In her place as maid to Madame Patin in the cafe next to the sea, orphan Genevieve becomes the breathless audience for her mistress's alarming folk stories, beginning with the one about the mermaid - the beauty who is also a monster - who must be killed. Genevieve happily falls into the patterns and ways of Madame Patin and contentedly cooks, cleans, gardens and serves the customers alongside her. Until, that is, Genevieve ripens to siren beauty. To avoid the mermaid's fate she must take flight. And she does, to a poet who has the hearts of all his women: his mother, his mistress, his niece, his niece's governess - and before long, his new maid's.