: Hans Andersen

Far out at sea the water is as blue as the bluest cornflower, and as

clear as the clearest crystal; but it is very deep, too deep for any

cable to fathom, and if many steeples were piled on the top of one

another they would not reach from the bed of the sea to the surface of

the water. It is down there that the Mermen live.

Now don't imagine that there are only bare white sands at the bottom; oh

no! the m
st wonderful trees and plants grow there, with such flexible

stalks and leaves, that at the slightest motion of the water they move

just as if they were alive. All the fish, big and little, glide among

the branches just as, up here, birds glide through the air. The palace

of the Merman King lies in the very deepest part; its walls are of coral

and the long pointed windows of the clearest amber, but the roof is made

of mussel shells which open and shut with the lapping of the water. This

has a lovely effect, for there are gleaming pearls in every shell, any

one of which would be the pride of a queen's crown.

The Merman King had been for many years a widower, but his old mother

kept house for him; she was a clever woman, but so proud of her noble

birth that she wore twelve oysters on her tail, while the other grandees

were only allowed six. Otherwise she was worthy of all praise,

especially because she was so fond of the little mermaid princesses, her

grandchildren. They were six beautiful children, but the youngest was

the prettiest of all; her skin was as soft and delicate as a roseleaf,

her eyes as blue as the deepest sea, but like all the others she had no

feet, and instead of legs she had a fish's tail.

All the livelong day they used to play in the palace in the great halls,

where living flowers grew out of the walls. When the great amber windows

were thrown open the fish swam in, just as the swallows fly into our

rooms when we open the windows, but the fish swam right up to the little

princesses, ate out of their hands, and allowed themselves to be patted.

The Merman King had been for many years a widower, but

his old mother kept house for him; she was a clever woman, but so proud

of her noble birth that she wore twelve oysters on her tail, while the

other grandees were only allowed six

Outside the palace was a large garden, with fiery red and deep blue

trees, the fruit of which shone like gold, while the flowers glowed like

fire on their ceaselessly waving stalks. The ground was of the finest

sand, but it was of a blue phosphorescent tint. Everything was bathed in

a wondrous blue light down there; you might more readily have supposed

yourself to be high up in the air, with only the sky above and below

you, than that you were at the bottom of the ocean. In a dead calm you

could just catch a glimpse of the sun like a purple flower with a

stream of light radiating from its calyx.

Each little princess had her own little plot of garden, where she could

dig and plant just as she liked. One made her flower-bed in the shape of

a whale; another thought it nice to have hers like a little mermaid; but

the youngest made hers quite round like the sun, and she would only have

flowers of a rosy hue like its beams. She was a curious child, quiet and

thoughtful, and while the other sisters decked out their gardens with

all kinds of extraordinary objects which they got from wrecks, she would

have nothing besides the rosy flowers like the sun up above, except a

statue of a beautiful boy. It was hewn out of the purest white marble

and had gone to the bottom from some wreck. By the statue she planted a

rosy red weeping willow which grew splendidly, and the fresh delicate

branches hung round and over it, till they almost touched the blue sand

where the shadows showed violet, and were ever moving like the branches.

It looked as if the leaves and the roots were playfully interchanging


Nothing gave her greater pleasure than to hear about the world of human

beings up above; she made her old grandmother tell her all that she knew

about ships and towns, people and animals. But above all it seemed

strangely beautiful to her that up on the earth the flowers were

scented, for they were not so at the bottom of the sea; also that the

woods were green, and that the fish which were to be seen among the

branches could sing so loudly and sweetly that it was a delight to

listen to them. You see the grandmother called little birds fish, or the

mermaids would not have understood her, as they had never seen a bird.

'When you are fifteen,' said the grandmother, 'you will be allowed to

rise up from the sea and sit on the rocks in the moonlight, and look at

the big ships sailing by, and you will also see woods and towns.'

One of the sisters would be fifteen in the following year, but the

others,--well, they were each one year younger than the other, so that

the youngest had five whole years to wait before she would be allowed to

come up from the bottom, to see what things were like on earth. But each

one promised the others to give a full account of all that she had seen,

and found most wonderful on the first day. Their grandmother could never

tell them enough, for there were so many things about which they wanted


None of them was so full of longings as the youngest, the very one who

had the longest time to wait, and who was so quiet and dreamy. Many a

night she stood by the open windows and looked up through the dark blue

water which the fish were lashing with their tails and fins. She could

see the moon and the stars, it is true; their light was pale, but they

looked much bigger through the water than they do to our eyes. When she

saw a dark shadow glide between her and them, she knew that it was

either a whale swimming above her, or else a ship laden with human

beings. I am certain they never dreamt that a lovely little mermaid was

standing down below, stretching up her white hands towards the keel.

The eldest princess had now reached her fifteenth birthday, and was to

venture above the water. When she came back she had hundreds of things

to tell them, but the most delightful of all, she said, was to lie in

the moonlight, on a sandbank in a calm sea, and to gaze at the large

town close to the shore, where the lights twinkled like hundreds of

stars; to listen to music and the noise and bustle of carriages and

people, to see the many church towers and spires, and to hear the bells

ringing; and just because she could not go on shore she longed for that

most of all.

Oh, how eagerly the youngest sister listened! and when, later in the

evening she stood at the open window and looked up through the dark blue

water, she thought of the big town with all its noise and bustle, and

fancied that she could even hear the church bells ringing.

The year after, the second sister was allowed to mount up through the

water and swim about wherever she liked. The sun was just going down

when she reached the surface, the most beautiful sight, she thought,

that she had ever seen. The whole sky had looked like gold, she said,

and as for the clouds! well, their beauty was beyond description; they

floated in red and violet splendour over her head, and, far faster than

they went, a flock of wild swans flew like a long white veil over the

water towards the setting sun; she swam towards it, but it sank and all

the rosy light on clouds and water faded away.

The year after that the third sister went up, and, being much the most

venturesome of them all, swam up a broad river which ran into the sea.

She saw beautiful green, vine-clad hills; palaces and country seats

peeping through splendid woods. She heard the birds singing, and the sun

was so hot that she was often obliged to dive, to cool her burning face.

In a tiny bay she found a troop of little children running about naked

and paddling in the water; she wanted to play with them, but they were

frightened and ran away. Then a little black animal came up; it was a

dog, but she had never seen one before; it barked so furiously at her

that she was frightened and made for the open sea. She could never

forget the beautiful woods, the green hills and the lovely children who

could swim in the water although they had no fishes' tails.

The fourth sister was not so brave; she stayed in the remotest part of

the ocean, and, according to her account, that was the most beautiful

spot. You could see for miles and miles around you, and the sky above

was like a great glass dome. She had seen ships, but only far away, so

that they looked like sea-gulls. There were grotesque dolphins turning

somersaults, and gigantic whales squirting water through their nostrils

like hundreds of fountains on every side.

Now the fifth sister's turn came. Her birthday fell in the winter, so

that she saw sights that the others had not seen on their first trips.

The sea looked quite green, and large icebergs were floating about, each

one of which looked like a pearl, she said, but was much bigger than the

church towers built by men. They took the most wonderful shapes, and

sparkled like diamonds. She had seated herself on one of the largest,

and all the passing ships sheered off in alarm when they saw her sitting

there with her long hair streaming loose in the wind.

In the evening the sky became overcast with dark clouds; it thundered

and lightened, and the huge icebergs glittering in the bright lightning,

were lifted high into the air by the black waves. All the ships

shortened sail, and there was fear and trembling on every side, but she

sat quietly on her floating iceberg watching the blue lightning flash in

zigzags down on to the shining sea.

The first time any of the sisters rose above the water she was delighted

by the novelties and beauties she saw; but once grown up, and at liberty

to go where she liked, she became indifferent and longed for her home;

in the course of a month or so they all said that after all their own

home in the deep was best, it was so cosy there.

Many an evening the five sisters interlacing their arms would rise above

the water together. They had lovely voices, much clearer than any

mortal, and when a storm was rising, and they expected ships to be

wrecked, they would sing in the most seductive strains of the wonders of

the deep, bidding the seafarers have no fear of them. But the sailors

could not understand the words, they thought it was the voice of the

storm; nor could it be theirs to see this Elysium of the deep, for when

the ship sank they were drowned, and only reached the Merman's palace in

death. When the elder sisters rose up in this manner, arm-in-arm, in the

evening, the youngest remained behind quite alone, looking after them as

if she must weep; but mermaids have no tears, and so they suffer all the


'Oh! if I were only fifteen!' she said, 'I know how fond I shall be of

the world above, and of the mortals who dwell there.'

At last her fifteenth birthday came.

'Now we shall have you off our hands,' said her grandmother, the old

queen-dowager. 'Come now, let me adorn you like your other sisters!' and

she put a wreath of white lilies round her hair, but every petal of the

flowers was half a pearl; then the old queen had eight oysters fixed on

to the princess's tail to show her high rank.

'But it hurts so!' said the little mermaid.

'You must endure the pain for the sake of the finery!' said her


But oh! how gladly would she have shaken off all this splendour, and

laid aside the heavy wreath. Her red flowers in her garden suited her

much better, but she did not dare to make any alteration. 'Good-bye,'

she said, and mounted as lightly and airily as a bubble through the


The sun had just set when her head rose above the water, but the clouds

were still lighted up with a rosy and golden splendour, and the evening

star sparkled in the soft pink sky, the air was mild and fresh, and the

sea as calm as a millpond. A big three-masted ship lay close by with

only a single sail set, for there was not a breath of wind, and the

sailors were sitting about the rigging, on the cross-trees, and at the

mast-heads. There was music and singing on board, and as the evening

closed in hundreds of gaily coloured lanterns were lighted--they looked

like the flags of all nations waving in the air. The little mermaid swam

right up to the cabin windows, and every time she was lifted by the

swell she could see through the transparent panes crowds of gaily

dressed people. The handsomest of them all was the young prince with

large dark eyes; he could not be much more than sixteen, and all these

festivities were in honour of his birthday. The sailors danced on deck,

and when the prince appeared among them hundreds of rockets were let off

making it as light as day, and frightening the little mermaid so much

that she had to dive under the water. She soon ventured up again, and it

was just as if all the stars of heaven were falling in showers round

about her. She had never seen such magic fires. Great suns whirled

round, gorgeous fire-fish hung in the blue air, and all was reflected

in the calm and glassy sea. It was so light on board the ship that every

little rope could be seen, and the people still better. Oh, how handsome

the prince was! how he laughed and smiled as he greeted his guests,

while the music rang out in the quiet night.

It got quite late, but the little mermaid could not take her eyes off

the ship and the beautiful prince. The coloured lanterns were put out,

no more rockets were sent up, and the cannon had ceased its thunder, but

deep down in the sea there was a dull murmuring and moaning sound.

Meanwhile she was rocked up and down on the waves, so that she could

look into the cabin; but the ship got more and more way on, sail after

sail was filled by the wind, the waves grew stronger, great clouds

gathered, and it lightened in the distance. Oh, there was going to be a

fearful storm! and soon the sailors had to shorten sail. The great ship

rocked and rolled as she dashed over the angry sea, the black waves rose

like mountains, high enough to overwhelm her, but she dived like a swan

through them and rose again and again on their towering crests. The

little mermaid thought it a most amusing race, but not so the sailors.

The ship creaked and groaned; the mighty timbers bulged and bent under

the heavy blows; the water broke over the decks, snapping the main mast

like a reed; she heeled over on her side, and the water rushed into the


Now the little mermaid saw that they were in danger, and she had for

her own sake to beware of the floating beams and wreckage. One moment it

was so pitch dark that she could not see at all, but when the lightning

flashed it became so light that she could see all on board. Every man

was looking out for his own safety as best he could; but she more

particularly followed the young prince with her eyes, and when the ship

went down she saw him sink in the deep sea. At first she was quite

delighted, for now he was coming to be with her, but then she remembered

that human beings could not live under water, and that only if he were

dead could he go to her father's palace. No! he must not die; so she

swam towards him all among the drifting beams and planks, quite

forgetting that they might crush her. She dived deep down under the

water, and came up again through the waves, and at last reached the

young prince just as he was becoming unable to swim any further in the

stormy sea. His limbs were numbed, his beautiful eyes were closing, and

he must have died if the little mermaid had not come to the rescue. She

held his head above the water and let the waves drive them whithersoever

they would.

By daybreak all the storm was over, of the ship not a trace was to be

seen; the sun rose from the water in radiant brilliance, and his rosy

beams seemed to cast a glow of life into the prince's cheeks, but his

eyes remained closed. The mermaid kissed his fair and lofty brow, and

stroked back the dripping hair; it seemed to her that he was like the

marble statue in her little garden; she kissed him again and longed that

he might live.

At last she saw dry land before her, high blue mountains on whose

summits the white snow glistened as if a flock of swans had settled

there; down by the shore were beautiful green woods, and in the

foreground a church or temple, she did not quite know which, but it was

a building of some sort. Lemon and orange trees grew in the garden, and

lofty palms stood by the gate. At this point the sea formed a little bay

where the water was quite calm, but very deep, right up to the cliffs;

at their foot was a strip of fine white sand to which she swam with the

beautiful prince, and laid him down on it, taking great care that his

head should rest high up in the warm sunshine.

The bells now began to ring in the great white building, and a number of

young maidens came into the garden. Then the little mermaid swam further

off behind some high rocks and covered her hair and breast with foam, so

that no one should see her little face, and then she watched to see who

would discover the poor prince.

His limbs were numbed, his beautiful eyes were closing,

and he must have died if the little mermaid had not come to the


It was not long before one of the maidens came up to him. At first she

seemed quite frightened, but only for a moment, and then she fetched

several others, and the mermaid saw that the prince was coming to life,

and that he smiled at all those around him, but he never smiled at her.

You see he did not know that she had saved him. She felt so sad

that when he was led away into the great building she dived sorrowfully

into the water and made her way home to her father's palace.

Always silent and thoughtful, she became more so now than ever. Her

sisters often asked her what she had seen on her first visit to the

surface, but she never would tell them anything.

Many an evening and many a morning she would rise to the place where she

had left the prince. She saw the fruit in the garden ripen, and then

gathered, she saw the snow melt on the mountain-tops, but she never saw

the prince, so she always went home still sadder than before. At home

her only consolation was to sit in her little garden with her arms

twined round the handsome marble statue which reminded her of the

prince. It was all in gloomy shade now, as she had ceased to tend her

flowers, and the garden had become a neglected wilderness of long stalks

and leaves entangled with the branches of the tree.

At last she could not bear it any longer, so she told one of her

sisters, and from her it soon spread to the others, but to no one else

except to one or two other mermaids who only told their dearest friends.

One of these knew all about the prince; she had also seen the

festivities on the ship; she knew where he came from and where his

kingdom was situated.

'Come, little sister!' said the other princesses, and, throwing their

arms round each other's shoulders, they rose from the water in a long

line, just in front of the prince's palace.

It was built of light yellow glistening stone, with great marble

staircases, one of which led into the garden. Magnificent gilded cupolas

rose above the roof, and the spaces between the columns which encircled

the building were filled with life-like marble statues. Through the

clear glass of the lofty windows you could see gorgeous halls adorned

with costly silken hangings, and the pictures on the walls were a sight

worth seeing. In the midst of the central hall a large fountain played,

throwing its jets of spray upwards to a glass dome in the roof, through

which the sunbeams lighted up the water and the beautiful plants which

grew in the great basin.

She knew now where he lived, and often used to go there in the evenings

and by night over the water. She swam much nearer the land than any of

the others dared; she even ventured right up the narrow channel under

the splendid marble terrace which threw a long shadow over the water.

She used to sit here looking at the young prince, who thought he was

quite alone in the clear moonlight.

She saw him many an evening sailing about in his beautiful boat, with

flags waving and music playing; she used to peep through the green

rushes, and if the wind happened to catch her long silvery veil and any

one saw it, they only thought it was a swan flapping its wings.

Many a night she heard the fishermen, who were fishing by torchlight,

talking over the good deeds of the young prince; and she was happy to

think that she had saved his life when he was drifting about on the

waves, half dead, and she could not forget how closely his head had

pressed her breast, and how passionately she had kissed him; but he knew

nothing of all this, and never saw her even in his dreams.

She became fonder and fonder of mankind, and longed more and more to be

able to live among them; their world seemed so infinitely bigger than

hers; with their ships they could scour the ocean, they could ascend the

mountains high above the clouds, and their wooded, grass-grown lands

extended further than her eye could reach. There was so much that she

wanted to know, but her sisters could not give an answer to all her

questions, so she asked her old grandmother, who knew the upper world

well, and rightly called it the country above the sea.

'If men are not drowned,' asked the little mermaid, 'do they live for

ever? Do they not die as we do down here in the sea?'

'Yes,' said the old lady, 'they have to die too, and their lifetime is

even shorter than ours. We may live here for three hundred years, but

when we cease to exist we become mere foam on the water and do not have

so much as a grave among our dear ones. We have no immortal souls; we

have no future life; we are just like the green sea-weed, which, once

cut down, can never revive again! Men, on the other hand, have a soul

which lives for ever, lives after the body has become dust; it rises

through the clear air, up to the shining stars! Just as we rise from the

water to see the land of mortals, so they rise up to unknown beautiful

regions which we shall never see.'

'Why have we no immortal souls?' asked the little mermaid sadly. 'I

would give all my three hundred years to be a human being for one day,

and afterwards to have a share in the heavenly kingdom.'

'You must not be thinking about that,' said the grandmother; 'we are

much better off and happier than human beings.'

'Then I shall have to die and to float as foam on the water, and never

hear the music of the waves or see the beautiful flowers or the red sun!

Is there nothing I can do to gain an immortal soul?'

'No,' said the grandmother; 'only if a human being so loved you that you

were more to him than father or mother, if all his thoughts and all his

love were so centred in you that he would let the priest join your hands

and would vow to be faithful to you here, and to all eternity; then your

body would become infused with his soul. Thus, and only thus, could you

gain a share in the felicity of mankind. He would give you a soul while

yet keeping his own. But that can never happen! That which is your

greatest beauty in the sea, your fish's tail, is thought hideous up on

earth, so little do they understand about it; to be pretty there you

must have two clumsy supports which they call legs!'

Then the little mermaid sighed and looked sadly at her fish's tail.

'Let us be happy,' said the grandmother; 'we will hop and skip during

our three hundred years of life; it is surely a long enough time; and

after it is over we shall rest all the better in our graves. There is to

be a court ball to-night.'

This was a much more splendid affair than we ever see on earth. The

walls and the ceiling of the great ballroom were of thick but

transparent glass. Several hundreds of colossal mussel shells, rose red

and grass green, were ranged in order round the sides holding blue

lights, which illuminated the whole room and shone through the walls, so

that the sea outside was quite lit up. You could see countless fish,

great and small, swimming towards the glass walls, some with shining

scales of crimson hue, while others were golden and silvery. In the

middle of the room was a broad stream of running water, and on this the

mermaids and mermen danced to their own beautiful singing. No earthly

beings have such lovely voices. The little mermaid sang more sweetly

than any of them, and they all applauded her. For a moment she felt glad

at heart, for she knew that she had the finest voice either in the sea

or on land. But she soon began to think again about the upper world, she

could not forget the handsome prince and her sorrow in not possessing,

like him, an immortal soul. Therefore she stole out of her father's

palace, and while all within was joy and merriment, she sat sadly in her

little garden. Suddenly she heard the sound of a horn through the water,

and she thought, 'Now he is out sailing up there; he whom I love more

than father or mother, he to whom my thoughts cling and to whose hands I

am ready to commit the happiness of my life. I will dare anything to win

him and to gain 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

very much afraid; she will perhaps be able to advise and help me!'

Thereupon the little mermaid left the garden and went towards the

roaring whirlpools at the back of which the witch lived. She had never

been that way before; no flowers grew there, no seaweed, only the bare

grey sands, stretched towards the whirlpools, which like rushing

mill-wheels swirled round, dragging everything that came within reach

down to the depths. She had to pass between these boiling eddies to

reach the witch's domain, and for a long way the only path led over warm

bubbling mud, which the witch called her 'peat bog.' Her house stood

behind this in the midst of a weird forest. All the trees and bushes

were polyps, half animal and half plant; they looked like hundred-headed

snakes growing out of the sand, the branches were long slimy arms, with

tentacles like wriggling worms, every joint of which, from the root to

the outermost tip, was in constant motion. They wound themselves tightly

round whatever they could lay hold of and never let it escape. The

little mermaid standing outside was quite frightened, her heart beat

fast with terror and she nearly turned back, but then she remembered the

prince and the immortal soul of mankind and took courage. She bound her

long flowing hair tightly round her head, so that the polyps should not

seize her by it, folded her hands over her breast, and darted like a

fish through the water, in between the hideous polyps, which stretched

out their sensitive arms and tentacles towards her. She could see that

every one of them had something or other, which they had grasped with

their hundred arms, and which they held as if in iron bands. The

bleached bones of men who had perished at sea and sunk below peeped

forth from the arms of some, while others clutched rudders and

sea-chests, or the skeleton of some land animal; and most horrible of

all, a little mermaid whom they had caught and suffocated. Then she came

to a large opening in the wood where the ground was all slimy, and where

some huge fat water snakes were gambolling about. In the middle of this

opening was a house built of the bones of the wrecked; there sat the

witch, letting a toad eat out of her mouth, just as mortals let a little

canary eat sugar. She called the hideous water snakes her little

chickens, and allowed them to crawl about on her unsightly bosom.

'I know very well what you have come here for,' said the witch. 'It is

very foolish of you! all the same you shall have your way, because it

will lead you into misfortune, my fine princess. You want to get rid of

your fish's tail, and instead to have two stumps to walk about upon like

human beings, so that the young prince may fall in love with you, and

that you may win him and an immortal soul.' Saying this, she gave such a

loud hideous laugh that the toad and the snakes fell to the ground and

wriggled about there.

'You are just in the nick of time,' said the witch; 'after sunrise

to-morrow I should not be able to help you until another year had run

its course. I will make you a potion, and before sunrise you must swim

ashore with it, seat yourself on the beach and drink it; then your tail

will divide and shrivel up to what men call beautiful legs. But it

hurts; it is as if a sharp sword were running through you. All who see

you will say that you are the most beautiful child of man they have ever

seen. You will keep your gliding gait, no dancer will rival you, but

every step you take will be as if you were treading upon sharp knives,

so sharp as to draw blood. If you are willing to suffer all this I am

ready to help you!'

'Yes!' said the little princess with a trembling voice, thinking of the

prince and of winning an undying soul.

'But remember,' said the witch, 'when once you have received a human

form, you can never be a mermaid again; you will never again be able to

dive down through the water to your sisters and to your father's palace.

And if you do not succeed in winning the prince's love, so that for your

sake he will forget father and mother, cleave to you with his whole

heart, let the priest join your hands and make you man and wife, you

will gain no immortal soul! The first morning after his marriage with

another your heart will break, and you will turn into foam of the sea.'

'I will do it,' said the little mermaid as pale as death.

'But you will have to pay me, too,' said the witch, 'and it is no trifle

that I demand. You have the most beautiful voice of any at the bottom of

the sea, and I daresay that you think you will fascinate him with it;

but you must give me that voice; I will have the best you possess in

return for my precious potion! I have to mingle my own blood with it so

as to make it as sharp as a two-edged sword.'

'But if you take my voice,' said the little mermaid, 'what have I left?'

'Your beautiful form,' said the witch, 'your gliding gait, and your

speaking eyes; with these you ought surely to be able to bewitch a human

heart. Well! have you lost courage? Put out your little tongue, and I

will cut it off in payment for the powerful draught.'

'Let it be done,' said the little mermaid, and the witch put on her

caldron to brew the magic potion. 'There is nothing like cleanliness,'

said she, as she scoured the pot with a bundle of snakes; then she

punctured her breast and let the black blood drop into the caldron, and

the steam took the most weird shapes, enough to frighten any one. Every

moment the witch threw new ingredients into the pot, and when it boiled

the bubbling was like the sound of crocodiles weeping. At last the

potion was ready and it looked like the clearest water.

'There it is,' said the witch, and thereupon she cut off the tongue of

the little mermaid, who was dumb now and could neither sing nor speak.

'If the polyps should seize you, when you go back through my wood,' said

the witch, 'just drop a single drop of this liquid on them, and their

arms and fingers will burst into a thousand pieces.' But the little

mermaid had no need to do this, for at the mere sight of the bright

liquid, which sparkled in her hand like a shining star, they drew back

in terror. So she soon got past the wood, the bog, and the eddying


She saw her father's palace; the lights were all out in the great

ballroom, and no doubt all the household was asleep, but she did not

dare to go in now that she was dumb and about to leave her home for

ever. She felt as if her heart would break with grief. She stole into

the garden and plucked a flower from each of her sisters' plots, wafted

with her hand countless kisses towards the palace, and then rose up

through the dark blue water.

But the little mermaid had no need to do this, for at

the mere sight of the bright liquid which sparkled in her hand like a

shining star, they drew back in terror

The sun had not risen when she came in sight of the prince's palace

and landed at the beautiful marble steps. The moon was shining bright

and clear. The little mermaid drank the burning, stinging draught, and

it was like a sharp, two-edged sword running through her tender frame;

she fainted away and lay as if she were dead. When the sun rose on the

sea she woke up and became conscious of a sharp pang, but just in front

of her stood the handsome young prince, fixing his coal black eyes on

her; she cast hers down and saw that her fish's tail was gone, and that

she had the prettiest little white legs any maiden could desire; but she

was quite naked, so she wrapped her long thick hair around her. The

prince asked who she was and how she came there. She looked at him

tenderly and with a sad expression in her dark blue eyes, but could not

speak. Then he took her by the hand and led her into the palace. Every

step she took was, as the witch had warned her beforehand, as if she

were treading on sharp knives and spikes, but she bore it gladly; led by

the prince, she moved as lightly as a bubble, and he and every one else

marvelled at her graceful gliding gait.

Clothed in the costliest silks and muslins she was the greatest beauty

in the palace, but she was dumb, and could neither sing nor speak.

Beautiful slaves clad in silks and gold came forward and sang to the

prince and his royal parents; one of them sang better than all the

others, and the prince clapped his hands and smiled at her; that made

the little mermaid very sad, for she knew that she used to sing far

better herself. She thought, 'Oh! if he only knew that for the sake of

being with him I had given up my voice for ever!' Now the slaves began

to dance, graceful undulating dances to enchanting music; thereupon the

little mermaid, lifting her beautiful white arms and raising herself on

tiptoe, glided on the floor with a grace which none of the other dancers

had yet attained. With every motion her grace and beauty became more

apparent, and her eyes appealed more deeply to the heart than the songs

of the slaves. Every one was delighted with it, especially the prince,

who called her his little foundling; and she danced on and on,

notwithstanding that every time her foot touched the ground it was like

treading on sharp knives. The prince said that she should always be near

him, and she was allowed to sleep outside his door on a velvet cushion.

He had a man's dress made for her, so that she could ride about with

him. They used to ride through scented woods, where the green branches

brushed her shoulders, and little birds sang among the fresh leaves. She

climbed up the highest mountains with the prince, and although her

delicate feet bled so that others saw it, she only laughed and followed

him until they saw the clouds sailing below them like a flock of birds,

taking flight to distant lands.

The prince asked who she was and how she came there; she

looked at him tenderly and with a sad expression in her dark blue eyes,

but could not speak

At home in the prince's palace, when at night the others were

asleep, she used to go out on to the marble steps; it cooled her

burning feet to stand in the cold sea-water, and at such times she used

to think of those she had left in the deep.

One night her sisters came arm in arm; they sang so sorrowfully as they

swam on the water that she beckoned to them, and they recognised her,

and told her how she had grieved them all. After that they visited her

every night, and one night she saw, a long way out, her old grandmother

(who for many years had not been above the water), and the Merman King

with his crown on his head; they stretched out their hands towards her,

but did not venture so close to land as her sisters.

Day by day she became dearer to the prince; he loved her as one loves a

good sweet child, but it never entered his head to make her his queen;

yet unless she became his wife she would never win an everlasting soul,

but on his wedding morning would turn to sea-foam.

'Am I not dearer to you than any of them?' the little mermaid's eyes

seemed to say when he took her in his arms and kissed her beautiful


'Yes, you are the dearest one to me,' said the prince, 'for you have the

best heart of them all, and you are fondest of me; you are also like a

young girl I once saw, but whom I never expect to see again. I was on

board a ship which was wrecked; I was driven on shore by the waves close

to a holy Temple where several young girls were ministering at a

service; the youngest of them found me on the beach and saved my life; I

saw her but twice. She was the only person I could love in this world,

but you are like her, you almost drive her image out of my heart. She

belongs to the holy Temple, and therefore by good fortune you have been

sent to me; we will never part!'

'Alas! he does not know that it was I who saved his life,' thought the

little mermaid. 'I bore him over the sea to the wood where the Temple

stands. I sat behind the foam and watched to see if any one would come.

I saw the pretty girl he loves better than me.' And the mermaid heaved a

bitter sigh, for she could not weep.

'The girl belongs to the holy Temple, he has said; she will never return

to the world, they will never meet again. I am here with him; I see him

every day. Yes! I will tend him, love him, and give up my life to him.'

But now the rumour ran that the prince was to be married to the

beautiful daughter of a neighbouring king, and for that reason was

fitting out a splendid ship. It was given out that the prince was going

on a voyage to see the adjoining countries, but it was without doubt to

see the king's daughter; he was to have a great suite with him. But the

little mermaid shook her head and laughed; she knew the prince's

intentions much better than any of the others. 'I must take this

voyage,' he had said to her; 'I must go and see the beautiful princess;

my parents demand that, but they will never force me to bring her home

as my bride; I can never love her! She will not be like the lovely girl

in the Temple whom you resemble. If ever I had to choose a bride it

would sooner be you with your speaking eyes, my sweet, dumb foundling!'

And he kissed her rosy mouth, played with her long hair, and laid his

head upon her heart, which already dreamt of human joys and an immortal


'You are not frightened of the sea, I suppose, my dumb child?' he said,

as they stood on the proud ship which was to carry them to the country

of the neighbouring king; and he told her about storms and calms, about

curious fish in the deep, and the marvels seen by divers; and she smiled

at his tales, for she knew all about the bottom of the sea much better

than any one else.

At night, in the moonlight, when all were asleep, except the steersman

who stood at the helm, she sat at the side of the ship trying to pierce

the clear water with her eyes, and fancied she saw her father's palace,

and above it her old grandmother with her silver crown on her head,

looking up through the cross currents towards the keel of the ship. Then

her sisters rose above the water; they gazed sadly at her, wringing

their white hands. She beckoned to them, smiled, and was about to tell

them that all was going well and happily with her, when the cabin-boy

approached, and the sisters dived down, but he supposed that the white

objects he had seen were nothing but flakes of foam.

The next morning the ship entered the harbour of the neighbouring king's

magnificent city. The church bells rang and trumpets were sounded from

every lofty tower, while the soldiers paraded with flags flying and

glittering bayonets. There was a _fete_ every day, there was a

succession of balls, and receptions followed one after the other, but

the princess was not yet present; she was being brought up a long way

off, in a holy Temple they said, and was learning all the royal virtues.

At last she came. The little mermaid stood eager to see her beauty, and

she was obliged to confess that a lovelier creature she had never

beheld. Her complexion was exquisitely pure and delicate, and her

trustful eyes of the deepest blue shone through their dark lashes.

'It is you,' said the prince, 'you who saved me when I lay almost

lifeless on the beach?' and he clasped his blushing bride to his heart.

'Oh! I am too happy!' he exclaimed to the little mermaid.

'A greater joy than I had dared to hope for has come to pass. You will

rejoice at my joy, for you love me better than any one.' Then the little

mermaid kissed his hand, and felt as if her heart were broken already.

His wedding morn would bring death to her and change her to foam.

All the church bells pealed and heralds rode through the town

proclaiming the nuptials. Upon every altar throughout the land fragrant

oil was burnt in costly silver lamps. Amidst the swinging of censers by

the priests the bride and bridegroom joined hands and received the

bishop's blessing. The little mermaid dressed in silk and gold stood

holding the bride's train, but her ears were deaf to the festal strains,

her eyes saw nothing of the sacred ceremony; she was thinking of her

coming death and of all that she had lost in this world.

That same evening the bride and bridegroom embarked, amidst the roar of

cannon and the waving of banners. A royal tent of purple and gold softly

cushioned was raised amidships where the bridal pair were to repose

during the calm cool night.

The sails swelled in the wind and the ship skimmed lightly and almost

without motion over the transparent sea.

At dusk lanterns of many colours were lighted and the sailors danced

merrily on deck. The little mermaid could not help thinking of the first

time she came up from the sea and saw the same splendour and gaiety; and

she now threw herself among the dancers, whirling, as a swallow skims

through the air when pursued. The onlookers cheered her in amazement,

never had she danced so divinely; her delicate feet pained her as if

they were cut with knives, but she did not feel it, for the pain at her

heart was much sharper. She knew that it was the last night that she

would breathe the same air as he, and would look upon the mighty deep,

and the blue starry heavens; an endless night without thought and

without dreams awaited her, who neither had a soul, nor could win one.

The joy and revelry on board lasted till long past midnight; she went on

laughing and dancing with the thought of death all the time in her

heart. The prince caressed his lovely bride and she played with his

raven locks, and with their arms entwined they retired to the gorgeous

tent. All became hushed and still on board the ship, only the steersman

stood at the helm; the little mermaid laid her white arms on the gunwale

and looked eastwards for the pink-tinted dawn; the first sunbeam, she

knew, would be her death. Then she saw her sisters rise from the water;

they were as pale as she was; their beautiful long hair no longer

floated on the breeze, for it had been cut off.

Once more she looked at the prince, with her eyes

already dimmed by death, then dashed overboard and fell, her body

dissolving into foam

'We have given it to the witch to obtain her help, so that you may not

die to-night! She has given us a knife; here it is, look how sharp it

is! Before the sun rises, you must plunge it into the prince's heart,

and when his warm blood sprinkles your feet they will join together and

grow into a tail, and you will once more be a mermaid; you will be able

to come down into the water to us, and to live out your three hundred

years before you are turned into dead, salt sea-foam. Make haste! you or

he must die before sunrise! Our old grandmother is so full of grief that

her white hair has fallen off as ours fell under the witch's scissors.

Slay the prince and come back to us! Quick! Quick! do you not see

the rosy streak in the sky? In a few minutes the sun will rise and then

you must die!' saying this they heaved a wondrous deep sigh and sank

among the waves.

The little mermaid drew aside the purple curtain from the tent and

looked at the beautiful bride asleep with her head on the prince's

breast. She bent over him and kissed his fair brow, looked at the sky

where the dawn was spreading fast, looked at the sharp knife, and again

fixed her eyes on the prince, who, in his dream called his bride by

name. Yes! she alone was in his thoughts! For a moment the knife

quivered in her grasp, then she threw it far out among the waves, now

rosy in the morning light, and where it fell the water bubbled up like

drops of blood.

Once more she looked at the prince, with her eyes already dimmed by

death, then dashed overboard and fell, her body dissolving into foam.

Now the sun rose from the sea and with its kindly beams warmed the

deadly cold foam, so that the little mermaid did not feel the chill of

death. She saw the bright sun, and above her floated hundreds of

beauteous ethereal beings, through which she could see the white ship

and the rosy heavens; their voices were melodious, but so spirit-like

that no human ear could hear them, any more than earthly eye could see

their forms. Light as bubbles they floated through the air without the

aid of wings. The little mermaid perceived that she had a form like

theirs; it gradually took shape out of the foam. 'To whom am I coming?'

said she, and her voice sounded like that of the other beings, so

unearthly in its beauty that no music of ours could reproduce it.

'To the daughters of the air!' answered the others; 'a mermaid has no

undying soul, and can never gain one without winning the love of a human

being. Her eternal life must depend upon an unknown power. Nor have the

daughters of the air an everlasting soul, but by their own good deeds

they may create one for themselves. We fly to the tropics where mankind

is the victim of hot and pestilent winds; there we bring cooling

breezes. We diffuse the scent of flowers all around, and bring

refreshment and healing in our train. When, for three hundred years, we

have laboured to do all the good in our power, we gain an undying soul

and take a part in the everlasting joys of mankind. You, poor little

mermaid, have with your whole heart struggled for the same thing as we

have struggled for. You have suffered and endured, raised yourself to

the spirit-world of the air, and now, by your own good deeds you may, in

the course of three hundred years, work out for yourself an undying


Then the little mermaid lifted her transparent arms towards God's sun,

and for the first time shed tears.

On board ship all was again life and bustle. She saw the prince with his

lovely bride searching for her; they looked sadly at the bubbling foam,

as if they knew that she had thrown herself into the waves. Unseen she

kissed the bride on her brow, smiled at the prince, and rose aloft with

the other spirits of the air to the rosy clouds which sailed above.

'In three hundred years we shall thus float into Paradise.'

'We might reach it sooner,' whispered one. 'Unseen we flit into those

homes of men where there are children, and for every day that we find a

good child who gives pleasure to its parents and deserves their love God

shortens our time of probation. The child does not know when we fly

through the room, and when we smile with pleasure at it one year of our

three hundred is taken away. But if we see a naughty or badly disposed

child, we cannot help shedding tears of sorrow, and every tear adds a

day to the time of our probation.'