Tristram Bird, a young man from Padstow, set out with his new gun to do some shooting. He walked up to Hawkers Cove and looked about for something to shoot. A seal perhaps or a bird. He hadn’t been walking long, when he came across a pretty maid sitting in a pool, combing her hair and singing.
‘I am sorry to interrupt your song,’ said Tristram. ‘You are the most beautiful maid I have ever seen.’
‘Whatever takes your fancy,’ she said.
‘I am just out shooting,’ said Tristram.
‘I can see by your gun.’
‘Come to think of it, I would like you for my wife,’ said Tristram.
‘Would you now.’
‘I have a cottage full of useful things. Everything a maid could wish for. It is all laid out ready. How about you come back to Padstow and become my wife?’
‘No, thank you.’
‘All the maids in Padstow dream of marrying me. I’m a catch.’
‘Why don’t you marry one of them then? As they are willing.’
‘And you are not?’
‘I am not.’
‘Then I shall have to shoot you. If I cannot have you alive, I shall have you dead,’ said Tristram crossly.
‘If you shoot me, you will kill me. And on my death, I will curse the town of Padstow. As for your safe harbour of deep water, my bar of doom will act as a barrier except at high tide. The bar will stretch from Mermaid’s glass to Trebetherick Bay. As ships wreck on the doom bar, I’ll wail with a deep sorrow at the death of each sailor. My curse will last until my death has been avenged.’
‘I will shoot you, curse or no curse,’ said Tristram. He raised his shining new gun and shot the maid in the side. She wailed and fell into the water, flapping a huge silver tail. It was only then, too late, Tristram came to his senses and realized what he had done. Not only had he shot a maid, he had shot a mermaid. Not only would he suffer remorse for the foul deed for the rest of his days, but so would Padstow. All of Padstow would suffer a wailing mermaid, the harbour marred with a bar of sand.
Mermaid’s wail followed Tristram home. As he stood at Tregirls, looking out over the bay: a golden streak appeared across the water, running from Hawker’s Cove to Trebetherick Bay. The curse had begun. Tristram ran all the way to Padstow. When he reached Place House, a group of Padstow maids crowded round him. ‘Where are you going and where have you been?’ When he said nothing they asked him, ‘What did you shoot, Tristram Bird?’
‘I shot a pretty maid, the prettiest maid I have ever seen.’ When the Padstow maids looked at him in horror, he said, ‘It gets worse, so terrible you will not believe. The maid was a mermaid and she has cursed us and our town.’
Tristram told them his tale. They were terrified by the news their Tristram had shot a mermaid. He went home alone to Higher Street Saviors. That night, the most terrible storm roared over Padstow. When the storm had died down, all the people of Padstow went out to view the damage. A bar of sand divided the harbour and on it were many broken ships. A heartbreaking wail came from the sea, gasping the dying breaths of drowning sailors. From that day, every time a sailor died on the bar of doom, the mermaid’s ghost cried out at the injustice of their death and hers.
retold by Anna Chorlton