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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 2

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.


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