Colin Dunbar

"With passion, patience, and persistence, anything is possible."

Little Cabin on the Hill (short story)

By Colin Dunbar

Driving alone in the quietude of the early morning, thoughts danced through my mind: what type of person was? What questions could I ask? And what not? How would the interview go?

In my five years as a journalist this was the biggest scoop I had ever had. And certainly one of the most interesting.

As always I had a list of questions. Don't know why I bother, I hardly ever conduct an interview according to my prepared questions. I checked my watch, I had been on the road just over two hours, still about an hour and would be there. I think what made this assignment even stranger was the way in which I discovered Graeme Nielson.

Researching material for a series of articles I was planning, I came across a newspaper clipping abut a gruesome accident. The wife and daughter of a very successful businessman had been killed instantly in a car accident; the driver of the other car was charged for culpable homicide, because of negligence. As it formed part of my research, I started digging. I dug all the available information on the accident, from the incident to the trial and sentencing.

I kept digging but the story ended there.

What had happened to the man?

Surely a man as successful as Graeme Nielson would still be in the news, as he had been before the shattering accident.

I approached my editor with what I had; we talked it over and he gave me the go-ahead: find Graeme Nielson, and do a feature on him. My digging began. What had happened to a man so successful in business circles?

After more than nine months of constant probing, asking questions, visiting people, here I was - only minutes from meeting the mysterious Mr Graeme Nielson. I had a good idea as to how an expectant mother felt; after nine long an tiring months, at last being so near to having such a great experience.

As I turned onto the narrow dirt road and eased my car upward to the small cottage in the distance I had mixed feelings.

From what I had read and heard about Mr Nielson, he was a ruthless entrepreneur: aggressive, firm, and he knew what he wanted. A well-educated man. And even well into his forties, he would still put in more than 18 hours a day. How was I going to start the conversation? How should I conduct the interview? How would HE meet me?

I brought my car to a gentle stop a little way from the cottage. Cut the life from the gently running engine. I sat motionless and took in the picture around me. The serenity of the place had a tremendous impact on me. I was acutely aware of the chirping of the birds; the only "noise" that could be heard.

The cottage was well- built and the yard impeccably tidy. There were chicken runs to the East, and a well-maintained vegetable garden a little way past that. It was not big, but it seemed sifficient.

I reached over to the back seat for my briefcase; brought it onto the passenger seat, wanting to go over my questions and check my tape recorder. And there he was! Standing in the doorway.

I swallowed. Man, this guy was big!

Easing the door open I climbed out. Then only did I notice the Staffordshire terrier. I swallowed again. It was twelve years since I had been close to a dog - amazing how one loses touch with being close to animals. Not that it was of my own choice.

I stood motionless next to my car, trying to appear relaxed.

"Good morning, Mr Nielson," I managed to utter.

He stepped out from the doorway and walked towards me, that large frame becoming larger. The dog at his side.

My gaze dropped to the dog.

"Never mind Shaka, he's gentle as a lamb," came the firm, yet passive voice.

I returned my look to the man, almost right before me now. Looking into those stern eyes, I realised in a moment, how ruthless a business man this must have been; yet there was something sensitive about him.

"You are a very persistent young man, Mr Scott," he said, only a hint of a smile.

I didn't know what to say, and stuck out my hand.

"It's... good to meet you, Mr Nielson."

"Graeme. Don't think I got your first name."

"Graeme... right. I'm Greg."

He put his arm over my shoulders and we walked to the cottage. Inside, he poured two mugs of black coffee.

"Hope you drink it black."

"Sure," I was quick to answer, having become accustomed to it.

After a short while and a very enjoyable mug of pure black coffee I realised what a pleasant man he was. Sitting back in his chair he put his large briar to his mouth, went through the ritual of lighting up, and puffed enjoyably at the pipe.

"Well Greg, what do you want to know?"

That direct question caught me off guard.

"Uh... Graeme, I have prepared some questions," I mumbled and reached for my briefcase.

"Let's not make this all formal. Had enough of those, years ago," he said friendly, "Tell if this right: you want to know sort of life I lead, and why I gave up the wealth of business, right?"

"Well... yes."

"Let me show you around outside."

Graeme led the way. I was more relaxed now. And the dog didn't scare me anymore. From what I had read about this man, he did not seem to be quite the same person. It seemed as though he had lived way out here, practically away from civilisation, all his life.

A little way from his yard was a clump of bluegum trees: here we sat and talked casually, as though we were old bosom friends. Sitting outdoors like this, not seeing anything, but a vast openness, resurrected memories of part of my life I was glad was over.

Graeme brought it fully home to me what it meant to live way out here, away from city life, and the man-made pleasures. He was of course in a fortunate position, in that he didn't have any financial problems. Unfortunately for me I made the mistake of mentioning this to him.

"My dear young friend," Graeme said, without any facial expression. "I suppose it's perfectly normal at your age, to consider money as being important in life."

"No... it's not that..."

"You see Greg, practically everything I need to live is supplied from nature. Vegetables, eggs, chickens, fish, fruit. Even herbs."

Graeme had a point.

For the rest of the morning we sat under the trees and Graeme told how he had worked out his totally balanced diet.

We walked across the yard together, almost like father and son. Talking and laughing. The open space and clean air made me think of the life I had ended six years ago; I was pleased to have that behind me. I was completely relaxed and began to take in every detail about this amazing man, and his little cabin on the hill.

The tour included the chicken run; well constructed and neat.

"They give me fresh eggs every day, and on occasions a good Sunday meal."

"It must be great living here. So peaceful," I said.

"Yes," he answered quietly and turned his gaze to the distance.

I had a good idea of where his thoughts were at that moment. Graeme and his wife had saved diligently for several years, and always shared the dream to retire here one day. And now only he was here, with the memory of the woman he loved so dearly.

We passed his vegetable garden; very well-maintained. The serenity and quiet of this place had a growing impact on me. We stopped at the top of a small hill.

"You eat fish, Greg?" Graeme asked, looking down at a small stream.

"Yes sir."

"Then we'll have fresh trout tonight."

Fresh fish. It's been some years since I've had that.

We turned and walked back to the cottage, talking and joking. This interview, if I could call it that, was going totally different to the way I had expected it to go. Actually it was like a casual get-together of old friends.

Graeme was a remarkable man, highly educated, successful and wealthy; and he gave it all up to live here, close to nature. It was so wonderful here. I imagined what it was like living under these conditions; eating fresh vegetables, eggs, and trout from the river.

The meal Graeme prepared was excellent. Eating by paraffin lamp-light, on simple furniture made it all the better.

"Thanks Graeme. That's the best meal I've had in years."

"Just plain home cooking," Graeme said conservatively.

I helped with the washing up, and we talked. I learned so much about this man's philosophies, and what it meant to him to live out here.

After the washing up was done, we sat on the veranda and talked until late. Close to the bewitching hour we decided to crawl in. I lay in bed recalling the rewarding day I had.

And so I drifted off to sleep. I'd have an early start in the morning.

The sudden flapping of the dove's wings startled Greg. He watched the bird rise high into the sky, until it was out of sight.

He longed for the day when he would again be free, just as that bird.

Greg turned his attention back to his books before him. He glanced around his cell; perhaps one day he would have such an assignment.

~ ~ ~

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