The Nixie in the Pond

(Die Nixe im Teich)

[This is not a narrative as actually found anywhere in German oral tradition. It came into Wilhelm’s hands from a printed source, a story by Moriz Haupt from Oberlausitz published in the Zeitschrift für deutsches Altertum vol. 2 (1842), p. 358. Having made a number of changes in that text to please himself, Wilhelm first published it in the edition of 1843, and it is a translation of that reworked text’s descendent in the Grimms’ last edition (1857) that you see before you here. About the Grimm Collection.]

There was once a miller who with his wife lived happy and contented. They had money and property and grew more prosperous from year to year. But misfortune can come overnight: just as their fortune had grown, so year by year it vanished again, and finally the miller could scarcely call even the mill he lived in his own. He was greatly distressed, and when he lay down at the end of a day’s work, he got no rest but in his anxiety tossed about in his bed.

One morning he got up well before daybreak and went out into the country, thinking that this might lighten his heart. As he was walking across the mill dam, the first ray of the sun was just appearing, and he heard something roaring in the pond. He turned around and saw a beautiful woman rising slowly out of the water. Her long hair, that she had held over her shoulders with her slender hands, billowed down on both sides and covered her white body. He saw plainly that it was the nixie of the pond and in his fright didn’t know whether to go away or stay there. But the nixie spoke with her gentle voice, called him by name, and asked why he was so sad. At first the miller was dumbfounded, but hearing her speak in so friendly a fashion, he took heart and told her that he had formerly been lucky and wealthy but now was so poor that he didn’t know what to do. “Don’t worry,” answered the nixie; “I’ll make you richer and luckier than you ever were, only you must promise to give me what has just been born in your house.” “What else can that be,” thought the miller, “but a puppy or a kitten?” and promised her what she demanded. The nixie went back down into the water while, consoled and in good spirits, the miller hurried to his mill.

He had not yet reached it when the maid stepped out the front door and called to him to rejoice: his wife had just borne him a little boy. The miller stood thunderstruck; he saw clearly that the crafty nixie had known this and had tricked him. With head bowed he went to his wife’s bedside, and when she asked him, “Why don’t you rejoice over the lovely boy?” he told her what had befallen him and the promise he had made the nixie. “What good does luck and wealth do me,” he added, “if I am to lose my child? But what can I do?” Even the relatives who had come to congratulate them knew no way out.

Meanwhile, good fortune returned to the miller’s home. Whatever he undertook prospered; it was as if the chests and boxes filled themselves, and the money in the cupboard increased over night. Before long his fortune was greater than ever before. Yet he could not take untroubled pleasure in it: the promise he had made the nixie tormented his heart. Every time he passed the pond he was afraid she might emerge and remind him of his debt. The boy himself he didn’t allow near the water. “Watch out!” he would say. “If you touch the water, a hand will come out, seize you, and pull you under.” Nevertheless, as year after year went by and the nixie didn’t show herself again, the miller began to feel easier.

The boy grew into a young man and was apprenticed to a huntsman. When he had mastered his craft and become a competent huntsman, the lord of the village took him into his service. In the village lived a beautiful and loyal girl whom the huntsman liked, and when his master noticed that, he made him a present of a little cottage. The couple got married, lived tranquilly and happily, and loved each other very dearly.

On one occasion the huntsman was after a roe. As the animal turned out of the forest into the open country, he pursued it and finally brought it down with one shot. He didn’t notice that he was in the vicinity of the dangerous pond and after cleaning the animal, went to the water to wash his blood-stained hands. No sooner had he dipped them in than the nixie rose up, embraced him laughingly with her wet arms, and drew him down so fast that the waves closed over him.

When it was evening and the huntsman didn’t come home, his wife got worried. She went out in search of him, and since he had so often told her that he must be on his guard against the nixie’s snares and not dare go near the pond, she suspected, of course, what had happened. She hurried to the pond and on finding his game bag lying on the bank, could no longer be in doubt about the accident. Wailing and wringing her hands, she called her beloved by name, but in vain. She hurried over to the other side of the pond and called him again. She chided the nixie with harsh words, but no answer came. The surface of the water remained unruffled, and only the face of the half-moon looked down motionless upon her. The poor woman didn’t leave the pond. With rapid strides, without rest or pause, she kept going around it again and again, now in silence, now uttering loud cries, now softly whimpering. At last she reached the end of her strength, sank to the ground, and fell into a deep sleep. Soon she had a dream.

Full of anxiety she was climbing up among great boulders; her feet kept getting caught in thorns and creepers, the rain was beating on her face, and the wind was tossing her long hair. When she got to the top, an altogether different scene presented itself. The sky was blue, the air balmy, the ground sloped gently downward, and on a green meadow, dotted with flowers of many colors, stood a neat cottage. She went up to it and opened the door. There sat a white-haired old woman who beckoned to her in a friendly fashion.

At that moment the poor woman woke up. Day had already dawned, and she decided at once to follow up the dream. Painfully she climbed the mountain, and everything was exactly as she had seen it in the night. The old woman received her in a friendly manner and showed her a chair to sit down in. “You must have suffered a misfortune,” she said, “to have sought out my lonely cottage.” Weeping, the woman told her what had befallen her. “Console yourself,” said the old woman; “I shall help you. Here is a gold comb. Wait till the moon has risen full, then go to the pond, sit down on the edge, and comb your long black hair with this comb. When you have finished, however, lay it down on the bank, and you will see what will happen.”

The woman went home, but the time till the full moon passed slowly for her. At last the gleaming disk appeared in the sky; then she went out to the pond, sat down, and combed her long black hair with the gold comb. When she had finished, she laid it down by the water’s edge. Soon there was a roaring deep down, a wave rose up, rolled to the bank and swept the comb away. It was no longer than it took the comb to sink to the bottom when the surface broke and the huntsman’s head rose up. He didn’t speak but looked at his wife with sorrowful mien. At the same moment a second wave came rushing on and covered the man’s head. Everything vanished, the pond was as still as before, and only the face of the full moon shone upon it.

The woman went home disconsolate, but her dream directed her to the old woman’s hut. Again she set out next morning and lamented her sorrow to the wise woman. The old woman gave her a gold flute, saying, “Wait till the moon is full again, then take this flute, sit down on the bank, play a pretty air on it, and when you are done, lay it on the sand. You’ll see what will happen.” The wife did as the old woman said. No sooner was the flute on the sand than a roaring noise came from out of the depths, a wave rose up, moved forward, and carried the flute away. Soon afterward the surface broke, and not merely the head emerged, but the upper part of the man’s body as well. Full of longing he stretched out his arms to her, but a second wave rushed on, covered him, and dragged him down again. “Alas!” said the unhappy woman. “What good does it do me to behold my beloved only to lose him again?”

Grief filled her heart anew, but for the third time the dream led her to the old woman’s house. She set out, and the wise woman gave her a gold spinning wheel and consoled her, saying, “All is not yet fulfilled. Wait till the moon is full, then take the spinning wheel, sit down on the bank and spin the bobbin full. And when you have finished, place the spinning wheel near the water and you will see what will happen.” The wife carried all this out to the letter. As soon as the full moon appeared, she took the gold spinning wheel to the water’s edge and spun industriously until the flax was used up and the bobbin wound quite full of thread. Hardly, however, was the spinning wheel on the bank when there was an even greater roar than usual in the depths of the water: a mighty wave rushed up and carried the wheel away. Soon the head and the man’s whole body rose up in a jet of water. He jumped quickly ashore and seizing his wife by the hand, fled.

They had gone but a short way, however, when the whole pond rose up with a terrible roar and with torrential violence streamed into the open fields. The fugitives saw death already staring them in the face. Then in her anguish the wife cried to the old woman for help, and at that instant they were transformed, she into a toad, he into a frog. The flood that reached them was unable to kill them, but it tore them apart and carried them far away. When the water had subsided and both touched dry land again, their human forms returned, but neither knew where the other had got to. They found themselves among strange people who were unacquainted with their homeland. High mountains and deep valleys lay between them. To earn their living both had to tend sheep. For many a long year they drove their flocks through forest and field and were filled with sorrow and longing.

Once when the spring again broke forth from the earth, the two were one day driving out their flocks and chance would have it that they met. He spied a flock on a distant slope and drove his sheep in that direction. They met in a valley but didn’t recognize one another, yet they were happy not to be so lonely any more. From now on they drove their flocks every day side by side; they didn’t talk much, yet felt consoled. One evening when the full moon was shining in the sky and the sheep were already at rest, the shepherd fetched out the flute from his pouch and played a beautiful but sad tune. When he had finished he noticed that the shepherdess was weeping bitterly. “Why are you weeping?” he asked. “Alas!” she answered. “The full moon was shining like that, too, when I played that air on the flute for the last time and when the head of my beloved came up out of the water.” He looked at her, and it was as if a film had fallen from his eyes: he recognized his very dear wife. And when she looked at him and the moon shone on his face, she recognized him, too. They embraced and kissed one another, and no one need ask if they were blissfully happy.

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