Golden Apples and Roses Red
I n the cruel days of old, when Diocletian was the Master of the World, and the believers in the Cross were maimed, and tortured with fire, and torn with iron hooks, and cast to the lions, and beheaded with the sword, Dorothea, a beautiful maiden of Cęsarea, was brought before Sapricius, the Governor of Cappadocia, and commanded to forsake the Lord Christ and offer incense to the images of the false gods.
Though she was so young and so fair and tender, she stood unmoved by threats and entreaties, and when, with little pity on her youth and loveliness, Sapricius menaced her with the torment of the iron bed over a slow fire, she replied: "Do with me as you will. No pain shall I fear, so firm is my trust in Him for whom I am ready to die."
"Who, then, is this that has won thy love?" asked the Governor.
"It is Christ Jesus, the Son of God. Slay me, and I shall but the sooner be with Him in His Paradise, where there is no more pain, neither sorrow, but the tears are wiped from all eyes, and the roses are in bloom always, and for ever the fruit of joy is on the trees."
"Thy words are but the babbling of madness," said the Governor angrily.
"I am not mad, most noble Sapricius."
"Here, then, is the incense; sacrifice, and save thy life."
"I will not sacrifice," replied Dorothea.
"Then shalt thou die," said Sapricius; and he bade the doomsman take her to the place of execution and strike off her head.
Now as she was being led away from the judgment-seat, a gay young advocate named Theophilus said to her jestingly: "Farewell, sweet Dorothea: when thou hast joined thy lover, wilt thou not send me some of the fruit and roses of his Paradise?"
Looking gravely and gently at him, Dorothea answered: "I will send some."
Whereupon Theophilus laughed merrily, and went his way homeward.
At the place of execution, Dorothea begged the doomsman to tarry a little, and kneeling by the block, she raised her hands to heaven and prayed earnestly. At that moment a fair child stood beside her, holding in his hand a basket containing three golden apples and three red roses.
"Take these to Theophilus, I pray thee," she said to the child, "and tell him Dorothea awaits him in the Paradise whence they came."
Then she bowed her head, and the sword of the doomsman fell.
Mark now what follows.
Theophilus, who had reached home, was still telling of what had happened and merrily repeating his jest about the fruit and flowers of Paradise, when suddenly, while he was speaking, the child appeared before him with the apples and the roses. "Dorothea," he said, "has sent me to thee with these, and she awaits thee in the garden." And straightway the child vanished.
The fragrance of those heavenly roses filled Theophilus with a strange pity and gladness; and, eating of the fruit of the Angels, he felt his heart made new within him, so that he, also, became a servant of the Lord Jesus, and suffered death for His name, and thus attained to the celestial garden.
Centuries after her martyrdom, the body of Dorothea was laid in a bronze shrine richly inlaid with gold and jewles in the church built in her honour beyond Tiber, in the seven-hilled city of Rome.
There it lay in the days when Waldo was a brother at the Priory of Three Fountains, among the wooden folds of the Taunus Hills; and every seven years the shrine was opened that the faithful might gaze on the maiden martyr of Cęsarea.
An exceeding great love and devotion did Waldo bear this holy virgin, whom he had chosen for his patroness, and one of his most ardent wishes was that he might some day visit the church beyond Tiber, and kneel by the shrine which contained her precious relics. In summer the red roses, in autumn the bright apples on the tree, reminded him of her; in the spring he thought of her youth and beauty joyously surrendered to Christ, and the snow in winter spoke to him of her spotless innocence. Thus through the round of the year the remembrance of her was present about him in fair suggestions; and indeed had there been any lack of these every gift of God would have recalled her to his mind, for was not that—"the gift of God"—her name?
Notwithstanding his youth, Waldo was ripe in learning, well skilled in Latin and Greek, and so gifted beyond measure in poetry and music that people said he had heard the singing of Angels and had brought the echo of it to the earth. His hymns and sacred songs were known and loved all through the German land, and far beyond. The children sang them in the processions on the high feast days, the peasants sang them at their work in house or field, travellers sang them as they journeyed over the long heaths and through the mountain-forests, fishers and raftsmen sang them on the rivers. He composed the Song of the Sickle which cuts at a stroke the corn in its ripeness and the wild flower in its bloom, and the Song of the Mill-wheel, with its long creak and quick clap, and the melodious rush of water from the buckets of the wheel, and many another which it would take long to tell of; but that which to himself was sweetest and dearest was Golden Apples and Roses Red, the song in which he told the legend of St. Dorothea his patroness.
Now when Waldo was in the six-and-thirtieth year of his age he was smitten with leprosy; and when it was found that neither the relics of the saints, nor the prayers of holy men, nor the skill of the physician availed to cure him, but that it was God's will he should endure to the end, the Prior entreated him to surrender himself to that blessed will, and to go forth courageously to the new life of isolation which awaited him. For in those days it was not lawful that a leper should abide in the companionship of men, and he was set apart lest his malady should bring others to a misery like his own.
Deep was the grief of the brethren of Three Fountains when they were summoned to attend the sacred office of demission which was to shut out Waldo for ever from intercourse with his fellows. And well might any good heart sorrow, for this was the order of that office.
The altar was draped in black, and Mass for the Dead was sung; and all the things that Waldo would need in the house of his exile, from the flint and iron which gave fire to the harp which should give solace, were solemnly blessed and delivered to him. Next he was warned not to approach the dwellings of men, or to wash in running streams, or to handle the ropes of draw-wells, or to drink from the cups of wayside springs. He was forbidden the highways, and when he went abroad a clapper must give token of his coming and going. Nothing that might be used by others should he touch except with covered hands.
When after these warnings he had been exhorted to patience and trust in God's mercy and love, the brethren formed a procession, with the cross going before, and led him away to his hermitage among the wooded hills. On a little wood-lawn, beyond a brook crossed by stepping-stones, a hut of boughs had been prepared for him, and the Prior bade him mark the grey boulder on the further side of the brook, for there he would find left for him, week by week, such provisions as he needed.
Last rite of all, the Prior entering the hut strewed over his bed of bracken a handful of mould from the churchyard saying, "Sis mortuus mundo—Dead be thou to the world, but living anew to God," and turfs from the churchyard were laid on the roof of the hut. Thus in his grey gown and hood was Waldo committed alive to his grave, and the brethren, chanting a requiem, returned to the Priory.
The tidings of Waldo's grievous lot travelled far and wide through the German land, and thenceforth when his songs were sung many a true man's heart was heavy and many a good woman's eyes were filled with tears as they bethought them of the poor singer in his hut among the hills. Kindly souls brought alms and provisions and laid them on his boulder by the brook, and oftentimes as they came and went they sang some hymn or song he had composed, for they said, "So best can we let him know that we remember him and love him." Indeed, to his gentle heart the sound of their human voices in that solitude was as the warm clasp of a beloved hand.
When Waldo had lived there alone among the hills for the space of two years and more, and his malady had grown exceeding hard to bear, he was seized with a woeful longing—such a longing as comes upon a little child for its mother when it has been left all alone in the house, and has gone seeking her in all the chambers, and finds she is not there. And as on a day he went slowly down to the boulder by the stream in the failing light, thinking of her who had cherished his childhood—how he had clung to her gown, how with his little hand in hers he had run by her side, how she had taken him on her lap and made his hurts all well with kisses, his heart failed him, and crying aloud "Mother, O mother!" he knelt by the boulder, and laid his head on his arms, weeping.
Then from among the trees on the further side of the brook came a maiden running, but she paused at the stepping-stones when she saw Waldo, and said, "Was it thy voice I heard calling 'Mother'?"
The monk did not answer or move.
"Art thou Brother Waldo?" she asked.
Raising his head, he looked at her and replied, "I am Brother Waldo."
"Poor brother, I pity thee," said the maiden; "there is no man or maid but pities thee. If thou wilt tell me of thy mother, I will find her, even were I to travel far, and bid her come to thee. Well I wot she will come to thee if she may."
For all his manhood and learning and holiness, Waldo could not still the crying of the little child within him, and he told the maiden of his mother, and blessed her, and asked her name. When she answered that it was Dorothy, "Truly," said he, "it is a fair name and gracious, and in thy coming thou hast been a gift of God to me."
Thereupon the maiden left him, and Waldo returned to his hut, comforted and full of hope.
After a month had gone Dorothy returned. Crossing the stepping-stones in the clear light of the early morning, she found Waldo meditating by the door of his hut.
"I have done thy bidding, brother," she said in a gentle voice, "but alas! thy mother cannot come to thee. Grieve not too much at this, for she is with God. She must have died about the time thou didst call for her; and well may I believe that it was she who sent me to thee in her stead."
"The will of God be done," said Waldo, and he bowed his head, and spoke no more for a long while; but the maiden stood patiently awaiting till he had mastered his grief.
At length he raised his head and saw her. "Art thou not gone?" he asked. "I thought thou hadst gone. Thou art good and gentle, and I thank thee. Go now, for here thou mayst not stay."
"Nay, brother," replied Dorothy, "thou hast no mother to come to thee now, no companion or friend to minister to thee. This is my place. Do not fear that I shall annoy or weary thee. I shall but serve and obey thee, coming and going at thy bidding. Truly thou art too weak and afflicted to be left any more alone."
"It may not be, dear child. Thy father and mother or others of thy kinsfolk need thee at home."
"All these have been long dead," said Dorothy, "and I am alone. Here in the wood I will find me a hollow tree, and thou shalt but call to have me by thee, and but lift a finger to see me no more."
"Why wouldst thou do this for me?" asked Waldo, wondering at her persistency.
"Ah, brother, I know thy suffering and I love thy songs."
"And dost thou not shudder at this horror that is upon me, and dread lest the like befall thee too?"
Then Dorothy laughed low and softly to herself, and answered only so.
In this wise the maiden came to minister to the poor recluse, and so gracious was she and humble, so prudent and yet so tender, that in his suffering she was great solace to him, bringing his food from the boulder and his drink from the brook, cleaning his cell and freshening it with fragrant herbs; and about the cell she made a garden of wholesome plants and wild flowers, and all kindly service that was within her power she did for him.
So beautiful was she and of such exceeding sweetness, that when his eyes rested upon her, he questioned in his mind whether she was a true woman and not an Angel sent down to console him in his dereliction. And that doubt perplexed and troubled him, for so little are we Angels yet that in our aches and sorrows of the flesh it is not the comfort of Angels but the poor human pitiful touch of the fellow-creature that we most yearn for. Once, indeed, he asked her fretfully, "Tell me truly in the name of God, art thou a very woman of flesh and blood?"
"Truly then, brother," she answered, smiling, "I am of mortal flesh and blood even as thou art, and time shall be when this body that thou seest will be mingled with the dust of the earth."
"Is it then the way of women to sacrifice so much for men as thou hast done for me?"
"It is the way of women who love well," said Dorothy. "Then needs must I thank thy namesake and my patroness in heaven," rejoined Waldo.
"Yea, and is St. Dorothea thy patroness?" asked the maiden.
Waldo told her that so it was, and rapturously he spoke of the young and beautiful saint done to death in Cęsarea, and of the fruit and flowers of Paradise which she sent to Theophilus. "And I would," he sighed under his breath, "that she would send such a gift to me."
"All this I know," said Dorothy, "for I have learnt thy song of Golden Apples and Roses Red, and I love it most of all thy songs, though these be many and sung all about the world, I think. And this I will tell thee of thy songs, that I saw in a dream once how they were not mere words and melody, but living things. Like the bright heads of baby Angels were they, and they were carried on wings as it were of rose-leaves, and they fluttered about the people who loved them and sang them, leading them into blessed paths and whispering to them holy and happy thoughts."
"God be blessed and praised for ever, if it be so," said Waldo; "but this was no more than a maiden's dream."
For two winters Dorothy ministered to the poor leper, and during this while no one save Waldo knew of her being in the woods, and no other man set eyes on her. The fourth year of his exile was now drawing to a close, and Waldo had fallen into extreme weakness by reason of his malady, and over his face he wore a mask of grey cloth, with two holes for his great piteous eyes. It was in the springtide, and one night as he lay sleepless in the dark, listening to the long murmur of the wind in the swaying pines, he heard overhead sharp cries and trumpetings, and the creaking and winnowing of wings innumerable.
Rising from his bed, he went out of doors, and looked up into the dark heavens; and high and spectral among the clouded stars he saw the home-coming of the cranes. He sat on the bench beside his door, and watched them sail past in thousands, filling the night with a fleeting clamour and eerie sounds. As he sat he mused on the strange longing which brought these birds over land and sea back home, year by year, with the returning spring, and he marvelled that the souls of men, which are but birds of passage in these earthly fields, should be so slow to feel that longing for their true home-land.
That day when Dorothy came to the hut, he said to her: "It is well to be glad, for, though the air is still keen, the spring is here. I heard the cranes returning in the night."
"And I too heard them; and I heard thee rejoicing, playing on thy harp and singing."
"That could not be, sister," said Waldo, "unless in a dream. No longer can I touch harp-string, as thou knowest."
"In truth I was awake and heard," said Dorothy; "and the song thou wast singing was of birds of passage, and of the longing of exiles to go home, and of the dark where-through we must pass, with cries and beating wings, ere we can find our way back to our true home-land."
"Nay, it must have been a dream," said Waldo, "for as I sat with my hands hidden in my gown I did but play an imaginary harp, making still music in my heart, and no song came from my lips."
"The more strange that I should hear!" replied Dorothy, smiling as she went her way.
In a little while from this the poor brother felt that the end of his martyrdom drew nigh; and as he lay feeble and faint in the shadow of the hut (for the day was clement), sighing for the hour of his deliverance, Dorothy came from the woods. In her hand she carried a basket, and as she stood over him she said, "See what I have brought for thee."
Lifting his head weakly, and looking through the eyelets of his grey mask, Waldo saw that the basket contained three golden apples and three red roses, though still it was but early days in spring. At sight of them he uttered a cry of gladness (for all it was a cry hollow and hoarse), and strove to rise and throw himself at her feet.
"Nay, brother," she said, "refrain; lie still and breathe the sweetness of the roses and taste of the fruit."
She gave him one of the apples, and putting it to his mouth he tasted it and sighed deeply. In a moment all pain and suffering had left him, and his spirit was light and gladsome. His eyes too were opened, so that he knew that Dorothy had no way deceived him, but was truly a living woman of flesh and blood like himself. Then a heavenly peace descended upon him like a refreshing dew, and he closed his eyes for the great ease he felt.
While these things were happening, came from Three Fountains the lay-brother who brought Waldo his provisions. Crossing the brook to set his budget on the boulder, he saw the poor recluse lying in the lee of the hut, and Dorothy leaning over him. Wherefore he hastened across the wood-lawn, but in an instant the fair woman vanished before his eyes, and when he came to the hut he saw that Waldo was dead. He carried the basket of flowers and fruit to the Priory, and told what he had seen; and the Prior, marvelling greatly, came to the place and gave the poor leper brother a blessed burial.
Now at this time a wondrous strange occurrence was the talk of Rome.
The year wherein Waldo died was that seventh year in which the shrine of St. Dorothea is opened in her church beyond Tiber; and the day on which it is opened fell a little while before the death of Waldo.
Behold, then, when on the vigil of that feast the priests unlocked the shrine, the place where aforetime the holy body of the martyr had lain was empty. Great was the dismay, loud the lamentation, grievous the suspicion. The custodians of the church and the shrine were seized and cast into prison, where they lay till the day of their trial. On the morning of that day the church of St. Dorothea was filled with a divine fragrance, which seemed to transpire from the empty shrine as from a celestial flower. Wherefore once again the shrine was opened, and there, even such as they had been seen by many of the faithful seven years before, lay the relics of the Saint in their old resting-place.
Now to all poor souls God grant a no less happy end of days than this which He vouchsafed to the poor leper-singer Waldo of the Priory of Three Fountains.