by Guest Author Pamela Cleaver
Once upon a time, there was a greedy fisherman called Joel. Everyone thought he was poor because he never seemed to spend any money. His wife, Mara, went about in a ragged dress and his son, Peter, ran barefoot. The fisherman worked hard catching fish to sell, but instead of using his money to buy Mara a new dress or shoes for Peter, he put his gold and silver into leather bags and hid them under the floorboards.
Besides being greedy, Joel was bad-tempered. He spoke crossly to Mara although she kept the house neat and always had hot food waiting when he came home with his catch. He was always scolding Peter although the boy did everything he could to help his father.
One day, Joel and Peter were out at sea, casting the net and drawing it in then tipping the fish into the boat. That day they had done well, the bottom of the boat was a mass of wriggling, shimmering silver fish. Greedy Joel rubbed his hands.
“This is a fine catch,” he said to Peter. “It’ll earn me a tidy sum.” He looked up at the sun. “Just time for one more cast,” he said.
Out went the net into the calm sea, the centre sinking while floats kept the edges bobbing on the surface. Joel waited a while, then began to haul it in.
“Lend a hand, lazy boy!” he shouted at Peter. “The net’s really heavy. There must be hundreds of fish in it.”
Joel was pleased and hauled away with a will, his muscles bulging. Peter pulled too, adding his small strength to Joel’s. Their arms were getting tired, but still they pulled , Peter wanting to please his father and Joel thinking greedily of the money he would put under the floor when he sold his record catch.
What a surprise they had! They hadn’t caught hundreds of silver fish, but one enormous fish with green scales. They were even more surprised as they wrestled with the slippery tail to discover that the front half was like the body of a human woman.
“It’s a mermaid!” cried Joel, “I’ve heard tell of such creatures but I thought they were nought but fishermen’s yarns.”
When the mermaid was freed from the net, she sat with her green scaly tail resting on the pile of silver fish. Her skin was pale green, her long golden hair hung down to her waist and her eyes were as blue as the summer sea. Her hands, tipped with mother-of-pearl fingernails, were clasped together in anguish. There was a pleading look in her sea-blue eyes and tears rolled down her cheeks.
“She wants me to put her back in the sea,” Joel whispered to Peter, “but I won’t!” He spoke to the mermaid. “You want to go back? Nothing doing, my pretty. You’re going to make my fortune.” He grinned nastily and, taking a piece of rope from his pocket, he tied her hands together so she couldn’t get away.
Peter felt sorry for her, but he dared not argue with his father.
All the way home, Joel ignored the mermaid’s sobbing, his head filled with schemes for getting rich. Peter was thinking too, but he was trying to find a way to help her.
Although their cottage was near the quay, it was too far for Joel to carry her, so he sent Peter to fetch a wheelbarrow.
“She’s so beautiful,” Peter said as he helped his father lift her, “but she looks so sad. Couldn’t we let her go?”
“Stupid boy!” Joel said crossly. “Certainly not! She’s going to make me rich.”
“How?” Peter wanted to know.
“I shall sell her to a showman from a fair. People will pay to see a mermaid because they are very rare.”
“Please put her back in the sea.” Peter pleaded, but he got his ears boxed.
“Keep quiet and do as you’re told! Let’s get her indoors before anyone sees her. I shall go and see the showman tomorrow.”
It was obvious the mermaid understood what they said, for when Joel mentioned the showman and people paying to look at her, she burst into a wild storm of weeping. Peter quite expected her to get her ears boxed too.
Mara was astonished when she saw what Joel had brought home.
“Poor thing!” she said indignantly. “It’s a shame to bring a sea creature onto land. Why don’t you put her back where she belongs? What do you want with her?”
“You mind your own business,” Joel said sharply. “Put her in the scullery and don’t untie her.”
That night they their supper in uncomfortable silence. The poor mermaid’s weeping put Peter and Mara off their food but Joel did not seem to care and ate a hearty meal. Then, while Mara and Peter washed the dishes, Joel snored in front of the fire.
Peter tip-toed out to the scullery and offered the mermaid some food. She shook her head but smiled gratefully.
“Don’t worry,” Peter whispered, “I’ll find a way to get you back to sea, even if my Dad beats me for it.”
Mara crept out to offer the mermaid a shawl to keep her warm. She shook her head, but smiled her thanks.
That night Peter hardly slept, worrying about the mermaid, but Joel slept like a log and dreamed of bags of gold.
In the morning, Joel put on his best suit. He gave Mara and Peter strict instructions to keep the mermaid safe, and set off whistling a jaunty tune, his hat on the side of his head.
As soon as Joel was out of sight, Peter ran to fetch the wheelbarrow and with Mara’s help, lifted the mermaid into it. Mara and Peter were determined that she should go back to the sea, no matter what Joel said, no matter how angry it made him.
Carefully Peter wheeled her down to the shore and gently helped her into the water.
“Goodbye, lovely mermaid,” he said. “Take care never to get caught in my Dad’s net again.” He thought ruefully about how angry Joel would be when he found his prize catch had gone, but he thought it was worth it when he saw the joy in the mermaid’s eyes as she felt the water lapping round her.
With a flash of her green tail and a wave of her pear-tipped hand, she dived under the water and disappeared.
Peter sat on the shore and sighed, never expecting to see her again. But a few minutes later, she bobbed up and swam towards him. She beckoned and Peter waded out, waist deep in the water, to meet her. Smiling, she handed him a bag made from thick, ribbon seaweed.
“For me?” he asked. She nodded.
He looked into the bag. Inside were ten, beautiful, gleaming pearls. He stared in amazement, then he understood. She wanted him to give them to Joel so that he wouldn’t be angry. Peter looked up to say ‘thank you’ but the mermaid had gone.
Joel came home that evening in a terrible rage. The showman would not agree to pay him as much money as he wanted. When Peter told him he had put the mermaid back, Joel’s face went scarlet and he opened his mouth to shout. But when Peter handed over the reward, Joel’s anger died. The pearls were worth six times what the showman had offered.
Joel smiled at Peter and patted him on the head. He went straight upstairs to put the jewels under the floorboards. He brought down six silver coins which he gave to Peter.
“Here,” he said, “you’ve done well.”
Peter could hardly believe his luck. Never before had his father given him money to spend. Next morning Peter ran to the market. He bought his mother a dress of soft grey wool, to match her eyes and bought himself a pair of sturdy shoes with shin buckles. There was even a penny left over so he bought himself a stick of candy.
It was just as well Peter spent the money quickly. A week later, when greedy Joel went to gloat over his treasure, he found the gleaming pearls has changed into dull grey pebbles. His fury was terrible to see, and Peter and Mara hid until he got over it.
After that, no-one ever dared mention the word ‘mermaid’ in Joel’s hearing.
Related posts: A True Romantic (about the author)
Teeny Tiny Tyke / The Deadly Game (more by the author)
Don’t Mess with this Mermaid (a book review)