It was February. Mornings were still frosty and now and then, a few snowflakes fell. A blanket of snow was still covering the hills and ice glistened on the surface of ponds and lakes. A stately willow tree stood by one of the ponds. And every day, waterman Scruff sat in that willow tree. He wore a warm green coat and a red cap, his periwinkle-green hair sticking out from under it. The waterman sat in the willow tree above the pond every day, watching over his friends the carps and catfish who lived in the pond.
One day as he was resting on a thick branch of the willow, he heard distant shouts. Gradually, the voices came closer to the pond, mixed with laughter and strange, funny squealing. When the waterman stood up in the willow tree and craned his neck to see what those noises were, he spotted a group of children in the distance, playing, laughing, and running around.
As they played, they didn’t seem to realize that they were getting too close to the pond too quickly. They kept on laughing and running, until suddenly they ran onto the pond. Before they knew it, they were in the middle. But the ice wasn’t very firm anymore now that it was February, and a crack suddenly formed beneath their feet. Then another and another.
When waterman Scruff saw this, he jumped down from the willow, quickly grabbed the longest branch he could find in the tree, reached out, and called out to the children: “Quickly, children, hurry! Hold on to the branch! The ice isn’t strong anymore. I’ll pull you out before you can fall through.”
At first, the children didn’t know what to do. They stared at the green man in his green coat in disbelief. But then they heard the ice crack beneath them again, and they didn’t stop to think; they grabbed the branch. Waterman Scruff pulled as hard as he could. He held on tight to the branch and tried to get the children to the safety of the bank as quickly as possible.
When it seemed that all the children would be safe, suddenly the waterman’s foot slipped and he started to fall. Luckily, the willow noticed, lashed out with the strongest twig, and wrapped it around the waterman. It caught him right in time. Slowly, she started pulling Scruff to the bank and he in turn pulled out the children. Once they were all sitting on the edge of the pond, the ice fell through completely and water appeared. The waterman breathed a sigh of relief, and the children did too.
After a while, the children confessed: “We didn’t know you existed, waterman. Thank you so much for saving us. We’re glad you were here.”
“I’m always here. I sit in the willow and watch over everything that happens around the pond. I don’t mind if you play here. I’ll be glad if you come back to the pond sometime. But promise me that you will be careful from now on,” the waterman replied. The children promised to be more careful. From that day on, they like to come to the pond. They play various games with the waterman, and he teaches them all he knows about fish. In return, they bring him fresh cakes their mothers baked. But they’ve never forgotten that even when playing, they still had to be careful.