The Nixy Lake

: Fairy Tales From The German Forests

In one of the wildest and most romantic parts of Germany, there is a

high mountain which is as renowned for the strange stories that are told

about it, as for its many natural peculiarities. It is flat on the top,

falling off precipitously on every side. In recent times a high tower

has been built on the very edge of the rock. Curious to say, the ground

on the summit of this mountain is a bog or morass; flat slabs of stone
/> have been placed on it to enable bold tourists to reach the tower

without sinking in unawares. There is a bronze ring on a balcony

surrounding the tower, with darts pointing in different directions,

showing where London, Paris, and St Petersburg, for instance, are

situated. I need hardly say that these towns are not visible, but that

if a straight line could be drawn from this spot, it would reach them.

Not far below the summit there is a mysterious-looking lake, which it is

strange indeed to find at so high a level. A huge cliff formed of

boulders of rock rises on the one side of the lake; it falls like a

great wall straight into the water; only daring little ferns and plants

have a foothold on it; the lake is inaccessible from this direction. A

narrow pathway winding in and out edged with water-reeds leads by it on

the other side. This lake is said to be so deep that it is unfathomable;

it is dark brown in colour, bitter and brackish to the taste. No fish

can live in it. Learned men, called geologists, who study the crust of

the earth, have decided that this region is not volcanic in origin as it

would appear at first sight, but that the lake is fed by water from the


This mountain is constantly visited by sudden violent atmospheric

disturbances, great winds and heavy thunderstorms, that spring up at a

moment's notice, striking terror into the hearts of any travellers who

may be caught in them.

Now several centuries ago, before the time of railways and steamboats, a

mighty king of the water-sprites lived in this lake with his three

beautiful daughters, the famed nixies of the lake.

The King was a majestic old man with long white beard and hair; his eyes

were black and sinister, and when he drew his eyebrows together in a

straight line over his eyes, his frown was terrible to behold. The

thunderstorms which devastated the country round, were attributed to

him. In his fits of rage, the village folk declared, he would hurl

stones and thunderbolts down from the mountain, heedless of what or whom

he might destroy.

The day would be fine, the sky blue, and in a moment a storm wind would

arise, clouds would cover the heavens, and lightning shoot forth; how

could this be accounted for by natural agency?

The nixies were much to be pitied, if the truth were known, for their

father was a stern old tyrant, and interfered constantly with their

harmless amusements, also prohibiting their leaving the lake to frolic

at midnight with the wood-spirits, whom he considered as beneath them in


On a warm day in the lovely month of June (which is the favourite month

of all the year for the water-nixies, for then the white and yellow

water lilies are in flower, and the yellow irises shine among the

water-reeds) the three sisters were swimming lazily to and fro, plunging

under the water like seals, to reappear like seals on the look-out for

something to happen. But nothing ever did happen but one of their

father's tempers, and of these they were tired enough as you may

imagine. They had not fishes' tails like their cousins the mermaids, but

slender limbs of dazzling whiteness. Their hair resembled beautiful

seaweed as they dived under the water, or when it spread out like a fan

on the surface.

The eldest, Clothilde, was dark; she was beautiful, but haughty, and

looked as if she had inherited her father's temper.

The youngest was very fair; she had the golden hair of a fairy, her eyes

were blue, but meaningless; there was little sense in their depths. Her

name was Elfrida.

The second sister, Lenore, was of a different type, and might have been

mistaken for a mortal maiden. Her hair was neither dark nor fair,

neither red nor brown, it was of a pale hazel colour and fell in

straight masses nearly to her feet. Her eyes were of a deep grey fringed

with dark lashes; they had a mysterious and pathetic look--a look caused

by longing after something indefinite and yet desired, or by a

prescience perhaps of coming disaster.

Lenore rose to the surface of the water. "Sisters," she called,

"sisters, listen to me," and she swam towards the shade of the rock, and

seated herself on a stony seat, half in half out of the water. "I can

bear the monotony of our existence no longer. I tire of this life of

ceaseless dancing, swimming, drifting. I want to visit the homes of men

who live in the village that lies below us at the foot of the mountain,

to hear stories of the world from which we are shut out, to share as far

as it is possible for us in the simple and homely amusements of


"I am willing to go with you," said Clothilde, frowning discontentedly.

"I am tired too of this melancholy lake; the eternal nothingness of our

life oppresses me too." She tore a water-lily to pieces as she spoke.

"O do not do that!" said Lenore, almost as if in pain, "the flowers can

feel too!"

"What if they can!" said Clothilde scornfully; for the cruelty of the

nixies coursed through her veins.

"And you Elfrida," said Lenore, turning to her fairer sister, "will you

come with us?"

"Ah!" said Elfrida, "I prefer to stay here among the water-lilies. I

have no aspirations, I could live here for ever sleeping through the

winter months, dreaming through the summer ones, yet if you go, I will

go too; for we three have never been separated, and I should be afraid

if I were left alone with my father." As she spoke she placed a

water-lily in her golden hair; the sunbeams struck through the fir-trees

by the lake and fell on her, till she looked like some wonderful fairy

princess, too exquisite to be real.

A young man happened to be passing the lake just at this moment; he

caught the entrancing picture as if it were a vision from Heaven; his

brain reeled, his breath failed him, he would have fallen in a swoon;

but then he met Lenore's eyes, grave, calm, and searching. A wild

longing and deep melancholy seized on him. He rushed towards the lake,

and clutched hold of the branches of a young willow, only just in time

to prevent himself from falling into those treacherous depths.

With a weird cry and their white arms raised over their heads, the

nixies disappeared in the lake. The young man gazed as one bewitched;

crossed himself in fear; and gazed again. All was silent: no living

creature stirred; only the sunbeams fell athwart the lake, and little

cascades of water fell over the surface of the rock.

"I have seen the nixies of the pool," thought the young man, who was the

son of a rich peasant farmer in the village. "Surely that means that I

shall die ere long. I should not fear death," he continued, "if I were

to die in battle in honourable and open conflict; but to die young,

stricken by some awful and unaccountable fate, that would be terrible."

As he turned homewards, a wind arose that nearly hurled him into the

lake; so violent was the gust, and a storm burst forth, the like of

which he had never experienced before. Branches were torn from the

trees, and hurled in his path; the lightning was continuous and nearly

blinded him. Glancing fearfully back at the lake, the waters seemed to

have arisen in great waves, and he thought he saw the nixy King himself

raging and roaring like a wild creature, casting the storm winds forth

from their fortresses in the rocks, holding the lightning like fireworks

in his long fingers, and hurling it across the land. Terrified,

half-stunned by the thunder, and stupefied by the hail and rain, he at

last reached home, where his mother awaited him in great anxiety.

However he soon had off his wet, torn clothes, and casting himself on

his bed fell into a profound slumber. He slept for nearly a night and a

day, and when he awoke his adventures seemed to him a wild dream, and

like a dream were half-forgotten although they exerted a subtle

influence on his waking thoughts that he was unaware of.

Meanwhile the nixies, and especially Lenore, had been anxious as to his

fate. Not until she had sent their dwarf messenger into the village to

make inquiries as to his welfare, could she be at rest. Her wish to

visit the homes of men became a passion, a burning desire that could not

be quenched. She called on her dread father; three times she cried out

to him, and her sisters echoed the call. Then he arose from the depths,

majestic and so terrible to behold that Lenore almost lost the courage

to address him. But he listened to her request in silence, brooding,

while great ravens whirled and swooped in the sky above their heads.

Then he spoke:

"It is decreed that no one can alter the path of fate, or avoid the doom

that is written in the stars. The hour has come: I have foreseen this

day; go, my daughters, go. But remember there is one condition which you

must strictly obey. One night in the week you may be absent from the

lake; but as the hour strikes twelve, you must be back again in these

waters. I shall send a messenger to fetch you, the dwarf Hunold, beware

lest you keep him waiting! If you disobey, destruction will overtake

you, and your home will know you no more." He sank gloomily into the

lake; the day was oppressive; no rain fell and the evening brought no

relief. Strange and uneasy were the dreams of many that night in the

little village.

Some young people returning late from a social gathering, reported that

they had seen a bright, uncanny light in the sky, like a fire, or some

said like a golden hand, at midnight over the ill-omened mountain.

In those days when it was so difficult to travel from place to place,

the villagers were obliged to depend on themselves for amusement and

entertainment. In the villages round about the mountain it was the

custom for the young people to meet together at each other's houses on

Saturday evenings. Those who had rooms large enough, took it in turns to

invite all the rest; the girls brought their spinning-wheels, and the

room where they met was called the spinning-room. The girls were busy

and merry at the same time. Stories were told, and songs were sung, the

young men smoked and drank wine, and not infrequently the

spinning-wheels were cleared away and there was dancing. Strangers were

welcome; for the peasants were renowned for their hospitality; but

seldom did it happen that travellers passed that way; some young fellow

perhaps might drop in who was wandering about for a year or so before

settling down to the work of his life as the German custom is; but

tourists were few when roads were bad and money scarce.

One lovely summer's evening at the end of June the full moon was shining

in the sky, the latticed windows of the peasant's house where the young

folk were assembled, were wide open; the air was laden with the scent of

the white lilies and roses that grew in the garden at the back of the

cottage. There was no light as yet but that of the moon in the parlour;

the spinning-wheels too were silent; for stories were being told; one

more marvellous than the other, of ghosts and goblins, of dwarfs and

mountain-spirits, and naturally enough awful tales of the neighbouring

nixy King, and of his three daughters who lived in the enchanted lake.

Hermann, the young man who had been overtaken by the thunderstorm, was

present this evening; he was silent and glum, though the most charming

village maidens chaffed him and tried to captivate him, and the peasant

girls in this part of Germany are renowned for their beauty and their

grace. The melancholy which was not so much part of his natural

disposition as due to the adventures of that evening, fell on him again

like a dark cloud oppressing his brain. The girls who had been listening

to the stories, were by this time worked up to a state of feeling which

can only be described by the words creepy, or eerie. Most of them

experienced that unaccountable sensation which Germans call Gaensehaut

(goose-flesh). So that a sudden knock at the door caused them to cry out

in fear and clutch hold of their sweethearts. The knock was repeated

three times before anyone summoned up courage to open the door. Then the

assembled company fell back in astonishment as three beautiful young

girls entered the room, each holding a spinning-wheel under her arm.

They walked erect like princesses, everyone was sure they must be of

high rank. They wore dresses of some shimmering material such as the

village folk had never seen before, and necklaces of pearls, silken hose

and silver shoes.

Hermann's heart beat to bursting as he beheld them: where had he seen

them before? Surely they were the nixies of the magic pool, and his doom

had fallen upon him. Never, never, had he been able to forget Lenore's

eyes. Their mournful beauty haunted his dreams. He met them now, as his

breath came and went in great gasps; and there was a flash of

recognition between them. "What heavenly beauty, what a noble air she

has," he thought, hardly regarding her sisters who were strictly

speaking far more beautiful.

The three nixies, for of course it was they, put forth all their

fascinating arts to ingratiate themselves with the young people

assembled there.

"You are pleased to see us, are you not?" they said. "We have heard of

the fame of your spinning-evenings, and have come from a far country to

take part in them. You shall see how we can spin."

"Very gratifying for us, I am sure," murmured the officiating president

of the club.

"Now do not let us disturb you, you were telling stories I believe as

we entered," said Lenore, who, being the most human, took the lead in

the conversation.

But no one dared to open his mouth, even those who had been the most

eager to narrate wild tales before, seemed stricken with dumbness now.

"You could tell us a story, I believe," she said, turning to Hermann,

who could only shake his head. "Then I must tell one myself," she said

with a little sigh. She poured forth an extraordinary story to which the

peasants listened open-mouthed, the tale of a terrible doom that

overtook a faithless lover.

"A mortal man," she said, "had made love to a beautiful nixy, and won

her affection in return. But because she was not human, he did not think

of marrying her, but became engaged to a village maiden who was good and

sweet, if not so beautiful as the nixy. But the nixy had her revenge.

She swam under the bridge where the little river ran through the fields,

and one day as the two were walking in the dewy meadows, she caused the

waters to rise suddenly in a great flood, and tore her lover away from

his human bride down with her in the stream, choking him under the water

till he was dead. Then she sat with his head on her lap, and stroked his

beautiful dark curls, and wept until she dissolved in tears, and became

part of the water, which has been slightly salt from that day. The

village maiden was married to a rich old peasant not long afterwards; so

much for human fidelity," said Lenore, fixing her sad eyes on Hermann.

"He well-deserved his fate," said Hermann, "who chose the lesser when he

might have had the greater love."

"I think the nixy was a mean, wicked thing," said a young girl, almost a

child, called Brigitte, with soft, dark eyes, and a sweet expression on

her face. "She could not really have cared for her lover, or she would

have wanted him to be happy with the village girl, as she knew she could

not marry him herself."

"Never," said Hermann, excitedly, whose blood was coursing like fire in

his veins, "better death in the arms of the beloved, than a contented

life with lower aims!"

The men laughed.

"Now who would have thought that Hermann was so romantic!" they said.

"And he has the fattest pigs and the biggest casks of wine in the


Songs were proposed; everyone joined in; the voices of the nixies were

heard above all, clear and beautiful as a bell. They began with one of

the best-known songs in the German language which is always sung on

especially jovial occasions, it begins:

"I cannot tell why or wherefore

A legend of olden times

Deep in my heart is singing,

In mournful rhythmic rhymes."

After several songs had been sung in unison, Hermann begged the young

man who was the host that evening to ask the beautiful strangers to sing

a song alone and of their own choosing, he longed to hear their voices,

unspoilt by those of others.

The nixy maidens readily complied: was not singing their most natural

mode of expressing themselves? They sang these verses to a weird,

haunting melody:

"The wild-fowl are calling: come back to the lake!

O nixies come back, or your proud hearts must break;

The moonbeams are glancing, the fairies are dancing,

Come back.

The grey mists are rising! Beware, O beware!

For though you are slender and though you are fair,

Your treacherous waters, O nixy king's daughters,

Can slay.

Beware the king's anger--O tempt not your fate,

The white water-lilies your coming still wait;

Wide open each flower until the twelfth hour--


The old pendulum clock on the wall struck eleven. How fast the time had

flown! The three beautiful maidens rose up hastily and departed, wishing

a courteous "good night" and "good luck to you" to the company.

As Hermann opened the door for them, he saw a little dwarf with a

lighted lantern waiting for them outside the door, and much as he wished

to accompany them home, he did not dare to do so.

When they had left the room, a storm of conjecture burst forth; at last

everyone agreed that they must be the nixies of the lake.

"We did not like the look of their eyes; they were so cold and

treacherous," said some of the girls who were jealous of a beauty that

they felt they could never attain to.

"You are ill-natured things, not fit to sweep the floor for such

exquisite creatures," said Hermann angrily; and the whole company began

to jeer and to laugh at him, saying:

"Hermann has fallen in love with the nixies. Many a wet kiss will he

have from them--ha--ha!--but cold water will be his bridal bed, and

death the groomsman--ha, ha!"

"Do not be so cruel," said kind little Brigitte, who had blamed the nixy

in the story. "See how pale Hermann looks, he will faint in another

minute; he has never been strong since he was out in that awful storm."

Hermann could bear the conversation no longer; hastily saying good night

he went home with wild thoughts in his head, and, alas! wild,

ungovernable love in his heart.

For the next few weeks on Saturday evenings the same thing happened.

There was the usual social gathering, no one was absent; the little room

could hardly hold the thronging guests. Then there was the eagerly

looked for knock at the door, and the three lovely maidens entered and

shared so naturally in what was going on that the young people gradually

lost somewhat of their awe of them. Who could spin so fast and so finely

as the three strangers; who could sing such entrancing songs; who could

tell more wonderful stories!

Hermann generally managed to sit by Lenore, and to hold her hand, and he

knew his love was returned.

Naturally the exquisite Elfrida, and the stately Clothilde had their

admirers as well.

"Soon they will have taken all our sweethearts away from us, the nasty

creatures," whispered some of the village girls under their breath, "and

they cannot marry all the lads in the country round. The men are

bewitched, that is certain--no good can come of it. Most of the men

realise it, however, and will come back to us in time; all except

Hermann. He is so far gone that it is quite hopeless to try and

influence him."

"I am sorry for Lenore," said little Brigitte, "I would do anything I

could to help her; she looks so very unhappy!"

On the night of the 9th of September the spinning evening was to be at

Hermann's house, which was a splendid building in its way, like a great

wooden castle. He was feverish with excitement. He bought and gathered

all the flowers he could get together, and decked the house as for a

wedding-feast. His mother could not bake cakes that were fine enough to

suit his taste; the furniture seemed to him clumsy and old-fashioned. He

would gladly have strewn rose-leaves, instead of rushes, on the floor

for his lady-love to tread on. All the time a voice was telling him to

desist: that such love could never be hallowed; that his bride was but a

myth, a dream that would vanish away. His mother was terribly troubled

about him, and feared that the boy had lost his wits in the


"You shall see my bride to-night, mother," he said. "Ah, there is no one

like her!"

But the old woman trembled and shook and crossed herself, she knew not

why. She felt a presentiment of coming evil.

"She shall not escape from me so soon to-night," thought Hermann to

himself. "I know what I will do: I shall put the clock an hour back, so

that when it is really twelve o'clock, they will think it is only

eleven. One hour, one blessed hour more in her company, snatched in

defiance of fate!"

Never had Hermann been more charming as a host than he was to-night. He

bade his guests heartily welcome and shook them warmly by the hand.

True, he was somewhat distracted and gave strange answers to questions

that were put to him. His eyes were constantly on the door. It opened at

last, and the three entered; they looked lovelier than ever; they had on

golden shoes and wore golden girdles. Their dresses were white edged

with pale green like water-lilies with a green calyx. There was to be no

spinning to-night. Hermann had provided for music and dancing; he became

giddy and his senses failed him almost at the thought of dancing with

the lovely Lenore.

Ah what light little feet! They hardly seemed to touch the ground as

they flew round; but the time too sped by with great rushing wings,

though Hermann had striven to check its headlong course. They paid no

heed to the dwarf and his constant warning taps on the door; the three

sisters were too engrossed in the delights of the dance. But suddenly

Lenore glanced at the clock; it pointed to eleven.

"A few moments more, my beloved," she said, "and then we must part. But

why are you so pale?" she asked of Hermann, whose heart was beating fast

enough to suffocate him; for he was afraid now of the consequences of

his deed.

"Lenore," he said chokingly, "it is midnight; I hope I have not done

wrong. I put back the clock. I wanted to keep you all longer at my


Lenore turned deadly pale, then she told her sisters of the fatal trick

that Hermann had played on them, and they too turned white as the chalk

on the walls; well they knew their father and what his revenge might be!

Murmuring a sad farewell Lenore gazed for the last time in Hermann's

eyes, and then the dark night swallowed her up for ever.

The dwarf's lantern could be seen from time to time among the forest

trees like a will-o'-the-wisp; then that too vanished.

The dancing and feasting went on for some time; but Hermann's heart was

sick within him; he had no spirit left for the revelry. An indescribable

feeling of terror and anxiety possessed him. The clock struck twelve;

the guests dispersed. They had hardly left the house when a terrific

storm broke forth, appalling in its awful violence; the house shook,

trees were uprooted, lightning blazed continually. The tempest was

nothing, however, compared to that in Hermann's breast; he could not

rest or sleep; fearful visions assailed him: he seemed to hear his

beloved Lenore calling him, or begging for mercy from her cruel father.

Towards morning the storm had somewhat abated though it was by no means

over. Hermann rushed out of the house, taking a wild pleasure in

battling with the fierce elements. Up and up with a certain step he went

towards that lake where all his anguish had begun, and yet where all his

hopes and desires were centred. As he approached the lake through the

fir-wood, the sky over the great cliff was rosy in the early dawn, the

birds were singing, the harebells raised their dew-drenched heads and

looked at him. No motion--no sound--the lake was cruel it seemed to him

in its indifference to his grief. "Lenore," he cried, "Lenore!"

Then the waters of the lake stirred and three waves arose, each one

greater than the last, and in the third was the nixy king with a cruel

expression on his face.

"Ah, call for Lenore," he said mockingly, "but you will never see her

again!--Behold, the doom of the disobedient daughters is fulfilled." As

he spoke the lake stirred again, the waters whirled round, three

exquisite rose-leaves rose from the depths of the lake and floated on

the surface of the water. "Never again will you or any mortal man behold

the nixies of the pool; they are changed into rose-leaves; this was

their punishment," he said, "a poetical punishment--ha, ha!" and he

vanished with a tremendous clap of thunder.

More than half-mad Hermann stumbled home; for weeks he lingered between

life and death.

The kind little Brigitte would have liked to have taken care of him, and

would have made him a good wife; but because of his consuming love for

Lenore, he slowly pined away, until one day he was found lying dead

beside the fatal lake.