‘Mary’s Meadow’ & Other Tales of Fields & Flowers

Juliana Horatia Ewing

The Trinity Flower

A Legend

“Break forth, my lips, in praise, and own
The wiser love severely kind:
Since, richer for its chastening grown,
I see, whereas I once was blind.”
The Clear Vision, — J. G. WHITTIER.
IN days of yore there was once a certain hermit, who dwelt in a cell, which he had fashioned for himself from a natural cave in the side of a hill.

Now this hermit had a great love for flowers, and was moreover learned in the virtues of herbs, and in that great mystery of healing which lies hidden among the green things of GOD. And so it came to pass that the country people from all parts came to him for the samples which grew in the little garden which he had made before his cell. And as his fame spread, and more people came to him, he added more and more to the plot which he had reclaimed from the waste land around.

But after many years there came a Spring when the colours of the flowers seemed paler to the hermit than they used to be; and as Summer drew on, their shapes became indistinct, and he mistook one plant for another; and when Autumn came, he told them by their various scents, and by their form, rather than by sight; and when the flowers were gone, and Winter had come, the hermit was quite blind.

Now in the hamlet below there lived a boy who had become known to the hermit on this manner. On the edge of the hermit’s garden there grew two crab trees, from the fruit of which he made every year a certain confection, which was very grateful to the sick. One year many of these crab-apples were stolen, and the sick folk of the hamlet had very little conserve. So the following year, as the fruit was ripening, the hermit spoke every day to those who came to his cell, saying—“I pray you, good people, to make it known that he who robs these crab trees, robs not me alone, which is dishonest, but the sick, which is inhuman.”

And yet once more the crab-apples were taken.

The following evening, as the hermit sat on the side of the hill, he overheard two boys disputing about the theft.

“It must either have been a very big man, or a small boy, to do it,” said one. “So I say, and I have my reason.”

“And what is thy reason, Master Wiseacre?” asked the other.

“The fruit is too high to be plucked except by a very big man,” said the first boy. “And the branches are not strong enough for any but a child to climb.”

“Canst thou think of no other way to rob an apple tree but by standing a-tip-toe, or climbing up to the apples, when they should come down to thee?” said the second boy. “Truly thy head will never save thy heels; but here’s a riddle for thee:

Riddle me riddle me re,
Four big brothers are we;
We gather the fruit, but climb never a tree.

Who are they?”

“Four tall robbers, I suppose,” said the other.

“Tush!” cried his comrade. “They are the four winds; and when they whistle, down falls the ripest. But others can shake besides the winds, as I will show thee if thou hast any doubts in the matter.”

And as he spoke he sprang to catch the other boy, who ran from him; and they chased each other down the hill, and the hermit heard no more.

But as he turned to go home he said, “The thief was not far away when thou stoodst near. Nevertheless, I will have patience. It needs not that I should go to seek thee, for what saith the Scripture? Thy sin will find thee out.” And he made conserve of such apples as were left, and said nothing.

Now after a certain time a plague broke out in the hamlet; and it was so sore, and there were so few to nurse the many who were sick, that, though it was not the wont of the hermit ever to leave his place, yet in their need he came down and ministered to the people in the village. And one day, as he passed a certain house, he heard moans from within, and entering, he saw lying upon a bed a boy who tossed and moaned in fever, and cried out most miserably that his throat was parched and burning. And when the hermit looked upon his face, behold it was the boy who had given the riddle of the four winds upon the side of the hill.

Then the hermit fed him with some of the confection which he had with him, and it was so grateful to the boy’s parched palate, that he thanked and blessed the hermit aloud, and prayed him to leave a morsel of it behind, to soothe his torments in the night.

Then said the hermit, “My Son, I would that I had more of this confection, for the sake of others as well as for thee. But indeed I have only two trees which bear the fruit whereof this is made; and in two successive years have the apples been stolen by some thief, thereby robbing not only me, which is dishonest, but the poor, which is inhuman.”

Then the boy’s theft came back to his mind, and he burst into tears, and cried, “My Father, I took the crab-apples!”

And after a while he recovered his health; the plague also abated in the hamlet, and the hermit went back to his cell. But the boy would thenceforth never leave him, always wishing to show his penitence and gratitude. And though the hermit sent him away, he ever returned, saying—“Of what avail is it to drive me from thee, since I am resolved to serve thee, even as Samuel served Eli, and Timothy ministered unto St. Paul?”

But the hermit said, “My rule is to live alone, and without companions; wherefore begone.”

And when the boy still came, he drove him from the garden.

Then the boy wandered far and wide, over moor and bog, and gathered rare plants and herbs, and laid them down near the hermit’s cell. And when the hermit was inside, the boy came into the garden, and gathered the stones and swept the paths, and tied up such plants as were drooping, and did all neatly and well, for he was a quick and skilful lad. And when the hermit said,

“Thou hast done well, and I thank thee; but now begone,” he only answered,

“What avails it, when I am resolved to serve thee?”

So at last there came a day when the hermit said, “It may be that it is ordained; wherefore abide, my Son.”

And the boy answered, “Even so, for I am resolved to serve thee.”

Thus he remained. And thenceforward the hermit’s garden throve as it had never thriven before. For, though he had skill, the hermit was old and feeble; but the boy was young and active, and he worked hard, and it was to him a labour of love. And being a clever boy, he quickly knew the names and properties of the plants as well as the hermit himself. And when he was not working, he would go far afield to seek for new herbs. And he always returned to the village at night.

Now when the hermit’s sight began to fail, the boy put him right if he mistook one plant for another; and when the hermit became quite blind, he relied completely upon the boy to gather for him the herbs that he wanted. And when anything new was planted, the boy led the old man to the spot, that he might know that it was so many paces in such a direction from the cell, and might feel the shape and texture of the leaves, and learn its scent. And through the skill and knowledge of the boy, the hermit was in no wise hindered from preparing his accustomed remedies, for he knew the names and virtues of the herbs, and where every plant grew. And when the sun shone, the boy would guide his master’s steps into the garden, and would lead him up to certain flowers; but to those which had a perfume of their own the old man could go without help, being guided by the scent. And as he fingered their leaves and breathed their fragrance, he would say, “Blessed be GOD for every herb of the field, but thrice blessed for those that smell.”

And at the end of the garden was set a bush of rosemary. “For,” said the hermit, “to this we must all come.” Because rosemary is the herb they scatter over the dead. And he knew where almost everything grew, and what he did not know the boy told him.

Yet for all this, and though he had embraced poverty and solitude with joy, in the service of GOD and man, yet so bitter was blindness to him, that he bewailed the loss of his sight, with a grief that never lessened.

“For,” said he, “if it had pleased our Lord to send me any other affliction, such as a continual pain or a consuming sickness, I would have borne it gladly, seeing it would have left me free to see these herbs, which I use for the benefit of the poor. But now the sick suffer through my blindness, and to this boy also I am a continual burden.”

And when the boy called him at the hours of prayer, saying, “My Father, it is now time for the Nones office, for the marigold is closing,” or, “The Vespers bell will soon sound from the valley, for the bindweed bells are folded,” and the hermit recited the appointed prayers, he always added,

“I beseech Thee take away my blindness, as Thou didst heal Thy servant the son of Timaeus.”

And as the boy and he sorted herbs, he cried, “Is there no balm in Gilead?”

And the boy answered, “The balm of Gilead grows six full paces from the gate, my Father.”

But the hermit said, “I spoke in a figure, my Son. I meant not that herb. But, alas! Is there no remedy to heal the physician? No cure for the curer?”

And the boy’s heart grew heavier day by day, because of the hermit’s grief. For he loved him.

Now one morning as the boy came up from the village, the hermit met him, groping painfully with his hands, but with joy in his countenance, and he said, “Is that thy step, my Son? Come in, for I have somewhat to tell thee.”

And he said, “A vision has been vouchsafed to me, even a dream. Moreover, I believe that there shall be a cure for my blindness.”

Then the boy was glad, and begged of the hermit to relate his dream, which he did as follows:

“I dreamed, and behold I stood in the garden—thou also with me—and many people were gathered at the gate, to whom, with thy help, I gave herbs of healing in such fashion as I have been able since this blindness came upon me. And when they were gone, I smote upon my forehead, and said, ‘Where is the herb that shall heal my affliction?’ And a voice beside me said, ‘Here, my Son.’ And I cried to thee, ‘Who spoke?’ And thou saidst, ‘It is a man in pilgrim’s weeds, and lo, he hath a strange flower in his hand.’ Then said the Pilgrim, ‘It is a Trinity Flower. Moreover, I suppose that when thou hast it, thou wilt see clearly.’ Then I thought that thou didst take the flower from the Pilgrim and put it in my hand. And lo, my eyes were opened, and I saw clearly. And I knew the Pilgrim’s face, though where I have seen him I cannot yet recall. But I believed him to be Raphael the Archangel—he who led Tobias, and gave sight to his father. And even as it came to me to know him, he vanished; and I saw him no more.”

“And what was the Trinity Flower like, my Father? “ asked the boy.

It was about the size of Herb Paris, my Son,” replied the hermit. “But instead of being fourfold every way, it numbered the mystic Three. Every part was threefold. The leaves were three, the petals three, the sepals three. The flower was snow-white, but on each of the three parts it was stained with crimson stripes, like white garments dyed in blood.” [a]

Then the boy started up, saying, “If there be such a plant on the earth I will find it for thee.”

But the hermit laid his hand on him, and said,

“Nay, my Son, leave me not, for I have need of thee. And the flower will come yet, and then I shall see.”

And all day long the old man murmured to himself, “Then I shall see.”

“And didst thou see me, and the garden, in thy dream, my Father?” asked the boy.

“Ay, that I did, my Son. And I meant to say to thee that it much pleaseth me that thou art grown so well, and of such a strangely fair countenance. Also the garden is such as I have never before beheld it, which must needs be due to thy care. But wherefore didst thou not tell me of those fair palms that have grown where the thorn hedge was wont to be? I was but just stretching out my hand for some, when I awoke.”

“There are no palms there, my Father,” said the boy

“Now, indeed it is thy youth that makes thee so little observant,” said the hermit. “However, I pardon thee, if it were only for that good thought which moved thee to plant a yew beyond the rosemary bush; seeing that the yew is the emblem of eternal life, which lies beyond the grave.”

But the boy said, “There is no yew there, my Father.”

“Have I not seen it, even in a vision?” cried the hermit. “Thou wilt say next that all the borders are not set with hearts-ease, which indeed must be through thy industry; and whence they come I know not, but they are most rare and beautiful, and my eyes long sore to see them again.”

“Alas, my Father!” cried the boy, “the borders are set with rue, and there are but a few clumps of hearts-ease here and there.”

“Could I forget what I saw in an hour?” asked the old man angrily. “And did not the holy Raphael himself point to them, saying, ’Blessed are the eyes that behold this garden, where the borders are set with hearts-ease, and the hedges crowned with palm!’ But thou wouldst know better than an archangel, forsooth.”

Then the boy wept; and when the hermit heard him weeping, he put his arm round him and said,

“Weep, not, my dear Son. And I pray thee, pardon me that I spoke harshly to thee. For indeed I am ill-tempered by reason of my infirmities; and as for thee, GOD will reward thee for thy goodness to me, as I never can. Moreover, I believe it is thy modesty, which is as great as thy goodness, that hath hindered thee from telling me of all that thou hast done for my garden, even to those fair and sweet everlasting flowers, the like of which I never saw before, which thou hast set in the east border, and where even now I hear the bees humming in the sun.”

Then the boy looked sadly out into the garden, and answered, “I cannot lie to thee. There are no everlasting flowers. It is the flowers of the thyme in which the bees are rioting. And in the hedge bottom there creepeth the bitter-sweet.”

But the hermit heard him not. He had groped his way out into the sunshine, and wandered up and down the walks, murmuring to himself, “Then I shall see.”

Now when the Summer was past, one Autumn morning there came to the garden gate a man in pilgrim’s weeds; and when he saw the boy he beckoned to him, and giving him a small tuber root, he said,

“Give this to thy master. It is the root of the Trinity Flower.”

And he passed on down towards the valley.

Then the boy ran hastily to the hermit; and when he had told him, and given him the root, he said,

“The face of the pilgrim is known to me also, O my Father! For I remember when I lay sick of the plague, that ever it seemed to me as if a shadowy figure passed in and out, and went up and down the streets, and his face was as the face of this pilgrim. But—I cannot deceive thee—methought it was the Angel of Death.”

Then the hermit mused; and after a little space he answered,

“It was then also that I saw him. I remember now. Nevertheless, let us plant the root, and abide what GOD shall send.”

And thus they did.

And as the Autumn and Winter went by, the hermit became very feeble, but the boy constantly cheered him, saying, “Patience, my Father. Thou shalt see yet!”

But the hermit replied, “My Son, I repent me that I have not been patient under affliction. Moreover, I have set thee an ill example, in that I have murmured at that which GOD—Who knoweth best—ordained for me.”

And when the boy oft times repeated, “Thou shalt yet see,” the hermit answered, “ If GOD will. When GOD will. As GOD will.”

And when he said the prayers for the Hours, he no longer added what he had added beforetime, but evermore repeated, “If THOU wilt. When THOU wilt. As THOU wilt!”

And so the Winter passed; and when the snow lay on the ground the boy and the hermit talked of the garden; and the boy no longer contradicted the old man, though he spoke continually of the hearts-ease, and the everlasting flowers, and the palm. For he said, “When Spring comes I may be able to get these plants, and fit the garden to his vision.”

And at length the Spring came. And with it rose the Trinity Flower. And when the leaves unfolded, they were three, as the hermit had said. Then the boy was wild with joy and with impatience. And when the sun shone for two days together, he would kneel by the flower, and say, “I pray thee, Lord, send showers, that it may wax apace.” And when it rained, he said, “I pray Thee, send sunshine, that it may blossom speedily.” For he knew not what to ask. And he danced about the hermit, and cried, “Soon shalt thou see.”

But the hermit trembled, and said, “Not as I will, but as THOU wilt!”

And so the bud formed. And at length one evening, before he went down to the hamlet, the boy came to the hermit and said, “The bud is almost breaking, my Father. To-morrow thou shalt see.”

Then the hermit moved his hands till he laid them on the boy’s head, and he said,

“The Lord repay thee sevenfold for all thou hast done for me, dear child. And now I pray thee, my Son, give me thy pardon for all in which I have sinned against thee by word or deed, for indeed my thoughts of thee have ever been tender.” And when the boy wept, the hermit still pressed him, till he said that he forgave him. And as they unwillingly parted, the hermit said, “I pray thee, dear Son, to remember that, though late, I conformed myself to the will of GOD.”

Saying which, the hermit went into his cell, and the boy returned to the village.

But so great was his anxiety, that he could not rest; and he returned to the garden ere it was light, and sat by the flower till the dawn.

And with the first dim light he saw that the Trinity Flower was in bloom. And as the hermit had said, it was white, and stained with crimson as with blood.

Then the boy shed tears of joy, and he plucked the flower and ran into the hermit’s cell, where the hermit lay very still upon his couch. And the boy said, “I will not disturb him. When he wakes he will find the flower.” And he went out and sat down outside the cell and waited. And being weary as he waited, he fell asleep.

Now before sunrise, whilst it was yet early, he was awakened by the voice of the hermit crying, “My Son, my dear Son!” and he jumped up, saying, “My Father!”

But as he spoke the hermit passed him. And as he passed he turned, and the boy saw that his eyes were open. And the hermit fixed them long and tenderly on him.

Then the boy cried, “Ah, tell me, my Father, dost thou see?”

And he answered, “I see now!” and so passed on down the walk.

And as he went through the garden, in the still dawn, the boy trembled, for the hermit’s footsteps gave no sound. And he passed beyond the rosemary bush, and came not again.

And when the day wore on, and the hermit did not return, the boy went into his cell.

Without, the sunshine dried the dew from paths on which the hermit’s feet had left no prints, and cherished the Spring flowers bursting into bloom. But within, the hermit’s dead body lay stretched upon his pallet, and the Trinity Flower was in his hand.

[a] Trillium erythrocarpum. North America.    [back]

Mary’s Meadow

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