The Keeper-of-All-the-Orchards-in-the-World, a shape-shifting lover, and an abundance of beautiful autumn fruit.
THE WOOING OF POMONA
– An Autumn Story –
ONCE upon a time, in the happy days of old, Vertumnus, Keeper-of-All-the-Orchards-in-the-World, crowned himself with flowers, and wandered about looking for orchards that needed his care.
It happened that he strayed near a high wall, above which he saw the tops of fruit-trees laden with rosy Apples. Near the wall some Fauns were dancing, their ugly horned heads wreathed with pine, and their goat-feet trampling the grass.
“Tell me, O Pans,” said Vertumnus, “who dwells behind this high wall?”
“The lovely Pomona, the Hamadryad, dwells there!” they cried. “Alas! she loves only her garden and fruit! Daily with pruning-knife she trims her Apple-Trees; and she waters their roots, and cares for the blossoms. But she has no eyes for her poor lovers, who haunt this wall hoping in vain for a glimpse of her face! Many are her suitors, but she disdains them all; they may not even enter her garden.”
“But I shall enter her garden!” said Vertumnus.
And straightway he dressed himself like a gardener, with a pruning-hook in his hand, and went into her garden. Pomona came forward to meet him, and eagerly begged him to prune her vines.
So fair and joyous was she, and so delicate like an Apple-Blossom, that Vertumnus, gazing on her, loved her with all his heart. But she, thinking that he was a gardener, scarcely looked at him at all, and watched him prune the vines. Then, when evening came, she paid him and sent him away.
But Vertumnus could not forget her. On another day he dressed as a reaper and carried a basket of Corn to Pomona. She bought some, and sent him away.
Again and again he returned to her, sometimes as a fisherman, and again as a pruner; but always she took what he had to offer, and paid him and sent him away. And always Vertumnus, as he gazed at her, loved her more and more.
At last, one day, he changed himself into an old woman, wrinkled and bent. And, wrapped in a cloak, he entered Pomona’s garden.
“Fair Maid,” said the old woman, “how beautiful are your Apples! How heavily laden are your trees with the glowing fruits of Autumn! Come, let us sit here on the grass, and admire their rich colours.”
So Pomona sat down beside her, and the old woman, after giving her a few gentle kisses, said thus:—
“Look, dear Maid, at yonder Elm wreathed in a grapevine from which hang clusters of purple Grapes. What would the Elm do without the beauty of the vine that clings so tenderly to it? And if there were no Elm for the vine to lean against, the poor thing would lie upon the ground to be trampled under foot!
“Ah me! fair Maid! Why do you, then, send away all your lovers? Why not seek a strong husband, like yonder Elm, to lean upon? Be advised by me, an old woman! There is Vertumnus. Choose him for yourself. Of all your suitors he is the most desirable. He is handsome, he is graceful.
“You will be his first and only love! Then, too, your tastes are alike. You are devoted to your garden and your Apples. He, the Keeper-of-All-the-Orchards-in-the-World, holds rich gifts of all kinds of fruits in his hands. Never again shall the Frost nip your buds; and never again shall the rude North Wind, Boreas, strip the Apple-Blossoms from your boughs. Vertumnus will devote his life to you, doing anything that you may bid. He loves you dearly; have pity upon him!
“Listen, now, sweet Maid, and I will relate a story that shall move your heart:—
Story of the Stony Maiden
“Once upon a time, in the golden isle of Cyprus, there lived a maid named Iphis. The noble young Teucer loved her. He came daily to her house, but she would not open the door. He hung garlands wet with the dew of his tears on her doorposts, and, pressing his sorrowful face against the door, he implored her to listen; but still she would not open.
“Cruel she was, and deaf to his entreaties. At last in despair he sank down and died upon her threshold. Then Iphis went and gazed coldly upon him. But as she looked her cheek turned pale, her eyes became set, the warm blood stood still in her veins, her limbs grew numb and heavy. She tried to flee, but she could not move. She was turned into a cold, cold stone!
“So, lovely Pomona, learn from this tale not to be cruel. Lay aside your disdain, and give yourself to one who so tenderly loves you!”
So spoke the old woman, and, rising, she flung off her cloak. And before Pomona’s astonished and delighted eyes Vertumnus himself stood in all his brilliancy, like the golden Autumn Sun.
On his head was a crown of bright flowers. In one hand he held rosy Apples and yellow Pears, in the other a great cornucopia heaped high with Grapes, Plums, and Peaches. So joyous were his eyes and so beautiful was he, that Pomona loved him straightway.
And ever after that the happy Pomona and her Vertumnus wandered hand-in-hand about the world tending all the orchards. They helped the fruit-blossoms to unfold in the Springtime. They guarded the green fruit from blight in the Summer. And when the Autumn came, they painted the ripe, delicious fruits with all the glowing colours of the Autumn trees.
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This story was taken from the book:
This ‘Wonder Book’, written by Frances Jenkins Olcott, is a collection of over 150 nature myths and tales from all parts of the world, illustrated by Milo Winter. Its 500 pages provide a vast array of tales, including tales of flowers, fairies, dragons, talking birds, magic waters and enchanted forests, that children can revel and delight in.