The nix of the mill-pond


Havfruen i dammen

There was once upon a time a miller who lived with his wife in great contentment. They had money and land, and their prosperity increased year by year more and more. But ill-luck comes like a thief in the night, as their wealth had increased so did it again decrease, year by year, and at last the miller could hardly call the mill in which he lived, his own. He was in great distress, and when he lay down after his day's work, found no rest, but tossed about in his bed, full of care. One morning he rose before daybreak and went out into the open air, thinking that perhaps there his heart might become lighter. As he was stepping over the mill-dam the first sunbeam was just breaking forth, and he heard a rippling sound in the pond. He turned round and perceived a beautiful woman, rising slowly out of the water. Her long hair, which she was holding off her shoulders with her soft hands, fell down on both sides, and covered her white body. He soon saw that she was the Nix of the Mill-pond, and in his fright did not know whether he should run away or stay where he was. But the nix made her sweet voice heard, called him by his name, and asked him why he was so sad? The miller was at first struck dumb, but when he heard her speak so kindly, he took heart, and told her how he had formerly lived in wealth and happiness, but that now he was so poor that he did not know what to do. "Be easy," answered the nix, "I will make thee richer and happier than thou hast ever been before, only thou must promise to give me the young thing which has just been born in thy house." - "What else can that be," thought the miller, "but a young puppy or kitten?" and he promised her what she desired. The nix descended into the water again, and he hurried back to his mill, consoled and in good spirits. He had not yet reached it, when the maid-servant came out of the house, and cried to him to rejoice, for his wife had given birth to a little boy. The miller stood as if struck by lightning; he saw very well that the cunning nix had been aware of it, and had cheated him. Hanging his head, he went up to his wife's bedside and when she said, "Why dost thou not rejoice over the fine boy?" he told her what had befallen him, and what kind of a promise he had given to the nix. "Of what use to me are riches and prosperity?" he added, "if I am to lose my child; but what can I do?" Even the relations, who had come thither to wish them joy, did not know what to say. In the meantime prosperity again returned to the miller's house. All that he undertook succeeded, it was as if presses and coffers filled themselves of their own accord, and as if money multiplied nightly in the cupboards. It was not long before his wealth was greater than it had ever been before. But he could not rejoice over it untroubled, for the bargain which he had made with the nix tormented his soul. Whenever he passed the mill-pond, he feared she might ascend and remind him of his debt. He never let the boy himself go near the water. "Beware," he said to him, "if thou dost but touch the water, a hand will rise, seize thee, and draw thee down." But as year after year went by and the nix did not show herself again, the miller began to feel at ease. The boy grew up to be a youth and was apprenticed to a huntsman. When he had learnt everything, and had become an excellent huntsman, the lord of the village took him into his service. In the village lived a beautiful and true-hearted maiden, who pleased the huntsman, and when his master perceived that, he gave him a little house, the two were married, lived peacefully and happily, and loved each other with all their hearts.
One day the huntsman was chasing a roe; and when the animal turned aside from the forest into the open country, he pursued it and at last shot it. He did not notice that he was now in the neighbourhood of the dangerous mill-pond, and went, after he had disembowelled the stag, to the water, in order to wash his blood-stained hands. Scarcely, however, had he dipped them in than the nix ascended, smilingly wound her dripping arms around him, and drew him quickly down under the waves, which closed over him. When it was evening, and the huntsman did not return home, his wife became alarmed. She went out to seek him, and as he had often told her that he had to be on his guard against the snares of the nix, and dared not venture into the neighbourhood of the mill-pond, she already suspected what had happened. She hastened to the water, and when she found his hunting-pouch lying on the shore, she could no longer have any doubt of the misfortune. Lamenting her sorrow, and wringing her hands, she called on her beloved by name, but in vain. She hurried across to the other side of the pond, and called him anew; she reviled the nix with harsh words, but no answer followed. The surface of the water remained calm, only the crescent moon stared steadily back at her. The poor woman did not leave the pond. With hasty steps, she paced round and round it, without resting a moment, sometimes in silence, sometimes uttering a loud cry, sometimes softly sobbing. At last her strength came to an end, she sank down to the ground and fell into a heavy sleep. Presently a dream took possession of her. She was anxiously climbing upwards between great masses of rock; thorns and briars caught her feet, the rain beat in her face, and the wind tossed her long hair about. When she had reached the summit, quite a different sight presented itself to her; the sky was blue, the air soft, the ground sloped gently downwards, and on a green meadow, gay with flowers of every colour, stood a pretty cottage. She went up to it and opened the door; there sat an old woman with white hair, who beckoned to her kindly. At that very moment, the poor woman awoke, day had already dawned, and she at once resolved to act in accordance with her dream. She laboriously climbed the mountain; everything was exactly as she had seen it in the night. The old woman received her kindly, and pointed out a chair on which she might sit. "Thou must have met with a misfortune," she said, "since thou hast sought out my lonely cottage." With tears, the woman related what had befallen her. "Be comforted," said the old woman, "I will help thee. Here is a golden comb for thee. Tarry till the full moon has risen, then go to the mill-pond, seat thyself on the shore, and comb thy long black hair with this comb. When thou hast done, lay it down on the bank, and thou wilt see what will happen." The woman returned home, but the time till the full moon came, passed slowly. At last the shining disc appeared in the heavens, then she went out to the mill-pond, sat down and combed her long black hair with the golden comb, and when she had finished, she laid it down at the water's edge. It was not long before there was a movement in the depths, a wave rose, rolled to the shore, and bore the comb away with it. In not more than the time necessary for the comb to sink to the bottom, the surface of the water parted, and the head of the huntsman arose. He did not speak, but looked at his wife with sorrowful glances. At the same instant, a second wave came rushing up, and covered the man's head. All had vanished, the mill-pond lay peaceful as before, and nothing but the face of the full moon shone on it. Full of sorrow, the woman went back, but again the dream showed her the cottage of the old woman. Next morning she again set out and complained of her woes to the wise woman. The old woman gave her a golden flute, and said, "Tarry till the full moon comes again, then take this flute; play a beautiful air on it, and when thou hast finished, lay it on the sand; then thou wilt see what will happen." The wife did as the old woman told her. No sooner was the flute lying on the sand than there was a stirring in the depths, and a wave rushed up and bore the flute away with it. Immediately afterwards the water parted, and not only the head of the man, but half of his body also arose. He stretched out his arms longingly towards her, but a second wave came up, covered him, and drew him down again. "Alas, what does it profit me?" said the unhappy woman, "that I should see my beloved, only to lose him again!" Despair filled her heart anew, but the dream led her a third time to the house of the old woman. She set out, and the wise woman gave her a golden spinning-wheel, consoled her and said, "All is not yet fulfilled, tarry until the time of the full moon, then take the spinning-wheel, seat thyself on the shore, and spin the spool full, and when thou hast done that, place the spinning-wheel near the water, and thou wilt see what will happen." The woman obeyed all she said exactly; as soon as the full moon showed itself, she carried the golden spinning-wheel to the shore, and span industriously until the flax came to an end, and the spool was quite filled with the threads. No sooner was the wheel standing on the shore than there was a more violent movement than before in the depths of the pond, and a mighty wave rushed up, and bore the wheel away with it. Immediately the head and the whole body of the man rose into the air, in a water-spout. He quickly sprang to the shore, caught his wife by the hand and fled. But they had scarcely gone a very little distance, when the whole pond rose with a frightful roar, and streamed out over the open country. The fugitives already saw death before their eyes, when the woman in her terror implored the help of the old woman, and in an instant they were transformed, she into a toad, he into a frog. The flood which had overtaken them could not destroy them, but it tore them apart and carried them far away. When the water had dispersed and they both touched dry land again, they regained their human form, but neither knew where the other was; they found themselves among strange people, who did not know their native land. High mountains and deep valleys lay between them. In order to keep themselves alive, they were both obliged to tend sheep. For many long years they drove their flocks through field and forest and were full of sorrow and longing. When spring had once more broken forth on the earth, they both went out one day with their flocks, and as chance would have it, they drew near each other. They met in a valley, but did not recognize each other; yet they rejoiced that they were no longer so lonely. Henceforth they each day drove their flocks to the same place; they did not speak much, but they felt comforted. One evening when the full moon was shining in the sky, and the sheep were already at rest, the shepherd pulled the flute out of his pocket, and played on it a beautiful but sorrowful air. When he had finished he saw that the shepherdess was weeping bitterly. "Why art thou weeping?" he asked. "Alas," answered she, "thus shone the full moon when I played this air on the flute for the last time, and the head of my beloved rose out of the water." He looked at her, and it seemed as if a veil fell from his eyes, and he recognized his dear wife, and when she looked at him, and the moon shone in his face she knew him also. They embraced and kissed each other, and no one need ask if they were happy.
Der var engang en møller, som levede lykkelig og glad med sin kone. Penge havde de nok af, og for hvert år, der gik, blev de rigere. Men ulykken kommer som en tyv om natten, og ligesom deres rigdom var taget til svandt den nu ind fra år til år, og til sidst kunne mølleren knap kalde møllen for sin egen. Han var meget bekymret, og når han gik i seng om aftenen, efter at have arbejdet hele dagen, kunne han ikke falde i søvn, men plagedes af alle slags sorger. En morgen stod han op før daggry, gik ud i det fri og tænkte, at så ville han blive lettere til mode. Da han gik hen over mølledæmningen brød netop den første solstråle frem, og han hørte noget rasle i sivene. Da han vendte sig om, fik han øje på en smuk kvinde, som langsomt hævede sig op af vandet. Det lange hår, som hun holdt sammen med sine hænder, dækkede helt hendes hvide legeme. Han kunne nok tænkte sig, at det var havfruen, og var så bange, at han ikke vidste, om han skulle gå eller blive. Men havfruen kaldte på ham med sin bløde stemme og spurgte, hvorfor han var så bedrøvet. Mølleren kunne først ikke få et ord frem, men da hun var så venlig, tog han mod til sig og fortalte hende, at han engang havde været rig og lykkelig men nu var han så fattig, at han ikke vidste, hvordan han skulle klare sig. "Giv dig tilfreds," sagde havfruen, "jeg vil gøre dig rigere og lykkeligere, end du nogensinde har været, men så må du til gengæld love mig det, som netop er født hjemme hos dig." - "Det kan jo ikke være andet end en hund eller en kat," tænkte mølleren og sagde ja. Havfruen dukkede ned igen, og mølleren skyndte sig glad og ved godt mod hjem til møllen. Før han nåede derhen, kom pigen ud af døren og råbte til ham, at han kunne glæde sig, for hans kone havde født en lille søn. Mølleren stod som ramt af lynet, han så nok at den onde havfrue havde vidst det og narret ham. Med bøjet hovede kom han hen til sin kones seng, og da hun spurgte ham: "Hvorfor er du ikke glad over den dejlige dreng?" fortalte han hende, hvad der var sket, og hvad han havde lovet havfruen. "Hvad hjælper al min lykke og rigdom mig," sagde han, "når jeg skal miste mit barn. Men hvad kan jeg gøre." Heller ikke de slægtninge, som kom for at ønske til lykke, vidste råd.

Imidlertid vendte lykken tilbage til møllerens hus. Alt, hvad han foretog sig, lykkedes, det var, som om kister og kasser fyldtes af sig selv, og der i løbet af natten blev flere og flere penge i skabet. Det varede ikke ret længe før hans rigdom var større end nogensinde. Men han kunne ikke glæde sig derover. Det løfte, som han havde givet havfruen, pinte ham. Så tit han kom forbi dammen var han bange for, at hun skulle dukke op og minde ham om hans gæld. Han sørgede også for, at drengen aldrig kom i nærheden af vandet. "Tag dig i agt," sagde han til ham, "hvis du rører ved vandet kommer der en hånd op og trækker dig ned." Men da der gik det ene år efter det andet, uden at havfruen viste sig, begyndte han dog at blive beroliget.

Drengen voksede op, og da han blev stor kom han i lære hos en jæger. Da han var udlært og var blevet en dygtig jæger, tog herremanden ham i sin tjeneste. I landsbyen var der en smuk og god pige, som jægeren syntes godt om, og da hans herre fik det at vide, gav han ham et lille hus. De holdt så bryllup og levede lykkelige og glade med hinanden.

Da jægeren ikke kom hjem om aftenen blev hans kone bange. Hun gik ud for at lede efter ham, og da han ofte havde fortalte hende, at han måtte tage sig i agt for havfruens efterstræbelser og ikke turde komme hen i nærheden af dammen, anede hun allerede, hvad der var sket. Hun skyndte sig ned til vandet, og da hun fandt hans jægertaske på bredden, kunne hun ikke længere tvivle på ulykken. Hun vred sine hænder og kaldte grædende på sin elskede, hun løb over på den anden side af dammen og kaldte igen, hun anklagede havfruen i hårde ord, men ingen svarede. Vandfladen lå ubevægelig, kun halvmånen blinkede op til hende.
Den stakkels kone blev nede ved dammen. Rastløs gik hun rundt om den, undertiden tavs, undertiden højt grædende eller under halvkvalt hulken. Til sidst kunne hun ikke mere. Hun sank om på jorden og faldt i søvn. Og så drømte hun.

Hun syntes, at hun klatrede op mellem to store klippeblokke. Torne og ranker rev hendes fødder, regnen piskede hende i ansigtet, vinden ruskede hende i håret. Da hun var nået op på toppen, så alt ganske anderledes ud. Himlen var blå og luften mild. Jorden skrånede jævnt ned mod en grøn eng med brogede blpmster, og der stod en lille pæn hytte. Hun gik derhen, åbnede døren, og der sad en gammel kone med hvidt hår og vinkede venligt til hende. I samme øjeblik vågnede den stakkels kone. Det var højlys dag, og hun besluttede straks at følge det vink, hun havde fået i drømme. Hun klatrede med besvær op ad bjerget, og alt var ganske som hun havde set det om natten. Den gamle tog venligt imod hende og bad hende sætte sig ned. "Der må være hændt dig en stor ulykke, siden du opsøger mig her i min ensomme hytte," sagde hun. Konen fortalte hende nu grædnede, hvad der var sket. "Hold nu kun op med at græde," sagde den gamle, "jeg skal nok hjælpe dig. Her har du en gylden kam. Vent til fuldmånen er kommet frem og gå så ned til sivene, sæt dig ved bredden og red dit lange, sorte hår med denne kam. Når du er færdig, skal du lægge den på bredden, og se så, hvad der sker."

Konen vendte hjem, men tiden gik kun langsomt for hende. Endelig lyste fuldmånen på himlen, og hun gik så ned til sivene og satte sig til at rede sit lange, sorte hår med guldkammen. Da hun var færdig, lagde hun den på strandbredden. Lidt efter lød der en brusen nede fra dybet, en bølge hævede sig og skyllede ind over bredden og tog kammen med sig. Det varede ikke længere, end til man kunne tænke sig, at kammen var sunket ned på bunden, så hævede jægerens hovede sig op over vandfladen. Han sagde ikke noget, men så bedrøvet på sin kone. I samme øjeblik kom en bølge brusende og skyllede hen over hans hovede. Alt forsvandt, sivene lå roligt som før og kun fuldmånen spejlede sig i vandet.

Bedrøvet gik den unge kone hjem, og i drømme så hun igen den gamle i hytten. Næste morgen begav hun sig igen på vej og klagede sin nød for den kloge kone. Hun gav hende en guldfløjte og sagde: "Vent til det bliver fuldmåne igen. Sæt dig så ved dammen og blæs en køn sang og læg fløjten på bredden, når du er færdig. Se så hvad der sker."

Konen gjorde, som den gamle havde sagt. Da hun havde lagt fløjten på sandet begyndte vandet at bruse, en bølge skyllede ind over land og tog fløjten med sig.

Lidt efter skiltes vandet, og ikke blot hovedet, men halvdelen af jægerens krop kom til syne. Længselsfuldt bredte han sine arme ud, men en anden bølge skyllede hen over ham, og han forsvandt i dybet.

"Hvad kan det hjælpe, at jeg ser min elskede og straks mister ham igen," sagde den ulykkelige kone. Hun var lige så bedrøvet som før, men i drømme kom hun for tredie gang til den gamles hus. Næste morgen begav hun sig på vej, den kloge kone gav hende en guldrok, trøstede hende og sagde: "Det er ikke fuldbragt endnu. Vent, til det bliver fuldmåne, og sæt dig så ved dammen og spind tenen fuld. Stil rokken tæt ned ved vandet, når du er færdig, og se så, hvad der sker."

Den unge kone gjorde ganske, som hun havde sagt. Da det blev fuldmåne satte hun sig ned ved bredden og spandt ivrigt, til hun havde spundet alt hørret op, og tenen var fuld af tråd. Da hun havde stillet rokken ned ved bredden bruste vandet endnu stærkere end før, og en mægtig bølge skyllede den bort. I samme øjeblik skød en høj vandstråle op, og hendes mands hovede og hele skikkelsen viste sig. Hurtigt sprang han op på bredden, greb sin kones hånd, og de flygtede af sted. Men da de var kommet et lille stykke bort, lød der en vældig brusen, og vandet strømmede med rivende fart ud over marken. De to flygtninge så allerede døden komme, da kaldte konen i sin angst den gamle til hjælp, og i samme øjeblik blev hun forvandlet til en tudse og jægeren til en frø. Vandet, som nu nåede dem, kunne ikke dræbe dem, men det skilte dem ad og førte dem langt bort fra hinanden.

Da vandet var sunket og de igen berørte den tørre jord, fik de deres menneskelige skikkelse tilbage. Men den ene vidste ikke, hvor den anden var. De var blandt fremmede mennesker, som ikke kendte deres hjemstavn. Bjerg og dal lå imellem dem. I mange år drev de deres hjord omkring i mark og skov og sørgede og længtes inderligt efter hinanden.

Da foråret engang igen havde holdt sit indtog, drog de begge en dag af sted med deres hjorder, og tilfældet ville at de kom i nærheden af hinanden. Jægeren så i det fjerne en hjord på en bjergskrænt og drev sine får i den retning. De mødtes nu i en dal, de kendte ikke hinanden, men var dog glade over ikke mere at være så alene. De fulgtes nu hver dag ud med deres hjord. Ret meget talte de ikke sammen, men de følte sig dog lidt gladere. En aften, da fuldmånen stod på himlen, tog jægeren sin fløjte frem og blæste en smuk, sørgmodig sang. Da han holdt op, så han, at hyrdinden sad og græd. "Hvorfor græder du?" spurgte han. "Sådan skinnede også fuldmånen, da jeg for sidste gang blæste den sang på fløjten, og min elskedes hovede dukkede op af vandet," svarede hun. Da han så på hende, var det som om et slør blev draget fra hans øjne, han kendte sin hustru, og da månelyset faldt på hans ansigt, kendte hun også ham. De omfavnede og kyssede hinanden, og man behøver ikke at spørge, om de var lykkelige.

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