The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
A Legend of the Christmas Rose
(Adapted from the German by Rudolf Baumbach.)
Have you ever seen the wild Christmas-rose, children? It is seldom to be found in flat countries, but every child who lives among the hills must know it well. Some people call it the snow-flower, botanists have named it helleborus niger, but it is generally known as the Christmas-rose, because it blooms at that time of the year when, with joy and thanksgiving, we celebrate the birth of our Saviour. This plant bears a blossom that is white and beautiful, but sometimes the whiteness of the petals is faintly tinged with pink. I am about to tell you the story of the first Christmas-rose that ever grew, for there was a time long ago when this pretty shrub was quite unknown.
In a valley in the Alps once stood a little village through which flowed a river; into this river in the spring-time the melting glaciers on the mountains poured their foaming torrents. On a hill above the village stood a monastery and a church by the banks of the river near the village, and between the castle and the monastery lay a farm. All this was in times long since gone by; the castle is now a heap of ruins, the village has grown into a large town, but the monastery still stands just as it was at the time of which I am writing It was Christmas Eve, and the quiet valley was even more quiet and peaceful than usual, for all the men of the village had gone to Italy with the Count, who lived in the great castle, to help him fight his enemies. The farmer, whose farm lay between the monastery and the castle, had been obligated to go with the others; he went unwillingly, for although he was a brave man, and feared not the battle--indeed, I think he enjoyed it--yet it grieved him much, and made him very sad of heart to leave his wife and his little three-year-old daughter, Hilda.
As I have said before, it was Christmas Eve. In the farm-house was much bustle and preparation going on; all the maids were busy making cakes and other good things to be eaten the next day, which would be a holiday for every one in the country. But the mistress of the home, Frau Walpurga, was, for once, not at work with her servants; she and one of the holy monks from the monastery, Father Celestin by name, were in a bedroom with her little daughter, for the child was very ill; they feared she was sick even unto death. Father Celestin was a tall, grey-bearded man; he as very clever, and knew much of the science of healing. He was now preparing some medicine for the little girl, which he hoped would drive away the cruel fever that was burning up her very life. While he was thus employed there came into the room a coarsely dressed old man; he was the shepherd who looked after Frau Walpurga's sheep. In his left hand he carried his hat; in his right a little lamb that he had carved out of wood; its eyes he had painted black, and had stained its lips red with juice of some berry. This he gave to the little girl, but she took no notice of either him or of the toy, and he left the room again as quietly as possible. The monk also departed, after Hilda had taken the draught he had made up for her, and the mother and child were left alone. The medicine seemed to have done the little one good, for she fell asleep, and for some times slept quietly; but at sunset she awoke, and tossed uneasily in her bed; her forehead was burning, and her eyes were bright with fever. Suddenly she raised herself on her arm and cried:
"Oh mother, mother! Look at the lovely little children and the beautiful lady! And see, mother! The lady is giving me white flowers--white roses!"
Then she lay back upon her pillows, and soon after was again asleep. But Frau Walpurga fell upon her knees and wept bitterly.
"The child will die," she moaned: "yes, she must certainly die, for she has seen the bright angels of heaven."
Not for long, however, did the mother waste time in weeping. She determined to send someone at once to the monastery to bring Father Celestin again to the farm; and leaving the sleeping child, he went to the great hall to find a messenger. The hall was almost empty; only one lame woman was sitting there, for all the other farm-servants, men and maids, had gone already to the church to hear the evening service. The lame woman had been left in charge of the fire; but Frau Walpurga, desiring her to let it out and go and watch by the side of the sick child, put on her cloak and herself started in search of the holy Father.
The sun had just set; the peaks of the mountains still shone with the golden glory of the passing day, but in the valley the grey mist of twilight was drawn as a curtain over the snow-covered ground. Not a sound was to be heard, nor a living creature to be seen; the silence was intense. Far away, seen dimly through the mist, gleamed a light; it came from the window of the monastery, and towards that beacon, the mother, her heart breaking with sorrow, directed her steps across the snow. Suddenly she stopped, and drew in her breath with a frightened gasp. For out of the forest that skirted the foot of the hill appeared a tall and beautiful woman clothed in long and trailing robes, and followed her a train of pale-faced children, clad in shining garments of white. Frau Walpurga, trembling she knew not why at this strange sight, concealed herself behind a tree, while the procession passed. But one of the white-robed children followed far behind her companions; she could not keep up with them because she garment was so long that she constantly trod upon it, and each time was obliged to stop and gather it up in her hands lest she should catch her foot in it and fall. Frau Walpurga, in her desire to help this little maiden, quite forgot her fear, and, stepping forth from her hiding-place, she tucked up the little frock in such a way as to enable its owner to keep in rank with the other children without any difficulty. The beautiful lady saw this little deed of kindness, and, turning to the sad-hearted mother, smiled graciously upon her and pointed to the ground at her feet; her face seemed to shine with a heavenly light.
Just at this moment the monastery bells began to ring out their musical chimes upon the silent night, and behold, Frau Walpurga found herself standing quite alone beneath the trees, all the wonderful beings who had a moment before been near her appeared to have melted into air. She went slowly and hesitatingly to the spot where the fair woman of her vision had pointed, and there, out of the snow she saw growing a bush covered with green laves, and bearing flowers of spotless purity. Her heart bounded for joy.
"These," she cried, "must be the flowers of my darling's dream."
Three of them she plucked, and in her eagerness to give them to her little daughter, and see what effect they would have upon her, she quite gave up all thought of going to ask the help of Father Celestin, and hurried home. Sitting with Hilda she found, not only the lame woman whom she had left in charge, but also the old shepherd. He had but small opinion of the monks regarding the proper medicines for the healing of different diseases, and, therefore, in the absence of the mother, had himself concocted and given to the child a drink made of the juice of crushed juniper-berries, which was, he said, a certain cure for fever. Frau Walpurga, breathless with her hurried walk, and quite unable to speak in her excitement, went up to the bedside, and placed upon the coverlid the newly discovered flowers. The little invalid seized them in both hands, smiled faintly, held them long to her face, and sneezed.
"God bless her!" cried the mother, the maid, and the shepherd, at the same moment.
Then the child turned to them, asked for a drink, and having had it, fell into a quiet sleep; the fever had left her, her forehead no longer burned as if there were a raging fire within, and her little hands were quite cool.
"But where," asked the shepherd of his mistress, "did you find those wonderful blossoms?"
Frau Walpurga told him all that she had seen.
"That beautiful lady with the children must certainly have been Frau Berchta,*" said he. "From Christmas to Twelfth Night she may be seen every evening as she goes about with her attendant spirits and blesses the earth. But at no other time of the year does she allow mortal eyes to behold her face. My father saw her once when he was a boy. She is a kind and gracious lady, and never allows those who have helped her in any way to depart from her presence unrewarded. It was well for you that you fastened up the little frock."
He went on to relate all the legends of Frau Berchta, and her wonderful doings that he had ever heard; they were many and long, and I really think he would have talked all night had not his mistress, with much difficulty, coaxed him to leave the room. She also dismissed the maid, and she and her little Hilda were once more left alone. Only once did the child move in her sleep, and that was when from the monastery came the faint sounds of the organ, and the voices of the monks as they chanted their Christmas hymn of praise. "Gloria in Excelsis: they sang; "Gloria in Excelsis, et in terra pax" (Glory in the Highest, and on earth peace).
Frau Walpurga fell on her knees, and with all her heart and soul thanked the dear Lord for His great goodness. All through the night little Hilda slept peacefully, holding in her hands her precious roses--the flowers of her dream; and next day, when Father Celestin came to see his little patient, he found her sitting up in bed playing with the wooden lamb the old shepherd had given her the day before.
"Frau Walpurga," said he, greatly delighted at this marvellous improvement; "your child will now recover quickly, for the fever had quite left her. It is entirely owing to the draught I prepared for her yesterday."
Frau Walpurga, however, thought differently, so she told him in confidence of all she had seen last evening, and also of the wonderous shrub that had grown in a moment through the thick snow that lay upon the ground. At first he did not believe her story.
"You must certainly have been dreaming," said he, "or perhaps the snow dazzled your eyes, and made you imagine that you saw all those things. Be careful, do not let others hear this foolish story, or it will be said that you are mad." To convince him of the truth she showed him the white roses, and he, although he was a great botanist, and knew the name of almost every flower that grows, was obligated to admit that blossom like these he had never seen before. She also repeated to him what the shepherd had said concerning Frau Bercta, but of that he did not at all approve.
He thought this matter over for some time, and finally explained it in this way.
"Woman," said he," you have been greatly honoured, for you have been allowed, with your bodily eyes, to see Mary, the Mother of the dear Lord, the Queen of Heaven, and also the holy angels, who bear her company. She is was who caused this plant to grow and bring forth blossoms as a sign to you that your child should not die, but should recover. As for Berchta, think no more of her; her supposed appearance at Christmas is but a fable, unworthy of belief."
The shepherd, however, always maintained that it was his draught, mad eof the juice of the crushed juniper-berries, that had cured the little girl, and his mistress gave him a grand gift. He quite refused, too, to give up his belief in Frau Berchta, and to his dying day declared that it was she and none other whom Frau Walpurga had seen that memorable Christmas Eve.
Whether it was after all Frau Berchta, or whether the monk was right in saying that it was the Virgin Mary, I cannot tell you, but this I know: the bush, that sprang at her command from beneath the now, whose blossoms brought healing to little Hilda, and much joy to her mother, bore seed and multiplied greatly, until now it may be found in every hill place. Many people say that its flowers still possess marvellous healing powers and tell of many wonderful cures that they have worked.
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