Written by Abbie Phillips Walker
Little Hilda’s father was a sailor and went away on long voyages. Hilda lived in a little cottage on the shore and used to spin and knit while her father was away. Some days she would go out in her boat and fish, for Hilda was fond of the water. She had been born and always lived on the shore. When the water was very calm Hilda would look down into the blue depths and try to see a mermaid. She was very anxious to see one, she had heard her father tell such wonderful stories about them–how they sang, and combed their beautiful long hair.
One night when the wind was blowing and the rain was beating hard upon her window Hilda could hear the horn warning the sailors off the rocks. Hilda lit her father’s big lantern and ran down to the shore and hung it on the mast of a wreck which lay there, so the sailors would not run their ships upon it. Little Hilda was not afraid, for she had seen many such storms. When she returned to her cottage she found the door was unlatched, but thought the wind had blown it open. When she entered she found a little girl with beautiful hair sitting on the floor. Hilda was a little frightened at first, for the girl wore a green dress and it was wound around her body in the strangest manner.
“I saw your light,” said the child, “and came in. The wind blew me far up on shore. I should not have come up on a night like this, but a big wave looked so tempting I thought I would jump on it and have a nice ride, but it was nearer the shore than I thought it, and it landed me right near your door.”
“Oh, my!” How Hilda’s heart beat, for she knew this child must be a mermaid. Then she saw what she had thought was a green dress was really her body and tail curled up on the floor, and it was beautiful as the lamp fell upon it and made it glisten.
“Will you have some of my supper?” asked Hilda, for she wanted to be hospitable, although she had not the least idea what mermaids ate.
“Thank you,” answered the mermaid. “I am not very hungry, but if you could give me a seaweed sandwich I should like it.”
Poor Hilda did not know what to do, but she went to the closet and brought out some bread, which she spread with nice fresh butter, and filled a glass with milk. She told her she was sorry, but she did not have any seaweed sandwiches, but she hoped she would like what she had prepared. The little mermaid ate it and Hilda was pleased.
“Do you live here all the time?” she asked Hilda. “I should think you would be very warm and want to be in the water part of the time.” Hilda told her she could not live in the water as she did, because her body was not like hers.
“Oh, I am so sorry!” replied the mermaid. “I hoped you would visit me some time; we have such good times, my sisters and I, under the sea.”
“Tell me about your home,” said Hilda.
“Come and sit beside me and I will,” she replied.
Hilda sat upon the floor by her side. The mermaid felt Hilda’s clothes and thought it must be a bother to have so many clothes.
“How can you swim?” she asked.
Hilda told her she put on a bathing-suit, but the mermaid thought that was a nuisance.
“I will tell you about our house first,” she began. “Our father, Neptune, lives in a beautiful castle at the bottom of the sea. It is built of mother-of-pearl. All around the castle grow beautiful green things, and it has fine white sand around it also. All my sisters live there, and we are always glad to get home after we have been at the top of the ocean, it is so nice and cool in our home. The wind never blows there and the rain does not reach us.”
“You do not mind being wet by the rain, do you?” asked Hilda.
“Oh no!” said the mermaid, “but the rain hurts us a little bit. It falls in little sharp points and feels like pebbles.”
“How do you know how pebbles feel?” Hilda asked.
“Oh, sometimes the sea-nymphs come and bother us; they throw pebbles and stir up the water so we cannot see.”
“Why would they do that?” asked Hilda.
“They’re just sea-nymphs; we make the dogfish drive them away.
“How do you find your way home after you have been at the top of the ocean?” asked Hilda.
“Oh, when Father Neptune counts us and finds any missing he sends a whale to spout; sometimes he sends more than one, and we know where to dive when we see that.”
“What do you eat besides seaweed sandwiches?” asked Hilda.
“Fish eggs, and very little fish,” answered the mermaid. “When we have a party we have cake.”
Hilda opened her eyes. “Where do you get cake?” she asked.
“We make it. We grind coral into flour and mix it with fish eggs; then we put it in a shell and send a mermaid to the top of the ocean with it and she holds it in the sun until it bakes. We go to the Gulf Stream and gather grapes and we have sea-foam and lemonade to drink.”
“Lemonade?” said Hilda. “Where do you get your lemons?”
“Why, the sea-lemon!” replied the mermaid; “that is a small mussel-fish the color of a lemon.”
“What do you do at your parties–you cannot dance can you?” said Hilda.
“We swim to the music, circle around and dive and glide.”
“But the music–where do you get musicians?” Hilda continued.
“We have plenty of music,” replied the mermaid. “The sea-elephant trumpets for us; then there is the pipefish, the swordfish runs the scales of the sea-adder with his sword, the sea-shells blob, and altogether we have splendid music. But it is late, and we must not talk anymore. Let’s sleep now”
So the little mermaid curled herself up and soon they were asleep.
The sun shining in the window awakened Hilda the next morning and she looked around her. The mermaid was not there, but Hilda was sure it had not been a dream, for she found pieces of seaweed on the floor, and every time she goes out in her boat she looks for her friend, and when the whales spout she knows they are telling the mermaids to come home.