The Pink Fairy Book
Hans, the Mermaid's Son
In a village there once lived a smith called Basmus, who was in a very poor way. He was
still a young man, and a strong handsome fellow to boot, but he had many little children
and there was little to be earned by his trade. He was, however, a diligent and hard-
working man, and when he had no work in the smithy he was out at sea fishing, or
gathering wreckage on the shore.
It happened one time that he had gone out to fish in good weather, all alone in a little
boat, but he did not come home that day, nor the following one, so that all believed he
had perished out at sea. On the third day, however, Basmus came to shore again and had
his boat full of fish, so big and fat that no one had ever seen their like. There was nothing
the matter with him, and he complained neither of hunger or thirst. He had got into a fog,
he said, and could not find land again. What he did not tell, however, was where he had
been all the time; that only came out six years later, when people got to know that he had
been caught by a mermaid out on the deep sea, and had been her guest during the three
days that he was missing. From that time forth he went out no more to fish; nor, indeed,
did he require to do so, for whenever he went down to the shore it never failed that some
wreckage was washed up, and in it all kinds of valuable things. In those days everyone
took what they found and got leave to keep it, so that the smith grew more prosperous
day by day.
When seven years had passed since the smith went out to sea, it happened one morning,
as he stood in the smithy, mending a plough, that a handsome young lad came in to him
and said, 'Good-day, father; my mother the mermaid sends her greetings, and says that
she has had me for six years now, and you can keep me for as long.'
He was a strange enough boy to be six years old, for he looked as if he were eighteen,
and was even bigger and stronger than lads commonly are at that age.
'Will you have a bite of bread?' said the smith.
'Oh, yes,' said Hans, for that was his name.
The smith then told his wife to cut a piece of bread for him. She did so, and the boy
swallowed it at one mouthful and went out again to the smithy to his father.
'Have you got all you can eat?' said the smith.
'No,' said Hans, 'that was just a little bit.'
The smith went into the house and took a whole loaf, which he cut into two slices and put
butter and cheese between them, and this he gave to Hans. In a while the boy came out to
the smithy again.
'Well, have you got as much as you can eat?' said the smith.
'No, not nearly,' said Hans; 'I must try to find a better place than this, for I can see that I
shall never get my fill here.'