Thursday, 6 June 2013

The Hermits

The Hermits were good people. All their lives they tried to do good; all their lives they loved their friends and neighbours; all their lives they'd shared an unbreakable bond that, now only four remained, grew tighter. These four sisters were affectionately known as 'The Hermits', although they used to be called Hodson-Wareing. Not young, not old, but middle-aged and advancing. Unmarried and childless, they lived in a large house with a roof shaped like a steeple and a secluded walled garden. 'There's no place like the Hermitage' was their motto; a sentence they chanted when they wished to return to it.
The Hermits, as they were collectively known, retained the magic of their childhood. The four sisters upheld family traditions, but along with their new name invented fresh ones. The family gong was still bonged for breakfast, lunch and supper, and the old school bell was rung for elevenses, but more often it was employed to call in the gardening sister. Self-sufficient, they grew nearly everything: flowers, herbs, fruit and vegetables, and bestowed baskets of surplus produce on their neighbours. They even kept a small brood of contented rescued hens who were erratic layers. Their lives had always been tranquil, but they yearned to be eccentric, so when their eight siblings left or wed and their parents passed, they established this new order: The Order of the Sisters of The Hermitage.
Their parents had brought them up as Roman Catholics, following the Latin Mass and hailing Mother Mary, but as adults they returned to their irreverent love for St. Francis. They didn't want to be known as 'Poor Clares' or 'Poor Sisters', as they were not poor and their Order was not meant to be religious. This was an Order with feminine wiles and masculine gaiety. As The Hermits, they refrained from using their full Christian names and answered only to their shortened versions: Frank, Bernard, Mil and Mon, and symbolised their vows wearing Franciscan-style cassocks with hoods: machine stitched blankets, sofa throws or sheets tied at the waist with tasselled curtain cords. They would often remark that this garb was more becoming than a nun's habit, and it was, as while they wore the same colour it varied in shade: rich, dark, muted, and pastel. The colour of the cloth changed with the seasons and to this they added their own embellishments. Mon's had a sweetheart neckline, Frank's had embroidered flowers, Mil's was trimmed with a William Morris design, and Bernard wore her hood all the time, rain or shine, as she liked the way it framed her face. The Sisters were vain; one never looked quite the same to the other.
In The Hermitage, no room was set aside as a chapel; there were no morning or evening prayers and pop songs were sung instead of reciting the Rosary. Each meal was blessed with 'Rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub. Amen. ' and every other sentence was begun with 'In the name of St. Francis...' Monthly Hermittee Meetings were held, in which they discussed house repairs and rotas for shopping, cooking and cleaning, but when complaints were raised under 'Any Other Business', it was usual for one or two Hermits to storm off. Harmony was always restored with a cup of tea and by their twice yearly robe giving ceremony, where they exchanged the 'Colours of the Cloth'. The Hermits would kneel and a villager disguised as St. Francis would drape them with their cloth and anoint it with Spring Water. The congregation then concluded the service with the words: “These Sisters were called, but were not chosen.”

*Inspired by 'A Suppressed Cry – The Short Life of a Victorian Daughter' by Victoria Glendinning.