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-This is a literal, unedited, unabridged translation of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale Die Nixe im Teich from “Grimms Märchen” by Dörfler published in Negel. This translation from German and the illustration are copyrighted by Benjamin Blankenbehler.-
There once was a miller who lived a joyous life with his wife. They had money and happiness, and their status increased year by year. But, alas, misfortune can come overnight! Their wealth dwindled away year by year just as quickly as it had grown until finally the miller could barely call the mill in which he sat his own. When he lay down after a hard day’s work he was so sorrowful that he could find no peace, and he stirred fitfully in his bed all night long.
One morning he got up before the break of day to go on a calming walk, hoping it would ease his heart. The first sunbeam came just as he stepped over the mill’s dam, and he heard a murmur in the pond. He turned around to see a beautiful woman rising slowly from the water. She held her long hair with her tender hands over her shoulders and it flowed down on either side until it floated in water, covering her fair body. He realized this was the water-fairy of the pond, and for fear he didn’t know whether he should flee or stay. But the fairy spoke with a gentle voice, calling him by name, and she asked him why he was so sad. At first the miller was silent. But she spoke so friendly that he gained heart and explained to her how he had lived in happiness and wealth but now was so poor that he didn’t know what to do.
‘Be at peace,’ answered the fairy, ‘I will make you richer and happier than you have ever been. You must only promise me that you will give me the youth that has just entered into your house.’
‘What else could that be but a young dog or cat,’ thought the miller, and he gave her the promise she demanded. The fairy descended back into the water, and the miller rushed back to his mill comforted and full of courage.
But he had not yet reached his home when the maid came out the door and called to him, telling him to be full of joy because his wife had just given birth to a young baby. The miller stood as if struck by lightning; for he saw that the treacherous water-fairy had known this all along and deceived him. He walked to his wife’s bed with his head lowered, and she asked, ‘Why aren’t you happy about the beautiful child?’
He told her about his encounter with the fairy and the promise he had made. ‘What good is wealth and success if I lose my child?’ he cried, ‘But what can I do?’ Relatives came by to give good wishes, but they could give no advice on what to do.
From then on the miller’s household saw another reversal of fortune. Suddenly he obtained anything he sought for, as if the boxes and crates filled themselves, and the money in his pocket increased overnight. Before long he was richer than ever before, however he could still find no peace or enjoy it. The promise which he had made to the fairy tormented his heart. Every time he passed by the pool he feared she might emerge to remind him of his fault.
He never let the child go anywhere near the water. ‘If you ever touch the water, watch out!’ he told the child, ‘Because a hand will come out, grab you, and drag you in.’ But the years went by and the fairy never came back, so finally the miller began to calm down.
The baby grew into a young man, and he trained to be a hunter. As soon as he finished his training and became a competent hunter, he entered the service of the ruler of the village. There was a girl in the village who was very beautiful and true. The ruler of the village saw that the young hunter liked the girl, and he gave them a small house to live in. They were married and lived in peace and prosperity, and loved each other with all their hearts.
One day the hunter followed a deer. As the animal came out of the forest into the open field, the hunter chased it and finally brought it down with a single shot. He didn’t notice that he had entered into the area of the dangerous pond. After he had disemboweled the animal, he went to the water to wash the blood off his hands. As soon as his hand touched the water the fairy sprang up and laughed as she wrapped her wet arms around him and pulled him in so quickly that the waves wrapped together over him.
Night fell and the hunter didn’t come back home, causing his wife to worry. She went out to search for him and remembered how he often talked about the persecution of a water fairy which he must always watch out for, that he must never venture anywhere near the pond. She guessed what had happened to him, and so she hurried to the water. There she found his hunter sack lying on the bank, and she could no longer doubt what misfortune had happened. She cried her love’s name, pleading and grieving. She ran to the other side of the pond and cried for him again, cursing the water fairy with hard words. But no answer came. The water stood still as a mirror. Only half the face of the moon gazed at her unflinchingly.
The poor woman didn’t leave the pool. She circled the pond over and over, never stopping to rest. Sometimes she slowed, and then let forth a violent scream, sometimes she gave only a soft whimper. Finally she lost all of her strength and fell to the earth in a deep sleep. Soon she was overcome by a dream.
She climbed fearfully upward between great boulders of stone. Thorns and thistles tore at her feet. The wind beat in her face and the wind pulled at her hair. When she reached the plateau she was met by a totally different scene, a blue sky and a mild breeze. The ground dipped slightly down to a green meadow full of colorful flowers in the middle of which stood a cleanly hut. She approached the hut and opened the door. There sat an old woman with white hair who beckoned warmly at her.
Suddenly the poor woman awoke. The day had already broken. She decided at once to follow what she had done in the dream. She strenuously climbed the mountain, and everything was just as she had seen in the night. The elderly person received her warmly and showed her a stool to sit on.
‘You must have had some terrible luck,’ the old woman said, ‘to seek out my lonely hut!’
Through her tears, the woman told the old woman everything that had happened. ‘Comfort yourself,’ the old woman said, ‘I will help you. Here you will find a gold comb. Wait until the full moon has risen. Then go to the pool, sit down on the edge and use this comb to let your long black hair shine. When you are done set it down on the waterside. Then you will see what happens.’
The woman went back, but the time went very slowly until there was a full moon. Finally the luminous disc shown in the heavens and she went out to the pool, sat down and combed her long black hair with the golden comb. When she was finished she set it down on the waterside. Before long a roar came from the deep. A wave rose up and crashed on the bank, pulling the comb away. It didn’t take any longer than what was necessary for the comb to sink into the ground before the mirror face of the water parted and the hunter’s head rose up. He didn’t speak; his wife just looked at him with a sad gaze. In that same moment a second wave roared up and covered the man’s head. Everything vanished; only the face of the full moon gleamed on the pool. It lay just as still as before.
The woman turned hopelessly went back home. But another dream showed her the hut of the elderly woman. The next morning she set once again on the path and threw all her sorrow before the lady of white.
The old woman gave her a golden flute and said, ‘Wait until the full moon returns, and then take this flute and sit on the bank. Blow a pretty tune with it, and when you are finished set it down on the sand. Then you will see what happens.
The woman did just as the old woman had said. Just as she set the flute on the sand a roar came from the deep. A wave rose, plunged on the flute and pulled it away. The water soon parted and not just the man’s head but the upper half of the man’s body rose up. He reached out his arms toward her longingly but a second wave crashed over him, covering him and pulling him back in.
‘Oh! What good is that I see my love only to lose him again?’ cried the misfortunate woman. Ruefully she again poured out her heart, but again she had a dream which led her a third time into the house of the old woman. She set out for the house again and the wise woman gave her a golden spinning wheel. The old woman comforted her and spoke:
‘Not everything is yet fulfilled. Wait until the full moon returns, then take this spinning wheel, and sit on the bank and spin until all the thread is used up. When you are finished place the spinning wheel near to the water, and you will then see what happens.
The woman followed everything correctly. As soon as the moon shown she took the golden spinning wheel to the bank and spun tirelessly, until the flax was used up and the thread was full. As soon as the wheel sat on the bank, the water roared from the deep more fiercely than before. A powerful wave rushed forward and dragged the wheel away. Then the head rose with a jet of water, and the entire body of the man rose in the air. He jumped quickly onto the bank, grabbed his wife’s hand, and fled.
They had only gotten a small distance when the entire pool rose with a dreadful roar. It streamed with giant force in the broad field. The fleeing pair saw their death approaching and the woman fearfully called for the old woman’s help. In the blink of an eye they were transformed into a toad and a frog. The flood could not kill them when it overtook them, but it tore them from one another and took them far away.
The water passed on and they both touched dry land again with their human form returned. But neither knew where the other was, for they found themselves with strange people who didn’t know of their homeland. High mountains and deep valleys lay between them. In order to survive they both had to guard sheep. So they drove their flocks through field and forest for many long years, but they were full of sadness and yearning.
Spring returned once more to the earth. One day by chance they both drove their flocks near each other. He spotted a flock on the distant mountain slope and led his sheep toward it. They did not recognize each other when they both reached a dell in the slope. But they were happy to not be so lonely. So from then on they led their flocks next to each other, and they didn’t speak much but felt some comfort.
One night as the full moon in heaven shone and the sheep were asleep, the shepherd took the flute out of his bag and blew a beautiful but sad song. When he finished he noticed that the other shepherd wept bitterly.
‘Why are you crying?’ he asked.
‘Oh, the moon shone just like this the last time I played this song on the flute,’ she answered, ‘and the head of my dearest came out of the water.‘
He looked at her, and it was as if scales fell from his eyes, for he recognized his dear wife. As she looked at him and the full moon shone on his face, she also recognized him. They took each other in their arms and kissed, and there is no question whether they were happy.
Posted by Ben at 11:41 PM