There was once a rather quaint old lady who was named Nurse Maggie by the children who lived in a village called Zurdof along the great River Rhine. Nurse Maggie was very kindly and caring and was a very good nurse and was often called upon to care for the village children when they fell ill. The children loved this because she would tell them the most wonderful stories of the olden days; of bold knights and lovely ladies and the great castles they lived in. She told them stories of the nymphs of the wood and water and of fairies and elves, but the stories they liked the beast were the ones she told of old Father Rhine and what follows was one of their favorites.
One Dark, Wet, Night
The story begins one dark, wet, night while Maggie was sat at home in her tiny cottage knitting before the fire. All of a sudden she heard a sharp knock at the door. Putting her knitting on the table she went to the door to see who was rapping upon her door. Opening it she found a very strange man carrying a lantern of peculiar design and pattern. He did not say a word but instead beckoned to her to follow him, but Maggie hesitated. Outside the rain was pouring down and the road was littered with puddles deep and wide, but that was not the reason for her hesitation. The reason was because the man was a stranger and she had never seen anyone like him before in her life.
Seeing her hesitate and understanding her wariness, the stranger smiled kindly upon her, easing her anxiety and again he beckoned to her to follow him. This time she followed him of the warmth and shelter of her cottage and down the dark street that led to the River Rhine. Along the way she paddling through puddles that became deeper and deeper. Suddenly water began to flow all around her and she began to panic, but the stranger beckoned her on.
“Sir,” she said, “I cannot go on! What kind of a man are you and what do you want of me, this of all nights?”
The River Rhine
The stranger said nothing, instead he scooped her up into his arms and plunged forward into the River Rhine which had burst its banks. Its waters were rose fast swirling all around poor, terrified Maggie who was now carried in the arms of the stranger. Down into the swirling water he took her, down, down and deeper than down, through the cold, dark, water he carried her. She closed her eyes and prayed for surely this was her end and stopped her struggling giving into the overwhelming force of the water. Down the stranger carried her and Maggie wondered why she had not drowned and after what seemed like age they came through the water and she found herself in the most marvelous crystal palace.
The Crystal Palace
Mighty relieved at finding herself out of the cold water Maggie gazed around her and was awestruck at what she saw. All around her were walls of pure crystal imbedded with precious stones and gems. A massive, magnificent, crystal dome arched over her head and she saw she was in an enormous crystal palace. Above and around it flowed the cold, dark waters of the mighty Rhine. All around were ornaments and artifacts of gold and silver and then she spied, laid upon a bed of pure crystal with silk coverings a most lovely golden-haired nymph. She looked very pale, very weak and very ill and yet had fragile kind of beauty and the kind heart of Maggie reached out to her knowing she was close to death.
Nursing the Nymph
The strange old man turned to Maggie and said, “I know you are an excellent nurse and this is my beautiful wife, who is very ill as you can see. I have bought you here to my crystal palace in the hope that you will agree to nurse her back to health. If you agree and bring her back to health, I will reward you so well you shall never regret it.”
Maggie looked upon the poor wan nymph and was touched by how beautiful she looked and as compassion rose in her heart she instantly agreed. Maggie nursed her so carefully and diligently that her charge soon began to improve in health and gain strength and soon she was well and whole again.
When she became strong enough to talk, the nymph told her that her husband was, in fact, the water god that people called Old Father Rhine. She explained that she had once lived on earth and that her father was King Rheidt and told her the story of how she had met her husband.
One day she was at a dance held in a village alongside the Rhine, when a strange old man wearing clothes of foamy green had asked her to dance. Being someone who is polite and friendly she had agreed. He took her round and round the dance floor, faster and faster with each turn, until finally they danced alongside the river and they had plunged into it. Taking her in his arms, he took her down, down deeper than down, to his crystal palace. There they fell in love and had married and lived happily together ever since.
Then she said, “With your kindness, compassion and skill you have nursed me back to health and I thank you for that, but soon it will be time for you to return to earth. When it is time Father Rhine will offer to reward you most generously, but only accept from him your normal fee. He will offer try to persuade you to accept far greater reward but you must insist he only pay you your normal charge. Father Rhine detests greedy money-grabbing people, but loves those who are generous and sincere and he will remember you.”
As she finished talking Father Rhine came into the room and seeing his wife healthy and once again in full bloom asked Maggie to follow him. She followed him through many wonderful halls of the crystal palace until they came to a vast room filled with all kinds of treasure. There were piles of gold and silver, diamonds, emeralds and rubies and precious gems of all kinds. The river god was grateful to old Maggie for nursing his beautiful wife back to health and he implored her to take whatever she wanted from the treasure. As she gazed at all the wonderful treasures before her eyes he watched thoughtfully waiting to see what she would select.
Maggie gazed upon the treasure and it filled her eyes. She thought just how much good she could do if she only had a fraction of that glittering hoard and after all she had earned a reward for saving the life of his wife. Then she thought of all the people she had heard of who had let greed enter their rule their hearts and rule them.
Stooping down she select a small item of the value she would have charged for her normal fee. Old Father Rhine urged her to take more, but she firmly and most courteously refused. She told him nursing was her gift from god and it was her duty to help others with that gift. Therefore, seeing his wife whole and healthy was for her the greatest gift possible.
The river god nodded and took her by the hand and led her along a long, dark, corridor and she found herself in cold swirling water, but he took her up in his arms and swam up through the water and gently placed her on the bank of the Rhine near her own dear cottage. As he turned to say goodbye, he placed a handful of gold coins into her lap and dived into the swirling waters and was gone. Ever since Nurse Maggie has continued to nurse the sick people, especially the children, of her village back to health. All her patients – especially the children – love her tell them the story of Old Father Rhine and how she nursed his wife in the crystal palace under the waters of the mighty River Rhine.
© 13/11/2018 zteve t evans
References, Attributions and Further Reading
Copyright November 13th, 2018 zteve t evans
- The Crystal Palace and Other Legends by Marie H. Frary and Charles Maurice Stebbins
- Nurse by Warja Lavater [Public domain]