ago, Johnny Croy of Volyar was the bravest, boldest and bonniest man in all of
Many a fair lass cast longing glances towards
young Johnny, but never a one did he care for.
happened that one day Johnny went to seek driftwood on the shore on the west side
of Sanday. The tide was well out, and
he was threading his way through the big boulders under the crags.
he heard the most lovely voice singing a strange sweet tune.
a moment he stood dumbfounded with the beauty of the music. It came from the other
side of a big point of the crag and when Johnny peeped around it, he saw a wonderful
sight. On a weed-covered rock sat a mermaid, combing her long hair. Like brightest
gold it shone and flowed down over her white shoulders like sunshine over snow.
A silvery, glistening petticoat hung down from her waist, the train of it folded
together so that it lay behind her like the tail of a fish.
all the while she combed, she sang her bewitching song.
Croy was overcome with love for this beautiful creature.
sat with her back to the sea, and he got down and crept quietly among the boulders
to get between her and the water. Every glance he cast at her made his heart burn
all the more.
Quietly he crept up, coming within a few
feet of her.
Still she combed, and still she sang. Then
Johnny sprang forward, threw his arms around her, and kissed her. She leaped to
her feet - for two pretty white feet were under the silvery petticoats - and gave
Johnny such a wallop that he was thrown flat on the rocks.
here shimmering train over her arm, she ran down to the sea. As Johnny scrambled
to his feet, he spied the sea maids golden comb on the sand. She was out
in the water now, staring at him with all her eyes, angry at being so rudely kissed,
yet with love growing fast in her heart. She knew well that only if she could
take a mortal lover could she keep her youth and beauty.
held up the golden comb and cried, "Thanks to thee, my bonny lass, for this
The mermaid gave a bitter cry.
"Alas, alas! My golden comb! Oh, give me back my golden
comb! To lose it will shame me before all my people! Oh, give me back my golden
"Oh no, my sweet!" says Johnny.
"Come you and live on land with me, for never can I love another now."
so," replied the mermaid. "I cannot live in your cold land. I cannot
bide your black rain and your white snow. And your hot sun and smoky fires would
wizen me up in a week. Come with me, my bonny lad. Ill make you a chief
among the Finfolk. Come away, come away with me."
no," said Johnny. "You cannot entice me I was not born yesterday.
But come you to my stately house at Volyar. There I have plenty of gear; I have
cows and sheep. I will make you mistress of all my store. Never shall you want
for what I can give you."
But the mermaid shook her
| "Opening his eyes he saw that Gem-de-Lovely
was sitting at the foot of the bed, the most beautiful being that ever gladdened
a mans eyes. Her face was so fair, her hair so gleaming, and her dress so
splendid that Johnny took her for a vision and tried to say a prayer. But never
a word of prayer came to his lips."
come now with me, my bonnie man. I will set you in a crystal palace under the
sea. There the sunbeams never blind, there the winds do not blow, and the raindrops
never fall. Oh, come away with me, and be my love, and we shall both be happy
as the day is long."
"It is for the lass to follow
the lad," said Johnny Croy. "Just come away and bide with me, my darling
Gem-de-Lovely." So there they stood, each tempting the other. And the longer
they gazed, the better they loved. But at last Gem-de-Lovely saw folk coming far
airway. Bidding Johnny farewell, she swam out to sea, singing mournfully, "Alas,
alas. My golden comb. Alas, my bonnie man."
watched her go, her golden locks shining over her white shoulders like sunbeams
glinting over sea-foam. Then he went home with a sore heart but carrying the treasured
His mother was a Spae-Wife - a wise woman
- and Johnny Croy told her his tale and asked her advice.
fool that you are!" said his mother sharply. "To fall in love with a
sea maid when any land lass would be glad of you! But men will be fools all the
world over. To bring this sea wife to you, you must keep her comb well hidden;
it is her dearest treasure. Keep it, and you have power over her. But be wise,
my son. Take my advice. Cast the comb into the sea, and forget her. The folk of
the sea are not of Gods people."
Croy could not do that.
"Then," said Grannie
Croy, "she may make a bright summer for you, but it will end in a woeful
winter. I have seen that you will ride your own road, though you sink in the quagmire
at its end. Only one I can save I would it were you, my son. But what will
be, will be."
Well, Johnny went about his work like
one bewitched, thinking all the while of his Gem-de-Lovely and the cautionary
words of his mother. But he put the comb up safely for all that.
came a night when he could not sleep for thinking of his lost love. Towards morning
he dozed and at day-break was wakened by beautiful music.
lay a while as if enchanted - it was the voice that he had last heard at the shore.
Opening his eyes he saw that Gem-de-Lovely was sitting
at the foot of the bed, the most beautiful being that ever gladdened a mans
eyes. Her face was so fair, her hair so gleaming, and her dress so splendid that
Johnny took her for a vision and tried to say a prayer. But never a word of prayer
came to his lips.
"My bonnie man," said the
mermaid, "Im come to ask again for my golden comb. Im come to
see if you will live with me in my crystal palace under the waves."
said Johnny. "No, that I cannot do. But unless you bide with me now and be
my loving wife, my heart will surely break."
will make you a fair offer," said Gem-de-Lovely. "I will be your wife.
I will live here with you for seven years, if you will swear to come with me and
all thats mine, to see my own folk at the end of that time." At that,
Johnny jumped out of bed, fell on his knees before her, and swore to keep the
And so they were married.
shivered and shook as they came to the kirk and stuffed her hair in her ears as
the priest prayed. But folk soon forgot that, for a bonnier bride was never seen
in Orkney. Her face was as lovely as the dawn; her dress shone with silver and
gold; and every pearl in her necklace was as big as a cockle shell.
was a frugal, loving wife to Johnny Croy. She baked the best bread in the island
and brewed the strongest ale. She was the best spinner in all the countryside
and for seven years everything at Volyar was in good order. The sheep and the
cattle thrived and the barns were full. All things went merry as a Yuletide from
one year to the next. But all good things must end; and the seventh year drew
to a close.
Then, you may believe there was a stir in
making ready for a long sea voyage. Johnny said little, but he thought much.
was brisk and busy and wore a far-away look. By now, the pair had seven bonny
bairns, all as strong and well-favoured as their parents. Each of them in turn
had been weaned in Grannie Croys little house and now she had the youngest
sleeping in her own room.
And what do you think Grannie
Croy did on the eve of the day when the seven years ended?
rose in the midnight and blew up the ashes in the fire. She made a cross of wire
and heated it red-hot in the glowing embers. And then she laid the red-hot cross
on the bare seat of the babe who screeched like a demon all the while.
the morning when they were fully equipped, Gem-de-Lovely walked down to the boat.
And she was a picture. Stately and splendid as a queen in her shining dress with
the great pearls gleaming on her neck, she came to the beach.
was her Goodman, Johnny Croy with her six eldest bairns.
there also was Grannie Croy, sitting on a stone with the tear in her eye.
sent up the servants to Grannie Croys little house to bring the seventh
bairn down in his cradle. Back they came, telling her that the four of them could
not budge it one inch.
A cloud came over her beautiful
face. She ran up to the house and tried to move the cradle - not an inch would
She flung back the blanket to lift the babe
out in her arms. But the moment she touched him she felt a dreadful burning and
started back with a wild scream. Down to the beach she ran, her head hanging and
the tears streaming from her deep blue eyes. And all the while, Grannie Croy sat
on the stone with the tears on her cheek and a half-smile on her lips.
the boat pushed off, they heard Gem-de-Lovely lamenting sore.
alas, for my bonnie boy! Alas, that I must leave one to live and die on dry land!"
The wind blew, the sail filled and the boat turned
to the west and swiftly disappeared. Johnny Croy and his fair wife and their six
eldest bairns inhere never more seen in Orkney.
Croy nursed up the babe that was left and named him Corsa Croy - Croy of the Cross.
He grew up the bravest, the boldest and the bonniest man in the islands.
his grandmother died, Corsa Croy took to the sword. Far over seas he advent on
crusade to fight the Pagans in the Holy Land. And men said that enemies fell before
his blade like thistles to the reaping-hook.
became rich and famous. He married a great jarls daughter and settled in
the south country. He and his wife had many bairns and long life and happiness,
for the descendants of the sea-folk are always handsome and always lucky.