Friday, June 4, 2010

Watch out for the vengeful Mermaid

This story comes from English folklore, where mermaids are often called "merrymaids." It's a reminder that mermaids aren't all pretty songs and hair combing. This particular version comes from Mary Pope Osbourne's book Mermaid Tales From Around the World.

  Long ago, in Cornwall, a farmer and his wife lived in a humble mud cottage.  But they had a lovely garden, a good life, and a beautiful daughter named Selina.         Selina had rosy cheeks and dark, mysterious eyes.  The gossips in the village said that long ago Selina's mother had taken her to the Pool of Perran, a favorite haunt of mermaids.  Little Selina had leapt from her mother's arms into the water.  When she reappeared, her face was more bright and enchanting than ever.
        One night in her eighteenth year, Selina was walking on the seashore with her father.  As the cold clear moon flooded the ocean with light, a young soldier rode by.  His name was Walter Trewoofe, and he was visiting his uncle, a wealthy squire.
        Selina thought Walter was quite elegant and striking on the back of his proud horse.  Likewise, when Walter observed Selina and her father, he was struck by the quiet beauty of the girl.
        Thereafter, Walter schemed to ride his horse along the sands whenever Selina was strolling with her father.  And whenever he passed them, he stopped to say something flattering to the girl.
        Soon the lonely, beautiful maiden fell in love with Walter Trewoofe, and she began taking walks with him instead of with her father.  Once when Walter and Selina were strolling along the shore, an old fisherman saw a strange sight: a mermaid rising from the depths of the sea.  The mermaid floated along the billowing waves as if she were keeping watch over the young girl.
        When Selina did not see Walter, the world seemed grey and cold; when she did see him, the world was filled with sunshine.  But Walter did not have honorable intentions toward Selina.  He was quite conceited; in fact, he expected all young maidens to fall in love with him.  So after courting Selina for a short while, he grew bored and disappeared back into the busy world of London.  Never did he even think of her feelings.
        Back in the fishing village in Cornwall, Selina mourned for Walter Trewoofe.  She lay in her bed and slowly faded from this life.  As she grew weaker, everything went wrong in the village.  Crops failed, haystacks and corn ricks caught fire. Horses fell lame.  And cows died.
        Finally one night, at the moment the tide turned and the waters of the sea began to recede from the shore, Selina slipped from life into death.
        That same night, by coincidence, Walter Trewoofe had returned to Cornwall to visit his uncle, the squire.  Walter attended a grand party near the coast.  At midnight, he left the party and wandered along the edge of the cliffs.  Soon he stumbled down to the beach.  He was lost, so he began to retrace his steps.  But then the most exquisite music stopped him.
        Walter heard a woman singing a forlorn and melancholy song:
Come away, come away 
O'er the waters wild
Our earth - born child
Died this day, died this day. 
        Walter walked slowly along the sands.  He discovered the sweet sounds were coming from the low waters, on the other side of the rocks.  At the mouth of a cavern he saw a woman who looked exactly like Selina.
         She stared up at the stars and sang her song:
 Come away, come away
The tempest proud
 Weaves the shroud
 For him who did betray.
        Walter began walking through the low waters until he came to the woman. She extended her arms as if to welcome him. "Come, sit beside me, Walter," she said in a beautiful, silvery voice.
        Walter sat beside her, and she wreathed her arms around his neck and looked into his eyes.
        "Kisses are as true at sea as they are false on land," she said.  "You kiss a maiden, then betray her.  But if a sea maiden kisses you, you will be hers forever."  And she kissed him.
        Walter realized that this was not Selina.  As if she had read his mind, the woman said, I am Selina's mermaid guardian.  I have been watching over her since she fell into the Pool of Perran as a small child.  Now I avenge her death."
        Walter began to struggle with the mermaid.  But she held him tightly.  The tide was rising and the winds roared.  Lightning struck.  Then a black mist covered the star-filled sky.
        As the waves crashed against the shore, the mermaid pulled Walter to a higher rock.  The thunder boomed above the iron cliffs.  Then a mighty wave splashed against the highest rock, and Walter and the mermaid were carried out to sea.
        As they floated through the water, the mermaid held Walter by his hair. And she sang in a voice as clear as a bell:
Come away, come away 
The tempest proud 
Weaves the shroud 
For him who did betray.
        Walter heard other voices singing above the roar of the storm. A chorus of silvery voices sang:
Come away, come away 
Beneath the wave 
Lieth the grave 
Of him we slay, him we slay.
        Then Selina's mermaid guardian bore Walter Trewoofe down under the waves.

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