* * * * *
And in Eternity Love was made secure.
A certain lake in Germany was once the home of a Nix, who became tired of the monotony of life under water, and wished to go into the upper world and amuse himself.
His friends and relations all tried to dissuade him. “Be wise,” said they, “and remain where you are safe, seeing that no business summons you from the lake. Few of our kindred have had dealings with the human race without suffering from their curiosity or clumsiness; and, do them what good you may, in the long run you will reap nothing but ingratitude. From how many waters have they not already banished us? Wherefore let well alone, and stay where you are.”
But this counsel did not please the Nix—(as, indeed, there is no reason to suppose that advice is more palatable under water than on dry land)—and he only said, “I shall not expect gratitude, for I have no intention of conferring benefits; but I wish to amuse myself. The Dwarfs and Kobolds play what pranks they please on men and women, and they do not always have the worst of it. When I hear of their adventures, the soles of my feet tingle. This is a sign of travelling, and am I to be debarred from fun because I live in a lake instead of a hill?”
His friends repeated their warnings, but to no purpose. The Nix remained unconvinced, and spent his time in dreaming of the clever tricks by which he should outwit the human race, and the fame he would thereby acquire on his return to the lake.
Mischief seldom lacks opportunity, and shortly after this it happened that a young girl came down to the lake for water to wash with; and dipping her pail just above the Nix’s head, in a moment he jumped in, and was brought safe to land. The maid was Bess, the washerwoman’s daughter; and as she had had one good scolding that morning for oversleeping herself, and another about noon for dawdling with her work, she took up the pail and set off home without delay.
But though she held it steadily enough, the bucket shook, and the water spilled hither and thither. Thinking that her right arm might be tired, she moved the weight to her left, but with no better success, for the water still spilled at every step. “One would think there were fishes in the pail,” said Bess, as she set it down. But there was nothing to be seen but a thin red water-worm wriggling at the bottom, such as you may see any day in a soft-water tub. It was in this shape, however, that the Nix had disguised himself, and he almost writhed out of his skin with delight at the success of his first essay in mischief.
When they once more set forward the Nix leaped and jumped harder than ever, so that not only was the water spilled, but the maiden’s dress was soaked, and her tears dropped almost as fast as the wet dripped from her clothes.