"The Old Man of Cury,"
a Cornish story retold
by Cathy Mosley

The tide has turned many times since this story happened, but like all good tales it is not completely forgotten. Long ago there was an old man from Cury, a crofter, who had done his day's work and had set out to enjoy an evening's stroll along the beach. The sun had not yet set, and the breeze had not turned too chill, and he was content.

As he walked along he saw a maiden sitting upon a rock; the gleam of the waning sun was on her fair hair, and she was busily admiring herself in her mirror.

The old man smiled at the pretty picture and thought her some crofter lass, or fisherman's daughter, who had come to enjoy the silence - far from a noisy household and chores. He didn't want to startle her so he cleared his throat, and said, "Good evening young lass."

Yet she gave a little shriek and slide from the stone and down into a tidal pool.

The man ran to the rock, frightened that he had scared her into slipping, but when he looked down he saw her staring up at him; with her long, golden hair floating like a cape on the water, obscuring most of her naked shoulders, but not her fish's tail.

Oh, he had heard fisherman tell of mermaids!! And considered them tales born of late night ale.

But here......he was actually looking a mermaid.

And a very frightened one at that.

He pulled back a little and said, "Lass, I'm but an old man, and there is no harm in my thoughts or my bones........its just that I've never, ever, thought to meet a mermaid....Won't you talk with me a little while?"

His voice was kind and the mermaid swam a little nearer the rock. She studied him with large green eyes, and finally said, "More than anything I need help...."

The old man leaned down and said, "What help can I give you?"

"When the sun was high," she said, "My husband and I, and our children came to the beach.....My husband likes to sleep in the caves, and the children like to play amongst the sand....And I....well I thought to sit on this rock and sneak a look at what the land world is like, but I did not heed the tide and soon I was left stranded. And soon my husband will awake...." She shuddered and continued, "If he finds me gone his anger will be great. He might eat the children.....And he'll surely raise a tempest in his fury...."

"Here, here....don't worry," the old man comforted, "I may be old, but my arms and legs are still strong enough to carry you. You can't weigh more than a fine calf."

She gave him a sweet smile and easily clamored up onto the rocks.

"Thank you," she said, "For your kindness I'll grant you three wishes....."

"We'll worry of those later," he said, "Lets get you back to the sea and make sure your little ones are safe." He held out his arms to her, and felt how strong her fingers were as she wrapped her arms about his neck.

The mermaid's weight was slightly more than what the old man judged, but with careful steps he carried her down to the sea's edge and put her in.

She looked up at him and asked, "Now what are your three wishes? For I am in your debt and will not forget...."

The old man thought hard and finally said, "I wish to be able to heal the ills that beset man and beast....., to hear a truth from a falsehood, and to find objects that have been lost or stolen..."

The mermaid nodded at each wish and at last held out a comb. "Take this," she said, "When you come tomorrow you must comb the water with it, and I will come."

Which is what the old man did, and over many days he learned many secret things, though sometimes they would break their lessons so he could carry her up to peek at the road. And at the strange beings whose tails split into two legs.

And as the years went on the old man became known as a strong healer, and so were many in his family.

As for the comb.......that was handed down through his kin, though some non-believers say it is a shark's jawbone.

Hunt, Robert. Hunt, Robert. The Drolls and Traditions, and Superstitions of Old Cornwall (Popular Romances of The West of England). First Series: Giants, Fairies, Tregagle, Mermaids, Rocks, Lost Cities, Fire Worship, Demons, and Spectres. Dyfed: Llanerch Publishers.