, by penitence to purchase expiation of my crimes. Some Hermitage where few men come, and yet where human steps may tread, that seeing them I may remember what I am; and renewing to my mind the history of mankind, I may daily, to the throne of Heaven, put up petitions for mercies on them; to repat evil with good, and close this life of misery and care, in supplications for the pardon of the world.”
    “An Hermitage you seek,” replies the shepherd, “the Hermitage of Paul Du’Monte, as old tradition goes, was near this place.”
    The name Du’Monte struck Astianax with horror! His own surname…

Astianax does not reveal his identity to the shepherd, but encourages him to tell all he knows of the saintly Paul, the youngest son of Lord Du’Monte; a monk who separated himself from his order because of his disgust with the avarice and hypocrisy of his brethren. Blessed with the gift of healing, Paul established himself in the mountains, living in a cave transformed into a cell, and devoting himself to the care of the scattered population.

After passing many years in this manner, Paul’s regular inquiries as to whether any stranger had been seen in the area were answered when he received a visit from his brother, Norban. To his flock Paul announced that Norban’s coming was a sign of his own approaching death; to his brother, he gave the onyx cross that he wore about his neck, declaring that “swords, pestilence, and storms” could never harm him while he wore it. He further instructed him not to say a word about it to any of their family, but to ensure that after his death the cross was hung with his armour in their ancient home:

“There it shall hang for ages, till one of thy good race, whom Heaven appoints to give rest unto my ashes, shall reassume it, and with it all its virtues… In that period of time, when my ashes shall rest in the sepulchre of the Du’Montes, thy issue Norban will again reassume their ducal title, and possess the large demains which Norman William granted to our ancestor, as a reward for his illustrious virtues.”

Now, you might think that Astianax’s next move would be to transport Paul’s remains to the family vault, prior to fighting – and, presumably, winning – a battle for the family estate. You’d be wrong. Instead, he finds his way to Paul’s, yes, Hermitage—and stays there for fourteen years.

This would be that lull I mentioned…

[To be continued…]