Friday, October 22, 2010

The Mermaid of the Mill Pond

This slightly scary story comes to us from Mary Pope Osbourne's Mermaid Tales from around the world. It's been adapted from a German folk tale (in the Grimms Fairy Tales) The Nix in the Mill Pond.

The Mermaid Of The Mill Pond

        Long ago a miller and his wife lived in the Black Forest. They had plenty of land and plenty of money.  But just as a thief comes in the night, ill luck crept into the miller's life, and his good fortune began to wane until he'd lost almost everything.         
      The poor miller was so distraught about his misfortune he could not eat or sleep. He wrung his hands and paced his floor at night.  To add to his burdens, his wife told him that she would soon be having a baby.
        One early morning, after a sleepless night of despair, the miller decided to drown himself in the millpond.  "My wife will be better off if I die," he said, "for then she'll be free to marry someone who has better luck, who can take good care of her and our child."
        Without even saying farewell to his wife, the miller crept out of their house and headed down to the millpond.  In the gray light of dawn, he stood by the water and tried to gather the courage to drown himself.
        But as the miller stared at the pond, the first sunbeam broke over its glassy surface, the water rippled, and a beautiful mermaid rose from the deep.
        The miller was speechless; he stared in amazement at the mermaid.  She had long, dark wavy hair and eyes the color of the bluest water. 
        "Why are you so sad, dear miller?" she asked in a lovely voice.
        The miller took heart to hear such a kind voice inquire after him. "Once I lived in great wealth," he said. "But now
    through no fault of my own I am poor."
        "Oh, I will make you richer than ever before," said the mermaid. "But on one condition: You must give me your first
        The miller was horrified. "Oh no, never!" he said.
        "I promise your child will have a wonderful life with me," said the mermaid.  "Besides, what are your choices?  You must either give your baby to me or drown yourself in despair.  No?"
        The desperate miller could see no other solution to his problems, so be promised to exchange his first-born child for wealth and riches.
        "You've decided wisely," said the mermaid.  And with that, she disappeared into the depths of the millpond.
        The miller was anxious about his promise to the mermaid.  But by the time he got home, his tattered clothing had turned into the finest silk.  His pockets were bulging with gold coins.  And his humble cottage had changed into a castle.
        When the miller went inside the castle, he was overjoyed to find his wife lying on a luxurious bed, dressed in the finest gown.
        "Oh, our new baby boy has brought us great luck!" his wife cried.  "No sooner did I give birth at dawn, than everything changed!"
        "Our baby boy?" said the miller.  He was astonished to discover his child had been born in his absence.  As he looked at the beautiful infant, he burst into tears.  He threw himself on the bed and told his wife about his terrible promise to the mermaid.
        His wife was furious, of course. But she did not waste time yelling at him.  Rather, she hugged her baby and said fiercely, "She will never have him!  We will watch him every moment of his life and make sure he stays far away from the millpond!"
          Just as the mermaid had promised, great prosperity flowed into the miller's life.  But he did not keep his part of the bargain, for he and his wife never let their son go near the millpond.
        "Beware!" they warned the boy constantly.  "If you but touch the water, a hand will rise up and drag you down." 
        As the years passed, the miller and his wife worried less and less about their son.  The boy always avoided the millpond, and the mermaid was not capable of traveling on land, so there seemed to be no way for her to capture
        When the boy grew up, he became a brave huntsman.  He married a kind maiden, and the two lived happily together in a beautiful cottage of their own.
        But one day when the huntsman was chasing a deer, he pursued it into an open meadow that was crossed by a stream.  Unbeknownst to the young man, the stream fed into the millpond.  Hot and thirsty from the chase, the huntsman fell to the ground and washed his face in the cool stream waters.
        Suddenly the mermaid surfaced.  Before the huntsman could escape, she wound her arms around his neck and dragged him down into the water.
        The huntsman opened his mouth to scream, but water rushed down his throat.  Not even a ripple was left on the surface of the stream.
        When the huntsman did not come home, his wife became alarmed.  She hurried to the miller's castle and told the old couple about their son's disappearance.  The miller and his wife explained about the terrible promise made long ago to the mermaid.  They were too feeble to leave home, so they begged the girl to search for their son.
        The huntsman's wife rushed down to the millpond.  She walked around the pond until she discovered the small stream.  She followed the stream into the open meadow, and there she found her husband's hunting pouch in the weeds.
        The huntsman's wife walked around and around the millpond, calling her beloved's name.  But the surface of the water stayed calm.  As the moon shone down upon the girl, she sobbed softly.  Several times she cried out, "Give him back to me!  Give him back!"
        But no answer greeted her.
        At midnight, the exhausted girl sank to the ground and fell into a deep sleep.
        While she slept, she dreamed she was climbing great rocks.  Thorns and briars tore her feet and the wind tossed her hair.  But finally she reached the summit of a mountain.  There she found a green meadow filled with flowers. In the middle of the meadow stood a tiny cottage.  An old woman opened the door and beckoned the girl inside.
        "I'll help you," the old woman said.  "Here is my golden comb.  When you wake, comb your long hair."
        When the girl woke up from her sleep, she found a golden comb in her hand, the same one the old woman had given her in her dream.  "How can this mere comb bring him back?" she asked sorrowfully.
        Nevertheless, she began combing her long hair with the comb.  Suddenly a large wave rolled to the shore and, in the moonlight, the waters parted.  Then the huntsman's head appeared!  He looked at his wife and shouted with great joy, for he was so close to his freedom!
        But as soon as he cried out, a second wave covered the huntsman.  He vanished, leaving the millpond as still as before.
        The girl wept with grief. For the rest of that night and all the next day she mourned by the pond.
        Around midnight of the second night, the huntsman's wife fell into a deep sleep again, and soon she was climbing the mountain.
        When she arrived at the tiny cottage, the old woman opened her door and said, "Take my golden flute.  When you wake, play a beautiful song."
        The girl woke and found herself holding the golden flute the old woman had given her in her dream.  "How can a flute possibly bring him back?" she asked sorrowfully.
        Nevertheless, the huntsman's wife began playing a hauntingly sweet tune.  Suddenly a wave rolled to the shore and, in the moonlight, the waters parted.
        This time, not only did the huntsman's head appear, but half his body rose out of the water.  He reached towards his wife with a look of great yearning.  But no sooner did his hands touch hers, than a second wave covered him again.
        The girl wept with grief.  For the rest of the night and all the next day she mourned by the millpond.
        Around midnight of the third night, the huntsman's wife fell into a deep sleep, and again she dreamed she was climbing the mountain to the old woman's cottage.
        This time when the old woman opened the door, the girl cried, "Alas! What good is it to keep seeing my beloved, only to lose him again?"
        "Take my golden spinning wheel," said the old woman. "When the moon is high, sit near the shore and spin the spool full."
        The huntsman's wife woke to find herself sitting next to a golden spinning wheel.  "How can a spinning wheel possibly bring him back?" she asked sorrowfully.
        But no sooner did the huntsman's wife begin to spin than a mighty wave swept across the moonlit millpond.  This time, the whole body of her beloved rose into the air.  And this time, he sprang to the shore!
        Both of them shouted with great joy. 
        Before they embraced, the huntsman caught his wife by the hand and pulled her away from the millpond.  But the couple had not gone far when they heard a terrible roar and water began flooding out of the pond over the land.
        "The mermaid is trying to drown us!" cried the huntsman's wife.  "Old woman of my dreams, save us!"
        Instantly she was transformed into a toad, and her husband was turned into a frog.  The toad and the frog were swept away into the flood, until finally they both hopped to dry land.  And then they became human again.
        But alas, though the huntsman and his wife had been saved from drowning, they'd gotten separated from one another in the flood.
        Day after day, week after week, the sad wife wandered the deep valleys and high mountains, searching for her husband.  No matter how hard she looked, she could not find him.
        Finally the huntsman's wife became a shepherdess.  But even while she tended her sheep she continued to search the lonely fields and forests for her lost husband.
        One spring day, the shepherdess was surprised to see a shepherd watching his flock in a nearby field.  She could not tell how old he was or what he looked like, but just his presence brought comfort to her.
        That night when the moon was full and the sheep were resting, the shepherdess heard a song wafting through the gentle evening air.  She saw the shepherd playing his flute.
        The haunting music made her cry.  She moved closer to the shepherd - then closer and closer.  When she was within calling distance, she shouted to him, "I once played that song for my beloved.  But only part of him rose out of the millpond."
        The shepherd put down his flute.  He moved slowly towards the shepherdess.  As the moon shone on his face, the shepherdess recognized the shepherd as her long lost love.  She cried out and rushed into his arms, and the two wept and laughed and loved one another until daylight.
        After the huntsman and his wife were reunited, they journeyed to the miller's castle.  The old couple rejoiced to see their son alive again.  When they heard the story of the huntsman's escape from the mermaid, the miller begged his son's forgiveness.  "Not all the riches in the world are worth the loss of one's child," he said.
        Thereafter, the huntsman and his wife lived on the other side of the hills, far far away from the mermaid in the millpond.

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