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The Man

Once there was a man who, through a life of resolute effort, had accumulated considerable wealth. He was not a particularly good man, but he was by no means a bad one, and while his fortune was not won in the pursuit of altruistic goals, neither was it acquired through fraud or exploitation.

His house was well-built, spacious and beautiful. Although not inclined to change things to suit the caprices of fashion, he attended to repairs and refurbishing as need suggested, so that nothing about him was in poor condition or disarray.

The walls were distempered in colours gentle to the eye, and were hung with glowing tapestries. His floors were all of clean-cut granite, and none of his fur-soft rugs was so large that it could not be taken up and made as white as when it left the weaver’s loom. His chairs and rugs were scattered with down-filled cushions, dyed emerald and turquoise and fuchsia pink.

The breezes that wafted through his windows were scented with lilies and lavender, jasmine and roses, for the house was set about with a garden of magical loveliness. Along its wandering paths one might discover sky-blue orchids as small as a baby’s fingernail, or swan-white camellias as large as a spring cabbage. There were fountains that threw water to smash and sparkle in the sunshine, and streams that purled between great wet ferns until they fell joyously into pools of crystal water where moss-green fish drifted like shadowed dreams.

On one of his walls there hung a faithful reproduction of “The Virgin of the Rocks”, and on this he would gaze for long minutes, allowing his spirit to be caressed by the spirit that dwelt in the painting’s darkness; unknowable, but safe. He also owned a copy of “La Baigneuse Blonde”, his thoughts about which are undisclosed—although, if questioned, he would never be such a hypocrite as to say that he “merely admired its artistic merit”.

He had a housemaid who polished his cedar and rosewood until it glowed, and although she sang about her work her voice was never harsh or intrusive.

There was a cook, too, who understood his wants, bringing him simple and comforting foods—milk heated with sugar and vanilla, or perhaps a soft-ripe pear, luscious and dripping. He had abandoned flesh as food, not because he felt uncomfortable about the actual taking of life, but because of the bawling terror of long-distance cattle trucks, the screaming death of lobsters, the pervading human callousness that preceded slaughter.

His gardener was a man rich in years and knowledge, but still able to open his mind to new philosophies and to be moved by the opening of the first crocus or the falling of the last sere leaf.

Now when this most fortunate man was farewelled from his place of employment, with much feigned heartiness and a quite unnecessary golden handshake, he was advised not to let himself go to seed; to get out and meet new people, to travel, and to join the local bowling club. But because he was content with his lot—as indeed he should have been—and confident of his ability to manage his own life—which was not to his discredit—he ignored this good advice.

And so he missed the opportunity to stand around at cocktail parties, or to go on poker machine playing excursions, or to hear talks by the president of the R.S.L. He even denied himself the opportunity of being offered an Amway distributorship. Instead, he spent whole days fossicking through second-hand shops and attending country auctions, He bought books; sometimes for the pleasure of their words, and sometimes for the sensuous delight of their touch and smell. He also bought things that were old or curious, and small household items of fine forgotten workmanship, and bore them home as proudly as a child with a bucket of tadpoles.

The cook taught him to make bread, pulling and folding and pushing and turning until the dough was smooth and resilient, then baking it, so that the smell of autumn sunshine filled the house. The gardener taught him how to prune roses, and to love the sweet breath of a handful of leafy earth.

In the evenings the man played board games or card games with his cook and his gardener, or the three of them sat around a blazing fire making cinnamon toast and burning their mouths with hot chocolate. Sometimes they simply sat and read, warm in that wordless communion of people who truly trust each other.

I should like to have written a story about this man, but stories need events, and the only thing even remotely like an event was that the sweet-voiced housemaid one day announced quite unexpectedly that she was about to marry the dreamy-eyed boy who raked leaves for the gardener—and it was to be, as people like to say, a quiet wedding.

Then there was a flurry of activity while tradesmen readied a suite of rooms for the young couple—for the man had no wish to lose an excellent polisher of cedar and rosewood—and then the three companions turned their interest to knitting. This they found productive and enjoyable, although the two men, whose hands were rough from daily encounters with rose thorns and stubborn weeds, did have just a little difficulty at first.

* * * * * * *

And so I must do without my story, but I can at least say that everyone really did live happily ever after—which was, when all’s considered, no more than they deserved.



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