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The light in the night


Antje and Willem

Willem and Meisje Antje were in love. Willem was a nice boy: he had blond curls on his forehead, blue eyes, a little clay pipe, wide trousers and clogs. Antje: a nice lass with a dainty little mouth and white bonnet. Willem had a big Dutch barge with kitchen and bunk. But Antje had a mill. It was a merry sight to see the long barge lying in the canal near the mill and the boy laughing and joking with the girl. When Willem went off for days across the wide sea to buy fruit and vegetables there were always tears on parting. Antje was always worried and never forgot to say to her Willem: "Do take care while you're away and make sure you have a light at the helm so that I can see it shining in the darkness of the night!" - It was a great load off her mind when he returned and even her mill clacked more cheerfully. But the more often he went away, the greater her fears became. She often sat for hours on end at the top window of her mill, high up above the revolving beam, looking out to sea hoping to spot her Willem's lantern, the light in the night. When the tulips were in colourful bloom, Antje brought a large bunch of them on to the barge and said: "This time you must not go to sea, Willem; I have great fear in my heart. I dreamt I saw a green water spirit, a mermaid blowing out your light at the helm and embracing and caressing you!" Willem had a good laugh at her: "Ah, nonsense, Antje!" he said, stroking her cheeks. He hoisted the sail and left, despite the warning. It had become rather foggy on the water; outside beyond the sandbanks the air was even murkier. Willem and his light Willem took his lantern and waved it in farewell. When the shore was quite out of sight, Willem saw the fog all around him; he took the bouquet of tulips and said: "Antje! That is not a water spirit: it is a perfectly ordinary fog spirit. - Sleep well, Antje!"

The fog had become as thick as a blanket. Green dots shone in the damp air, fell on to the wooden hatches of the barge, dancing like little flames, - will o' the wisps drawn out of the dark water by the bright mist. Willem pressed the tulips firmly to his heart; he closed his eyes as the flickering, dancing, revolving dots were hurting them. - Then he heard singing far away, which sounded like waves murmuring in the distance. It was the singing of the mermaid:

Hey ho, hey ho, the treasure of the sea,
The golden treasure is thine!

Willem listened carefully. What was that about golden treasure? Was it the treasure of the ocean that his Uncle Peter had so often told him about when he was still a child? Indeed his old uncle had often told him tales of golden treasure, surely the same treasure the mermaid was singing of. Willem was still standing with his eyes tight shut; he felt the heavy fog pressing on his eyelids. - He now remembered the details of the story. When Uncle Peter came back with his father from fishing, having been driven home prematurely by the rising fog, he lit his long clay pipe, sat down in front of the living room stove in which the flames were crackling, took little Willem on to his lap and told him stories. Willem could hear his old uncle's voice again, so engrossed was he in the contemplation of the past:

"One foggy night, on the orders of the Swedish King Charles XII - who was a terrible despot, but one of the wisest of all northern rulers - the pirate Jan Bröeuk and his pirate crew set sail secretly for the Dutch coast. The crown jewels of Sweden (which had long ago been stolen by the Dutch) lay piled up in the maritime fortress Van at the entrance to Zuider Lake on the Helda. After a fierce struggle Jan Bröeuk withdrew into the fog. He had the treasure on his ship. But the heavy treasure drew the ship down to the bottom of the sea, as it was riddled with bullet holes and its timbers had been severely damaged. The fish and the spirits of the sea approached, attracted by the radiance of the shining splendour. Since then when the mists envelope the sea, the mermaid seeks out a lost vessel, to punish humans for their greed for gold. The fish and spirits in her service carry the treasure to the people on the ship, which inevitably sinks under the heavy burden. - This has also happened to people with innocent hearts who despised the riches of the world. That is the spell of the golden treasure when the fogs are rolling."- Again Willem heard the mermaid singing:

Hey ho, hey ho, the treasure of the sea,
The golden treasure is thine!

Willem opened his eyes wide in fright: the golden treasure from the sea lay heaped up on the deck of his barge. A nickelman with the head of a pike was sitting among crowns and bangles, golden swords and sashes, staring at him. Ugly bone fish were dancing with little elves, frogmen were trying to catch will o' the wisps and were playing ring o' rosies; the fog fairy wove flowing veils over everything. Willem with the mermaid The very beautiful mermaid sat at the helm, almost on Willem's lap, with silver threads in her hair. Her eyes were green emeralds; her lips red corals. Willem pressed Antje's bunch of tulips even more firmly to his heart. But the mermaid blew out his lantern, threw her arms around him and kissed him. Poor Willem was disgusted by thewater spirit's cold scaly fishy skin and his thoughts remained fixed on Antje. -

Antje was heartbroken. Willem had not returned home. She sat for hours on end at the top window of her mill, looking out to sea: there was no sign of the "light in the night". But one evening it seemed to her as though, far away, a light was rising out of the water; it rose higher and higher and remained in the sky as a bright star. - "Poor Willem!" Antje sighed, and her small sorrowful heart sprang out of her breast into the mill stones.

The star