|The Book of Legends|
|by Horace Elisha Scudder|
|Legends to supplement Fifty Famous Stories Retold. Includes the stories of St. George and the Dragon, William Tell, King Cophetua, St. Christopher, The Wandering Jew, and the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, retold in fine English prose. Ages 7-10 |
THE FAIR MELUSINA
 THERE was a king who ruled over Albania, and he was very sad
for his wife had died. He kept by himself, and would not be
comforted; but at last his courtiers coaxed him to go
a-hunting, and so dearly did he love the chase that he
forgot his grief.
Now one day in the woods he was thirsty, and drew near a
spring to quench his thirst. And as he drew near, he heard
a sweet voice singing, and it was none other than the voice
of the fairy Pressina. He was alone, and he sat long
listening to her song.
That was how at first he came to know the fairy. And she
was so sweet and gentle that by and by he persuaded her to
be his wife. It was not a very wise thing for a fairy to wed
a mortal, and Pressina promised only on condition that he
should never come to see her when she had children.
The king gladly promised, and meant to keep his word; but
one day, the king's son by his former wife came hastily to
him, and told him that
 Pressina had given birth to three daughters. The king was
overjoyed. He forgot his promise and flew to her chamber,
where he found her bathing her three daughters.
Pressina cried bitterly that he had broken his word, and he
should see her no more. She took her three daughters and
disappeared. Where did she go? Why, to the Lost Island. That
was so called because it was only by chance that one ever
found it, and even if one found it once, he might easily
lose it, and never find it again. Here she reared her
children, and when they were grown, she took them every day
to the top of a mountain, whence they could look down upon
"My children," she would say, "you see that distant,
beautiful country. There your father lives. He is king of
the land, and there you might now be living happily if he
had not broken his word to me, and I could no longer live
with him, for I had warned him of this, and a fairy may not
break her word."
This went on year after year, and at last when they were
fifteen years old, Melusina, who was the first to be born,
begged her mother to tell them what was the word their
father gave, and how he came to break it. And when she
 the story, she was filled with wrath, and laid a plot with
her sisters for revenge upon their father.
The three maidens said nothing to Pressina, but secretly set
out for Albania. As they were half fairies, they could use
the fairies' charms, and this they did. They seized the king
their father, and shut him up forever in the heart of a
mountain. Then they went back in triumph, and told
their mother what they had done.
But Pressina was not at all pleased. She did not wish the
king, her husband, thus put out of the way, and she punished
her children for what they had done. The other two she
punished lightly, but she condemned Melusina to become,
every Saturday, a serpent from her waist downward. The
only escape for her was to find a husband, who would promise
never to look upon her on a Saturday, and who would keep
his word. So long as he was faithful, all would be well.
The fair Melusina now began to roam through the world in
search of this faithful husband. She was most beautiful to
behold, and had every grace to make her winsome; but it was
long before she could meet the man of her search. She
passed through the Black Forest, and at last came to a
place known as the Fountain of the Fairies,
 for there were many fairies about the place; it was called
also the Fountain of Thirst.
It chanced that Count Raymond strayed that way one moonlight
night, and there he saw three fairies dancing, but the most
beautiful of the three was the fair Melusina. She was so
sweet and gentle that he fell madly in love with her, and
begged her to marry him.
The fair Melusina knew that she had at last found the man
for whom she had been waiting and looking. Yes, she
would marry him, but on one condition only. He must
never look upon
her on a Saturday. And Count Raymond solemnly promised
that he never would.
All went well for a while. They were happy together,
but the evil that the fair Melusina had done lived on. For
as each child was born into the world, it was crooked and
ill to look on. Yet this did not lessen Count Raymond's love
for the fair Melusina. All might still have gone well had
not some one whispered to the count that it would be wise
for him to see what Melusina was doing on Saturday.
It was a foolish count. He became more and more curious, and
at last one Saturday he hid himself where he could see, and
not be seen, and thus he watched for Melusina in her
 O pity of pities! He saw her, the fair Melusina, but from
the waist down she was a serpent, with silvery scales,
tipped with white. He covered his eyes. It was too
late, and he was seized with horror, not so much at what
he had seen as at the thought of how he had broken his
Perhaps he might yet have kept silence. But
a great evil fell upon him. One of his sons had cruelly
killed a brother, and Count Raymond was beside himself with
grief. Suddenly he thought how all his children had been
born crooked, and how it must have been because of some
wicked thing their mother had done. And as he was thus
weeping and wailing in the midst of his courtiers, the fair
Melusina came in to comfort him.
When he saw her, he burst into a rage, and cried out aloud:—
"Away! out of my sight, thou hateful serpent! thou wicked
Down to the ground dropped the fair Melusina in a swoon;
and when she came to herself, she looked with sad eyes on
her lord. She knew, then, that her time had come, and that
she could not escape her punishment. The man she had been
faithful to had not kept his word.
"Farewell! farewell!" she moaned. "Alas
 for the misery I am in. I had hoped that thou hadst
been faithful, and that I might escape my
doom. It may not be. The mortal in me dies, but in my
fairy life I must forever fleet about the earth as a poor
And at that, with a little faint cry, her body fell again,
but there was a rustling in the air as the fair Melusina
set forth on her lone wandering. Count Raymond and
those about him saw her no more. But whenever in
after years there was a new lord over the castle, the
country folk said that she hovered about the Fountain of
Thirst, a poor forlorn wraith.
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