The Enchanted Cap

Irish



        One fine summer day, Dick Fitzgerald stood on theshore of Gollerus, a village in the south of Ireland. The sun was rising behind the hills.  The dark sea was turninggreen in the early light.  The rolling mist curled up from the water like the smoke rising from Dick's pipe.

        "What a pretty morning," said Dick.  "Tis mighty lonesome to be talking to one's self, though.  What in the wide world is a man without a wife?  Why, he's no more complete than half a pair of scissors - or a fishing line without a hook."

        Dick cast his eyes about.  And what did he see, but a strange young woman sunning on a nearby rock.  The morning light shone on her sea-green hair like melted butter shines on cabbage.  Dick guessed the truth.  She was a mermaid.  He spied her little enchanted red cap beside her - the sea people use enchanted caps for diving down deep into the ocean.

        Dick Fitzgerald seized the little red cap, for he had once heard that if he could possess a mermaid's cap, she would lose the power to swim back home.

        When the mermaid saw her cap was gone, she began to cry like a newborn babe.  Salt tears - double salt, no doubt - came streaming down her face.

        Though Dick knew quite well what ailed her, he could not help but feel sad.  He did have a tender heart, after all.  "Don't cry, my dear," he said.

        But the mermaid only cried more.

        Dick sat down on the rock and took her hand.  He noticed it was not an ugly hand, in spite of the fact that there was a small web between her fingers, like that on a duck's foot.  Her skin was as thin and white as the skin between the egg and its shell.

        "What's your name?" said Dick.

        She gave him no answer.

        Dick squeezed her hand - for that's a universal language, you know.  There's not a creature in the world does not understand it, fish or human.

        The mermaid stopped weeping.  "Man, will you now cook me for supper?" she said to Dick.

        "By all check aprons between Dingle and Tralee!" said Dick. "I'd as soon cook and eat myself, my dear."

        "Man, " said the mermaid, "what will you do with me if you don't

    cook me for supper?" 

        Since Dick had been wanting a wife, he studied her hard. She was handsome, and she spoke like any real person.  Yes, he decided he was fairly in love with her. 

        "Man, what will you do?" she asked again.

        The way she called him "man" settled the matter entirely.  "Fish," said Dick, trying to speak to her in her own fashion. "Fish, here's a word for you this blessed morning. I'll make you Mistress Fitzgerald before all the world.

That's what I'll do with you."

        "I'm ready and willing, Mister Fitzgerald," she said, "but first let me put my hair up."

        After she fixed her hair, the mermaid stuck her comb in Dick's pocket. Then she bent her head close to the sea and whispered mysterious words to the water. Dick saw the murmuring of her words ripple on top of the waves. They slid towards the wide ocean like a breath of wind

        "Are you speaking to the water?" he asked in wonder.

        "Just sending word home to my father," she said.  "I'm telling him to go ahead and have his breakfast, not to wait for me."

        "And who's your father, duck?" said Dick.

        "He's the king of the waves," said the mermaid.

        "Oh my!" said Dick.  "You yourself must be a king's daughter then.  To be sure, your father must have all the money that's down at the bottom of the sea."

        "Money?  What's money?"  said the mermaid.

        "Oh, tis not a bad thing," said Dick.  "Maybe the fishes will bring some up."

        "Yes, the fishes will bring me anything I want," she said.

        "Oh, then speak to them," said Dick.  "Tis only a straw bed I have at home.  Not fit for a king's daughter.  Maybe you'd like a nice feather bed.  A pair of beds?"

        "By all means, Mr. Fitzgerald, I have plenty of beds," she said.  "Fourteen oyster beds of my own."

        Dick scratched his head.  He looked a bit puzzled.  "That clearly is a nice thing to have," he,said.  "Nice to have one's

    bed so close to one's supper."

        So Dick Fitzgerald took the mermaid to Father Fitzgibbon and asked him to marry them.

        But the priest was appalled.  "It is a fish woman you want to marry!" he shouted.  "Send the scaly creature home to her own kind!

        "Please, father, she's a king's daughter," said Dick.

        "Don't care if she's the daughter of fifty kings," said the priest.  "She's a fish!"  

         "No, no, she's as mild and as beautiful as the moon, said Dick.

         "I don't care if she's as mild and as beautiful as the moon, the sun, and the stars put together!  You can't marry a fish, Dick!  She's a fish - a fish!"

         "But she has all the gold under the sea," said Dick.

         "Oh. Oh. Wel," said the priest. He straightened up. "That changes things entirely.  Why didn't you tell me this before, Dick?  Marry her for heaven's sake, even if she's ten times a fish."

         So the priest married Dick and the mermaid.  And everything   prospered for old Dick.  He was living on the sunny side of life, so to speak.  The mermaid was the best of wives.  The two lived very happily together and she promptly gave him three children besides.

         In short, Dick Fitzgerald was a happy man, you could say.  And he might have remained one to the end of his days, if he hadn't gone to Tralee on business one morning.

         No sooner had Dick left the house than Mrs. Fitzgerald set about cleaning the place.  Soon she chanced to come across some fishing tackle. And what do you think she found with it?

         Yes.  The enchanted red cap.  The very one Dick stole the day they met long ago.

         Mrs. Fitzgerald sat down on a little stool and just stared at the red cap. She thought about all the happy days she'd spent above the sea.  She looked at her three human children, and she thought of poor Dick.

         Oh, how it would break all their hearts to lose me, she thought sadly.     But they won't lose me entirely.  "I'll come back soon," she told them and kissed them each good - bye.  "Who can blame me for going home for a bit of a visit?"

         When Mrs. Fitzgerald put on her enchanted cap, she heard a faint singing coming from the sea, a strange, sweet song urging her to return to the land - under - the - waves from where she was stolen.  And as she was suddenly flooded with memories of her father, the sea king; her mother, the sea queen; and of her sea brothers and sisters; she felt a great longing to be with all of them again.

        So Mrs. Fitzgerald rushed to the shore of Gollerus where the sea was calm and smooth and glittering in the sunlight.  As she plunged into the water and disappeared, her human family was quickly forgotten.

        When Dick came home that evening, his daughter told him about her mother's departure.  Dick rushed to his fishing tackle and looked for the enchanted cap.  When he saw it was gone, he was certain of the truth.

        Year after year, Dick Fitzgerald waited for his mermaid wife to come back home.  He never married again.  And to his dying day, nothing persuaded him she would not have returned if she could have.

        "Her father, the king, must have kept her in the sea by force," were Dick's very last words.

        All others seemed to agree with Dick. Until this day in that part of Ireland, the "Mermaid of Gollerus" is spoken of as the very model of a perfect wife and mother.

From: Mermaid Tales From Around The World
By: Mary Pope Osborne
Illustration: Troy Howell