Vertumnus and Pomona
VERTUMNUS AND POMONA
Once, when the kings of the Silvian House reigned over the Latin people, there lived a nymph whose name was Pomona. She never went near the springs, or lakes, or rivers, nor near the wild woods; she cared only for places where grew trees that were laden with fruits. She was no huntress; the only implement that she ever held in her hands was a pruning-hook or a spade.
She would loosen the earth round the roots of some of her trees; she would cut away growth that was too luxurious; sometimes she would make a cut in a tree and would graft into it a twig from another tree, and she would rejoice to see one tree bearing two kinds of fruit. Sometimes she would train a vine to grow along an elm-tree. But all day she worked where fruits grew, leading water to flow by the roots, or destroying insects that came upon the leaves of her trees.
In the spring-time she would see Flora, her sister-nymph, in the fields, giving color and fragrance to the flowers, giving sweetness to the honey in the combs, giving grace to the boys and girls who came about her. To Pomona, Flora would give all that she had to give. But Pomona would never go to her or call Flora to come to her amongst her trees. And sometimes she would see Venus, the great lady who had so many worshippers, but she would not leave her trees to go to where Venus had her shrine. Pomona grew up supple and robust; she grew sound and handsome as an apple upon one of her trees. She gave herself no adornments; all she ever wore was a brown dress; all she ever put upon her head was a wreath of leaves to keep the sun from burning her face.
Silvanus and Picus were the first of the demi-gods to see that Pomona was becoming more and more good-looking as the seasons went on. She was shy, they knew; but each thought what a fine sweetheart she would make, if he could get her to walk or talk with him. And each knew that she had lots to give a fine garden and fruits of every kind--apples and pears, grapes and cherries. Silvanus was the first to go see her: he went in his hunter's dress, with a spear in his hand, and the game he had just killed in a bag at his side. Pomona would not come near him. Then he chased her so that she had to slip from him behind tree after tree. She wearied him out and he went away. But he came to her at another season: this time he did not come from the hunting; he came from lands that he had cleared and that he had sheep grazing on. He came to her as a shepherd, and he sought to woo her mildly, but she would neither speak to him nor let him come near where she was.
Picus came the very day that Silvanus came as a shepherd--Picus, the son of old Saturnus who was the god of the grain-sown field. Picus was handsome; Picus wore a scarlet cloak; Picus could talk well to any woman. But when he came near her Pomona dashed water in his face from her stream. Then Picus saw Silvanus and thinking that he was Pomona's favoured suitor, began to abuse him. Silvanus caught hold of him, and beat him, and tore his scarlet cloak from his shoulders. Pomona fled from both of them, and after that she would let none of the male divinities come near where she was. She built a wall round where her trees grew; she would not go outside the gate, and she was very careful to let no one who might turn out to be a lover come within it.
Young Vertumnus saw her through the gate; he saw Pomona and he loved her more ardently than either Silvanus or Picus had loved her--Silvanus who was much older than he looked, and Picus who was always in love with some girl. He came to her gate, but she would not let him come in. Back he came in the garb of a reaper, carrying a basket of barley-ears as an offering to her. She bade him go away. Another time he came as a mower, with grass binding his brow. She left him outside the gate, nor would she speak to him at all. And then he came as a ploughman, big and burly, holding in his hand a goad which Pomona might think that he had just used to drive the oxen in the furrows. She left him before the gate, and although he shook it with his hands, he could not force it open. And then, that she might think of him as one who had an interest in trees and fruit and be kind to him on that account, he came bearing a ladder upon his shoulder as if he were ready to mount to where the apples were growing and gather them. But Pomona knew him for one of the male divinities, albeit for one of the youngest of them, and she would not let him come to where she tended her trees.
One day, Pomona saw outside her gate a bent and weary-looking old woman. She had on a head-dress that fell across her eyes, and she leaned upon a stick. Pomona, the kindliest of the nymphs, asked her to sit in the shade of one of her trees and rest herself and eat some of her fruit. The old woman came within. "How beautifully your garden is kept!" she said. "I have never been where trees grew so well, or where the fruits looked so bright and so refreshing. Do you live here all alone, my dear?" She ate the fruit that was given her and she looked at Pomona as she stood there in her brown dress and with the leaves about her head. "I have heard of you, my dear," she said. "Everything I heard about you made me think you were beautiful, but you are more beautiful than I thought." And saying this she kissed Pomona.
And as she went from tree to tree the old woman kept calling to her. Pomona came back and stood under an elm-tree near where the old woman sat. The elm-tree supported vines which were covered with bunches of grapes. "Look," said the old woman. "If that elm-tree stood unmated to the vine it would have no value except for its timber. And the vine that grows there! If there was no elm-tree for it to grow upon it would straggle along the ground, flat and unflourishing! So you see what good comes of mating two beings--the vine and the elm-tree. But you, my dear, refuse to be mated, refuse to be wedded, refuse even to know one who might be a sweetheart for you! Listen! Consent to having an old woman like me make a match for you!"
Pomona was so surprised to have someone talk to her in this strain that she sank down on the grass beside the old woman. "Be wise and choose Vertumnus! I know the lad well--I know him as well as I know myself! He is a lad who does not wander idly through the world. He has wide spaces to live in, and he dwells near at hand! He is not like the others who came to woo you--Picus, for instance, who went and fell in love with Canens, and who went on until he had an enchantress fall in love with him, and who, because he would not respond to her, has since been turned into a woodpecker. I'll say nothing about Silvanus! He has been in love with nearly all of the nymphs! Vertumnus is not like either of these divinities. You will be his first love, dear Pomona, and his last. And besides, he is interested in all that you are interested in--he deals in fruits, too! He was made to be yours, and you were made to be his, and I am here to tell you that!"
Even as these words were said the head-dress fell off the head of the one who spoke to Pomona. Bright and ardent were the eyes that she saw then. Pomona stood up and would have run away; but hands held her hands, gently, firmly. "You are Vertumnus," she said. She saw a face before her--a youth's face; the stick that the pretended old woman had leaned on fell away; the cloak fell off the figure. Pomona saw a youth who was tall and fine as one of her own trees. And until the evening star came they stayed amongst the trees, and when they parted Pomona had promised to wed her Vertumnus.