The Hermit - Part 2

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    can of water, he soon had tea and

    tsampa ready once again. The old man

    sipped gratefully at the hot tea. The

    young monk was fascinated at his

    manner of drinking. In Tibet all food

    containers such as cups and bowls are

    held with two hands in order that

    respect may be shown to the food that

    nourishes. The old hermit, through long

    practise, held the bowl with two hands

    so that a finger of each hand

    overlapped the inner edge. Should there

    be any danger of spilling, through not

    being able to see the angle of the liquid,

    a finger on one side would get wet and

    so would warn the old man. Now he sat

    there contentedly, greatly appreciating

    hot tea after decades of cold water.

    'It is strange,' he said, 'that after more

    than sixty years of sheer austerity, I

    now crave hot tea. I crave also the

    warm comforting glow brought by the

    fire - have you noticed how it warms

    the air of our cave?'

    The young monk looked at him in

    compassion. Such little desires, so little

    comfort 'Do you never get out,

    Venerable One?' he asked.

    'No, never,' replied the hermit. 'Here I

    know every stone. Here loss of sight

    does not trouble me greatly, but to

    venture outside where there areboulders and precipices - THAT is

    another matter! I could even walk off

    the bank and fall into the lake; I could

    leave this cave and be unable to retrace

    my steps.'

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    'Venerable One,' said the young monk

    diffidently, 'how did you get to this

    remote, inaccessible cave, did you find

    it by chance?'

    'No, I did not,' answered the old man.'When the Men from Another World

    finished with me they brought me here.

    They MADE THIS CAVE

    SPECIALLY FOR ME!' He sat back

    with a satisfied smile, well knowing

    what an effect that would have on his

    listener. The young monk rocked and

    almost tipped over backwards, so great

    was his amazement 'MADE it for you?'

    he stuttered, 'but how could they cut

    such a hole as this in the mountain?'

    The old man chuckled with glee. 'Two

    men brought me here,' he said, 'they

    brought me on a platform that flew

    through the air even as the birds fly. It

    was noiseless - more noiseless than the

    birds, because they creak; I can hear

    their pinions squeak as they beat the

    air. I can hear their feathers as the wind

    rustles through. THIS thing in which I

    came was as silent as a shadow. It rose

    in the air without effort, there was no

    draft, no sensation of speed. The two

    men made it alight here.'

    'But why HERE, Venerable One?'

    queried the young monk.

    'Why?' responded the old man. 'Why?

    Well think of the advantages. It is a few

    hundred yards off the trade route and so

    traders come to me for advice or

    blessings and they pay me by providing

    barley. It is near the trails leading to

    two small lamaseries and seven

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    hermitages. I need not starve here. I get

    news. Lamas call upon me, they- know

    my mission - and they know yours!'

    - 'But, Sir;' persisted the young monk,

    'surely it made an awful commotionwhen passers-by found a deep cave

    here where none had been before.'

    'Young man,' chortled the hermit; 'you

    have been about here, did you notice

    any caves between- here and By

    Waters? No? There are no less than

    nine. You were not interested in caves

    and so you did not notice them.'

    'But how was this cave made by two

    men, it must have taken months!' The

    young man was bewildered.

    'By the magic of what they called

    atomic science,' answered the old

    hermit patiently; 'One man sat on the

    flying platform and looked about in

    case there should be onlookers. The

    other held a small device in his hand,there was a roaring like hungry devils,

    and - so I was told - all the rock

    vaporized leaving this as two chambers.

    In my inner chamber there is a very

    small trickle of water, which fills my

    bowl twice a day. Ample for my

    requirements, and it was so arranged as

    I could not visit the lake for water. If I

    have no barley - as has happened from

    time to time, I eat the lichen, which

    grows, in the inner cave. It is not

    pleasant, but it sustains life until I again

    have barley.'

    The young monk rose to his feet and

    walked to the cave walls nearest the

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    light of day. Yes, the rock DID look

    peculiar, akin to the tunnels of extinct

    volcanoes he had seen in the Chang

    Tang highlands. The rock looked as

    though it had been melted, dripped, and

    cooled into a glass-hard surface without

    roughness or projections The surface

    seemed transparent and through its

    clarity could be seen the striations of

    the natural rock with here and there

    gleaming veins of gold. -At one point,

    he saw, the gold had melted and had

    started to flow down the wall as a thick

    syrup, then it had cooled and had been

    covered by the glass formed when the

    silicon dioxide layer had failed to

    crystallize during that cooling. So the

    cave had natural glass walls!

    But there were household duties to be

    done; not all time was for talk. The

    floor had to be cleaned, water fetched,

    and firewood to be broken into suitable

    sizes. The young monk seized the

    sweeping branch and set to withoutmarked enthusiasm. Housework WAS

    a bore! Carefully he swept over his

    sleeping place, carefully he moved

    toward the entrance, still sweeping. His

    sweeping branch struck a small mound

    in the floor, dislodged it, and there

    uncovered lay a brownish-green object

    Crossly the young monk stooped to

    remove the intruding stone, wondering

    how THAT got there. He grasped theobject and jumped back with an

    exclamation; this was not a stone, this

    was - what? Cautiously he peered at the

    thing and prodded it with a stick. It

    rolled over, chinking. He picked it up

    and hurried to the old hermit with it.

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    'Venerable One!' he called, 'I have

    discovered a strange object beneath

    where the convict lay.'

    The old man stumbled out from his

    inner chamber. 'Describe it to me,' hecommanded.

    'Well,' said the young monk, 'it appears

    to be a bag as large as my two clenched

    fists. It is of leather or some kind of

    animal skin.' He fumbled at it. 'And

    there is a string round its neck. I will

    get a sharp stone.' He hurried out of the

    cave and picked up a sharp-edged flint

    Returning, he sawed -at the thingaround the neck of the bag. 'Very

    tough,' he commented. 'The whole

    thing is slimy with damp and is covered

    with mildew, still, ah! I've cut it.'

    Carefully he opened the bag and

    tumbled the contents on the skirt of his

    robe. 'Gold coins,' he said, 'I have never

    seen money before, only pictures of it.

    Shiny bits of coloured glass. Wonder

    what THEY are for? And here are five

    gold rings with bits of glass stuck in

    them.'

    'Let me feel them,' ordered the hermit.

    The young monk lifted his robe and

    guided his superior's hand to the little

    pile.

    'Diamonds,' said the hermit. 'Rubies - I

    can tell by the vibration - and....' the old

    man fell silent as he slowly fingered the

    stones, the rings and the coins. At last

    he drew a deep breath and remarked,

    'Our convict must have stolen these

    things, I feel that they are Indian coins.

    I feel EVIL in them. They are worth a

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    together as a sign that HOUSE-WORK

    for the day was finished. Now came the

    time when young, alert memory cells

    were ready to receive and store

    information.

    The old hermit came shuffling out of

    the inner chamber. Even to the

    inexperienced gaze of the young monk

    the old man was visibly failing. Slowly

    the hermit settled himself on the ground

    and adjusted his robe around him. The

    younger man took the proffered bowl

    and filled it with cold water. Carefully

    he placed it beside the old one and

    guided his hand to the edge so that he

    would know the exact location. Then

    he too sat on the ground and waited for

    his senior to speak:

    "For a time there was no sound as the

    ancient man sat and marshalled his

    thoughts in an orderly manner. Then,

    after much hawking and clearing of his

    throat, he commenced. 'The female

    slept, and then I slept. But I did not

    sleep for long. She was snoring

    horribly and my head was throbbing. It

    felt as though my brain was swelling

    and trying to push off the top of my

    skull. There came a pounding in the

    blood vessels of my neck and I felt

    upon the verge of collapse. There came

    a change in the tempo of snores, the

    sound of a foot shuffling, and abruptly,with a remarkable exclamation, the

    female leaped to her feet and rushed to

    my side. There came the sound of

    tinkles and clinks and a different

    rhythm in the rushing of the fluids

    c