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Pergrin and the Mermaiden

ONE fine September afternoon, about the beginning of the eighteenth century, a fisherman of St. Dogmael's, whose name was Pergrin, was rowing in his boat near Pen Cemmes. Looking up at the rocks casually, he thought he saw a maiden in a recess of the cliff. Pergrin was an inquisitive man, and he determined to see what the strange lady was doing. He rowed ashore as quietly as he could, stepped out of his boat and crawled up to a place where he could see into the recess without being seen himself. He espied a lovely maiden--at least, above the waist she was a lovely maiden, but below the waist she was a fish with fins and spreading tail. She was combing her long hair so busily and intently that she had no suspicion that she was being watched, and Pergrin gazed upon her for a long time. During that time his mind was active, and he determined to carry her away. Putting his resolve into action, Pergrin rushed at her, and taking her up in his arms, carried her off to his boat. There he fastened her securely, and turning his boat's nose in the direction of Llandudoch (that is the Welsh for St. Dogmael's), began to ply his oars vigorously. When she realised her situation, being a woman (at least, as far as the waist) she wept, and begged Pergrin to let her go. Pergrin, however, though he answered her very kindly, would not accede to her tearful request, but carried her home and shut her up in a room. He treated her very tenderly, but she refused all meat and drink (she rejected even the best cawl, with hundreds of eyes in it), and did nothing but shed tears and beseech Pergrin to release her. A famous man once said that as much pity is to be taken of a woman weeping as of a goose going barefoot, but Pergrin had never heard this saying: it would have made no difference if he had, for he was soft-hearted, and the sight of the beauteous half-woman's eyes becoming red, and her nose swollen with the constant drip of salt water, affected him profoundly. Moreover, as she persistently declined food, she became thin and peakish. To add to his anxiety, a friend of his, who knew far too much to be a pleasant companion, told him what had happened to a man in Conway who caught a mermaid. She prayed him to place her tail at least in the water, but he refused, and she died. Before dying she cursed her captor and the place of her imprisonment. The captor had gone from bad to worse, and had perished miserably: the people of Conway have been so poor ever since, that when a stranger happens to bring a sovereign into that harp-shaped town they have to send across the water to Llansantffraid for change. So when the tearful prisoner at last said to Pergrin, "If thou wilt let me go, Pergrin, I will give thee three shouts in the time of thy greatest need," he accepted her offer. Carrying her down to the strand of the sea, he put her in the water, and she immediately plunged into the depths.

Days and weeks passed without Pergrin seeing her after this. But one fine hot afternoon he was out fishing in his boat, and many of the fishermen were similarly engaged. The sea was calm, and there was hardly a cloud in the sky, so that no one had any thought of danger. Suddenly the mermaiden emerged out of the blue, sunlit water and shouted in a loud voice, "Pergrin, Pergrin, Pergrin, take up thy net, take up thy net, take up thy net." Pergrin instantly obeyed, drew in his net with great haste, and rowed over the bar homewards, amid the jeers of all the others. By the time he had reached the Pwll Cam a dread storm overspread the sea: the wind blew great guns and the waves ran mountain high. Pergrin reached dry land safely, but all the other fishermen, eighteen in number, found watery graves.

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