THE MERMAID AND THE BOY
Long, long ago, there lived a king who ruled over a country by the sea. When he had been married about a year, some of his subjects, inhabiting a distant group of islands, revolted against his laws, and it became needful for him to leave his wife and go in person to settle their disputes. The queen feared that some ill would come of it, and implored him to stay at home, but he told her that nobody could do his work for him, and the next morning the sails were spread, and the king started on his voyage.
The vessel had not gone very far when she ran upon a rock, and stuck so fast in a cleft that the strength of the whole crew could not get her off again. To make matters worse, the wind was rising too, and it was quite plain that in a few hours the ship would be dashed to pieces and everybody would be drowned, when suddenly the form of a mermaid was seen dancing on the waves which threatened every moment to overwhelm them.
' There is only one way to free yourselves,' she said to the king, bobbing up and down in the water as she spoke, ' and that is to give me your solemn word that you will deliver to me the first child that is born to you.'
The king hesitated at this proposal. He hoped that some day he might have children in his home, and the thought that he must yield up the heir to his crown was very bitter to him ; but just then a huge wave broke with great force on the ship's side, and his men fell on their knees and entreated him to save them.
So he promised, and this time a wave lifted the vessel