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The Little Mermaid

Author: Andersen Hans Christian | Genre: Tale | Year: | Catalogue: Global database Все варианты сказки на сайте

Far out in the ocean, where the water is as blue as the prettiest cornflower,
and as clear as crystal, it is very, very deep; so deep, indeed, that no cable
could fathom it: many church steeples, piled one upon another, would not reach
from the ground beneath to the surface of the water above. There dwell the Sea
King and his subjects. We must not imagine that there is nothing at the bottom
of the sea but bare yellow sand. No, indeed; the most singular flowers and plants
grow there; the leaves and stems of which are so pliant, that the slightest agitation
of the water causes them to stir as if they had life. Fishes, both large and small,
glide between the branches, as birds fly among the trees here upon land. In the
deepest spot of all, stands the castle of the Sea King. Its walls are built of
coral, and the long, gothic windows are of the clearest amber. The roof is formed
of shells, that open and close as the water flows over them. Their appearance
is very beautiful, for in each lies a glittering pearl, which would be fit for
the diadem of a queen.

The Sea King had been a widower for many years, and his aged mother kept house
for him. She was a very wise woman, and exceedingly proud of her high birth;
on that account she wore twelve oysters on her tail; while others, also of high
rank, were only allowed to wear six. She was, however, deserving of very great
praise, especially for her care of the little sea-princesses, her grand-daughters.
They were six beautiful children; but the youngest was the prettiest of them
all; her skin was as clear and delicate as a rose-leaf, and her eyes as blue
as the deepest sea; but, like all the others, she had no feet, and her body
ended in a fish’s tail. All day long they played in the great halls of the castle,
or among the living flowers that grew out of the walls. The large amber windows
were open, and the fish swam in, just as the swallows fly into our houses when
we open the windows, excepting that the fishes swam up to the princesses, ate
out of their hands, and allowed themselves to be stroked. Outside the castle
there was a beautiful garden, in which grew bright red and dark blue flowers,
and blossoms like flames of fire; the fruit glittered like gold, and the leaves
and stems waved to and fro continually. The earth itself was the finest sand,
but blue as the flame of burning sulphur. Over everything lay a peculiar blue
radiance, as if it were surrounded by the air from above, through which the
blue sky shone, instead of the dark depths of the sea. In calm weather the sun
could be seen, looking like a purple flower, with the light streaming from the
calyx. Each of the young princesses had a little plot of ground in the garden,
where she might dig and plant as she pleased. One arranged her flower-bed into
the form of a whale; another thought it better to make hers like the figure
of a little mermaid; but that of the youngest was round like the sun, and contained
flowers as red as his rays at sunset. She was a strange child, quiet and thoughtful;
and while her sisters would be delighted with the wonderful things which they
obtained from the wrecks of vessels, she cared for nothing but her pretty red
flowers, like the sun, excepting a beautiful marble statue. It was the representation
of a handsome boy, carved out of pure white stone, which had fallen to the bottom
of the sea from a wreck. She planted by the statue a rose-colored weeping willow.
It grew splendidly, and very soon hung its fresh branches over the statue, almost
down to the blue sands. The shadow had a violet tint, and waved to and fro like
the branches; it seemed as if the crown of the tree and the root were at play,
and trying to kiss each other. Nothing gave her so much pleasure as to hear
about the world above the sea. She made her old grandmother tell her all she
knew of the ships and of the towns, the people and the animals. To her it seemed
most wonderful and beautiful to hear that the flowers of the land should have
fragrance, and not those below the sea; that the trees of the forest should
be green; and that the fishes among the trees could sing so sweetly, that it
was quite a pleasure to hear them. Her grandmother called the little birds fishes,
or she would not have understood her; for she had never seen birds.

“When you have reached your fifteenth year,” said the grand-mother, “you will
have permission to rise up out of the sea, to sit on the rocks in the moonlight,
while the great ships are sailing by; and then you will see both forests and
towns.”

In the following year, one of the sisters would be fifteen: but as each was
a year younger than the other, the youngest would have to wait five years before
her turn came to rise up from the bottom of the ocean, and see the earth as
we do. However, each promised to tell the others what she saw on her first visit,
and what she thought the most beautiful; for their grandmother could not tell
them enough; there were so many things on which they wanted information. None
of them longed so much for her turn to come as the youngest, she who had the
longest time to wait, and who was so quiet and thoughtful. Many nights she stood
by the open window, looking up through the dark blue water, and watching the
fish as they splashed about with their fins and tails. She could see the moon
and stars shining faintly; but through the water they looked larger than they
do to our eyes. When something like a black cloud passed between her and them,
she knew that it was either a whale swimming over her head, or a ship full of
human beings, who never imagined that a pretty little mermaid was standing beneath
them, holding out her white hands towards the keel of their ship.

As soon as the eldest was fifteen, she was allowed to rise to the surface of
the ocean. When she came back, she had hundreds of things to talk about; but
the most beautiful, she said, was to lie in the moonlight, on a sandbank, in
the quiet sea, near the coast, and to gaze on a large town nearby, where the
lights were twinkling like hundreds of stars; to listen to the sounds of the
music, the noise of carriages, and the voices of human beings, and then to hear
the merry bells peal out from the church steeples; and because she could not
go near to all those wonderful things, she longed for them more than ever. Oh,
did not the youngest sister listen eagerly to all these descriptions? and afterwards,
when she stood at the open window looking up through the dark blue water, she
thought of the great city, with all its bustle and noise, and even fancied she
could hear the sound of the church bells, down in the depths of the sea.

In another year the second sister received permission to rise to the surface
of the water, and to swim about where she pleased. She rose just as the sun
was setting, and this, she said, was the most beautiful sight of all. The whole
sky looked like gold, while violet and rose-colored clouds, which she could
not describe, floated over her; and, still more rapidly than the clouds, flew
a large flock of wild swans towards the setting sun, looking like a long white
veil across the sea. She also swam towards the sun; but it sunk into the waves,
and the rosy tints faded from the clouds and from the sea.




  • The third sister’s turn followed; she was the boldest of them all, and she
    swam up a broad river that emptied itself into the sea. On the banks she saw
    green hills covered with beautiful vines; palaces and castles peeped out from
    amid the proud trees of the forest; she heard the birds singing, and the rays
    of the sun were so powerful that she was obliged often to dive down under the
    water to cool her burning face. In a narrow creek she found a whole troop of
    little human children, quite naked, and sporting about in the water; she wanted
    to play with them, but they fled in a great fright; and then a little black
    animal came to the water; it was a dog, but she did not know that, for she had
    never before seen one. This animal barked at her so terribly that she became
    frightened, and rushed back to the open sea. But she said she should never forget
    the beautiful forest, the green hills, and the pretty little children who could
    swim in the water, although they had not fish’s tails.

    The fourth sister was more timid; she remained in the midst of the sea, but
    she said it was quite as beautiful there as nearer the land. She could see for
    so many miles around her, and the sky above looked like a bell of glass. She
    had seen the ships, but at such a great distance that they looked like sea-gulls.
    The dolphins sported in the waves, and the great whales spouted water from their
    nostrils till it seemed as if a hundred fountains were playing in every direction.

    The fifth sister’s birthday occurred in the winter; so when her turn came,
    she saw what the others had not seen the first time they went up. The sea looked
    quite green, and large icebergs were floating about, each like a pearl, she
    said, but larger and loftier than the churches built by men. They were of the
    most singular shapes, and glittered like diamonds. She had seated herself upon
    one of the largest, and let the wind play with her long hair, and she remarked
    that all the ships sailed by rapidly, and steered as far away as they could
    from the iceberg, as if they were afraid of it. Towards evening, as the sun
    went down, dark clouds covered the sky, the thunder rolled and the lightning
    flashed, and the red light glowed on the icebergs as they rocked and tossed
    on the heaving sea. On all the ships the sails were reefed with fear and trembling,
    while she sat calmly on the floating iceberg, watching the blue lightning, as
    it darted its forked flashes into the sea.

    When first the sisters had permission to rise to the surface, they were each
    delighted with the new and beautiful sights they saw; but now, as grown-up girls,
    they could go when they pleased, and they had become indifferent about it. They
    wished themselves back again in the water, and after a month had passed they
    said it was much more beautiful down below, and pleasanter to be at home. Yet
    often, in the evening hours, the five sisters would twine their arms round each
    other, and rise to the surface, in a row. They had more beautiful voices than
    any human being could have; and before the approach of a storm, and when they
    expected a ship would be lost, they swam before the vessel, and sang sweetly
    of the delights to be found in the depths of the sea, and begging the sailors
    not to fear if they sank to the bottom. But the sailors could not understand
    the song, they took it for the howling of the storm. And these things were never
    to be beautiful for them; for if the ship sank, the men were drowned, and their
    dead bodies alone reached the palace of the Sea King.

    When the sisters rose, arm-in-arm, through the water in this way, their youngest
    sister would stand quite alone, looking after them, ready to cry, only that
    the mermaids have no tears, and therefore they suffer more. “Oh, were I but
    fifteen years old,” said she: “I know that I shall love the world up there,
    and all the people who live in it.”

    At last she reached her fifteenth year. “Well, now, you are grown up,” said
    the old dowager, her grandmother; “so you must let me adorn you like your other
    sisters;” and she placed a wreath of white lilies in her hair, and every flower
    leaf was half a pearl. Then the old lady ordered eight great oysters to attach
    themselves to the tail of the princess to show her high rank.

    “But they hurt me so,” said the little mermaid.

    “Pride must suffer pain,” replied the old lady. Oh, how gladly she would have
    shaken off all this grandeur, and laid aside the heavy wreath! The red flowers
    in her own garden would have suited her much better, but she could not help
    herself: so she said, “Farewell,” and rose as lightly as a bubble to the surface
    of the water. The sun had just set as she raised her head above the waves; but
    the clouds were tinted with crimson and gold, and through the glimmering twilight
    beamed the evening star in all its beauty. The sea was calm, and the air mild
    and fresh. A large ship, with three masts, lay becalmed on the water, with only
    one sail set; for not a breeze stiffed, and the sailors sat idle on deck or
    amongst the rigging. There was music and song on board; and, as darkness came
    on, a hundred colored lanterns were lighted, as if the flags of all nations
    waved in the air. The little mermaid swam close to the cabin windows; and now
    and then, as the waves lifted her up, she could look in through clear glass
    window-panes, and see a number of well-dressed people within. Among them was
    a young prince, the most beautiful of all, with large black eyes; he was sixteen
    years of age, and his birthday was being kept with much rejoicing. The sailors
    were dancing on deck, but when the prince came out of the cabin, more than a
    hundred rockets rose in the air, making it as bright as day. The little mermaid
    was so startled that she dived under water; and when she again stretched out
    her head, it appeared as if all the stars of heaven were falling around her,
    she had never seen such fireworks before. Great suns spurted fire about, splendid
    fireflies flew into the blue air, and everything was reflected in the clear,
    calm sea beneath. The ship itself was so brightly illuminated that all the people,
    and even the smallest rope, could be distinctly and plainly seen. And how handsome
    the young prince looked, as he pressed the hands of all present and smiled at
    them, while the music resounded through the clear night air.

    It was very late; yet the little mermaid could not take her eyes from the ship,
    or from the beautiful prince. The colored lanterns had been extinguished, no
    more rockets rose in the air, and the cannon had ceased firing; but the sea
    became restless, and a moaning, grumbling sound could be heard beneath the waves:
    still the little mermaid remained by the cabin window, rocking up and down on
    the water, which enabled her to look in. After a while, the sails were quickly
    unfurled, and the noble ship continued her passage; but soon the waves rose
    higher, heavy clouds darkened the sky, and lightning appeared in the distance.
    A dreadful storm was approaching; once more the sails were reefed, and the great
    ship pursued her flying course over the raging sea. The waves rose mountains
    high, as if they would have overtopped the mast; but the ship dived like a swan
    between them, and then rose again on their lofty, foaming crests. To the little
    mermaid this appeared pleasant sport; not so to the sailors. At length the ship
    groaned and creaked; the thick planks gave way under the lashing of the sea
    as it broke over the deck; the mainmast snapped asunder like a reed; the ship
    lay over on her side; and the water rushed in. The little mermaid now perceived
    that the crew were in danger; even she herself was obliged to be careful to
    avoid the beams and planks of the wreck which lay scattered on the water. At
    one moment it was so pitch dark that she could not see a single object, but
    a flash of lightning revealed the whole scene; she could see every one who had
    been on board excepting the prince; when the ship parted, she had seen him sink
    into the deep waves, and she was glad, for she thought he would now be with
    her; and then she remembered that human beings could not live in the water,
    so that when he got down to her father’s palace he would be quite dead. But
    he must not die. So she swam about among the beams and planks which strewed
    the surface of the sea, forgetting that they could crush her to pieces. Then
    she dived deeply under the dark waters, rising and falling with the waves, till
    at length she managed to reach the young prince, who was fast losing the power
    of swimming in that stormy sea. His limbs were failing him, his beautiful eyes
    were closed, and he would have died had not the little mermaid come to his assistance.
    She held his head above the water, and let the waves drift them where they would.

    In the morning the storm had ceased; but of the ship not a single fragment
    could be seen. The sun rose up red and glowing from the water, and its beams
    brought back the hue of health to the prince’s cheeks; but his eyes remained
    closed. The mermaid kissed his high, smooth forehead, and stroked back his wet
    hair; he seemed to her like the marble statue in her little garden, and she
    kissed him again, and wished that he might live. Presently they came in sight
    of land; she saw lofty blue mountains, on which the white snow rested as if
    a flock of swans were lying upon them. Near the coast were beautiful green forests,
    and close by stood a large building, whether a church or a convent she could
    not tell. Orange and citron trees grew in the garden, and before the door stood
    lofty palms. The sea here formed a little bay, in which the water was quite
    still, but very deep; so she swam with the handsome prince to the beach, which
    was covered with fine, white sand, and there she laid him in the warm sunshine,
    taking care to raise his head higher than his body. Then bells sounded in the
    large white building, and a number of young girls came into the garden. The
    little mermaid swam out farther from the shore and placed herself between some
    high rocks that rose out of the water; then she covered her head and neck with
    the foam of the sea so that her little face might not be seen, and watched to
    see what would become of the poor prince. She did not wait long before she saw
    a young girl approach the spot where he lay. She seemed frightened at first,
    but only for a moment; then she fetched a number of people, and the mermaid
    saw that the prince came to life again, and smiled upon those who stood round
    him. But to her he sent no smile; he knew not that she had saved him. This made
    her very unhappy, and when he was led away into the great building, she dived
    down sorrowfully into the water, and returned to her father’s castle. She had
    always been silent and thoughtful, and now she was more so than ever. Her sisters
    asked her what she had seen during her first visit to the surface of the water;
    but she would tell them nothing. Many an evening and morning did she rise to
    the place where she had left the prince. She saw the fruits in the garden ripen
    till they were gathered, the snow on the tops of the mountains melt away; but
    she never saw the prince, and therefore she returned home, always more sorrowful
    than before. It was her only comfort to sit in her own little garden, and fling
    her arm round the beautiful marble statue which was like the prince; but she
    gave up tending her flowers, and they grew in wild confusion over the paths,
    twining their long leaves and stems round the branches of the trees, so that
    the whole place became dark and gloomy. At length she could bear it no longer,
    and told one of her sisters all about it. Then the others heard the secret,
    and very soon it became known to two mermaids whose intimate friend happened
    to know who the prince was. She had also seen the festival on board ship, and
    she told them where the prince came from, and where his palace stood.

    “Come, little sister,” said the other princesses; then they entwined their
    arms and rose up in a long row to the surface of the water, close by the spot
    where they knew the prince’s palace stood. It was built of bright yellow shining
    stone, with long flights of marble steps, one of which reached quite down to
    the sea. Splendid gilded cupolas rose over the roof, and between the pillars
    that surrounded the whole building stood life-like statues of marble. Through
    the clear crystal of the lofty windows could be seen noble rooms, with costly
    silk curtains and hangings of tapestry; while the walls were covered with beautiful
    paintings which were a pleasure to look at. In the centre of the largest saloon
    a fountain threw its sparkling jets high up into the glass cupola of the ceiling,
    through which the sun shone down upon the water and upon the beautiful plants
    growing round the basin of the fountain. Now that she knew where he lived, she
    spent many an evening and many a night on the water near the palace. She would
    swim much nearer the shore than any of the others ventured to do; indeed once
    she went quite up the narrow channel under the marble balcony, which threw a
    broad shadow on the water. Here she would sit and watch the young prince, who
    thought himself quite alone in the bright moonlight. She saw him many times
    of an evening sailing in a pleasant boat, with music playing and flags waving.
    She peeped out from among the green rushes, and if the wind caught her long
    silvery-white veil, those who saw it believed it to be a swan, spreading out
    its wings. On many a night, too, when the fishermen, with their torches, were
    out at sea, she heard them relate so many good things about the doings of the
    young prince, that she was glad she had saved his life when he had been tossed
    about half-dead on the waves. And she remembered that his head had rested on
    her bosom, and how heartily she had kissed him; but he knew nothing of all this,
    and could not even dream of her. She grew more and more fond of human beings,
    and wished more and more to be able to wander about with those whose world seemed
    to be so much larger than her own. They could fly over the sea in ships, and
    mount the high hills which were far above the clouds; and the lands they possessed,
    their woods and their fields, stretched far away beyond the reach of her sight.
    There was so much that she wished to know, and her sisters were unable to answer
    all her questions. Then she applied to her old grandmother, who knew all about
    the upper world, which she very rightly called the lands above the sea.

    “If human beings are not drowned,” asked the little mermaid, “can they live
    forever? do they never die as we do here in the sea?”

    “Yes,” replied the old lady, “they must also die, and their term of life is
    even shorter than ours. We sometimes live to three hundred years, but when we
    cease to exist here we only become the foam on the surface of the water, and
    we have not even a grave down here of those we love. We have not immortal souls,
    we shall never live again; but, like the green sea-weed, when once it has been
    cut off, we can never flourish more. Human beings, on the contrary, have a soul
    which lives forever, lives after the body has been turned to dust. It rises
    up through the clear, pure air beyond the glittering stars. As we rise out of
    the water, and behold all the land of the earth, so do they rise to unknown
    and glorious regions which we shall never see.”

    “Why have not we an immortal soul?” asked the little mermaid mournfully; “I
    would give gladly all the hundreds of years that I have to live, to be a human
    being only for one day, and to have the hope of knowing the happiness of that
    glorious world above the stars.”

    “You must not think of that,” said the old woman; “we feel ourselves to be
    much happier and much better off than human beings.”

    “So I shall die,” said the little mermaid, “and as the foam of the sea I shall
    be driven about never again to hear the music of the waves, or to see the pretty
    flowers nor the red sun. Is there anything I can do to win an immortal soul?”

    “No,” said the old woman, “unless a man were to love you so much that you were
    more to him than his father or mother; and if all his thoughts and all his love
    were fixed upon you, and the priest placed his right hand in yours, and he promised
    to be true to you here and hereafter, then his soul would glide into your body
    and you would obtain a share in the future happiness of mankind. He would give
    a soul to you and retain his own as well; but this can never happen. Your fish’s
    tail, which amongst us is considered so beautiful, is thought on earth to be
    quite ugly; they do not know any better, and they think it necessary to have
    two stout props, which they call legs, in order to be handsome.”

    Then the little mermaid sighed, and looked sorrowfully at her fish’s tail.
    “Let us be happy,” said the old lady, “and dart and spring about during the
    three hundred years that we have to live, which is really quite long enough;
    after that we can rest ourselves all the better. This evening we are going to
    have a court ball.”

    It is one of those splendid sights which we can never see on earth. The walls
    and the ceiling of the large ball-room were of thick, but transparent crystal.
    May hundreds of colossal shells, some of a deep red, others of a grass green,
    stood on each side in rows, with blue fire in them, which lighted up the whole
    saloon, and shone through the walls, so that the sea was also illuminated. Innumerable
    fishes, great and small, swam past the crystal walls; on some of them the scales
    glowed with a purple brilliancy, and on others they shone like silver and gold.
    Through the halls flowed a broad stream, and in it danced the mermen and the
    mermaids to the music of their own sweet singing. No one on earth has such a
    lovely voice as theirs. The little mermaid sang more sweetly than them all.
    The whole court applauded her with hands and tails; and for a moment her heart
    felt quite gay, for she knew she had the loveliest voice of any on earth or
    in the sea. But she soon thought again of the world above her, for she could
    not forget the charming prince, nor her sorrow that she had not an immortal
    soul like his; therefore she crept away silently out of her father’s palace,
    and while everything within was gladness and song, she sat in her own little
    garden sorrowful and alone. Then she heard the bugle sounding through the water,
    and thought—“He is certainly sailing above, he on whom my wishes depend, and
    in whose hands I should like to place the happiness of my life. I will venture
    all for him, and to win an immortal soul, while my sisters are dancing in my
    father’s palace, I will go to the sea witch, of whom I have always been so much
    afraid, but she can give me counsel and help.”

    And then the little mermaid went out from her garden, and took the road to
    the foaming whirlpools, behind which the sorceress lived. She had never been
    that way before: neither flowers nor grass grew there; nothing but bare, gray,
    sandy ground stretched out to the whirlpool, where the water, like foaming mill-wheels,
    whirled round everything that it seized, and cast it into the fathomless deep.
    Through the midst of these crushing whirlpools the little mermaid was obliged
    to pass, to reach the dominions of the sea witch; and also for a long distance
    the only road lay right across a quantity of warm, bubbling mire, called by
    the witch her turfmoor. Beyond this stood her house, in the centre of a strange
    forest, in which all the trees and flowers were polypi, half animals and half
    plants; they looked like serpents with a hundred heads growing out of the ground.
    The branches were long slimy arms, with fingers like flexible worms, moving
    limb after limb from the root to the top. All that could be reached in the sea
    they seized upon, and held fast, so that it never escaped from their clutches.
    The little mermaid was so alarmed at what she saw, that she stood still, and
    her heart beat with fear, and she was very nearly turning back; but she thought
    of the prince, and of the human soul for which she longed, and her courage returned.
    She fastened her long flowing hair round her head, so that the polypi might
    not seize hold of it. She laid her hands together across her bosom, and then
    she darted forward as a fish shoots through the water, between the supple arms
    and fingers of the ugly polypi, which were stretched out on each side of her.
    She saw that each held in its grasp something it had seized with its numerous
    little arms, as if they were iron bands. The white skeletons of human beings
    who had perished at sea, and had sunk down into the deep waters, skeletons of
    land animals, oars, rudders, and chests of ships were lying tightly grasped
    by their clinging arms; even a little mermaid, whom they had caught and strangled;
    and this seemed the most shocking of all to the little princess.

    She now came to a space of marshy ground in the wood, where large, fat water-snakes
    were rolling in the mire, and showing their ugly, drab-colored bodies. In the
    midst of this spot stood a house, built with the bones of shipwrecked human
    beings. There sat the sea witch, allowing a toad to eat from her mouth, just
    as people sometimes feed a canary with a piece of sugar. She called the ugly
    water-snakes her little chickens, and allowed them to crawl all over her bosom.

    “I know what you want,” said the sea witch; “it is very stupid of you, but
    you shall have your way, and it will bring you to sorrow, my pretty princess.
    You want to get rid of your fish’s tail, and to have two supports instead of
    it, like human beings on earth, so that the young prince may fall in love with
    you, and that you may have an immortal soul.” And then the witch laughed so
    loud and disgustingly, that the toad and the snakes fell to the ground, and
    lay there wriggling about. “You are but just in time,” said the witch; “for
    after sunrise to-morrow I should not be able to help you till the end of another
    year. I will prepare a draught for you, with which you must swim to land tomorrow
    before sunrise, and sit down on the shore and drink it. Your tail will then
    disappear, and shrink up into what mankind calls legs, and you will feel great
    pain, as if a sword were passing through you. But all who see you will say that
    you are the prettiest little human being they ever saw. You will still have
    the same floating gracefulness of movement, and no dancer will ever tread so
    lightly; but at every step you take it will feel as if you were treading upon
    sharp knives, and that the blood must flow. If you will bear all this, I will
    help you.”

    “Yes, I will,” said the little princess in a trembling voice, as she thought
    of the prince and the immortal soul.

    “But think again,” said the witch; “for when once your shape has become like
    a human being, you can no more be a mermaid. You will never return through the
    water to your sisters, or to your father’s palace again; and if you do not win
    the love of the prince, so that he is willing to forget his father and mother
    for your sake, and to love you with his whole soul, and allow the priest to
    join your hands that you may be man and wife, then you will never have an immortal
    soul. The first morning after he marries another your heart will break, and
    you will become foam on the crest of the waves.”

    “I will do it,” said the little mermaid, and she became pale as death.

    “But I must be paid also,” said the witch, “and it is not a trifle that I ask.
    You have the sweetest voice of any who dwell here in the depths of the sea,
    and you believe that you will be able to charm the prince with it also, but
    this voice you must give to me; the best thing you possess will I have for the
    price of my draught. My own blood must be mixed with it, that it may be as sharp
    as a two-edged sword.”

    “But if you take away my voice,” said the little mermaid, “what is left for
    me?”

    “Your beautiful form, your graceful walk, and your expressive eyes; surely
    with these you can enchain a man’s heart. Well, have you lost your courage?
    Put out your little tongue that I may cut it off as my payment; then you shall
    have the powerful draught.”

    “It shall be,” said the little mermaid.

    Then the witch placed her cauldron on the fire, to prepare the magic draught.

    “Cleanliness is a good thing,” said she, scouring the vessel with snakes, which
    she had tied together in a large knot; then she pricked herself in the breast,
    and let the black blood drop into it. The steam that rose formed itself into
    such horrible shapes that no one could look at them without fear. Every moment
    the witch threw something else into the vessel, and when it began to boil, the
    sound was like the weeping of a crocodile. When at last the magic draught was
    ready, it looked like the clearest water. “There it is for you,” said the witch.
    Then she cut off the mermaid’s tongue, so that she became dumb, and would never
    again speak or sing. “If the polypi should seize hold of you as you return through
    the wood,” said the witch, “throw over them a few drops of the potion, and their
    fingers will be torn into a thousand pieces.” But the little mermaid had no
    occasion to do this, for the polypi sprang back in terror when they caught sight
    of the glittering draught, which shone in her hand like a twinkling star.

    So she passed quickly through the wood and the marsh, and between the rushing
    whirlpools. She saw that in her father’s palace the torches in the ballroom
    were extinguished, and all within asleep; but she did not venture to go in to
    them, for now she was dumb and going to leave them forever, she felt as if her
    heart would break. She stole into the garden, took a flower from the flower-beds
    of each of her sisters, kissed her hand a thousand times towards the palace,
    and then rose up through the dark blue waters. The sun had not risen when she
    came in sight of the prince’s palace, and approached the beautiful marble steps,
    but the moon shone clear and bright. Then the little mermaid drank the magic
    draught, and it seemed as if a two-edged sword went through her delicate body:
    she fell into a swoon, and lay like one dead. When the sun arose and shone over
    the sea, she recovered, and felt a sharp pain; but just before her stood the
    handsome young prince. He fixed his coal-black eyes upon her so earnestly that
    she cast down her own, and then became aware that her fish’s tail was gone,
    and that she had as pretty a pair of white legs and tiny feet as any little
    maiden could have; but she had no clothes, so she wrapped herself in her long,
    thick hair. The prince asked her who she was, and where she came from, and she
    looked at him mildly and sorrowfully with her deep blue eyes; but she could
    not speak. Every step she took was as the witch had said it would be, she felt
    as if treading upon the points of needles or sharp knives; but she bore it willingly,
    and stepped as lightly by the prince’s side as a soap-bubble, so that he and
    all who saw her wondered at her graceful-swaying movements. She was very soon
    arrayed in costly robes of silk and muslin, and was the most beautiful creature
    in the palace; but she was dumb, and could neither speak nor sing.

    Beautiful female slaves, dressed in silk and gold, stepped forward and sang
    before the prince and his royal parents: one sang better than all the others,
    and the prince clapped his hands and smiled at her. This was great sorrow to
    the little mermaid; she knew how much more sweetly she herself could sing once,
    and she thought, “Oh if he could only know that! I have given away my voice
    forever, to be with him.”

    The slaves next performed some pretty fairy-like dances, to the sound of beautiful
    music. Then the little mermaid raised her lovely white arms, stood on the tips
    of her toes, and glided over the floor, and danced as no one yet had been able
    to dance. At each moment her beauty became more revealed, and her expressive
    eyes appealed more directly to the heart than the songs of the slaves. Every
    one was enchanted, especially the prince, who called her his little foundling;
    and she danced again quite readily, to please him, though each time her foot
    touched the floor it seemed as if she trod on sharp knives.

    The prince said she should remain with him always, and she received permission
    to sleep at his door, on a velvet cushion. He had a page’s dress made for her,
    that she might accompany him on horseback. They rode together through the sweet-scented
    woods, where the green boughs touched their shoulders, and the little birds
    sang among the fresh leaves. She climbed with the prince to the tops of high
    mountains; and although her tender feet bled so that even her steps were marked,
    she only laughed, and followed him till they could see the clouds beneath them
    looking like a flock of birds travelling to distant lands. While at the prince’s
    palace, and when all the household were asleep, she would go and sit on the
    broad marble steps; for it eased her burning feet to bathe them in the cold
    sea-water; and then she thought of all those below in the deep.

    Once during the night her sisters came up arm-in-arm, singing sorrowfully,
    as they floated on the water. She beckoned to them, and then they recognized
    her, and told her how she had grieved them. After that, they came to the same
    place every night; and once she saw in the distance her old grandmother, who
    had not been to the surface of the sea for many years, and the old Sea King,
    her father, with his crown on his head. They stretched out their hands towards
    her, but they did not venture so near the land as her sisters did.

    As the days passed, she loved the prince more fondly, and he loved her as he
    would love a little child, but it never came into his head to make her his wife;
    yet, unless he married her, she could not receive an immortal soul; and, on
    the morning after his marriage with another, she would dissolve into the foam
    of the sea.

    “Do you not love me the best of them all?” the eyes of the little mermaid seemed
    to say, when he took her in his arms, and kissed her fair forehead.

    “Yes, you are dear to me,” said the prince; “for you have the best heart, and
    you are the most devoted to me; you are like a young maiden whom I once saw,
    but whom I shall never meet again. I was in a ship that was wrecked, and the
    waves cast me ashore near a holy temple, where several young maidens performed
    the service. The youngest of them found me on the shore, and saved my life.
    I saw her but twice, and she is the only one in the world whom I could love;
    but you are like her, and you have almost driven her image out of my mind. She
    belongs to the holy temple, and my good fortune has sent you to me instead of
    her; and we will never part.”

    “Ah, he knows not that it was I who saved his life,” thought the little mermaid.
    “I carried him over the sea to the wood where the temple stands: I sat beneath
    the foam, and watched till the human beings came to help him. I saw the pretty
    maiden that he loves better than he loves me;” and the mermaid sighed deeply,
    but she could not shed tears. “He says the maiden belongs to the holy temple,
    therefore she will never return to the world. They will meet no more: while
    I am by his side, and see him every day. I will take care of him, and love him,
    and give up my life for his sake.”

    Very soon it was said that the prince must marry, and that the beautiful daughter
    of a neighboring king would be his wife, for a fine ship was being fitted out.
    Although the prince gave out that he merely intended to pay a visit to the king,
    it was generally supposed that he really went to see his daughter. A great company
    were to go with him. The little mermaid smiled, and shook her head. She knew
    the prince’s thoughts better than any of the others.

    “I must travel,” he had said to her; “I must see this beautiful princess; my
    parents desire it; but they will not oblige me to bring her home as my bride.
    I cannot love her; she is not like the beautiful maiden in the temple, whom
    you resemble. If I were forced to choose a bride, I would rather choose you,
    my dumb foundling, with those expressive eyes.” And then he kissed her rosy
    mouth, played with her long waving hair, and laid his head on her heart, while
    she dreamed of human happiness and an immortal soul. “You are not afraid of
    the sea, my dumb child,” said he, as they stood on the deck of the noble ship
    which was to carry them to the country of the neighboring king. And then he
    told her of storm and of calm, of strange fishes in the deep beneath them, and
    of what the divers had seen there; and she smiled at his descriptions, for she
    knew better than any one what wonders were at the bottom of the sea.

    In the moonlight, when all on board were asleep, excepting the man at the helm,
    who was steering, she sat on the deck, gazing down through the clear water.
    She thought she could distinguish her father’s castle, and upon it her aged
    grandmother, with the silver crown on her head, looking through the rushing
    tide at the keel of the vessel. Then her sisters came up on the waves, and gazed
    at her mournfully, wringing their white hands. She beckoned to them, and smiled,
    and wanted to tell them how happy and well off she was; but the cabin-boy approached,
    and when her sisters dived down he thought it was only the foam of the sea which
    he saw.

    The next morning the ship sailed into the harbor of a beautiful town belonging
    to the king whom the prince was going to visit. The church bells were ringing,
    and from the high towers sounded a flourish of trumpets; and soldiers, with
    flying colors and glittering bayonets, lined the rocks through which they passed.
    Every day was a festival; balls and entertainments followed one another.

    But the princess had not yet appeared. People said that she was being brought
    up and educated in a religious house, where she was learning every royal virtue.
    At last she came. Then the little mermaid, who was very anxious to see whether
    she was really beautiful, was obliged to acknowledge that she had never seen
    a more perfect vision of beauty. Her skin was delicately fair, and beneath her
    long dark eye-lashes her laughing blue eyes shone with truth and purity.

    “It was you,” said the prince, “who saved my life when I lay dead on the beach,”
    and he folded his blushing bride in his arms. “Oh, I am too happy,” said he
    to the little mermaid; “my fondest hopes are all fulfilled. You will rejoice
    at my happiness; for your devotion to me is great and sincere.”

    The little mermaid kissed his hand, and felt as if her heart were already broken.
    His wedding morning would bring death to her, and she would change into the
    foam of the sea. All the church bells rung, and the heralds rode about the town
    proclaiming the betrothal. Perfumed oil was burning in costly silver lamps on
    every altar. The priests waved the censers, while the bride and bridegroom joined
    their hands and received the blessing of the bishop. The little mermaid, dressed
    in silk and gold, held up the bride’s train; but her ears heard nothing of the
    festive music, and her eyes saw not the holy ceremony; she thought of the night
    of death which was coming to her, and of all she had lost in the world. On the
    same evening the bride and bridegroom went on board ship; cannons were roaring,
    flags waving, and in the centre of the ship a costly tent of purple and gold
    had been erected. It contained elegant couches, for the reception of the bridal
    pair during the night. The ship, with swelling sails and a favorable wind, glided
    away smoothly and lightly over the calm sea. When it grew dark a number of colored
    lamps were lit, and the sailors danced merrily on the deck. The little mermaid
    could not help thinking of her first rising out of the sea, when she had seen
    similar festivities and joys; and she joined in the dance, poised herself in
    the air as a swallow when he pursues his prey, and all present cheered her with
    wonder. She had never danced so elegantly before. Her tender feet felt as if
    cut with sharp knives, but she cared not for it; a sharper pang had pierced
    through her heart. She knew this was the last evening she should ever see the
    prince, for whom she had forsaken her kindred and her home; she had given up
    her beautiful voice, and suffered unheard-of pain daily for him, while he knew
    nothing of it. This was the last evening that she would breathe the same air
    with him, or gaze on the starry sky and the deep sea; an eternal night, without
    a thought or a dream, awaited her: she had no soul and now she could never win
    one. All was joy and gayety on board ship till long after midnight; she laughed
    and danced with the rest, while the thoughts of death were in her heart. The
    prince kissed his beautiful bride, while she played with his raven hair, till
    they went arm-in-arm to rest in the splendid tent. Then all became still on
    board the ship; the helmsman, alone awake, stood at the helm. The little mermaid
    leaned her white arms on the edge of the vessel, and looked towards the east
    for the first blush of morning, for that first ray of dawn that would bring
    her death. She saw her sisters rising out of the flood: they were as pale as
    herself; but their long beautiful hair waved no more in the wind, and had been
    cut off.

    “We have given our hair to the witch,” said they, “to obtain help for you,
    that you may not die to-night. She has given us a knife: here it is, see it
    is very sharp. Before the sun rises you must plunge it into the heart of the
    prince; when the warm blood falls upon your feet they will grow together again,
    and form into a fish’s tail, and you will be once more a mermaid, and return
    to us to live out your three hundred years before you die and change into the
    salt sea foam. Haste, then; he or you must die before sunrise. Our old grandmother
    moans so for you, that her white hair is falling off from sorrow, as ours fell
    under the witch’s scissors. Kill the prince and come back; hasten: do you not
    see the first red streaks in the sky? In a few minutes the sun will rise, and
    you must die.” And then they sighed deeply and mournfully, and sank down beneath
    the waves.

    The little mermaid drew back the crimson curtain of the tent, and beheld the
    fair bride with her head resting on the prince’s breast. She bent down and kissed
    his fair brow, then looked at the sky on which the rosy dawn grew brighter and
    brighter; then she glanced at the sharp knife, and again fixed her eyes on the
    prince, who whispered the name of his bride in his dreams. She was in his thoughts,
    and the knife trembled in the hand of the little mermaid: then she flung it
    far away from her into the waves; the water turned red where it fell, and the
    drops that spurted up looked like blood. She cast one more lingering, half-fainting
    glance at the prince, and then threw herself from the ship into the sea, and
    thought her body was dissolving into foam. The sun rose above the waves, and
    his warm rays fell on the cold foam of the little mermaid, who did not feel
    as if she were dying. She saw the bright sun, and all around her floated hundreds
    of transparent beautiful beings; she could see through them the white sails
    of the ship, and the red clouds in the sky; their speech was melodious, but
    too ethereal to be heard by mortal ears, as they were also unseen by mortal
    eyes. The little mermaid perceived that she had a body like theirs, and that
    she continued to rise higher and higher out of the foam. “Where am I?” asked
    she, and her voice sounded ethereal, as the voice of those who were with her;
    no earthly music could imitate it.

    “Among the daughters of the air,” answered one of them. “A mermaid has not
    an immortal soul, nor can she obtain one unless she wins the love of a human
    being. On the power of another hangs her eternal destiny. But the daughters
    of the air, although they do not possess an immortal soul, can, by their good
    deeds, procure one for themselves. We fly to warm countries, and cool the sultry
    air that destroys mankind with the pestilence. We carry the perfume of the flowers
    to spread health and restoration. After we have striven for three hundred years
    to all the good in our power, we receive an immortal soul and take part in the
    happiness of mankind. You, poor little mermaid, have tried with your whole heart
    to do as we are doing; you have suffered and endured and raised yourself to
    the spirit-world by your good deeds; and now, by striving for three hundred
    years in the same way, you may obtain an immortal soul.”

    The little mermaid lifted her glorified eyes towards the sun, and felt them,
    for the first time, filling with tears. On the ship, in which she had left the
    prince, there were life and noise; she saw him and his beautiful bride searching
    for her; sorrowfully they gazed at the pearly foam, as if they knew she had
    thrown herself into the waves. Unseen she kissed the forehead of her bride,
    and fanned the prince, and then mounted with the other children of the air to
    a rosy cloud that floated through the aether.

    “After three hundred years, thus shall we float into the kingdom of heaven,”
    said she. “And we may even get there sooner,” whispered one of her companions.
    “Unseen we can enter the houses of men, where there are children, and for every
    day on which we find a good child, who is the joy of his parents and deserves
    their love, our time of probation is shortened. The child does not know, when
    we fly through the room, that we smile with joy at his good conduct, for we
    can count one year less of our three hundred years. But when we see a naughty
    or a wicked child, we shed tears of sorrow, and for every tear a day is added
    to our time of trial!”