Say, there's something fantastic about the place. It gives me the creeps," he said. "Do you really suppose anyone lived here?"
"Why not?" Lockersley came into the cave and stood on the dry carpet of leaves which covered the rocky floor. "I can imagine worse places to live. It's dry, and surprisingly warm, and utterly peaceful. Not bad to wake up on a stone bed and look out into the woods, and see the dawn on the lake. You try it. It's much more comfortable than it looks.
The stone couch was strewn with bracken and dead leaves and Rhodian sat down on it and looked through the arched entrance to the golden glory of the woods outside.
"All right in summer, maybe, but in winter--no."
"Why not? A good wood fire--the door and lancet are so arranged that the smoke clears away pretty well," replied Lockersley. "It'd be a damn sight more comfortable than many a Norman castle....I like it in here. I understand how the hermit felt in his house. Safe from the world."
--from Death Came Softly (1943), by ECR Lorac
In my recent review of ECR Lorac's Death Came Softly, I mentioned that the scene of the murder of Eve Merrion's beloved anthropologist father Professor Crewdon, menacingly depicted on the cover of the 1943 Collins edition, is a hermit's cave on the grounds of the grand mansion, Valehead House, lately purchased by Eve. Death Came Softly is set in Devonshire, where a few years earlier ECR Lorac herself (Carol Rivett) had been evacuated from the German bombing of London, but the novel's Valehead House, a classically symmetrical white Italianate mansion, reminds me rather of Kingston Lacy, in Dorset, of which I included some photos in the review.
|remains of Dale Abbey|
dissolved and despoiled in 1538
Also in Dale Abbey is Hermit's Wood, wherein is found a hermit's cave and a holy well, no less. The cave allegedly was fashioned in the twelfth century by a Derby baker, who had a beatific vision in which the Virgin Mary instructed him to lead a contemplative life of solitude and prayer.
The cave was later enlarged in the 18th century by Sir Robert Burdett, who entertained in it. (I'm guessing this explains those larger openings, which a lone contemplative hardly would have needed.)
Did Carol Rivett have this particular hermit's cave in mind when she wrote Death Came Softly? Maybe there was another, actually located in Devonshire. Dale Abbey lies about about 100 miles from Harpenden, Herfordshire, where Carol Rivett's mother, Beatrice, seems to have spent the early war years, before she became a patient at Camberwell House, a private asylum in London. After the Second World War Carol Rivett lived at her mother's house in Harpenden for a few years before moving to Lancashire.
Whatever the inspiration for the hermit's cave in Death Came Softly, it makes a memorable murder scene; and it also speaks to Carol Rivett's growing fascination with (and spiritual sense for) rural geography, a quality she shared with her contemporary mystery writer and Detection Club colleague John Street. It's a feeling which grows only more pronounced in her works over the 1940s and 1950s. More soon!