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   Chapter 7 WATER-FOLK.

Brownies and Bogles By Louise Imogen Guiney Characters: 10569

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

OF old, there were Oreads and Naiads to people the rivers and the sea, but they were not fairies; and in after-years the beautiful, bright water-life of Greece, with its shells and dolphins, its palaces, its subaqueous music, and its happy-hearted maids and men, faded wholly out of memory. No one dominant race came to replace them. Merpeople, Tritons and Sirens we meet now and then, as did Hendrik Hudson's crew, and the Moruachs of Ireland, the Morverch (sea-daughters) of Brittainy; but they, too, were grown, and half-human. They were beautiful and swift, and usually sat combing their long hair, with a mirror in one hand, and their glossy tails tapering from the waist. The Danish Mermaid was gold-haired, cunning and treacherous; the Havmand or Merman was handsome, too, with black hair and beard, but kind and beneficent.

The Swedish pair offered presents to those on shore, or passing in boats, in hopes to sink them beneath the waves.

England and Ireland had no water-sprites which answered to the Nix and the Kelpie, only the Merrow, who was a Mermaid. She was a fair woman, with white, webbed fingers. She carried upon her head a little diving-cap, and when she came up to the rocks or the beach, she laid it by; but if it were stolen from her, she lost the power of returning to the sea. So that if her cap were taken by a young man, she very often could do nothing better than to marry him, and spend her time hunting for it up and down over his house. And once she had found it, she forgot all else but her desire to go home to "the kind sea-caves," and despite the calling of her neighbors and husband and children, she flitted to the shore, and plunged into the first oncoming billow, and walked the earth no longer.


Tales of these spirit-brides who suddenly deserted the green earth for their dear native waters, are common in Arabian and European folk-lore. And this characteristic was noted also in the Sea-trows of the Shetland Islands, who divested themselves of a shining fish-skin, and could not find the way to their ocean-beds if it were kept out of their reach. It was the Danish sailor's belief that seals laid by their skins every ninth night, and took maiden's forms wherewith to sport and sleep on the reefs. And for their capture as they were, warm, living and human, one had only to snatch and hide away their talisman-skin.

The strange German Water-man wore a green hat, and when he opened his mouth, his teeth as well were green; he appeared to girls who passed his lake, and measured out ribbon, and flung it to them.

But we must search for smaller sprites than these.

The little water-fairies who devoted themselves to drawing under whomsoever encroached on their pools and brooks, were called Nixies in Germany, Korrigans (for this was part of their office) in Brittainy; Ondins about Magdebourg, and Roussalkis, the long-haired, smiling ones, among the Slavic people.


The engaging Nixies were very minute and mischievous, and abounded in the Shetland Isles and Cornwall, as did, moreover, the Kelpies, who were like tiny horses, known even in China; sporting on the margin, and foreboding death by drowning, to any who beheld them; or tempting passers-by to mount, and plunging, with their victims, headlong into the deep. The Nix-lady was recognized when she came on shore by the edges of her dress or apron being perpetually wet. The dark-eyed Nix-man with his seaweed hair and his wide hat, was known by his slit ears and feet, which he was very careful to conceal. Once in a while he was observed to be half-fish. The naked Nixen were draped with moss and kelp; but when they were clothed, they seemed merely little men and women, save that the borders of their garments, dripping water, betrayed them. They did their marketing ashore, wheresoever they were, and, according to all accounts, with a sharp eye to economy. Like the land-elves, they loved to dance and sing. Nix did not favor divers, fishermen, and other intruders on his territory, and he did his best to harm them. He was altogether a fierce, grudging, covetous little creature. His comelier wife was much better-natured, and befriended human beings to the utmost of her power.


Near Ghent was a little old Nix who lived in the Scheldt; he cried and sighed much, and did mischief to no one. It grieved him when children ran away from him, yet if they asked what troubled his conscience, he only sighed heavily, and disappeared.

The modern Greeks believed in a black sprite haunting wells and springs, who was fond of beckoning to strangers. If they came to him, he bestowed gifts upon them; if not, he never seemed angry, but turned patiently to wait for the next passer-by.

There was a curious sea-creature in Norway, who swam about as a thin little old man with no head. About the magical Isle of Rügen lived the Nickel. His favorite game was to astonish the fishers, by hauling their boats up among the trees.

At Arles and other towns near the Spanish border in France, were the Dracs, who inhabited clear pools and streams, and floated along in the shape of gold rings and cups, so that women and children bathing should grasp them, and be lured under.

The Indi

an water-manittos, the Nibanaba, were winning in appearance, and wicked in disposition. They, joining the Pukwudjinies, helped to kill Kwasind.

In Wales were the Gwragedd Annwn, elves who loved the stillness of lonely mountain-lakes, and who seldom ventured into the upper world. They had their own submerged towns and battlements; and from their little sunken city the fairy-bells sent out, ever and anon, muffled silver voices. The Gwragedd Annwn were not fishy-finned, nor were they ever dwellers in the sea; for in Wales were no mermaid-traditions, nor any tales of those who beguiled mortals-

Under the glassy, cool, translucent wave.

The Neck and the Str?mkarl of Swedish rivers were two little chaps with hardly a hair's breadth of difference. Either appeared under various shapes; now as a green-hatted old man with a long beard, out of which he wrung water as he sat on the cliffs; now loitering of a summer night on the surface, like a chip of wood or a leaf, he seemed a fair child, harping, with yellow ringlets falling from beneath a high red cap to his shoulders. Both fairies had a genius for music; and the Str?mkarl, especially, had one most marvellous tune to which he put eleven variations. Now, to ten of them any one might dance decorously, and with safety; but at the eleventh, which was the enchanted one, all the world went mad; and tables, belfries, benches, houses, windmills, trees, horses, cripples, babies, ghosts, and whole towns full of sedate citizens began capering on the banks about the invisible player, and kept it up in furious fashion until the last note died away.

You know that the wren was hunted in certain countries on a certain day. Well, here is one legend about her. There was a malicious fairy once in the Isle of Man, very winsome to look at, who worked a sorry Kelpie-trick, on the young men of the town, and inveigled them into the sea, where they perished. At last the inhabitants rose in vengeance, and suspecting her of causing their loss and sorrow, gave her chase so hard and fast by land, that to save herself, she changed her shape into that of an innocent brown wren. And because she had been so treacherous, a spell was cast upon her, inasmuch as she was obliged every New Year's Day to fly about as that same bird, until she should be killed by a human hand. And from sunrise to sunset, therefore, on the first bleak day of January, all the men and boys of the island fired at the poor wrens, and stoned them, and entrapped them, in the hope of reaching the one guilty fairy among them. And as they could never be sure that they had captured the right one, they kept on year by year, chasing and persecuting the whole flock. But every dead wren's feather they preserved carefully, and believed that it hindered them from drowning and shipwreck for that twelvemonth; and they took the feathers with them on voyages great and small, in order that the bad fairy's magic may never be able to prevail, as it had prevailed of yore with their unhappy brothers.

The presence of the sea-fairies had a terror in it, and against their arts only the strongest and most watchful could hope to be victorious. Their sport was to desolate peaceful homes, and bring destruction on gallant ships. They, dwelling in streams and in the ocean, the world over, were like the waters they loved: gracious and noble in aspect, and meaning danger and death to the unwary. We fear that, like the earth-fairies, they were heartless quite.


But it may be that the gentle Nixies had only a blind longing for human society, and would not willingly have wrought harm to the creatures of another element. We are more willing to urge excuses for their wrong-doing than for the like fault in our frowzly under-ground folk; for ugliness seems, somehow, not so shocking when allied with evil as does beauty, which was destined for all men's delight and uplifting. As the air-elves had their Fairyland whither mortal children wandered, and whence they returned after an unmeasured lapse of time, still children, to the ivy-grown ruins of their homes, so the water-elves had a reward for those they snatched from earth; and legends assure us the wave-rocked prisoners a hundred fathoms down, never grew old, but kept the flush of their last morning rosy ever on their brows.

Among a little community full of guile, there is great comfort in spotting one honest, kind water-boy, who, not content with being harmless, as were the Flemish and Grecian Nixies, put himself to work to do good, and charm away some of the worries and ills that burdened the upper world. His name was Hob, and he lived in Hobhole, which was a cave scooped out by the beating tides in old Northumbria.

The lean pockets of the neighboring doctors were partly attributed to this benignant little person; for he set up an opposition, and his specialty was the cure of whooping-cough. Many a Scotch mother took her lad or lass to the spray-covered mouth of the wise goblin's cave, and sang in a low voice:

Hobhole Hob!

Ma bairn's gotten t' kink-cough:

Tak't off! tak't off!

And so he did, sitting there with his toes in the sea. For Hobhole Hob's small sake, we can afford to part friends with the whole naughty race of water-folk.

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