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The Mermaid of Zennor

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There was no doubt but that Mathew Trewhella was a very handsome young man. All the folk of Zennor, young and old, male and female would agree about that. And it was also universally agreed that he had the voice of an angel. The whole village would turn out every Sunday evening to hear him sing evensong in the church, as well as to do their Christian duty of course.

His beautiful voice would soar above the other choristers, as though winging its way directly to heaven.

Every villager felt uplifted when the service had ended and they reluctantly left St. Senara’s to return to their cottages. They felt they had been prepared for the hard week of work ahead.

One spring Sunday evening, when the service was well under way and Mathew’s voice was working its magic, some parishioners near the back, noticed the church door open silently and a beautiful young woman slip in and sit in the very back pews.

She stayed there until the singing was ended and then, just as silently, slipped away again.

There was a great deal of lively discussion after the service, outside the door of the church, as those who had seen the young lady excitedly described her to the other villagers. They described the richness and beauty of her dress as well as the magnificence of the hair that framed her lovely face. This evening the folk were even more reluctant to leave and return to their humdrum lives. They wondered, and hoped, she would return.

The following Sunday, the villagers hurried to the church even more eagerly than before. There was a buzz of whispered chat and a feeling of expectation before the service started.

During the evensong, many villagers kept only half their attention on the priest and even on Mathew, and the other half was spent glancing back at the door to see if the beautiful stranger would come again.

She did not. She must have just been passing through the village, people agreed with each other as they gathered outside the church. She must have been attracted by Mathew’s singing. That was understandable. Aah well, that’s that, no more excitement.

They returned to their homes and life settled into its usual routine.

A few weeks later, however, at Evensong, the door of the church once more slid open and the same lovely young lady, dressed in the same rich clothes, entered silently and sat in the very back pew. Those who noticed her enter, excitedly tapped their neighbour’s shoulders and silently indicated where she sat. Soon the whole congregation, apart from the choristers who were too busy singing, had seen for themselves and marvelled at her beauty. However, she left again before the service ended.

The village was abuzz once more. Who could she be? Where did she come from? How did she arrive and leave so unnoticed? Did you notice her rapt expression as she listened to Mathew sing? The young farmer blushed as the villagers started teasing him, declaring that he must be the one attracting this young woman. Some of the local girls, however, began to feel a few pangs of jealousy!

Over the next few months, into midsummer, the visits from the mysterious stranger became more and more frequent, until she was arriving nearly every week, slipping in after the service has started, listening in rapt attention to the singing, and slipping out again before the service ended. Mathew and the other choristers became ever more curious to see this lovely young creature, but, of course, they were facing away from the door and under no circumstances were they allowed to turn their heads!

Then, one evening, the young woman slipped into the back pew, almost disregarded now by the villagers, her visits had become such a usual part of Sunday evensong. Tonight, Mathew’s voice soared especially beautifully into the rafters of the church. Suddenly, his melody was joined by another equally beautiful voice, swooping and harmonizing around the notes he sang, blending for a moment and then darting away, raised in joy and ectasy at the wonderful music they were creating together.

Mathew could stand it no longer. Still singing, his head whipped round to see who was making this marvellous duet with him. His eyes met those of the beautiful stranger and he was lost. With eyes locked together they continued their glorious serenade to the amazement and wonder of the whole congregation.

In the stunned silence that followed the end of the song, the girl once again slipped out of the church.

As soon as the service was over, Mathew hurried through the church, stopped at the door and looked around. This time the stranger had not disappeared. There she was, standing on a knoll beside the stream, in the distance.

The young man broke into a run towards her, and she waited until he reached her, holding out her hands to welcome him. Together with hands and eyes locked, they started to walk along the banks of the stream.

The villagers could hardly speak for wonderment. Many still had tears in their eyes, bred by the magical music they had just been listening to. They could see, even from afar, how star struck the two young people were and they quietly made their ways home, leaving them to get to know each other in peace.

The following morning, the villagers were awoken early by the ringing of the church bell. Mathew had not returned home! His family were desperately asking every household if he were there or they had seen him.

A search was started immediately. Some went up to the treacherous moors, stretching out in a line calling and peering into every bush and bog. Some hurried off to neighbouring farms and villages.

Others went to the knoll beside the stream. Some followed it further inland, others followed it all the way down to Pendour Cove, where it runs into the sea. Stream banks and cove were thoroughly searched, but when the villagers all met back at sundown outside St. Senara’s church, none had a hopeful tale to tell. No sign had been found of either Mathew or the girl, not even a shoe or a glove, nothing to tell them where they had gone. They had both disappeared without a trace.

As the weeks and months went by, life in Zennor settled back into its routine. Mathew was sorely missed, not only by his family and friends, but also by the whole congregation of St. Senara’s. Evensong was no longer the same without his beautiful voice lifting them out of their humdrum existence, taking them that little bit nearer to the glory of heaven.

One day in spring the following year, a fisherman came striding into the village, asking to see the Trewhella family, saying that he might have some news.

Family, friends and many others eagerly came running out of their cottages and gathered round to hear his story.

He told them that he had been fishing off Pendour Cove the previous day. He had thrown out his anchor and was getting his nets and lines ready when he heard a lovely voice calling to him. He looked all round and then peered over the side of his vessel to see a beautiful young woman, with long flowing hair. As he looked closer, he realised she was a mermaid. He immediately became nervous: Cornish sailors know mermaids are not to be trusted!

However, she spoke to him gently, asking him if he would please move his anchor, as it was blocking the entrance to her cave and she needed to get back in, to her beloved Mathew and her baby. He immediately did as asked and then returned to harbour as quickly as possible to bring the news to Zennor. His description of the mermaid fitted precisely the description of the young woman who used to come to church and with whom Mathew had last been seen.

It was not difficult for the villagers to guess what had happened. They had fallen so suddenly and deeply in love that they wanted to be together for ever more. The mermaid could not live long on land and so Mathew had gone with her, to live with her beneath the waves, following the stream that evening to Pendour Cove with her.

They were glad to know that he was loved, although he was still very much missed. However, sometimes, in the evening, folk would sneak down to the cliff tops overlooking Pendour Cove. If they were lucky, and they often were if they waited quietly, they would hear two beautiful voices raised in songs of love, the glorious harmony blending with the wind and waves, soaring up, up towards the heavens.

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