The Mermaid Wife

: Folk-lore And Legends Scotland

A story is told of an inhabitant of Unst, who, in walking on the sandy

margin of a voe, saw a number of mermen and mermaids dancing by

moonlight, and several seal-skins strewed beside them on the ground. At

his approach they immediately fled to secure their garbs, and, taking

upon themselves the form of seals, plunged immediately into the sea. But

as the Shetlander perceived that one skin lay close to his feet, he

tched it up, bore it swiftly away, and placed it in concealment. On

returning to the shore he met the fairest damsel that was ever gazed upon

by mortal eyes, lamenting the robbery, by which she had become an exile

from her submarine friends, and a tenant of the upper world. Vainly she

implored the restitution of her property; the man had drunk deeply of

love, and was inexorable; but he offered her protection beneath his roof

as his betrothed spouse. The merlady, perceiving that she must become an

inhabitant of the earth, found that she could not do better than accept

of the offer. This strange attachment subsisted for many years, and the

couple had several children. The Shetlander's love for his merwife was

unbounded, but his affection was coldly returned. The lady would often

steal alone to the desert strand, and, on a signal being given, a large

seal would make his appearance, with whom she would hold, in an unknown

tongue, an anxious conference. Years had thus glided away, when it

happened that one of the children, in the course of his play, found

concealed beneath a stack of corn a seal's skin; and, delighted with the

prize, he ran with it to his mother. Her eyes glistened with rapture--she

gazed upon it as her own--as the means by which she could pass through

the ocean that led to her native home. She burst forth into an ecstasy

of joy, which was only moderated when she beheld her children, whom she

was now about to leave; and, after hastily embracing them, she fled with

all speed towards the sea-side. The husband immediately returned,

learned the discovery that had taken place, ran to overtake his wife, but

only arrived in time to see her transformation of shape completed--to see

her, in the form of a seal, bound from the ledge of a rock into the sea.

The large animal of the same kind with whom she had held a secret

converse soon appeared, and evidently congratulated her, in the most

tender manner, on her escape. But before she dived to unknown depths,

she cast a parting glance at the wretched Shetlander, whose despairing

looks excited in her breast a few transient feelings of commiseration.

"Farewell!" said she to him, "and may all good attend you. I loved you

very well when I resided upon earth, but I always loved my first husband

much better."