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Fabulous Fairy Tales for children and adults. From our vast collection of old traditional fairy tales and fables.

The Little Mermaid - Part 1

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.



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