Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

MODERN CUSTOMS AT WELLS.

143

walk to the young people of Penrith, as it probably has done since the time when the caves were the residence of a “ holy man.”

It is surprising that the wells so long lived under the opposition they must have had to encounter in England. But it is hard to dissuade people from any practice by which they obtain relief, if it even come through the imagination. Many wonderful cures, it was said, were performed at St. Maddren's Well in the parish of Penzance (Cornwall). The rector of a neighbouring parish used to reprove his parishioners much for resorting thither. One day it happened that he met a woman returning with a bottle of the water after waking the well; and having given her a severe lecture on her superstition, he tasted the water, and it cured him of the colic.*

Besides the wells annually resorted to in Ireland, there are many supposed to possess special curative powers, which are visited on any day of the year by persons from afar. Most generally in the dusk of evening the pilgrim is to be seen kneeling by the well, and telling his beads; the lateness of the hour being a consequence of his having travelled all day. Overhanging the well grows a small tree or bush, to which, as a memorial, a piece of rag is fastened ; and where no bush exists, a pin is thrown into the bason. It is considered necessary invariably to drink of the water, and to wash or bathe in it when the case requires it.

In Ireland the observances, as now existing, may endure for a long time to come. There, too, the meeting was taken advantage of to renew old feuds; but the custom has lived down those evil days, and now, as once in these counties, the sports (if any) are harmless, and the drink water from the well.

The water-superstition of Germany assumes a variety of forms, for illustrations of which reference may be made to the romance of Undine, by La Motte Fouqué. The following popular story of Upper Lusatia will show the other extreme of the superstition, which has there undergone no such metamorphoses as in these islands :

* Camden's Britannia.

THE NIXE.*

There was once a miller, rich in the world's goods, who was married and led a happy life. But misfortune comes when it is least expected; the miller grew poor, until the mill in which he lived could hardly be called his own. Troubled at heart then he wandered about all day, and at night lay awake, restless with mournful reflection.

One morning before day he arose, and went out, for this he thought might relieve him a little. As he walked up and down thoughtfully on the dam of the mill-pond, a noise was suddenly heard in the water, and on looking round, lo! there rose up before him a white woman. Now, this he knew could be no other than the Nixe of the pond, and whilst he was in doubt whether to go away or remain, she spoke to him, calling him by name, and asked him why he was so sorrowful. The miller, taking heart at the kind words of the spirit, told her how he had once been rich and happy, but that now he knew not what to do for anxiety and distress. The Nixe comforted him, and promised that she would make him richer and happier than ever he had been, if he would give her in return what had just been born in his house. This, thought the miller, can only be a young cat or dog-he gave the required promise, and joyfully hastened home.

At the door the servant met him with beaming face, and informed him that his wife had borne a son. Surprised at the news, and unable to rejoice at the birth of his child, which he had not expected so soon, he entered the house, and in the deepest affliction related to his wife, and the assembled relatives, what had passed between him and the Nixe. “Let all the fortune that I am to receive from her fly away!” said he, “if I can only save my child.” None of his friends, however, could give any better advice, than that the boy should be carefully watched, and never suffered to approach the pond.

* Zeitschrift für deutsches Alterthum.

[blocks in formation]

The boy grew up and thrived ; and meantime wealth returned the miller, till he became richer than ever he had been. Yet s fortune brought with it no joy, for he was tormented with the ought of his vow, and feared that the Nixe would sooner or later ng about its accomplishment. Thus year after year passed away, e boy became a fine young man, and learned hunting; and the d of the village took him into his service. The young hunter en married a wife, and was living in joy and happiness. It happened once in hunting that he was pursuing a hare, which

length turned its course across the open plain. The hunter lowed eagerly, and brought it down with his gun. In the heat the chase he did not perceive that he was in the neighbourhood the pond from which he had been carefully kept at a distance ce his childhood; so having opened the animal, he went to the ater to wash the blood from his hands. But scarcely had he pped them in the pond when the Nixe arose, embraced him with r dripping arms, and drew him down, till the waters closed over

m.

As the hunter did not return home, his wife became greatly armed, but when they sought for him, and found his gamebag ing near the mill-pond, there was no longer any doubt on her ind as to what had happened him. She went down to the pond, nd without rest or repose strayed round it night and day, calling teously on her husband. At length exhausted, she fell into a eep sleep, and dreamed that she wandered through a blooming ain, till she came to the cottage of a witch, who promised to estore her husband. So when she awoke in the morning, she etermined to follow the inspiration, and to seek out this wise oman. She set out, and wandered till she came to the blooming lain, and to the cottage in which dwelt the witch, to whom she elated her mournful story, and that it was through a dream she as induced to seek her advice and assistance. The witch answered er, that she should go at the full moon to the pond, and there omb her hair with a golden comb, and lay it on the bank. The unter's young wife rewarded the old woman handsomely, and set ut towards home.

T

The time passed slowly; but at length the moon came to the full, when the hunter's wife went to the pond, and combed her dark hair with a golden comb, laid the comb on the bank, and looked anxiously into the water. Then it foamed and swelled from the depths of the pond, a wave washed the golden comb from the bank, and soon after her husband raised his head out of the water, and gazed at her mournfully. But there came another swelling wave, and the head sunk, without having spoken a word. The pond lay tranquil as before, and the hunter's wife was as disconsolate as ever.

For many days and nights she continued to watch about the pond, till she again sunk in sleep, and had again the same dream that directed her to the witch. So in the morning she went across the blooming plain, and came to the cottage, and related her story. The old woman ordered her to go again to the pond at the full moon, to play upon a golden flute, and lay it on the bank. When the full moon appeared, the hunter's wife went to the pond, played upon a golden flute, and laid it beside the water. Then it foamed and swelled from the depths of the pond, and a wave washed the golden flute from the bank; and presently the hunter raised his head over the water, higher and higher till his breast appeared, when he spread out his arms towards his wife. Another wave swelled, and drew him down to the bottom. The hunter's wife had stood full of joy and hope on the bank, but she relapsed into deep grief when her husband disappeared in the water.

But a third time came the dream, leading the way over the blooming plain, and to the cottage of the witch. This time the old woman ordered her, at the next full moon, to go to the pond, there to spin upon a golden wheel, and to lay the wheel on the bank. When the moon came to the full, in obedience to the command, she went to the pond, spun upon a golden wheel, and laid it on the bank. Then it foamed and swelled from the depths of the pond, and a wave washed away the golden wheel; and the hunter raised his head above the water, higher and higher, till at length he stepped out on the bank, and fell on his wife's neck. Then the water began to foam and swell, and inundated the bank far and

[blocks in formation]

wide, and snatched away the hunter and his wife, as they stood embracing each other. In anguish of heart the hunter's wife called on the old witch for aid, when instantly the hunter was transformed into a frog, and his wife into a toad. But they were not suffered to remain together, the water bore them to different sides; and when the inundation had subsided, both had resumed their human forms, but they were in a foreign country, and knew nothing of each other.

The hunter resolved to live as a shepherd, and it so happened that his wife became a shepherdess. Thus for many years they kept sheep, remote from each other. At length it chanced that the shepherd came into the country where the shepherdess lived. He was pleased with what he saw; the land was fruitful and convenient for the pasture of herds. So he brought his sheep thither, and kept them as before ; and the shepherd and shepherdess became good friends, but did not recognise each other.

One evening they sat together in the full moon; their flocks grazing around them, and the shepherd playing upon his flute. Then the shepherdess thought of that evening when she sat at the pond playing upon the golden flute; and unable to restrain herself, she burst into tears. The shepherd astonished, asked her why she wept, and she informed him of all that had happened to her. At once there fell, as it were, scales from his eyes; he recognised his wife, and made himself known to her. And they returned joyfully to their native country, and lived undisturbed and in peace.

« ForrigeFortsæt »