Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend
Chapter XIII. The Maid of the Wave
The mermaid, or, as she
is called in Gaelic, Maid-of-the-Wave, has great beauty and is
sweet-voiced. Half her body is of fish shape, and glitters like a
salmon in sunshine, and she has long copper-coloured hair which she
loves to comb as she sits on a rock on a lonely shore, gazing in a
mirror of silver, and singing a song in praise of her own great
beauty. Sometimes, on moonlight nights, she takes off her skin
covering and puts on sea-blue garments, and then she seems fairer
than any lady in the land.
Once a young crofter
was wandering below the cliffs on a beautiful summer night when the
wind was still and the silver moon shone through the clear depths of
ocean, casting a flood of light through Land-under-Waves. He heard
sounds of song and laughter. He crept softly towards a shadowy rock,
and, climbing it, looked down on a bank of white sand. There he
beheld a company of mermaids dancing in a ring round a maid who was
fairest of the fair. They had taken off their skin coverings, and
were gowned in pale blue, and, as they wheeled round about, their
copper tresses streamed out behind their backs, glistening in the
moonlight. He was delighted by their singing and amazed at their
length he crept stealthily down the rock, and ran towards the skin
coverings lying on the sand. He seized one and ran off with it. When
the mermaids saw him they screamed and scattered in confusion, and
snatching up their skin coverings, leapt into the sea and vanished
from sight. One maid remained behind. This was the fair one round
whom the others had been dancing. Her skin covering was gone, and so
she could not return to her sea ]some.
Meanwhile the crofter ran to his house
and hid the skin covering in a box, which he locked, placing the key
in his pocket. He wondered what would happen next, and he had not
long to wait. Someone came to his door and knocked softly. He stood
listening in silence. Then he heard the knocking again, and opened
the door. A Maid-of-the-Wave, clad in pale sea-blue garments, stood
before him, the moonlight glistening on her wet copper hair. Tears
stood in her soft blue eyes as she spoke sweetly saying: "O man,
have pity and give me back my skin covering so that I may return to
my sea home."
She was so gentle and so beautiful that the crofter did not wish her
to go away, so he answered: "What I have got I keep. Do not sorrow,
0 fair one. Remain here and be my bride."
The mermaid turned away and wandered
along the shore, but the crofter did not leave his house. In the
morning she returned again, and the crofter said to her: "Be my
mermaid consented saying: "I cannot return to my fair sea home. I
must live now among human beings, and I know no one except you
alone. Be kind to me, but do not tell man or woman who I am or
whence I came."
The crofter promised to keep her secret,
and that day they were married. All the people of the township loved
Maid-of-the-Wave, and rejoiced to have her among them. They thought
she was a princess from a far country who had been carried away by
For seven years the crofter and his wife lived happily together.
They had three children, two boys and a girl, and Maid-of-the-Wave
loved them dearly.
When the seventh year was drawing to a
close the crofter set out on a journey to Big Town, having business
to do there. His wife was lonely without him, and sat often on the
shore singing songs to her baby girl and gazing over the sea.
One evening, as she
wandered amidst the rocks, her eldest boy, whose name was Kenneth,
came to her and said: "I found a key which opened Father's box, and
in the box I saw a skin like the skin of a salmon, but brighter and
more beautiful, and very large."
His mother gasped with surprise and
secret joy, and asked softly: "Will you give me the key?"
Kenneth handed the key to her, and she
hid it in her bosom. Then she said: "It is getting late. The moon
will not rise till near midnight. Come home, little Kenneth, and I
shall make supper, and put you to bed, and sing you to sleep."
As she spoke she began to sin; a joyous
song, and Kenneth was glad that his mother was no longer sad because
his father was from home. He grasped his mother's hand, and tripped
lightly by her side as they went homeward together.
When the two boys had supper, and were
slumbering in bed, the crofter's wife hushed her girl-baby to sleep,
and laid her in her cradle. Then she took the key from her bosom and
opened the box. There she found her long-lost skin covering. She
wished to return to her fair sea home, yet she did not care to leave
her children. She sat by the fire for a time, wondering if she
should put on the skin covering or place it in the box again. At
length, however, she heard the sound of singing coming over the
waves, and the song she heard was like this:-
the dew mist is falling,
Thy sisters are calling and longing for thee;
Maid-of-the-Wave, the white stars are gleaming,
Their bright rays are streaming across the dark sea.
Maid-of-the-Wave, would thou Wert near us!
Come now to cheer usOh, hear us! Oh, hear us!
Maid-of-the-Wave, a sea-wind is blowing,
The tide at its flowing hath borne us to thee;
Maid-of-the-wave, the tide is now turning
Oh! we are all yearning our sister to see.
Maid-of-the-Wave, come back and ne'er leave us,
The loss of thee grieves usbelieve us! believe us!
Maid-of-the-Wave, what caredst thou in childhood
For moorland or wildwood? thy home was the sea.
Maid-of-the-Wave, thine exile and sorrow
Will end ere the morrow, and thou shalt be free.
Maid-of-the-Wave, to-night from our sea-halls
A heart-spell on thee fallsthe sea calls! the sea calls!
She kissed the two
boys and wept over them. Then she knelt beside her little baby girl,
who smiled in her sleep, and sang:
Sleep, oh! sleep
my fair, my rare one,
Sleep, oh! sleep nor sigh nor fret thee.
Though I leave thee it doth grieve me-
Ne'er, oh! ne'er will I forget thee.
Sleep, oh! sleep, my white, my bright one,
Sleep, oh! sleep and know no sorrow.
Soft I kiss thee, I who'll miss thee
And thy sire who'll come to-morrow.
Sleep, oh! sleep my near, my dear one,
While thy brothers sleep beside thee.
They will waken all forsaken-
Fare-thee-well, and woe betide me!
When she had sung
this song she heard voices from the sea calling low and calling
oh! list to our singing;
The white moon is winging its way o'er the sea.
Maid-of-the-Wave, the white moon is shining,
And we are all pining, sweet sister, for thee.
Maid-of-the-Wave, would thou wert near us!
Come now to cheer usOh, hear us! Oh, hear us!
The weeping mother
kissed her boys and her baby-girl once again. Then she put on her
skin covering and, hastening down the beach, plunged into the sea.
Ere long, sounds of joy and laughter were heard far out amongst the
billows, and they grew fainter and fainter until they were heard no
more. The moon rose high and fair, and shone over the wide solitary
ocean, and whither the mermaids had gone no one could tell.
When the crofter returned next morning
he found the children fast asleep. He wakened Kenneth, who told him
about finding the key and opening the box.
"Where is the key now?" the crofter
asked. "I gave it to Mother," said the boy.
The crofter went towards the box. It was
open, and the skin covering was gone. Then he knew what had
happened, and sat down and sorrowed because Maid-of-the-Wave had
told that the lost mother often returned at night-time to gaze
through the cottage windows on her children as they lay asleep. She
left trout and salmon for them outside the door. When the boys found
the fish they wondered greatly, and their father wept and said:
"Your mother is far away, but she has not forgotten you."
"Will Mother return again?" the boys
Mother will not return," their father would say. "She now dwells in
the home of her people, to which you and I can never go."
When the boys grew up they became bold
and daring seamen, and no harm ever came to them in storm or
darkness, for their mother, Maid-of-the-Wave, followed their ship
and protected it from all peril.
A mermaid has power to grant three wishes, for she is one of the
fairy folk of ocean and a subject of Queen Beira's.
Once a seaman saw a Maid-of-the-Wave
sitting on a rock. He crept towards her unheard and unseen, and
seized her in his arms.
"Let me go!" the mermaid cried, "or I
shall drag, you into the sea."
"I shall not let you go," said the
seaman, who was very strong, "until you have granted me three
are your wishes?" asked the mermaid.
"Health, wealth, and
"Your wishes are granted," exclaimed the mermaid, who, being then
released, plunged into the sea and vanished from sight.
Sometimes a mermaid will give good
advice to human beings. There was once a man in Galloway who had
skill as a curer of diseases, and it was said that he received some
of his knowledge from a mermaid. A beautiful girl named May was ill
with consumption. The Galloway herbalist tried in vain to cure her,
and as he loved her dearly and wished to marry her, his heart was
very sad when he found that his herbs did not do her any good. One
evening as he sat sorrowing on the shore, a mermaid raised her head
above the waves and sang:
Would you let bonnie May die in your
And the mugwort I flowering in the land?
Then she vanished. The man went at once
and gathered the flowers of the mugwort, and made a medicine. This
he gave to May, who was soon restored to health.
A mermaid may be offended by anyone who
interferes with her, and if she is offended she may do harm.
An old family once lived in a house
called Knockdolion, which stood on the banks of the Water of Girvan
in Ayrshire. There was a black stone at the end of the house, and a
mermaid used to come and sit on it, combing her hair and singing for
hours on end. The lady of the house could not get her baby to sleep
because of the Ioud singing of the mermaid, so she told her
men-servants to break up the stone. This they did, and when the
mermaid came on the night that followed she found no stone to sit
upon. She at once flew into a rage, and cried to the lady of the
may think on your cradle
I think on my stane;
There will ne'er be an heir
To Knockdolian again.
Not long after this the baby died. He
was the only child in the house, and when his fattier and mother
died the family became extinct.
Once a Forfarshire landowner nearly lost
his life by rushing into a lake towards a mermaid. He thought she
was a young lady who had got beyond her depths while bathing. As she
struggled in the water she called to him: "Help! help! or I'll
drown." When the landowner entered the lake his man-servant followed
him and hauled him back. "That wailing woman," the servant said, "is
not a human being but a mermaid. If you had touched her, she would
have dragged you down and drowned you." As he spoke the sound of
laughter came over the lake, and the mermaid was seen swimming away
in the dusk.
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