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Den lille Havfrue

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Langt ude i Havet er Vandet saa blaat, som Bladene paa den deiligste Kornblomst og saa klart, som den reneste Glas, men det er meget dybt, dybere end noget Ankertoug naaer, mange Kirketaarne maatte stilles ovenpaa hinanden, for at række fra Bunden op over Vandet. Dernede boe Havfolkene.

Nu maa man slet ikke troe, at der kun er den nøgne hvide Sandbund; nei, der voxe de forunderligste Træer og Planter, som ere saa smidige i Stilk og Blade, at de ved den mindste Bevægelse af Vandet røre sig, ligesom de vare levende. Alle Fiskene, smaae og store, smutte imellem Grenene, ligesom heroppe Fuglene i Luften. Paa det allerdybeste Sted ligger Havkongens Slot, Murene ere af Coraller og de lange spidse Vinduer af det allerklareste Rav, men Taget er Muslingeskaller, der aabne og lukke sig, eftersom Vandet gaaer; det seer deiligt ud; thi i hver ligge straalende Perler, een eneste vilde være stor Stads i en Dronnings Krone.
Havkongen dernede havde i mange Aar været Enkemand, men hans gamle Moder holdt Huus for ham, hun var en klog Kone, men stolt af sin Adel, derfor gik hun med tolv Østers paa Halen, de andre Fornemme maatte kun bære sex. - Ellers fortjente hun megen Roes, især fordi hun holdt saa meget af de smaa Havprindsesser, hendes Sønnedøttre. De vare 6 deilige Børn, men den yngste var den smukkeste af dem allesammen, hendes Hud var saa klar og skjær som et Rosenblad, hendes Øine saa blaa, som den dybeste Sø, men ligesom alle de andre havde hun ingen Fødder, Kroppen endte i en Fiskehale.
Hele den lange Dag kunde de lege nede i Slottet, i de store Sale, hvor levende Blomster voxte ud af Væggene. De store Rav-Vinduer bleve lukkede op, og saa svømmede Fiskene ind til dem, ligesom hos os Svalerne flyve ind, naar vi lukke op, men Fiskene svømmede lige hen til de smaae Prindsesser, spiste af deres Haand og lod sig klappe.
Udenfor Slottet var en stor Have med ildrøde og mørkeblaae Træer, Frugterne straalede som Guld, og Blomsterne som en brændende Ild, i det de altid bevægede Stilk og Blade. Jorden selv var det fineste Sand, men blaat, som Svovl-Lue. Over det Hele dernede laae et forunderligt blaat Skjær, man skulde snarere troe, at man stod høit oppe i Luften og kun saae Himmel over og under sig, end at man var paa Havets Bund. I Blikstille kunde man øine Solen, den syntes en Purpur-Blomst, fra hvis Bæger det hele Lys udstrømmede.
Hver af de smaa Prindsesser havde sin lille Plet i Haven, hvor hun kunde grave og plante, som hun selv vilde; een gav sin Blomsterplet Skikkelse af en Hvalfisk, en anden syntes bedre om, at hendes lignede en lille Havfrue, men den yngste gjorde sin ganske rund ligesom Solen, og havde kun Blomster, der skinnede røde som den. Hun var et underligt Barn, stille og eftertænksom, og naar de andre Søstre pyntede op med de forunderligste Ting de havde faaet fra strandede Skibe, vilde hun kun, foruden de rosenrøde Blomster, som lignede Solen der høit oppe, have en smuk Marmorstøtte, en deilig Dreng var det, hugget ud af den hvide, klare Steen og ved Stranding kommet ned paa Havbunden. Hun plantede ved Støtten en rosenrød Grædepiil, den voxte herligt, og hang med sine friske Grene udover den, ned mod den blaa Sandbund, hvor Skyggen viste sig violet og var i Bevægelse, ligesom Grenene; det saae ud, som om Top og Rødder legede at kysse hinanden.
Ingen Glæde var hende større, end at høre om Menneskeverdenen derovenfor; den gamle Bedstemoder maatte fortælle alt det hun vidste om Skibe og Byer, Mennesker og Dyr, især syntes det hende forunderligt deiligt, at oppe paa Jorden duftede Blomsterne, det gjorde ikke de paa Havets Bund, og at Skovene vare grønne og de Fisk, som der saaes mellem Grenene, kunde synge saa høit og deiligt, saa det var en Lyst; det var de smaa Fugle, som Bedstemoderen kaldte Fisk, for ellers kunde de ikke forstaae hende, da de ikke havde seet en Fugl.
"Naar I fylde Eders 15 Aar," sagde Bedstemoderen, "saa skulle I faae Lov til at dykke op af Havet, sidde i Maaneskin paa Klipperne og see de store Skibe, som seile forbi, Skove og Byer skulle I see!" I Aaret, som kom, var den ene af Søstrene 15 Aar, men de andre, - ja den ene var et Aar yngre end den anden, den yngste af dem havde altsaa endnu hele fem Aar før hun turde komme op fra Havets Bund og see, hvorledes det saae ud hos os. Men den ene lovede den anden at fortælle, hvad hun havde seet og fundet deiligst den første Dag; thi deres Bedstemoder fortalte dem ikke nok, der var saa meget de maatte have Besked om.
Ingen var saa længselsfuld, som den yngste, just hun, som havde længst Tid at vente og som var saa stille og tankefuld. Mangen Nat stod hun ved det aabne Vindue og saae op igjennem det mørkeblaae Vand, hvor Fiskene sloge med deres Finner og Hale. Maane og Stjerner kunde hun see, rigtignok skinnede de ganske blege, men gjennem Vandet saae de meget større ud end for vore Øine; gled der da ligesom en sort Sky hen under dem, da vidste hun, at det enten var en Hvalfisk, som svømmede over hende, eller ogsaa et Skib med mange Mennesker; de tænkte vist ikke paa, at en deilig lille Havfrue stod nedenfor og rakte sine hvide Hænder op imod Kjølen.
Nu var da den ældste Prindsesse 15 Aar og turde stige op over Havfladen.
Da hun kom tilbage, havde hun hundrede Ting at fortælle, men det deiligste, sagde hun, var at ligge i Maaneskin paa en Sandbanke i den rolige Sø, og see tæt ved Kysten den store Stad, hvor Lysene blinkede, ligesom hundrede Stjerner, høre Musikken og den Larm og Støi af Vogne og Mennesker, see de mange Kirketaarne og Spiir, og høre hvor Klokkerne ringede; just fordi hun ikke kunde komme derop, længtes hun allermeest efter Alt dette.
O! hvor hørte ikke den yngste Søster efter, og naar hun siden om Aftenen stod ved det aabne Vindue og saae op igjennem det mørkeblaae Vand, tænkte hun paa den store Stad med al den Larm og Støi, og da syntes hun at kunne høre Kirkeklokkerne ringe ned til sig.
Aaret efter fik den anden Søster Lov til at stige op gjennem Vandet og svømme hvorhen hun vilde. Hun dykkede op, just i det Solen gik ned, og det Syn fandt hun var det deiligste. Hele Himlen havde seet ud som Guld, sagde hun, og Skyerne, ja, deres Deilighed kunde hun ikke nok beskrive! røde og violette havde de seilet hen over hende, men langt hurtigere, end de, fløi, som et langt hvidt Slør, en Flok af vilde Svaner hen over Vandet hvor Solen stod; hun svømmede henimod den, men den sank og Rosenskjæret slukkedes paa Havfladen og Skyerne.
Aaret efter kom den tredie Søster derop, hun var den dristigste af dem Alle, derfor svømmede hun op ad en bred Flod, der løb ud i Havet. Deilige grønne Høie med Viinranker saae hun, Slotte og Gaarde tittede frem mellem prægtige Skove; hun hørte, hvor alle Fuglene sang og Solen skinnede saa varmt, at hun tidt maatte dykke under Vandet, for at kjøle sit brændende Ansigt. I en lille Bugt traf hun en heel Flok smaa Menneskebørn; ganske nøgne løb de og plaskede i Vandet, hun vilde lege med dem, men de løbe forskrækkede deres Vei, og der kom et lille sort Dyr, det var en Hund, men hun havde aldrig før seet en Hund, den gjøede saa forskrækkeligt af hende, at hun blev angst og søgte ud i den aabne Søe, men aldrig kunde hun glemme de prægtige Skove, de grønne Høie og de nydelige Børn, som kunde svømme paa Vandet, skjøndt de ingen Fiskehale havde.
Den fjerde Søster var ikke saa dristig, hun blev midt ude paa det vilde Hav, og fortalte, at der var just det deiligste; man saae mange Mile bort rundt omkring sig, og Himlen ovenover stod ligesom en stor Glasklokke. Skibe havde hun seet, men langt borte, de saae ud som Strandmaager, de morsomme Delphiner havde slaaet Kolbøtter, og de store Hvalfiske havde sprøitet Vand op af deres Næseboer, saa at det havde seet ud, som hundrede Vandspring rundt om.
Nu kom Touren til den femte Søster; hendes Geburtsdag var just om Vinteren og derfor saae hun, hvad de andre ikke havde seet første Gang. Søen tog sig ganske grøn ud og rundt om svømmede der store Iisbjerge, hvert saae ud som en Perle, sagde hun, og var dog langt større end de Kirketaarne, Menneskene byggede. I de forunderligste Skikkelser viste de sig og glimrede som Diamanter. Hun havde sat sig paa et af de største og alle Seilere krydsede forskrækkede uden om, hvor hun sad og lod Blæsten flyve med sit lange Haar; men ud paa Aftenen blev Himlen overtrukket med Skyer, det lynede og tordnede, medens den sorte Sø løftede de store Iisblokke høit op og lod dem skinne ved de røde Lyn. Paa alle Skibe tog man Seilene ind, der var en Angst og Gru, men hun sad rolig paa sit svømmende Iisbjerg og saae den blaae Lynstraale slaae Zikzak ned i den skinnende Sø.
Den første Gang en af Søstrene kom over Vandet, var enhver altid henrykt over det Nye og Smukke hun saae, men da de nu, som voxne Piger, havde Lov at stige derop naar de vilde, blev det dem ligegyldigt, de længtes igjen efter Hjemmet, og efter en Maaneds Forløb sagde de, at nede hos dem var dog allersmukkest, og der var man saa rart hjemme.
Mangen Aftenstund toge de fem Søstre hinanden i Armene og steeg i Række op over Vandet; deilige Stemmer havde de, smukkere, end noget Menneske, og naar det da trak op til en Storm, saa de kunde troe, at Skibe maatte forlise, svømmede de foran Skibene og sang saa deiligt, om hvor smukt der var paa Havets Bund, og bade Søfolkene, ikke være bange for at komme der ned; men disse kunde ikke forstaae Ordene, de troede, at det var Stormen, og de fik heller ikke Deiligheden dernede at see, thi naar Skibet sank, druknede Menneskene, og kom kun som døde til Havkongens Slot.
Naar Søstrene saaledes om Aftenen, Arm i Arm, steeg høit op gjennem Havet, da stod den lille Søster ganske alene tilbage og saae efter dem, og det var som om hun skulde græde, men Havfruen har ingen Taarer, og saa lider hun meget mere.
"Ak, var jeg dog 15 Aar!" sagde hun, "Jeg veed, at jeg ret vil komme til at holde af den Verden deroven for og af Menneskene, som bygge og boe deroppe!"
Endelig var hun da de 15 Aar.
"See nu have vi dig fra Haanden," sagde hendes Bedstemoder, den gamle Enkedronning. "Kom nu, lad mig pynte dig, ligesom dine andre Søstre!" og hun satte hende en Krands af hvide Lillier paa Haaret, men hvert Blad i Blomsten var det halve af en Perle; og den Gamle lod 8 store Østers klemme sig fast ved Prindsessens Hale, for at vise hendes høie Stand.
"Det gjør ondt!" sagde den lille Havfrue.
"Ja man maa lide noget for Stadsen!" sagde den Gamle.
O! hun vilde saa gjerne have rystet hele denne Pragt af sig og lagt den tunge Krands; hendes røde Blomster i Haven klædte hende meget bedre, men hun turde nu ikke gjøre det om. "Farvel" sagde hun og steg saa let og klar, som en Boble, op gjennem Vandet.
Solen var lige gaaet ned, idet hun løftede sit Hoved op over Havet, men alle Skyerne skinnede endnu som Roser og Guld, og midt i den blegrøde Luft straalede Aftenstjernen saa klart og deiligt, Luften var mild og frisk og Havet blikstille. Der laae et stort Skib med tre Master, et eneste Seil var kun oppe, thi ikke en Vind rørte sig rundt om i Tougværket og paa Stængerne sad Matroser. Der var Musik og Sang, og alt som Aftenen blev mørkere, tændtes hundrede brogede Lygter; de saae ud, som om alle Nationers Flag vaiede i Luften. Den lille Havfrue svømmede lige hen til Kahytvinduet, og hver Gang Vandet løftede hende i Veiret, kunde hun see ind af de speilklare Ruder, hvor saa mange pyntede Mennesker stode, men den smukkeste var dog den unge Prinds med de store sorte Øine, han var vist ikke meget over 16 Aar, det var hans Fødselsdag, og derfor skete al denne Stads. Matroserne dandsede paa Dækket, og da den unge Prinds traadte derud, steg over hundrede Raketter op i Luften, de lyste, som den klare Dag, saa den lille Havfrue blev ganske forskrækket og dukkede ned under Vandet, men hun stak snart Hovedet igjen op, og da var det ligesom om alle Himmelens Stjerner faldt ned til hende. Aldrig havde hun seet saadanne Ildkunster. Store Sole snurrede rundt, prægtige Ildfisk svingede sig i den blaae Luft, og alting skinnede tilbage fra den klare, stille Sø. Paa Skibet selv var saa lyst, at man kunde see hvert lille Toug, sagtens Menneskerne. O hvor dog den unge Prinds var smuk, og han trykkede Folkene i Haanden, loe og smilte, mens Musiken klang i den deilige Nat.
Det blev silde, men den lille Havfrue kunde ikke vende sine Øine bort fra Skibet og fra den deilige Prinds. De brogede Lygter bleve slukkede, Raketterne stege ikke mere i Veiret, der løde heller ingen flere Kanonskud, men dybt nede i Havet summede og brummede det, hun sad imedens paa Vandet og gyngede op og ned, saa at hun kunde see ind i Kahytten; men Skibet tog stærkere Fart, det ene Seil bredte sig ud efter det andet, nu gik Bølgerne stærkere, store Skyer trak op, det lynede langtborte. O, det vilde blive et skrækkeligt Veir! derfor toge Matroserne Seilene ind. Det store Skib gyngede i flyvende Fart paa den vilde Sø, Vandet reiste sig, ligesom store sorte Bjerge, der vilde vælte over Masten, men Skibet dykkede, som en Svane, ned imellem de høie Bølger og lod sig igjen løfte op paa de taarnende Vande. Det syntes den lille Havfrue just var en morsom Fart, men det syntes Søfolkene ikke, Skibet knagede og bragede, de tykke Planker bugnede ved de stærke Stød, Søen gjorde ind mod Skibet, Masten knak midt over, ligesom den var et Rør, og Skibet slængrede paa Siden, mens Vandet trængte ind i Rummet. Nu saae den lille Havfrue, at de vare i Fare, hun maatte selv tage sig i Agt for Bjelker og Stumper af Skibet, der dreve paa Vandet. Eet Øieblik var det saa kullende mørkt, at hun ikke kunde øine det mindste, men naar det saa lynede, blev det igjen saa klart, at hun kjendte dem alle paa Skibet; hver tumlede sig det bedste han kunde; den unge Prinds søgte hun især efter, og hun saae ham, da Skibet skiltes ad, synke ned i den dybe Sø. Ligestrax blev hun ganske fornøiet, for nu kom han ned til hende, men saa huskede hun, at Menneskene ikke kunne leve i Vandet, og at han ikke, uden som død, kunde komme ned til hendes Faders Slot. Nei døe, det maatte han ikke; derfor svømmede hun hen mellem Bjelker og Planker, der dreve paa Søen, glemte reent, at de kunde have knust hende, hun dykkede dybt under Vandet og steg igjen høit op imellem Bølgerne, og kom saa tilsidst hen til den unge Prinds, som næsten ikke kunde svømme længer i den stormende Sø, hans Arme og Been begyndte at blive matte, de smukke Øine lukkede sig, han havde maattet døe, var ikke den lille Havfrue kommet til. Hun holdt hans Hoved op over Vandet, og lod saa Bølgerne drive hende med ham, hvorhen de vilde.
I Morgenstunden var det onde Veir forbi; af Skibet var ikke en Spaan at see, Solen steg saa rød og skinnende op af Vandet, det var ligesom om Prindsens Kinder fik liv derved, men Øinene bleve lukkede; Havfruen kyssede hans høie smukke Pande og strøg hans vaade Haar tilbage; hun syntes, han lignede Marmorstøtten nede i hendes lille Have, hun kyssede ham igjen, og ønskede, at han dog maatte leve.
Nu saae hun foran sig det faste Land, høie blaae Bjerge, paa hvis Top den hvide Snee skinnede, som var det Svaner, der laae; nede ved Kysten vare deilige grønne Skove, og foran laae en Kirke eller et Kloster, det vidste hun ikke ret, men en Bygning var det. Citron- og Apelsintræer voxte der i Haven, og foran Porten stode høie Palmetræer. Søen gjorde her en lille Bugt, der var blikstille, men meget dybt, lige hen til Klippen, hvor det hvide fine Sand var skyllet op, her svømmede hun hen med den smukke Prinds, lagde ham i Sandet, men sørgede især for, at Hovedet laae høit i det varme Solskin.
Nu ringede Klokkerne i den store hvide Bygning, og der kom mange unge Piger gjennem Haven. Da svømmede den lille Havfrue længer ud bag nogle høie Stene, som ragede op af Vandet, lagde Sø-Skum paa sit Haar og sit Bryst, saa at ingen kunde see hendes lille Ansigt, og da passede hun paa, hvem der kom til den stakkels Prinds.
Det varede ikke længe, før en ung Pige kom derhen, hun syntes at blive ganske forskrækket, men kun et Øieblik, saa hentede hun flere Mennesker, og Havfruen saae, at Prindsen fik Liv, og han smilte til dem alle rundt omkring, men ud til hende smilte han ikke, han vidste jo ikke heller, at hun havde reddet ham, hun følte sig saa bedrøvet, og da han blev ført ind i den store Bygning, dykkede hun sorrigfuld ned i Vandet og søgte hjem til sin Faders Slot.
Altid havde hun været stille og tankefuld, men nu blev hun det meget mere. Søstrene spurgte hende, hvad hun havde seet den første Gang deroppe, men hun fortalte ikke noget.
Mangen Aften og Morgen steg hun op der, hvor hun havde forladt Prindsen. Hun saae, hvor Havens Frugter modnedes og blev afplukkede, hun saae, hvor Sneen smeltede paa de høie Bjerge, men Prindsen saae hun ikke, og derfor vendte hun altid endnu mere bedrøvet hjem. Der var det hendes eneste Trøst, at sidde i sin lille Have og slynge sine Arme om den smukke Marmorstøtte, som lignede Prindsen, men sine Blomster passede hun ikke, de voxte, som i et Vildnis, ud over Gangene og flettede deres lange Stilke og Blade ind i Træernes Grene, saa der var ganske dunkelt.
Tilsidst kunde hun ikke længer holde det ud, men sagde det til een af sine Søstre, og saa fik strax alle de andre det at vide, men heller ingen flere, end de og et Par andre Havfruer, som ikke sagde det uden til deres nærmeste Veninder. Een af dem vidste Besked, hvem Prindsen var, hun havde ogsaa seet Stadsen paa Skibet, vidste, hvorfra han var, og hvor hans Kongerige laae.
"Kom lille Søster!" sagde de andre Prindsesser, og med Armene om hinandens Skuldre stege de i en lang Række op af Havet foran, hvor de vidste Prindsens Slot laae.
Dette var opført af en lyseguul glindsende Steenart, med store Marmortrapper, een gik lige ned til Havet. Prægtige forgyldte Kupler hævede sig over Taget, og mellem Søilerne, som gik rundt om hele Bygningen, stode Marmorbilleder, der saae ud, som levende. Gjennem det klare Glas i de høie Vinduer saae man ind i de prægtigste Sale, hvor kostelige Silkegardiner og Tepper vare ophængte, og alle Væggene pyntede med store Malerier, som det ret var en Fornøielse at see paa. Midt i den største Sal pladskede et stort Springvand, Straalerne stode høit op mod Glaskuppelen i Loftet, hvorigjennem Solen skinnede paa Vandet og paa de deilige Planter, der voxte i det store Bassin.
Nu vidste hun, hvor han boede, og der kom hun mangen Aften og Nat paa Vandet; hun svømmede meget nærmere Land, end nogen af de andre havde vovet, ja hun gik heelt op i den smalle Canal, under den prægtige Marmor Altan, der kastede en lang Skygge hen over Vandet. Her sad hun og saae paa den unge Prinds, der troede, han var ganske ene i det klare Maaneskin.
Hun saae ham mangen Aften seile med Musik i sin prægtige Baad, hvor Flaggene vaiede; hun tittede frem mellem de grønne Siv, og tog Vinden i hendes lange sølvhvide Slør og Nogen saae det, tænkte de, det var en Svane, som løftede Vingerne.
Hun hørte mangen Nat, naar Fiskerne laae med Blus paa Søen, at de fortalte saa meget godt om den unge Prinds, og det glædede hende, at hun havde frelst hans Liv, da han halvdød drev om paa Bølgerne, og hun tænkte paa, hvor fast hans Hoved havde hvilet paa hendes Bryst, og hvor inderligt hun da kyssede ham; han vidste slet intet derom, kunde ikke engang drømme om hende.
Meer og meer kom hun til at holde af Menneskene, meer og meer ønskede hun at kunne stige op imellem dem; deres Verden syntes hun var langt større, end hendes; de kunde jo paa Skibe flyve hen over Havet, stige paa de høie Bjerge høit over Skyerne, og Landene, de eiede, strakte sig, med Skove og Marker, længer, end hun kunde øine. Der var saa meget hun gad vide, men Søstrene vidste ikke at give Svar paa Alt, derfor spurgte hun den gamle Bedstemoder og hun kjendte godt til den høiere Verden, som hun meget rigtigt kaldte Landene ovenfor Havet.
"Naar Menneskene ikke drukne," spurgte den lille Havfrue, "kunne de da altid leve, døe de ikke, som vi hernede paa Havet?"
"Jo!" sagde den gamle, "de maae ogsaa døe, og deres Levetid er endogsaa kortere end vor. Vi kunne blive tre hundrede Aar, men naar vi saa høre op at være til her, blive vi kun Skum paa Vandet, have ikke engang en Grav hernede mellem vore Kjære. Vi have ingen udødelig Sjæl, vi faae aldrig Liv mere, vi ere ligesom det grønne Siv, er det engang skaaret over, kan det ikke grønnes igjen! Menneskene derimod have en Sjæl, som lever altid, lever, efter at Legemet er blevet Jord; den stiger op igjennem den klare Luft, op til alle de skinnende Stjerner! ligesom vi dykke op af Havet og see Menneskenes Lande, saaledes dykke de op til ubekjendte deilige Steder, dem vi aldrig faae at see."
"Hvorfor fik vi ingen udødelig Sjæl?" sagde den lille Havfrue bedrøvet, "jeg vilde give alle mine tre hundrede Aar, jeg har at leve i, for blot een Dag at være et Menneske og siden faae Deel i den himmelske Verden!"
"Det maa Du ikke gaae og tænke paa!" sagde den Gamle, "vi have det meget lykkeligere og bedre, end Menneskene deroppe!"
"Jeg skal altsaa døe og flyde som Skum paa Søen, ikke høre Bølgernes Musik, see de deilige Blomster og den røde Sol! Kan jeg da slet intet gjøre, for at vinde en evig Sjæl!" -
"Nei!" sagde den Gamle, "kun naar et Menneske fik dig saa kjær, at du var ham meer, end Fader og Moder; naar han med hele sin Tanke og Kjærlighed hang ved dig, og lod Præsten lægge sin høire Haand i din med Løfte om Troskab her og i al Evighed, da flød hans Sjæl over i dit Legeme og du fik ogsaa Deel i Menneskenes Lykke. Han gav dig Sjæl og beholdt dog sin egen. Men det kan aldrig skee! Hvad der just er deiligt her i Havet, din Fiskehale, finde de hæsligt deroppe paa Jorden, de forstaae sig nu ikke bedre paa det, man maa have to klodsede Støtter, som de kalde Been, for at være smuk!"
Da sukkede den lille Havfrue og saae bedrøvet paa sin Fiskehale.

"Lad os være fornøiede," sagde den Gamle, "hoppe og springe ville vi i de trehundrede Aar, vi have at leve i, det er saa mæn en god Tid nok, siden kan man desfornøieligere hvile sig ud i sin Grav. Iaften skal vi have Hofbal!"
Det var ogsaa en Pragt, som man aldrig seer den paa Jorden. Vægge og Loft i den store Dandsesal vare af tykt men klart Glas. Flere hundrede kolossale Muslingskaller, rosenrøde og græsgrønne, stode i Rækker paa hver Side med en blaae brændende Ild, som oplyste den hele Sal og skinnede ud gjennem Væggene, saa at Søen der udenfor var ganske oplyst; man kunde see alle de utallige Fiske, store og smaae, som svømmede henimod Glasmuren, paa nogle skinnede Skjællene purpurrøde, paa andre syntes de Sølv og Guld. - Midt igjennem Salen flød en bred rindende Strøm, og paa denne dandsede Havmænd og Havfruer til deres egen deilige Sang. Saa smukke Stemmer have ikke Menneskene paa Jorden. Den lille Havfrue sang skjønnest af dem alle, og de klappede i Hænderne for hende, og et Øieblik følte hun glæde i sit Hjerte, thi hun vidste, at hun havde den skjønneste Stemme af alle paa Jorden og i Havet! Men snart kom hun dog igjen til at tænke paa Verden oven over sig; hun kunde ikke glemme den smukke Prinds og sin Sorg over ikke at eie, som han, en udødelig Sjæl. Derfor sneg hun sig ud af sin Faders Slot, og mens Alt derinde var Sang og Lystighed, sad hun bedrøvet i sin lille Have. Da hørte hun Valdhorn klinge ned igjennem Vandet, og hun tænkte, "nu seiler han vist deroppe, ham som jeg holder mere af end Fader og Moder, ham som min Tanke hænger ved og i hvis Haand jeg vilde lægge mit Livs Lykke. Alt vil jeg vove for at vinde ham og en udødelig Sjæl! Mens mine Søstre dandse derinde i min Faders Slot, vil jeg gaae til Havhexen, hende jeg altid har været saa angest for, men hun kan maaske raade og hjælpe!"
Nu gik den lille Havfrue ud af sin Have hen imod de brusende Malstrømme, bag hvilke Hexen boede. Den Vei havde hun aldrig før gaaet, der voxte ingen Blomster, intet Søegræs, kun den nøgne graae Sandbund strakte sig hen imod Malstrømmene, hvor Vandet, som brusende Møllehjul, hvirvlede rundt og rev alt, hvad de fik fat paa, med sig i Dybet; midt imellem disse knusende Hvirvler maatte hun gaae, for at komme ind paa Havhexens Distrikt, og her var et langt Stykke ikke anden Vei, end over varmt boblende Dynd, det kaldte Hexen sin Tørvemose. Bag ved laae hendes Huus midt inde i en sælsom Skov. Alle Træer og Buske vare Polyper, halv Dyr og halv Plante, de saae ud, som hundredhovede Slanger, der voxte ud af Jorden; alle Grene vare lange slimede Arme, med Fingre som smidige Orme, og Leed for Leed bevægede de sig fra Roden til den yderste Spidse. Alt hvad de i Havet kunde gribe fat paa, snoede de sig fast om og gav aldrig mere Slip paa. Den lille Havfrue blev ganske forskrækket staaende der udenfor; hendes Hjerte bankede af Angest, nær havde hun vendt om, men saa tænkte hun paa Prindsen og paa Menneskets Sjæl, og da fik hun Mod. Sit lange flagrende Haar bandt hun fast om Hovedet, for at Polyperne ikke skulde gribe hende deri, begge Hænder lagde hun sammen over sit Bryst, og fløi saa afsted, som Fisken kan flyve gjennem Vandet, ind imellem de hæslige Polyper, der strakte deres smidige Arme og Fingre efter hende. Hun saae, hvor hver af dem havde noget, den havde grebet, hundrede smaae Arme holdt det, som stærke Jernbaand. Mennesker, som vare omkomne paa Søen og sjunkne dybt derned, tittede som hvide Beenrade frem i Polypernes Arme. Skibsroer og Kister holdte de fast, Skeletter af Landdyr og en lille Havfrue, som de havde fanget og qvalt, det var hende næsten det forskrækkeligste.
Nu kom hun til en stor slimet Plads i Skoven, hvor store, fede Vandsnoge baltrede sig og viste deres stygge hvidgule Bug. Midt paa Pladsen var reist et Huus af strandede Menneskers hvide Been, der sad Havhexen og lod en Skruptudse spise af sin Mund, ligesom Menneskene lader en Kanarifugl spise Sukker. De hæslige fede Vandsnoge kaldte hun sine smaae Kyllinger og lod dem vælte sig paa hendes store, svampede Bryst.
"Jeg ved nok, hvad du vil!" sagde Havhexen, "det er dumt gjort af dig! alligevel skal du faae din Villie, for den vil bringe dig i Ulykke, min deilige Prindsesse. Du vil gjerne af med din Fiskehale og istedetfor den have to Stumper at gaae paa ligesom Menneskene, for at den unge Prinds kan blive forliebt i dig og du kan faae ham og en udødelig Sjæl!" idetsamme loe Hexen saa høit og fælt, at Skruptudsen og Snogene faldt ned paa Jorden og væltede sig der. "Du kommer netop i rette Tid," sagde Hexen, "imorgen, naar Sol staaer op, kunde jeg ikke hjælpe dig, før igjen et Aar var omme. Jeg skal lave dig en Drik, med den skal du, før Sol staar op, svømme til Landet, sætte dig paa Bredden der og drikke den, da skilles din Hale ad og snerper ind til hvad Menneskene kalde nydelige Been, men det gjør ondt, det er som det skarpt Sværd gik igjennem dig. Alle, som see dig, ville sige, du er det deiligste Menneskebarn de have seet! du beholder din svævende Gang, ingen Dandserinde kan svæve som du, men hvert Skridt du gjør, er som du traadte paa en skarp Kniv, saa dit Blod maatte flyde. Vil du lide alt dette, saa skal jeg hjælpe dig?"
"Ja!" sagde den lille Havfrue med bævende Stemme, og tænkte paa Prindsen og paa at vinde en udødelig Sjæl.
"Men husk paa," sagde Hexen, "naar du først har faaet menneskelig Skikkelse, da kan du aldrig mere blive en Havfrue igjen! du kan aldrig stige ned igjennem Vandet til dine Søstre og din Faders Slot, og vinder du ikke Prindsens Kjærlighed, saa han for dig glemmer Fader og Moder, hænger ved dig med sin hele Tanke og lader Præsten lægge Eders Hænder i hinanden, saa I blive Mand og Kone, da faaer du ingen udødelig Sjæl! den første Morgen efter at han er gift med en anden, da maa dit Hjerte briste, og du bliver Skum paa Vandet."
"Jeg vil det!" sagde den lille Havfrue og var bleg, som en Død.
"Men mig maa du ogsaa betale!" sagde Hexen, "og det er ikke Lidet, hvad jeg forlanger. Du har den deiligste Stemme af alle hernede paa Havets Bund, med den troer du nok at skulle fortrylle ham, men den Stemme skal du give mig. Det Bedste du eier vil jeg have for min kostelige Drik! mit eget Blod maa jeg jo give dig deri, at Drikken kan blive skarp, som et tveægget Sværd!"
"Men naar du tager min Stemme," sagde den lille Havfrue, "hvad beholder jeg da tilbage?"

"Din deilige Skikkelse," sagde Hexen, "din svævende Gang og dine talende Øine, med dem kan du nok bedaare et Menneskehjerte. Naa, har du tabt Modet! ræk frem din lille Tunge, saa skjærer jeg den af, i Betaling, og du skal faae den kraftige Drik!"
"Det skee!" sagde den lille Havfrue, og Hexen satte sin Kjedel paa, for at koge Trolddrikken. "Reenlighed er en god Ting!" sagde hun og skurede Kjedelen af med Snogene, som hun bandt i Knude; nu ridsede hun sig selv i Brystet og lod sit sorte Blod dryppe derned, Dampen gjorde de forunderligste Skikkelser, saa man maatte blive angest og bange. Hvert Øieblik kom Hexen nye Ting i Kjedelen, og da det ret kogte, var det, som naar Crokodillen græder. Tilsidst var Drikken færdig, den saae ud som det klareste Vand!
"Der har du den!" sagde Hexen og skar Tungen af den lille Havfrue, som nu var stum, kunde hverken synge eller tale.
"Dersom Polyperne skulde gribe dig, naar du gaaer tilbage igjennem min Skov," sagde Hexen, "saa kast kun een eneste Draabe af denne Drik paa dem, da springe deres Arme og Fingre i tusinde Stykker!" men det behøvede den lille Havfrue ikke, Polyperne trak sig forskrækkede tilbage for hende, da de saae den skinnende Drik, der lyste i hendes Haand, ligesom det var en funklende Stjerne. Saaledes kom hun snart igjennem Skoven, Mosen og de brusende Malstrømme.
Hun kunde see sin Faders Slot; Blussene vare slukkede i den store Dandsesal; de sov vist Alle derinde, men hun vovede dog ikke at søge dem, nu hun var stum og vilde for altid gaae bort fra dem. Det var, som hendes Hjerte skulde gaae itu af Sorg. Hun sneeg sig ind i Haven, tog een Blomst af hver af sine Søstres Blomsterbed, kastede med Fingren tusinde Kys henimod Slottet og steeg op igjennem den Mørkeblaa Sø.
Solen var endnu ikke kommet frem, da hun saae Prindsens Slot og besteg den prægtige Marmortrappe. Maanen skinnede deiligt klart. Den lille Havfrue drak den brændende skarpe Drik, og det var, som gik et tveægget Sværd igjennem hendes fine Legeme, hun besvimede derved og laae, som død. Da Solen skinnede hen over Søen, vaagnede hun op, og hun følte en sviende Smerte, men lige for hende stod den deilige unge Prinds, han fæstede sine kulsorte Øine paa hende, saa hun slog sine ned og saae, at hendes Fiskehale var borte, og at hun havde de nydeligste smaae, hvide Been, nogen lille Pige kunde have, men hun var ganske nøgen, derfor svøbte hun sig ind i sit store, lange Haar. Prindsen spurgte, hvem hun var, og hvorledes hun var kommet her, og hun saae mildt og dog saa bedrøvet paa ham med sine mørkeblaae Øine, tale kunde hun jo ikke. Da tog han hende ved Haanden og førte hende ind i Slottet. Hvert Skridt hun gjorde, var, som Hexen havde sagt hende forud, som om hun traadte paa spidse Syle og skarpe Knive, men det taalte hun gjerne; ved Prindsens Haand steeg hun saa let, som en Boble, og han og alle undrede sig over hendes yndige, svævende Gang.
Kostelige Klæder af Silke og Musselin fik hun paa, i Slottet var hun den skjønneste af Alle, men hun var stum, kunde hverken synge eller tale. Deilige Slavinder, klædte i Silke og Guld, kom frem og sang for Prindsen og hans kongelige Forældre; een sang smukkere end alle de andre og Prindsen klappede i Hænderne og smilede til hende, da blev den lille Havfrue bedrøvet, hun vidste, at hun selv havde sjunget langt smukkere! hun tænkte, "O han skulde bare vide, at jeg, for at være hos ham, har givet min Stemme bort i al Evighed!"
Nu dandsede Slavinderne i yndige svævende Dandse til den herligste Musik, da hævede den lille Havfrue sine smukke hvide Arme, reiste sig paa Taaspidsen og svævede hen over Gulvet, dandsede som endnu ingen havde dandset; ved hver Bevægelse blev hendes Deilighed endnu mere synlig, og hendes Øine talte dybere til Hjertet, end Slavindernes Sang.
Alle vare henrykte derover, især Prindsen, som kaldte hende sit lille Hittebarn, og hun dandsede meer og meer, skjøndt hver Gang hendes Fod rørte Jorden, var det, som om hun traadte paa skarpe Knive. Prindsen sagde, at hun skulde alletider være hos ham, og hun fik Lov at sove udenfor hans Dør paa en Fløiels Pude.
Han lod hende sye en Mandsdragt, for at hun til Hest kunde følge ham. De rede gjennem de duftende Skove, hvor de grønne Grene sloge hende paa Skulderen og de smaae Fugle sang bag de friske Blade. Hun klattrede med Prindsen op paa de høie Bjerge, og skjønt hendes fine Fødder blødte, saa de Andre kunde see det, loe hun dog deraf og fulgte ham, til de saae Skyerne seile nede under sig, som var det en Flok Fugle, der drog til fremmede Lande.
Hjemme paa Prindsens Slot, naar om Natten de andre sov, gik hun ud paa den brede Marmortrappe, og det kjølede hendes brændende Fødder, at staae i det kolde Søvand, og da tænkte hun paa dem dernede i Dybet.
Een Nat kom hendes Søstre Arm i Arm, de sang saa sorrigfuldt, idet de svømmede over Vandet, og hun vinkede af dem, og de kjendte hende og fortalte, hvor bedrøvet hun havde gjort dem allesammen. Hver Nat besøgte de hende siden, og een Nat saae hun, langt ude, den gamle Bedstemoder, som i mange Aar ikke havde været over Havet, og Havkongen, med sin Krone paa Hovedet, de strakte Hænderne hen mod hende, men vovede sig ikke saa nær Landet, som Søstrene.
Dag for Dag blev hun Prindsen kjærere, han holdt af hende, som man kan holde af et godt, kjært Barn, men at gjøre hende til sin Dronning, faldt ham slet ikke ind, og hans Kone maatte hun blive, ellers fik hun ingen udødelig Sjæl, men vilde paa hans Bryllups Morgen blive Skum paa Søen.
"Holder du ikke mest af mig, blandt dem allesammen!" syntes den lille Havfrues Øine at sige, naar han tog hende i sine Arme og kyssede hendes smukke Pande.
"Jo, du er mig kjærest," sagde Prindsen, "thi du har det bedste Hjerte af dem Alle, du er mig mest hengiven, og du ligner en ung Pige jeg engang saae, men vistnok aldrig mere finder. Jeg var paa et Skib, som strandede, Bølgerne dreve mig i Land ved et helligt Tempel, hvor flere unge Piger gjorde Tjeneste, den yngste der fandt mig ved Strandbredden og reddede mit Liv, jeg saae hende kun to Gange; hun var den eneste, jeg kunde elske i denne Verden, men du ligner hende, du næsten fortrænger hendes Billede i min Sjæl, hun hører det hellige Tempel til, og derfor har min gode Lykke sendt mig dig, aldrig ville vi skilles!" - "Ak, han veed ikke, at jeg har reddet hans Liv!" tænkte den lille Havfrue, "jeg bar ham over Søen hen til Skoven, hvor Templet staaer, jeg sad bag Skummet og saae efter, om ingen Mennesker vilde komme. Jeg saae den smukke Pige, som han holder mere af, end mig!" og Havfruen sukkede dybt, græde kunde hun ikke. "Pigen hører det hellige Tempel til, har han sagt, hun kommer aldrig ud i Verden, de mødes ikke mere, jeg er hos ham, seer ham hver Dag, jeg vil pleie ham, elske ham, ofre ham mit Liv!"
Men nu skal Prindsen givtes og have Nabokongens deilige Datter! fortalte man, derfor er det, at han udruster saa prægtigt et Skib. Prindsen reiser for at see Nabokongens Lande, hedder det nok, men det er for at see Nabokongens Datter, et stort Følge skal han have med; men den lille Havfrue rystede med Hovedet og loe; hun kjendte Prindsens Tanker meget bedre, end alle Andre. "Jeg maa reise!" havde han sagt til hende, "jeg maa see den smukke Prindsesse, mine Forældre forlange det, men tvinge mig til at føre hende her hjem, som min Brud, ville de ikke! jeg kan ikke elske hende! hun ligner ikke den smukke Pige i Templet, som du ligner, skulde jeg engang vælge en Brud, saa blev det snarere dig, mit stumme Hittebarn med de talende Øine!" og han kyssede hendes røde Mund, legede med hendes lange Haar og lagde sit Hoved ved hendes Hjerte, saa det drømte om Menneske-Lykke og en udødelig Sjæl.
"Du er dog ikke bange for Havet, mit stumme Barn!" sagde han, da de stode paa det prægtige Skib, som skulde føre ham til Nabokongens Lande; og han fortalte hende om Storm og Havblik, om sælsomme Fiske i Dybet og hvad Dykkeren der havde seet, og hun smilte ved hans Fortælling, hun vidste jo bedre, end nogen Anden, Besked om Havets Bund.

I den maaneklare Nat, naar de alle sov, paa Styrmanden nær, som stod ved Roret, sad hun ved Reelingen af Skibet og stirrede ned igjennem det klare Vand, og hun syntes at see sin Faders Slot, øverst deroppe stod den gamle Bedstemoder med Sølvkronen paa Hovedet og stirrede op igjennem de stride Strømme mod Skibets Kjøl. Da kom hendes Søstre op over Vandet, de stirrede sorrigfuldt paa hende og vrede deres hvide Hænder, hun vinkede ad dem, smilte og vilde fortælle, at Alt gik hende godt og lykkeligt, men Skibsdrengen nærmede sig hende og Søstrene dykkede ned, saa han blev i den Tro, at det Hvide, han havde seet, var Skum paa Søen.
Næste Morgen seilede Skibet ind i Havnen ved Nabokongens prægtige Stad. Alle Kirkeklokker ringede, og fra de høie Taarne blev blæst i Basuner, mens Soldaterne stode med vaiende Faner og blinkende Bajonetter. Hver Dag havde en Fest. Bal og Selskab fulgte paa hinanden, men Prindsessen var der endnu ikke, hun opdroges langtderfra i et helligt Tempel, sagde de, der lærte hun alle de kongelige Dyder. Endelig indtraf hun.
Den lille Havfrue stod begjærlig efter at see hendes Skjønhed, og hun maatte erkjende den, en yndigere Skikkelse havde hun aldrig seet. Huden var saa fiin og skjær, og bag de lange mørke Øienhaar smilede et Par sorteblaae trofaste Øine!
"Det er dig!" sagde Prindsen, "dig som har frelst mig, da jeg laae som et Liig ved Kysten!" og han trykkede sin rødmende Brud i sine Arme. "O jeg er altfor lykkelig!" sagde han til den lille Havfrue. "Det Bedste, det jeg aldrig turde haabe, er blevet opfyldt for mig. Du vil glæde dig ved min Lykke, thi du holder meest af mig blandt dem Alle!" Og den lille Havfrue kyssede hans Haand, og hun syntes alt at føle sit Hjerte briste. Hans Bryllups Morgen vilde jo give hende Døden og forvandle hende til Skum paa Søen.
Alle Kirkeklokker ringede, Herolderne rede om i Gaderne og forkyndte Trolovelsen. Paa alle Altre brændte duftende Olie i kostelige Sølvlamper. Præsterne svingede Røgelsekar og Brud og Brudgom rakte hinanden Haanden og fik Biskoppens Velsignelse. Den lille Havfrue stod i Silke og Guld og holdt Brudens Slæb, men hendes Øre hørte ikke den festlige Musik, hendes Øie saae ikke den hellige Ceremonie, hun tænkte paa sin Dødsnat, paa Alt hvad hun havde tabt i denne Verden.
Endnu samme Aften gik Brud og Brudgom ombord paa Skibet, Kanonerne løde, alle Flagene vaiede, og midt paa Skibet var reist et kosteligt Telt af Guld og Purpur og med de deiligste Hynder, der skulde Brudeparret sove i den stille, kjølige Nat.
Seilene svulmede i Vinden, og Skibet gled let og uden stor Bevægelse hen over den klare Sø
Da det mørknedes, tændtes brogede Lamper og Søfolkene dandsede lystige Dandse paa Dækket. Den lille Havfrue maatte tænke paa den første Gang hun dykkede op af Havet og saae den samme Pragt og Glæde, og hun hvirvlede sig med i Dandsen, svævede, som Svalen svæver naar den forfølges, og alle tiljublede hende Beundring, aldrig havde hun dandset saa herligt; det skar som skarpe Knive i de fine Fødder, men hun følte det ikke; det skar hende smerteligere i Hjertet. Hun vidste, det var den sidste Aften hun saae ham, for hvem hun havde forladt sin Slægt og sit Hjem, givet sin deilige Stemme og daglig lidt uendelige Qvaler, uden at han havde Tanke derom. Det var den sidste Nat, hun aandede den samme Luft som han, saae det dybe Hav og den stjerneblaae Himmel, en evig Nat uden Tanke og Drøm ventede hende, som ei havde Sjæl, ei kunde vinde den. Og Alt var Glæde og Lystighed paa Skibet til langt over Midnat, hun loe og dandsede med Dødstanken i sit Hjerte. Prindsen kyssede sin deilige Brud, og hun legede med hans sorte Haar, og Arm i Arm gik de til Hvile i det prægtige Telt.
Der blev tyst og stille paa Skibet, kun Styrmanden stod ved Roret, den lille Havfrue lagde sine hvide Arme paa Reelingen og saae mod Østen efter Morgenrøden, den første Solstraale, vidste hun, vilde dræbe hende. Da saae hun sine Søstre stige op af Havet, de vare blege, som hun; deres lange smukke Haar flagrede ikke længer i Blæsten, det var afskaaret.
"Vi have givet det til Hexen, for at hun skulde bringe Hjælp, at du ikke denne Nat skal døe! Hun har givet os en Kniv, her er den! seer du hvor skarp? Før Sol staaer op, maa du stikke den i Prindsens Hjerte, og naar da hans varme Blod stænker paa dine Fødder, da voxe de sammen til en Fiskehale og du bliver en Havfrue igjen, kan stige ned i Vandet til os og leve dine tre Hundrede Aar, før du bliver det døde, salte Søeskum. Skynd dig! han eller du maa døe, før Sol staaer op! vor gamle Bedstemoder sørger, saa hendes hvide Haar er faldet af, som vort faldt for Hexens Sax. Dræb Prindsen og kom tilbage! Skynd dig, seer du den røde Stribe paa Himlen? Om nogle Minuter stiger Solen, og da maa du døe!" og de udstødte et forunderligt dybt Suk og sank i Bølgerne.
Den lille Havfrue trak Purpurtæppet bort fra Teltet, og hun saae den deilige Brud sove med sit Hoved ved Prindsens Bryst, og hun bøiede sig ned, kyssede ham paa hans smukke Pande, saae paa Himlen, hvor Morgenrøden lyste meer og meer, saae paa den skarpe Kniv og fæstede igjen Øinene paa Prindsen, der i Drømme nævnede sin Brud ved Navn, hun kun var i hans Tanker, og Kniven zittrede i Havfruens Haand, - men da kastede hun den langt ud i Bølgerne, de skinnede røde, hvor den faldt, det saae ud, som piblede der Blodsdraaber op af Vandet. Endnu engang saae hun med halvbrustne Blik paa Prindsen, styrtede sig fra Skibet ned i Havet, og hun følte, hvor hendes Legeme opløste sig i Skum.
Nu steeg Solen frem af Havet. Straalerne faldt saa mildt og varmt paa det dødskolde Havskum og den lille Havfrue følte ikke til Døden, hun saae den klare Sol, og oppe over hende svævede hundrede gjennemsigtige, deilige Skabninger; hun kunde gjennem dem see Skibets hvide Seil og Himlens røde Skyer, deres Stemme var Melodie, men saa aandig, at intet menneskeligt Øre kunde høre den, ligesom intet jordisk Øie kunde see dem; uden Vinger svævede de ved deres egen Lethed gjennem Luften. Den lille Havfrue saae, at hun havde et Legeme som de, det hævede sig meer og meer op af Skummet.
"Til hvem kommer jeg!" sagde hun, og hendes Stemme klang som de andre Væsners, saa aandigt, at ingen jordisk Musik kan gjengive det.
"Til Luftens Døttre!" svarede de andre. "Havfruen har ingen udødelig Sjæl, kan aldrig faae den, uden hun vinder et Menneskes Kjærlighed! af en fremmed Magt afhænger hendes evige Tilværelse. Luftens Døttre have heller ingen evig Sjæl, men de kunne selv ved gode Handlinger skabe sig een. Vi flyve til de varme Lande, hvor den lumre Pestluft dræber Menneskene; der vifte vi Kjøling. Vi sprede Blomsternes Duft gjennem Luften og sende Vederqvægelse og Lægedom. Naar vi i tre hundred Aar have stræbt at gjøre det Gode, vi kunne, da faae vi en udødelig Sjæl og tage Deel i Menneskenes evige Lykke. Du stakkels lille Havfrue har med hele dit Hjerte stræbt efter det samme, som vi, du har lidt og taalt, hævet dig til Luftaandernes Verden, nu kan du selv gjennem gode Gierninger skabe dig en udødelig Sjæl om tre hundred Aar."
Og den lille Havfrue løftede sine klare Arme op mod Guds Sol, og for første Gang følte hun Taarer. - Paa Skibet var igjen Støi og Liv, hun saae Prindsen med sin smukke Brud søge efter hende, veemodig stirrede de paa det boblende Skum, som om de vidste, hun havde styrtet sig i Bølgerne. Usynlig kyssede hun Brudens Pande, smiilte til ham og steeg med de andre Luftens Børn op paa den rosenrøde Sky, som seilede i Luften.
"Om trehundrede Aar svæve vi saaledes ind i Guds Rige!"
"Ogsaa tidligere kunne vi komme der!" hviskede een. "Usynligt svæve vi ind i Menneskenes Huse, hvor der er Børn, og for hver Dag vi finde et godt Barn, som gjør sine Forældre Glæde og fortjener deres Kjærlighed, forkorter Gud vor Prøvetid. Barnet veed ikke, naar vi flyve gjennem Stuen, og maae vi da af Glæde smile over det, da tages et Aar fra de trehundrede, men see vi et uartigt og ondt Barn, da maae vi græde Sorgens Graad, og hver Taare lægger en Dag til vor Prøvetid!" -

English

The Little Mermaid
Translated by John Irons

 

Far out at sea the water is as blue as the petals of the loveliest cornflower and as clear as the purest glass, but it is very deep, deeper than any anchor cable can reach, many church towers would have to be placed on top of each other to stretch from the sea-bed to the surface.

Down there the sea-folk live.

Do not believe, though, that there is nothing but the bare, white sand on the sea bed; no, the most marvellous trees and plants grow there that have such pliant trunks, stems and leaves that the slightest movement of the water causes them to move as if they were alive. All the fishes, great and small, slip between their branches, just as birds up here do in the air. At the very deepest spot lies the sea-king’s palace, the walls are of coral and the tall pointed windows of the clearest amber, but the roof is of mussel shells that open and close as the water passes – it looks so lovely, for in each of them lie gleaming pearls, a single one of which would be a prize gem in a queen’s crown.

For many years the sea-king down there had been a widower, but his old mother kept house for him, she was a wise woman, but proud of her high birth, so she always wore twelve oysters on her tail while all the other fine folk were only allowed to wear six. Otherwise, she deserved much praise, especially because she was so fond of the small sea-princesses, the daughters of her son. There were six lovely children, but the youngest one was the most beautiful of them all, her skin was as clear and delicate as a rose petal, her eyes as blue as the deepest sea, but like the rest of them she had no feet, her body ended in a fish’s tail.

All day long they could spend playing down in the palace, in the great halls where living flowers grew out of the walls. The great amber windows would be opened, and then the fishes would swim in to them, just as the swallows fly in to us when we open the windows, but the fishes swam right up to the small princesses, ate out of their hand and let themselves be stroked.

Outside the palace there was a large garden with bright-red and dark-blue trees, with fruit that shone like gold and flowers that blazed like fire in the constantly moving stems and leaves. The earth itself was the finest sand, but blue as a flare of sulphur. There lay a mysterious blue sheen over everything down there – it would be easier to believe one was high up in the air and could only see sky above and beneath one than that one was down on the sea-bed. When the sea was calm, one could make out the sun, it seemed to be a purple flower with its entire light streaming out of the calyx.

Each of the small princesses had her own little plot in the garden where she could dig and sow as she wanted; one gave her flower plot the form of a whale, another preferred hers to look like a little mermaid, but the youngest princess made hers completely round like the sun, and only had flowers that shone red like it did.

She was strange child, quiet and thoughtful, and while the other sisters added the most remarkable things they had taken from stranded ships as decoration, all she wanted to have, apart from the rose-red flowers that resembled the sun high up above, was a beautiful marble statue, it was of a fine-looking lad, carved out of clear white stone and left on the sea-bed after a ship had foundered. At its base she planted a rose-red weeping willow, it grew splendidly and hung with its fresh branches over the statue, down towards the blue sea-bed, where its shadow appeared to be violet and in motion, just like the branches; it looked as if the tree-top and its roots pretended to be kissing each other.

Nothing made her happier than to hear about the human world above them; the old grandmother had to tell all she knew about ships and cities, people and animals and what seemed especially delightful to her was that up on the earth the flowers had a scent, for they did not down on the sea-bed, and that the forests were green and the fish that could be seen among their branches could sing so loudly and sweetly that it gladdened the heart; it was the small birds that grandmother called fish, for otherwise the sisters would not be able to understand her, as they had never seen a bird.

‘When you complete your fifteenth year,’ grandmother said, ‘you will be allowed to rise up out of the sea, sit in the moonlight on the rocks and watch the big ships that sail past – you will see forests and cities!’ During the following year one of the sisters turned fifteen, but the others, well, each one was a year younger than the other, so the youngest had no less than five years to wait before she would venture to come up from the sea-bed and see how things are in our world. But each one promised the other to relate what she had seen and found most delightful on that first day; for their grandmother did not tell them enough, there was so much they wanted to know about.

None was as full of longing as the youngest one, the very princess who had the longest time to wait and who was so quiet and thoughtful. Many a night she would stand at the open window and gaze up through the dark-blue water, where the fishes swished their fins and tails. She could see the moon and the stars, their gleam was admittedly somewhat pale, but through the water they looked much larger than they do to our eyes; if what looked like a black cloud passed beneath them, she knew that it was either a whale swimming above her, or possibly a ship with many people on board; they certainly didn’t think there might be a lovely little mermaid standing below them stretching her white hands up towards the keel.

Now the oldest princess was fifteen years old and was to venture above the surface of the sea.

When she came back, she had hundreds of things to tell, but the most delightful, she said, was to lie in the moonlight on a sandbank in the calm water, and to see close to the coast the great city, where the lights twinkled like hundreds of stars, to hear the music and the noise and clamour of carriages and humans, see the many church towers and spires, and to hear the bells ringing out; precisely because she could not come up there, she longed most of all for all this.

Oh! how the youngest sister was all ears, and when later that evening she stood by the open window and gazed up through the dark-blue water, she thought of the great city with all its noise and clamour, and she believed she could hear the church bells sounding down where she was.

The following year the second sister was allowed to rise through the water and swim wherever she wanted. She swam up just as the sun was setting, and it was that sight which she felt was the loveliest. The whole sky had looked as if it was of gold, she said, and the clouds, well, their loveliness she could not describe enough! red and yellow, they had sailed over her head, but far swifter than them, like a long while veil, a flock of wild swans had flown over the water where the sun stood; she swam towards it, but it sank and the rosy gleam on the surface of the sea and the clouds was extinguished.

The following year a third sister came up there, she was the boldest of them all, so she swam up a broad estuary that flowed into the sea. She saw lovely green slopes with vines, castles and manors peeped out between magnificent forests; she heard how all the birds sang and the sun shone so strongly that she often had to dive down under the surface to cool her burning face. In a small bay she met a whole flock of small human children; completely naked, they ran about and splashed in the water, she wanted to play with them, but they ran away in fear, and a small black animal appeared, it was a dog, but she had never seen a dog before, it barked so terribly at her that she was scared and made for the open sea, but she could never forget the magnificent forests, the green hillsides and the charming children who could swim on the water, even though they didn’t have any tail.

The fourth sister was not as bold, she stayed out in the wild mid-ocean, and said that it was precisely this that was the loveliest – one could see many miles around one on all sides, and the sky above was like a great bell-jar. She had seen ships, but far off, they looked like gulls, the amusing dolphins had turned somersaults, and the huge whales had spouted water up out of their blowholes, so it had looked like hundreds of fountains around her.

It was now the fifth sister’s turn; her birthday happened to be in the winter and so she saw what the others had not seen on their first visit. The water looked quite green and great icebergs were swimming around in it, each of them looked like a pearl, she said, and yet they were far bigger than the church towers humans built. They appeared in the most remarkable shapes and glittered like diamonds. She had sat down on one of the largest and all the sailing ships, in fright, gave her a wide berth, where she sat letting the wind play with her long hair; but later in the evening the sky became overcast, there was thunder and lightning, while the black sea lifted the great blocks of ice high up and let them gleam in the red lightning. The sails were taken in on all the ships, and they were in fear and dread, but she calmly sat on her swimming iceberg and watched the blue stroke of lightning zigzag down into the gleaming sea.

The first time any of the sisters came above the surface of the water, each of them was always fascinated by the new, beautiful things she saw, but since they now – as grown-up girls – were allowed to go up there whenever they wanted, things lost their appeal, they longed to be back home, and after a month they said that it was most beautiful of all down where they lived, and so nice to be home.

On many an evening the five sisters interlocked arms and rose in a row above the water; they had beautiful voices, more beautiful than any human’s, and when a storm blew up, so that they thought the ships were bound to go under, they would swim in front of the ships and sing so beautifully of how delightful it was on the sea bed, and tell the sailors not to be frightened of coming down there; but the sailors were unable to understand the words and thought it was the storm, nor did they ever get to see any of these delights, for when their ship sank, those on board drowned, and only came down to the sea-king’s palace as corpses.

When the sisters gathered in the evening, arm in arm, and ascended through the sea, their little sister was thus left behind all on her own, and it was as if she would cry, but a mermaid has no tears and so she had to suffer all the more.

‘Ah, if only I was fifteen years old!’ she said, ‘I know that I will grow really fond of the world above us and of the people who build and live up there!’

At last, she reached the age of fifteen.

‘There, now we’ve got you off our hands,’ her grandmother, the old queen mother, said. ‘Come here, let me deck you out like your other sisters!’ and she placed a garland of white lilies in her hair, but each petal in the flower was half a pearl; and the old lady had eight large oysters attach themselves to the princess’s tail to indicate her high rank.

‘It hurts so much,’ the little mermaid said.

‘Yes, one has to go through a great deal of trouble to look nice!’ the old woman said.

‘Oh! she would so much have liked to shake all this finery off her and laid the heavy garland aside; her red flowers in the garden suited her much better, but she didn’t dare rearrange things. ‘Goodbye,’ she said and rose so light and clear, like a bubble through the water.

The sun had just set as she lifted her head above the surface of the water, but all the clouds were still gleaming like roses and gold, and in the midst of the pale-red sky the evening star shone with such brightness and beauty, the air was mild and fresh and the sea absolutely still. On it was a large ship with three masts, with only a single sail up, for there was not a breath of wind, and here and there in the ropes and on the beams the sailors were sitting. There was music and singing, and as the evening grew darker, hundreds of many-coloured lamps were lit, so it looked as if the flags of every nation were waving in the wind. The little mermaid swam right up to the cabin window, and each time the swell lifted her up, she could look through the mirror-clear windows where the many people stood in fine array, but the handsomest even so was the young prince with the large black eyes, he couldn’t have been much older than sixteen, it was his birthday, which was why there was so much of a to-do. The sailors were dancing on deck, and when the young prince came out, more than a hundred rockets shot up into the air, they lit everything up as if it was broad daylight, so the little mermaid was very frightened and dived under the surface, but soon she stuck her head up again, and then it was as if all the stars in the sky fell down to her. She had never seen such pyrotechnics before. Great suns span round, wonderful fire-fishes soared into the blue sky, and everything was reflected by the clear, calm sea. On board the ship everything was so bright that one could see every little rope, and the people too. Oh, how handsome the young prince was, and he clasped people’s hands, laughed and smiled, while the music rang out in the wonderful evening.

It grew late, but the little mermaid was unable to take her eyes off the ship and the handsome prince. The many-coloured lamps were put out, no more rockets soared into the sky, there were no more cannon shots, but deep down in the sea there was a humming and droning, whereas she sat on the surface rocking up and down, so that she could look into the cabin; but the ship picked up speed, one sail after the other unfurled, now the waves became stronger, large clouds appeared, and there was lightning in the distance. Oh, there was going to be a terrible storm! so the sailors reefed in the sails. And the large ship careered along at great speed on the wild waves, the water rose to form what looked like great black mountains that would crash down over the mast, but the ship dipped like a swan down between the high waves and let itself be lifted up on the towering waters. The little mermaid found this ride enjoyable, but the sailors did not, the ship creaked and groaned, the thick planking bent at the buffeting of the waves, the mast broke in two as if it was a reed, and the ship rolled over on its side and water began to pour in. Now the little mermaid realised that they were in danger, she had to take care herself to avoid the beams and fragments of the ship that were floating on the water. At one moment it was so pitch-black that she couldn’t see the slightest thing, but when a flash of lightning came, everything was so clear once more that she could make out all of them on the ship; everyone lurched around as best he could; she looked especially for the young prince, and when the ship came apart, she saw him sink down into the depths of the ocean. To begin with, she was quite pleased, for now he would be coming down to her, but then she remembered that humans cannot live in the water, and that he would not come down to her father’s palace, only his corpse. No, he could not be allowed to die; so she swam in among the beams and planks that drifted on the sea, completely forgot that they might have crushed her, she dived deep beneath the surface and rose up high again between the waves, and finally she managed to reach the young prince, who was hardly able to swim any longer in the stormy sea, his arms and legs were beginning to go limp, his beautiful eyes to close – he would have died if the little mermaid had not come to his aid. She held his head above water, and then let the waves bear her and him wherever they wanted.

When morning came the bad weather was over; not a shred of the ship was to be seen, the sun rose red and gleaming out of the water – it was as if this brought life to the prince’s cheeks, but his eyes remained closed; the mermaid kissed his lovely high forehead and stroked back his wet hair; to her he looked like the marble statue down in her little garden, she kissed him again, and wished for him to be allowed to live.

She now saw the mainland ahead of her, tall blue mountains with white snow gleaming on their summits as if swans were lying there; down by the coast there were lovely green forests, and in front of them lay a church or an abbey, she did not know for sure, but it was definitely a building. Lemon and orange trees grew in the garden, and in front of the gate stood tall palm trees. The shore formed a small bay here where the water was completely still but very deep, all the way to the cliff where fine silver sand had been washed up, she swam over there with the handsome prince and laid him down on the sand, but made sure that his head lay high up in the warm sunshine.

Now the bells in the large white building started to chime, and many young girls came walking through the garden. Then the little mermaid swam further out behind some boulders that stuck up out of the water, placed sea-foam of her hair and breast so that no one could see her small face, and then she watched to see who came out to the poor prince.

It did not take long before a young girl came to the spot, she seemed to be quite shocked, but only for a moment, then she fetched some others, and the mermaid saw how the prince recovered and that he smiled to all of those around him, but not out to her, for he did not even know that she had saved him; she felt so sad, and when he was led into the large building, she dived sorrowfully down into the water and sought her way home to her father’s palace.

She had always been quiet and thoughtful, but now she was even more so. Her sisters asked her what she had seen the first time up above, but she did not tell them anything.

Many an evening and morning she rose up to the spot where she had left the prince. She saw how the fruit in the garden ripened and was picked, she saw how the snow melted on the high mountains, but she did not see the prince, and therefore she was always even sadder when she returned home. Her only consolation was to sit in her little garden and embrace the beautiful marble statue that looked like the prince, but she did not tend her flowers, they grew as in a wilderness, out over the paths and twined their long stems and leaves in among the branches so that it became quite dark.

Finally, she couldn’t bear it any longer, and told one of her sisters, and soon all of them had got to hear of it, but only her other sisters and a couple of other mermaids who only told their closest friends. One of them knew the identity of the prince, she had also seen the festivities on the ship, knew where he came from, and where his kingdom lay.

‘Come, little sister!’ the other princesses said, and with their arms round each other’s shoulders they rose in a long row out of the sea in front of the place where they knew the prince’s palace lay. It had been built of a light-yellow gleaming type of stone, with large marble staircases, one went straight down to the sea. Magnificent gilt domes rose up above the roof, and between the columns that went round the entire building there were marble statues that looked as if they were alive. Through the clear glass in the tall windows one could glimpse the most magnificent halls that were hung with precious silk curtains and tapestries, and all the walls were adorned with large paintings that were a sheer joy to look at. In the middle of the largest hall there was a large plashing fountain, its jets shooting up towards the glass dome in the ceiling, through which the sun shone on the water and on the lovely plants growing in the large pool.

Now she knew where he lived, and she went there many an evening and night on the water; she swam much closer to the land than any of the others had dared – she even went right up into the narrow canal, under the magnificent marble balcony that cast a long shadow over the water. Here she sat and gazed at the young prince, who thought he was completely alone in the bright moonlight. Many evenings she saw him sail about with music in his magnificent boat with its fluttering flags; she peeped out through the green rushes, and if the wind caught her silver-white veil and anyone saw it, they thought it was a swan lifting its wings.

Many a night, when the fishermen were out at sea with their blazing torches, she heard them say many good things about the young prince, and it pleased her that she had saved his life when he was drifting half-dead on the waves, and she thought of how firmly his head had rested on her breast, and how fervently she had kissed him then; he knew nothing about that, couldn’t even dream about her.

She came to like human beings more and more, and she wished more and more to be able to rise up among them; their world seemed to her to be much bigger than hers; for they could fly across the ocean on ships, climb high mountains way above the clouds, and the countries they owned stretched with their forests and fields farther than the eye could see. There was so much she wanted to know, but her sisters could not answer everything, so she asked her old grandmother and she was familiar with the higher world, which is what she rightly called the lands above the sea.

‘When humans do not drown,’ the little mermaid asked, ‘can they stay alive for ever, don’t they die like we do down here in the sea?’

‘Oh yes,’ the old woman said, ‘they too have to die, and their lives are even shorter than ours are. We can live until we are three hundred years old, but when we cease to exist, we become foam on the water, do not even have a grave down here among our dear ones. We do not have an immortal soul, we will never live again, we are like the green rushes, once they have been severed they can never grow green again!’ Humans on the other hand have a soul that lives for ever, lives even after the body has become earth; it rises up through the clear sky up to all the shining stars! Just as we rise up to the surface of the sea and see the lands of the humans, they rise up to unknown lovely places, those we will never get to see.’

‘Why did we never get an immortal soul?’ the little mermaid asked sadly, ‘I would give up all the three hundred years I have to live in just to be a human being for one day and then be part of the heavenly world!’

‘You mustn’t spend your time thinking of such things!’ the old woman said, ‘we have a much happier and better life than the human beings up there!’

‘So I am to die and float like foam on the sea, not hear the music of the waves, see the lovely flowers and the red sun! Is there nothing I can do to gain an eternal soul!’ –

‘No!’ the old woman said, ‘only if a human were to fall so in love with you that you were more to him that his father and mother; if all his thoughts and love were centred on you, and he would let the priest place his right hand in yours and promise to be faithful now and in all eternity. Only then would his soul flow over into your body and you would partake in human happiness. He would give you a soul and yet retain his own. But that can never happen! For what is so lovely here in the ocean – your fish’s tail – they find ugly up there on the earth, they don’t understand it at all, there one has to have two clumsy props that they call legs in order to be considered beautiful or handsome!’

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

‘Let’s be content,’ the old woman said, ‘let’s jump and leap in the three hundred years we have to live in, that’s quite a long time after all, and then one can even more contentedly rest in one’s grave. This evening there is to be court ball!’

It was also more magnificent than anything ever seen on earth. The walls and ceiling of the great dance hall were of thick but clear glass. Several hundred huge mussel shells, rosy red and green as grass, stood in rows on either side with a blue-burning fire that lit up the entire hall and gleamed out through the walls so that the sea right outside looked quite illuminated; one could see all the innumerable fish, great and small, that swam towards the glass wall, on some of them the scales gleamed a purple-red, on others they seemed to be silver and gold. A broadly running stream ran through the middle of the hall, and on it mermen and mermaids danced to their own delightful singing. The humans on earth do not have such beautiful voices. The little mermaid sang the most beautifully of them all, and they applauded her, and for a moment she felt happy in her heart, for she knew that she had the loveliest voice of anyone on earth and in the sea!

But soon she began to think once more of the world above her; she couldn’t forget the handsome prince and her sorrow at not owning – as he did – an immortal soul. So she slipped away from her father’s palace, and while everything was singing and enjoyment inside, she sat out in her own little garden and was sad. Then she heard French horns sounding down through the water, and she thought ‘now he is out sailing, the one who I love even more than father and mother, the one who fills all my thoughts and in whose hand I wish to place all my life’s happiness. I will risk anything to win him and an immortal soul! While my sisters are dancing inside my father’s palace, I will go to the sea-witch – I’ve always been so afraid of her, but she can perhaps advise and help me!’

Now the little mermaid left her garden and went towards the roaring whirlpools behind which the witch lived. She had never gone that way before, no flowers grew there, no sea-grass, only the bare grey sandy bottom stretched towards the whirlpools, where the water, like roaring mill-wheels, whirled round and tore everything they caught hold of down with it into the depths; she had to pass between these crushing, whirling masses of water to get to the region of the sea-witch, and here there was for quite some distance no other way than over the hot, bubbling mud the witch called her peat-bog. Behind it lay her house in the middle of a strange forest. All the trees and shrubs were polyps – half-animal and half-plant – they looked like snakes with hundreds of heads growing out of the earth; all the branches were long, slimy arms, with fingers like pliant worms, and joint by joint they moved from their root to the outermost tip. Everything in the sea they could catch hold of they twined round tightly and never let go again. The little mermaid remained standing quite terrified outside there; her heart pounded with fear, she had almost turned back, but then she thought of the prince and of the human soul, and that gave her courage. She bound her long, fluttering hair around her head so that the polyps couldn’t grab hold of it, folded both her hands over her breast, and flew – as fish can fly through the water – in among the horrible polyps which stretched out their pliant arms and fingers after her. She saw that wherever they had seized something, hundreds of small arms held it as with bands of steel. Humans who had perished at sea and sunk down to the depths, peeped out from the polyps’ arms as white skeletons. They held onto ships’ rudders and chests, skeletons of land animals and a little mermaid that they had caught and strangled – that was what seemed to her to be almost the most dreadful.

She now came to a large slimy place in the forest where large, fat water-snakes tumbled and showed their vile white-yellow bellies. In the middle of this clearing a house had been built of the white bones of shipwrecked human beings, there the sea-witch sat, allowing a toad to eat from her mouth, just as human allow a small canary to eat sugar. The horrible fat water-snakes she called her small chickens and she let them romp around on her large, spongy breast.

‘I know what you want alright!’ the sea-witch said. ‘it’s very stupid of you! but you shall have your will even so, for it will bring you great misfortune, my lovely princess. You want to get rid of your fish’s tail and have two props instead to go around on just like human beings, so that the young prince can fall in love with you and you can have him and an immortal soul!’ And just then the witch cackled so loudly and horribly that the toad and the grass snakes fell to the ground and tossed around there. ‘You’ve come at precisely the right time,’ the witch said, ‘tomorrow when the sun rises I couldn’t have helped you before another year had passed. I will prepare a drink for you; before the sun rises you must swim with it to where there is land, sit down on the shore there and drink it, then your tail will split and contract into what humans call a nice pair of legs, but it will hurt you, it is as if a sharp sword passed through you. Everyone who sees you will say you are the loveliest human child they have ever seen! you will keep your floating walk, no dancer can float as you can, but each step you take will be like treading on a sharp knife that made your blood flow. Are you prepared to suffer all this? – for then I will help you.’

‘Yes!’ the little mermaid said with a trembling voice, and she thought of the prince and of winning an immortal soul.

‘But remember this,’ the witch said, ‘once you have assumed human form, you can never become a mermaid again! you can never dive down through the water to your sisters and to your father’s palace, and if you do not gain the love of the prince, so that he forgets his father and mother for you, unless you fill all his thoughts and he lets the priest place your hands in each other’s so that you become man and wife, you will not gain an immortal soul! the first morning after he has married someone else, your heart will break, and you will become foam on the water.’

‘This is my wish!’ the little mermaid said and was deathly pale.

‘But you must also pay me!’ the witch said, ‘and what I am asking for is no trifle. You have the loveliest voice of all those here on the sea-bed, and you count on entrancing him with it, but that voice you must give to me. I must have the best thing you own for my precious drink! I must give you of my own blood for the drink, so that it can be as sharp as a double-edged sword!’

‘But if you take my voice,’ the little mermaid said, ‘what am I left with?’

‘Your beautiful appearance,’ the witch said, your floating walk and your eloquent eyes – with those you’re sure to be able to captivate a human heart. Well, have you lost your courage! Stretch out your little tongue, I will cut it off as payment, and you shall have your powerful drink!’

‘So be it!’ the little mermaid said, and the witch fetched her cauldron to boil the magic potion. ‘Cleanliness is next to godliness!’ she said and scoured the inside of it with the grass snakes, which she bound into a knot; now she made a deep scratch in her breast and let her black blood drip down in it. The steam formed the queerest shapes that were scaring and frightening. Every second the witch added new things to the cauldron, and when it boiled away it was as if a crocodile was crying. Finally the drink was ready – it looked like the clearest water!

‘There it is!’ the witch said and cut the little mermaid’s tongue off – she was mute now, unable to either sing or speak.

‘If the polyps should seize you as you pass through my forest on your way back,’ the witch said, ‘just throw a single drop of this drink onto them and their arms and fingers will burst into thousands of pieces!’ but the mermaid had no need of this, the polyps retreated in fear when they saw she was carrying the gleaming drink that shone in her hand as if it was a twinkling star. So she soon came through the forest, the bog and the roaring whirlpools.

She could see her father’s palace; the lamps had been put out in the large dance hall; they were surely all asleep inside, but she did not dare to try and find them, now that she could not speak and would be leaving them for ever. It felt as if her heart would break from sorrow. She stole into the garden, took one flower from each of her sisters’ flower beds, sent thousands of finger-kisses towards the palace and rose up through the dark-blue waters.

The sun had not yet appeared when she saw the prince’s palace and went up the magnificent marble staircase. The moon shone wonderfully clearly. The little mermaid downed the fiery, sharp drink and it was as though a two-edged sword went right through her fine body, she fainted and lay as if dead. When the sun was shining over the sea, she woke up and felt a searing pain, but right in front of her the handsome young prince was standing, he fixed his jet-black eyes on her, so she lowered hers and saw that her fish’s tail was gone and that she had the most attractive small white legs any young girl could have, but she was completely naked, so she wrapped herself in her long tresses. The prince asked who she was, and how she had come to be there, and she looked at him so gently and so sorrowfully with her dark-blue eyes, for she could not speak, you see. Then he took her by the hand and led her into the palace. Every step she took was, as the witch had said to her earlier, as if she was treading on pointed needles and sharp knives, but she put up with this gladly; with the prince’s hand holding hers she rose as light as a soap-bubble, and he and everyone else marvelled at her elegant, floating walk.

She was dressed in priceless clothes of silk and muslin, she was the most beautiful of all those at the palace, but she was mute, unable to sing or speak. Lovely slave-girls, dressed in silk and gold, came forward and sang for the prince and his royal parents; a song more beautiful than all the others and the prince clapped his hands and smiled at her, then the little mermaid felt sad, for she knew that she herself would have sung far more beautifully! she thought, ‘Oh, if only he knew that in order to be with him I have given away my voice for all eternity!’

Now the slave-girls danced graceful, floating dances to the loveliest music, then the little mermaid lifted her beautiful white arms, raised herself on tiptoe and floated across the floor, danced as no one had ever danced before; at her every movement her loveliness became more apparent, and her eyes spoke more profoundly to the heart than the singing of the slave-girls.

Everyone was enchanted by this, particularly the prince, who called her his little foundling, and she danced more and more even though every time her foot touched the ground it was as if she was treading on sharp knives. The prince said that she was to be with him always, and she was allowed to sleep outside his door on a velvet cushion.

He had a man’s costume sewn for her, so that she could follow him on horseback. They rode through the fragrant forests where the green branches brushed her shoulders and the small birds sang behind fresh-green leaves. She climbed with the prince on the high mountains and although her fine feet bled, so that the others noticed it, she merely laughed at this and followed him until they saw the clouds sailing beneath them as if they were a flock of birds flying off to foreign lands.

Back at the prince’s palace, when the others were asleep, she went out onto the broad marble staircase, and it cooled her burning feet to stand there in the cold sea-water, and then she thought of them down there in the depths of the ocean.

One night her sisters came arm in arm, they sang so sorrowfully as they swam across the water, and she waved to them, and they recognised her and told her how sad she had made them all. Every night after that they visited her, and one night, far out, she saw her old grandmother, who had not been up to the surface of the sea for many years, and the sea-king with his crown on his head – they stretched their arms out towards her, but did not dare come as close to the shore as her sisters did.

Day by day the prince became more dear to her, he was fond of her as one can be fond of a good, dear child, but it never occurred to him to make her his queen, and she had to become his wife, otherwise she would never get an immortal soul, but on his wedding morning would become foam on the sea.

‘Aren’t you fonder of me than all the rest!’ the eyes of the little mermaid seemed to say when he took her in his arms and kissed her lovely forehead.

‘Yes, you are dearest of all to me,’ the prince said, ‘for you have the best heart of them all, you are the most devoted to me, and you resemble a young girl I once saw but will surely never find again. I was on a ship that was wrecked, the waves washed me ashore near a sacred temple where several young girls were in service, the youngest of them found me down on the shore and saved my life, I only saw her twice; she was the only one I could ever love in this world, but you resemble her, you almost replace her image in my soul, she belongs to the holy temple, and therefore my good fortune has sent you to me – we shall never be parted!’ – ‘Alas, he doesn’t know that I have saved his life!’ the little mermaid thought, ‘I carried him over the sea to the forest where the temple stands, I sat behind the foam and waited to see if anyone would come. I saw the beautiful girl he is more fond of than me!’ and the mermaid sighed deeply – she was unable to cry. ‘The girl belongs to the sacred temple, he has told me, she will never come out into the world, they will not meet again, I am with him, I see him every day, I will take care of him, love him, sacrifice my life to him!’

But now the prince is to be married and have the lovely daughter of the king of the neighbouring country! people said, that is why he is equipping a ship so magnificently. The prince is travelling to see the lands of the neighbouring king, is the official explanation, but it is to see the neighbouring king’s daughter. He is to have a large retinue with him; but the little mermaid shook her head and laughed; she knew the prince’s thoughts much better than all the rest. ‘I must travel!’ he had said to her, ‘I must see the beautiful princess, my parents insist on it, but they do not wish to force me to bring her home as my bride! I cannot love her! she does not look like the beautiful girl in the temple that you resemble. If I ever had to choose a bride, it would rather be you, my speechless foundling with the eloquent eyes!’ and he kissed her red lips, played with her long tresses and placed his head close to her heart, so it dreamt of human happiness and an immortal soul.

‘But you are not frightened of the sea, my mute child!’ he said when they stood on board the magnificent ship that was to take him to the lands of the neighbouring king; and he told her about storms and dead calms, about strange fish in the ocean depths and what the diver had seen there, and she smiled at his account, for she of course knew far better than anyone else about the sea-bed.

In the moonlit night, when everyone was asleep, except for the mate, she sat by the railing of the ship and stared down through the clear water, and she seemed to see her father’s palace, highest up stood her old grandmother with her silver crown on her head and stared up through the swift currents at the keel of the ship. Then her sisters broke the surface of the sea, they stared sorrowfully at her and wrung their white hands, she waved to them, smiled and wanted to tell them that things were going well and successfully for her, but the ship’s boy came closer and the sisters dived down, so he thought that what he had seen had merely been white foam on the water.

The next morning the ship entered the harbour of the magnificent city of the neighbouring king. All the church bells rang out, and trumpets sounded from the high towers, while the soldiers stood with fluttering flags and glinting bayonets. There were festivities every single day, balls and parties in succession, but the princess was not present yet, she was being brought up far away from there in a sacred temple, they said, where she was learning all the royal virtues. Finally, she arrived on the scene.

The little mermaid was most eager to see her beauty, and she had to admit that she had never seen a fairer creature. Her skin was so fine and transparent, and behind the long, dark eyelashes there smiled a pair of black-blue faithful eyes!

‘It’s you!’ the prince said, ‘you who saved me when I lay like a corpse on the shore!’ and he embraced his blushing bride. ‘Oh, I am far too fortunate!’ he said to the little mermaid. ‘The best thing I could ever have hoped for has been fulfilled for me. You will rejoice in my good fortune, for you are more fond of me than all the others!’ And the little mermaid kissed his hand, and she seemed to feel her heart break. His wedding morning would bring her death and turn her into foam on the sea.

All the church bells rang out, the heralds rode through the streets and announced the engagement. Fragrant oil burned in precious silver lamps on all the altars. The priests swung incense and the bride and bridegroom joined hands and received the bishop’s blessing. The little mermaid stood in silk and gold and held the bride’s train, but her ear did not hear the festive music, her eye did not see the holy ceremony, she thought only of her death-night, of all that she had lost in this world.

That very same evening, the bride and bridegroom boarded the ship, the cannons were fired, all the flags waved, and a fine tent of gold and purple had been raised in the middle of the ship, with the loveliest of cushions – there the wedding couple were to sleep in the still, cool night.

The sails swelled out in the wind, and the ship glided lightly and without any great motion out across the clear water.

When it grew dark, many-coloured lamps were lit and the sailors danced merry dances on deck. The little mermaid had to think of the first time she surfaced from the depths and saw the same magnificence and happiness, and she whirled round in the dance too, floated like the swallow floats when it is being pursued, and everyone expressed their great admiration, never had she danced so wonderfully; it felt like sharp knives in her fine small feet, but she did not notice it – it was nothing compared to the pain in her heart. She knew this would be the last evening she would see the man for whom she had abandoned her home and her family, given up her lovely voice and suffered endless torment every day, without him having any idea of this. This was the last night she would breathe the same air as he did, see the deep ocean and the star-studded sky, an eternal night without thought or dream awaited her, she who had no soul and would never be able to gain one.

And there was joy and merriment on board until way after midnight, she laughed and danced but with the thought of death in her heart. The prince kissed his lovely bride, and she played with his black hair, and arm in arm they retired to the magnificent tent.

It grew quiet and still on board, with only the mate still on duty, the little mermaid laid her white arm on the railing and looked eastwards towards the approaching dawn, the first rays of the sun, she knew, would kill her. Then she saw her sisters rise up out of the sea, they were pale, as she was; their long beautiful hair no longer fluttered in the wind – it had been cut off.

‘We have given it to the witch, so that she can bring help and prevent you from dying this night! She has given us a knife – here it is! Can you see how sharp it is? Before the sun rises, you must plunge it into the prince’s heart, and when his warm blood spatters onto your feet, they will once more become a fish’s tail and you will become a mermaid once again, be able to come down into the water to us and live your three hundred years before you are turned into dead, salty sea-foam. Hurry! Either he or you must die before the sun rises! Our old grandmother is grieving so much that her white hair has fallen off, just as ours did at the witch’s scissors. Kill the prince and come back! Hurry, can’t you see the red streak in the sky? In a few minutes the sun will rise and you will have to die!’ and they let out a strangely deep sigh and sank down into the waves.

The little mermaid pulled by the purple curtain from the tent, and she saw the lovely bride sleeping with her head on the prince’s breast, and she bent down, kissed him on his handsome forehead, looked up at the sky where the dawn grew stronger and stronger, looked down at the sharp knife and once more fixed her eyes on the prince, who named his bride by name in his dreams, she alone was in his thoughts, and the knife shook in the mermaid’s hand, but then she flung it far out across the waves, which gleamed red when it fell, so it looked like drops of blood trickling up out of the water. Once more she gazed at the prince with half-glazed eyes, rushed off the ship down into the sea, and felt her body dissolve into foam. The little mermaid saw that she had a body like theirs, it rose more and more out of the foam.

Now the sun rose out of the sea. Its rays fell so gently and warmly on the deathly cold sea-foam and the little mermaid did not feel death, she saw the bright sun, and up above her there floated hundreds of transparent, lovely creatures; through them she could see the ship’s white sails and the sky’s red clouds, their voice was a melody, but so spiritual that no human ear could hear it, just as no earthly eye could see them – without wings they floated in their own lightness through the air.

‘Who am I coming to!’ she said, and her voice sounded like those of the other beings, so spiritual than no earthly music can reproduce it.

‘To the daughters of the air!’ the others replied. ‘A mermaid has no immortal soul, can never gain one unless she wins the love of a human being! Her eternal being depends on a foreign force. The daughters of the air do not have an eternal soul either, but by good deeds they are able to create one for themselves. We fly to the warm countries where the sultry plague-air kills people – there we fan cool air on them. We spread the scent of flowers through the air and send refreshment and cure. When we have striven to do all the good we can for three hundred years, we are granted an immortal soul and take part in the eternal happiness of humans. You, poor little mermaid, have striven to do the same with all your heart as we do, you have suffered and endured, have lifted yourself up to the realm of the spirits of the air, now through good deeds you can create for yourself an immortal soul in three hundred years’ time.’

And the little mermaid lifted her clear arms towards God’s sun, and for the first time she felt tears. On board the ship there was noise and life once more, she saw the prince with his lovely bride searching for her, sadly they stared at the bubbling foam, as if they knew she had thrown herself into the waves. Unseen, she kissed the bride’s forehead, smiled at him and rose with the other children of the air up onto the rosy cloud that sailed through the sky.

‘In three hundred years’ time we will sail thus into the kingdom of God!’

‘We can also enter in earlier than that!’ one of them whispered.

‘We can float unseen into the homes of humans who have children, and each time we find a good child that gladdens its parents and earns their love, God shortens our time of probation. The child is unaware of us flying through the living room, and when we smile with joy at it, one year is taken away from our three hundred, but if we see a naughty and wicked child, then we have to cry tears of sorrow, and each tear adds a further day to our time of probation!’

 

The Little Mermaid
Translated by Susannah Mary Paull

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!"

Finnish

Pieni merenneito
Translated by Maila Talvio
 
coming soon!

German

Die kleine Meerfrau
Translated by Gisela Perlet

Weit draußen im Meer ist das Wasser so blau wie die Blüte der herrlichsten Kornblume und so klar wie das reinste Glas. Aber es ist sehr tief, tiefer als irgendein Ankertau reicht; viele Kirchtürme muß man übereinanderstellen, um vom Grund bis über die Oberfläche zu ge­langen. Dort unten wohnen die Meerleute.

Nun darf man keineswegs glauben, daß in der Tiefe nur nackter, weißer Sandboden ist; nein, hier wachsen die selt­samsten Bäume und Pflanzen, mit so geschmeidigen Stengeln und Blättern, daß sie der kleinsten Bewegung des Wassers folgen, ganz als ob sie lebendig wären. Sämtliche Fische, kleine und große, huschen zwischen ihren Zwei­gen hindurch, so wie bei uns oben die Vögel in der Luft. An der allertiefsten Stelle ist das Schloß des Meerkönigs zu finden. Seine Mauern sind aus Korallen, die langen, spitzen Fenster aus dem allerklarsten Bernstein, und als Dach dienen Muschelschalen, die sich, je nach der Strö­mung, öffnen und schließen. Das sieht ganz wunderbar aus, denn in jeder Muschel liegen schimmernde Perlen, von denen eine einzige eine Zierde für die Krone einer Königin wäre.

Der Meerkönig war seit vielen Jahren verwitwet, und seine alte Mutter führte ihm den Haushalt. Sie war eine kluge Frau, jedoch stolz auf ihren Adel, weshalb sie auf dem Schwanz zwölf Austern trug, während die anderen Vornehmen lediglich sechs tragen durften. - Ansonsten verdiente sie jedoch viel Lob, vor allem weil sie den klei­nen Meerprinzessinnen, ihren Enkeltöchtern, von Herzen zugetan war. Das waren sechs prächtige Kinder, und am schönsten von ihnen war die Jüngste. Ihre Haut war zart und rein wie ein Rosenblatt, ihre Augen leuchteten so blau wie der tiefste See, doch weil ihr Körper in einem Fisch­schwanz endete, fehlten ihr wie allen anderen die Füße.

Den ganzen Tag durften die Mädchen unten in den großen Sälen des Schlosses spielen, wo aus den Wänden lebendige Blumen wuchsen. Wenn dann die großen Bernsteinfenster geöffnet wurden, schwammen die Fische zu ihnen herein, so wie zu uns die Schwalben ins Zimmer fliegen, wenn wir die Fenster aufmachen. Doch die Fische schwammen ganz dicht an die kleinen Prinzessinnen heran, aßen ihnen aus der Hand und ließen sich streicheln.

Vor dem Schloß war ein großer Garten mit feuerroten und dunkelblauen Bäumen, deren Früchte wie Gold und die Blüten wie brennendes Feuer glänzten, und sie be­wegten ständig Stengel und Blätter. Der Boden war mit dem feinsten Sand bedeckt, der aber blau wie brennender Schwefel war. Alles hier war in einen seltsamen blauen Schimmer getaucht, man hätte annehmen sollen, hoch oben in der Luft zu sein, über sich und unter sich nur Himmel, und nicht unten auf dem Meeresgrund. Bei ganz ruhigem Wasser war die Sonne zu erkennen; sie glich einer purpurroten Blume, aus deren Kelch alles Licht zu strömen schien.

Jede der kleinen Prinzessinnen hatte ihr Fleckchen im Garten, wo sie graben und pflanzen durfte, ganz wie sie Lust hatte. Eine gab ihrem Blumenbeet die Gestalt eines Walfischs, eine andere wollte lieber eine kleine Meerfrau nachbilden, und die Jüngste formte ihr Beet so rund wie die Sonne und hatte nur Blumen, die rot wie die Sonne leuchteten. Sie war ein sonderbares Kind, still und nach­denklich, und während die anderen Schwestern ihre Beete mit den wunderlichsten Dingen von gestrandeten Schiffen schmückten, wollte sie außer den rosenroten Blumen, die der Sonne am Himmel glichen, nur eine hübsche Mar­morstatue darauf haben, eine schöne Knabengestalt, aus weißem, reinem Stein gemeißelt, die durch einen Schiffbruch auf den Meeresgrund geraten war. Daneben pflanzte sie eine rosenrote Trauerweide, die prächtig ge­dieh und ihre frischen Zweige über die Statue bis auf den blauen Sandboden hängen und einen violetten Schatten werfen ließ, der sich wie sie selber bewegte - das sah aus, als küßten sich Wipfel und Wurzeln im Spiel.

Nichts konnte die Jüngste mehr erfreuen, als von der Menschenwelt über dem Wasser zu hören; die alte Großmutter mußte ihr alles erzählen, was sie von Schiffen und Städten, Menschen und Tieren wußte. Sie fand es ganz besonders wunderbar und schön, daß auf der Erde die Blumen dufteten, was sie auf dem Meeresgrund nicht taten, daß die Wälder grün waren und daß die Fische dort zwischen den Zweigen so laut und herrlich singen konn­ten, daß es eine Lust war - die Großmutter nannte die Vöglein Fische, denn sonst hätten die Prinzessinnen, die noch nie einen Vogel gesehen hatten, sie nicht verstanden.

»Wenn ihr euer fünfzehntes Jahr vollendet«, sagte die Großmutter, »dann wird euch erlaubt sein, aus dem Meer aufzutauchen und im Mondschein auf den Klippen zu sitzen; ihr könnt die großen Schiffe vorübersegeln und Wäl­der und Städte sehen!«

Im kommenden Jahr sollte die erste der Schwestern fünfzehn Jahre alt werden, die übrigen aber - ja, eine war immer ein Jahr jünger als die andere, und die Jüngste mußte also noch ganze fünf Jahre warten, bis sie vom Meeresgrund aufsteigen und in Augenschein nehmen durfte, wie es bei uns aussah. Doch eine Schwester ver­sprach, den anderen zu berichten, was sie gesehen und was ihr am ersten Tag am besten gefallen habe. Die Großmutter erzählte ihnen nämlich nicht genug; es gab so vieles, worüber sie Bescheid wissen mußten.

Keine war so voller Sehnsucht wie die Jüngste, gerade sie, die doch die längste Zeit zu warten hatte und die so still und nachdenklich war. So manche Nacht stand sie am offnen Fenster und schaute empor, wo die Fische mit ihren Flossen und Schwänzen im dunkelblauen Wasser schlugen. Mond und Sterne konnte sie erkennen; freilich schimmerten sie ganz blaß, nahmen sich durch das Wasser jedoch viel größer als vor unseren Augen aus. Wenn dar­unter etwas wie eine schwarze Wolke dahinglitt, dann, so wußte die Jüngste, schwamm über ihr entweder ein Wal­fisch oder vielleicht auch ein Schiff mit vielen Menschen, die gewiß nicht daran dachten, daß in der Tiefe eine schöne kleine Meerfrau stand und ihre weißen Hände zum Kiel emporreckte.

Nun war die älteste Prinzessin fünfzehn Jahre und durfte hinauf über die Meeresfläche steigen.

Nach ihrer Rückkehr hatte sie hundert Dinge zu be­richten. Doch am schönsten sei es gewesen, sagte sie, bei Mondschein und ruhiger See auf einer Sandbank zu liegen und die große Stadt an der Küste zu betrachten, deren Lichter wie Hunderte von Sternen blinkten, die Musik, das Getöse und Gelärme von Wagen und Menschen und den Klang der Glocken von den vielen Kirchtürmen und Turmspitzen zu hören. Gerade weil all das für sie uner­reichbar war, sehnte sie sich danach am meisten.

Oh, wie die jüngste Schwester lauschte, und wenn sie nun abends am offnen Fenster stand und durch das dun­kelblaue Wasser in die Höhe schaute, dachte sie an die große Stadt mit all dem Lärm und Getöse, und da glaubte sie das Läuten der Kirchenglocken bis hinunter auf den Meeresgrund zu hören.

Im nächsten Jahr wurde der zweiten Schwester erlaubt, durch das Wasser emporzusteigen und zu schwimmen, wohin sie wollte. Als sie auftauchte, ging gerade die Sonne unter, und diesen Anblick fand sie am schönsten. Der ganze Himmel sei wie Gold gewesen, sagte sie, und die Wolken, ja ihre Pracht konnte sie gar nicht genug beschreiben! Rot und violett waren sie über sie hinweggesegelt, doch viel schneller noch und wie ein langer weißer Schleier war eine Schar wilder Schwäne über das Wasser geflogen, eben dort, wo die Sonne stand. Die Schwester war auf den Himmelskörper zugeschwommen, da aber versank er, und der Rosenschimmer auf Meeresfläche und Wolken erlosch.

Im Jahr darauf durfte die dritte Schwester nach oben. Sie war von allen die kühnste und schwamm deshalb in einen breiten Fluß, der in das Meer einmündete. Prächtige grüne Hügel mit Weinranken sah sie, aus herrlichen Wäldern guckten Schlösser und Höfe hervor; alle Vögel hörte sie singen, und so warm schien die Sonne, daß sie oft untertauchen mußte, um sich das brennende Gesicht zu kühlen. In einer kleinen Bucht traf sie auf eine ganze Schar kleiner Menschenkinder, die waren ganz nackt und planschten im Wasser; doch als sie mit ihnen spielen wollte, liefen sie erschrocken davon. Dann kam ein kleines schwarzes Tier – es war ein Hund, aber die Meerfrau hatte noch nie einen Hund gesehen – und bellte sie so entsetzlich an, daß sie sich vor Angst in die offene See verzog. Doch niemals würde sie die prächtigen Wälder, die grünen Hügel und die hübschen Kinder vergessen, die auch ohne Fischschwänze im Wasser schwimmen konnten.

Die vierte Schwester war nicht so mutig, sie blieb draußen im wilden Meer und erzählte dann, gerade das sei am schönsten gewesen: Man könne rundherum viele Meilen weit schauen, und der Himmel stehe wie eine große Glasglocke darüber. Schiffe hatte sie nur in weiter Ferne gesehen, die waren so ähnlich wie Mantelmöwen; die lustigen Delphine hatten Purzelbäume geschlagen, und wenn die großen Walfische Wasser aus ihren Nasenlöchern spritzten, schienen ringsum hundert Fontänen aufzusteigen.

Nun kam die fünfte Schwester an die Reihe. Weil ihr Geburtstag gerade in den Winter fiel, bekam sie zu sehen, was die andern beim ersten Mal nicht gesehen hatten. Die See nahm sich vollkommen grün aus, und überall schwammen große Eisberge herum, jeder davon einer Perle gleich, wie sie sagte, und doch viel größer als jene Kirchtürme, welche die Menschen erbauten. Sie zeigten sich in den seltsamsten Gestalten und funkelten wie Dia­manten. Als sich das Mädchen auf einen der größten setzte und ihr langes Haar im Wind flattern ließ, wichen ihr alle Segelschiffe erschrocken aus. Doch gegen Abend bezog sich der Himmel mit Wolken, es blitzte und don­nerte, und die schwarze See hob die großen Eisblöcke hoch empor und ließ sie im Schein der roten Blitze glän­zen. Auf allen Schiffen wurden die Segel eingeholt, überall herrschte Angst und Schrecken, die Meerfrau aber, die auf ihrem schwimmenden Eisberg saß, sah ruhig dem blauen Blitzstrahl zu, der im Zickzack in die schimmernde See einschlug.

Jede der Schwestern, die zum ersten Mal über die Mee­resfläche kam, war vom Anblick des Neuen und Schönen begeistert. Als die Mädchen dann aber erwachsen waren und hinaufsteigen durften, wann immer sie wollten, wurde es ihnen gleichgültig. Sie sehnten sich nach ihrem Schloß zurück, und als ein Monat vergangen war, sagten sie, unten bei ihnen sei es doch am allerschönsten, da sei man so hübsch zu Hause.

Oft geschah es in der Abendstunde, daß die fünf Schwestern Arm in Arm und in einer Reihe über das Was­ser stiegen. Sie hatten so wunderbare Stimmen, wie Men­schen sie gar nicht haben können, und wenn sich nun ein Sturm zusammenbraute und sie annehmen konnten, daß Schiffen der Untergang drohte, dann schwammen sie vor ihnen her und sangen betörend davon, wie schön es auf dem Meeresgrund sei, die Seeleute sollten sich vor der Reise dorthin nicht fürchten. Doch die Männer verstan­den ihre Worte nicht und hielten sie für Sturmgebraus, auch die Pracht in der Tiefe bekamen sie nicht zu sehen, denn wenn das Schiff unterging, ertranken die Menschen, und wenn sie zum Schloß des Meerkönigs gelangten, waren sie tot.

Während die Mädchen in der Abendstunde Arm in Arm durch das Wasser stiegen, blieb ihre kleine Schwester ganz allein zurück und sah ihnen nach, und da war ihr, als müßte sie weinen; doch eine Meerfrau hat keine Tränen und deshalb leidet sie viel mehr.

»Ach, wäre ich doch fünfzehn Jahre!« sagte sie. »Ich werde die Welt und die Menschen, die dort oben wohnen und leben, sehr lieb gewinnen, das weiß ich.«

Endlich hatte sie das rechte Alter erreicht.

»Schau an, da haben wir dich soweit«, sagte ihre Großmutter, die alte Königinwitwe. »Komm her, ich will dich schmücken, genauso wie deine Schwestern!«

Und sie setzte ihr einen Kranz weißer Lilien auf den Kopf, von denen jedes Blütenblatt die Hälfte einer Perle war, und befahl acht großen Austern, sich auf dem Schwanz der Prinzessin festzuklemmen, um ihren hohen Stand recht zu beweisen.

»Das tut so weh!« sagte die kleine Meerfrau.

»Ja, wer schön sein will, muß leiden«, sagte die Alte.

Ach, wie gern hätte die kleine Meerfrau die ganze Pracht von sich geschüttelt und den schweren Kranz ab­gesetzt - die roten Blumen in ihrem Garten kleideten sie viel besser -, aber sie wagte nichts daran zu ändern. »Auf Wiedersehen!« sagte sie und stieg ganz leicht und klar wie eine Luftblase durch das Wasser empor.

Als sie den Kopf über den Meeresspiegel hob, war die Sonne gerade untergegangen, doch alle Wolken glänzten noch wie Rosen und Gold, und mitten in der blaßroten Luft strahlte der Abendstern so hell und schön, die Luft war mild und frisch und das Meer vollkommen still. Da lag ein großes Schiff mit drei Masten, nur ein einziges Segel war gesetzt, denn kein Lüftchen regte sich, und ringsum im Tauwerk und auf Stengen saßen Matrosen. Musik und Gesang ertönte, und als es dunkler wurde, zündete man hundert bunte Laternen an - das sah aus, als wehten Fahnen aller Nationen im Wind.

Die kleine Meerfrau schwamm geradewegs zum Kajü­tenfenster, und jedesmal, wenn sie vom Wasser emporge­hoben wurde, konnte sie einen Blick durch die spiegel­blanken Scheiben werfen. Viele geputzte Menschen waren zu sehen, doch am schönsten war der junge Prinz mit den großen schwarzen Augen; er war gewiß nicht viel älter als sechzehn Jahre, und all diese Pracht gab es, weil er Ge­burtstag hatte. Als er hinaus auf das Deck trat, wo die Ma­trosen tanzten, stiegen über hundert Raketen auf, leuch­tend wie der helle Tag, und ließen die kleine Meerfrau so heftig erschrecken, daß sie untertauchte. Doch bald hob sie den Kopf wieder über das Wasser, und da schienen alle Sterne des Himmels auf sie niederzufallen. Nie zuvor hatte sie solche Feuerkünste gesehen. Große Sonnen schnurrten herum, prächtige Feuerfische schwangen sich durch die blaue Luft, und all dieser Glanz wurde vom kla­ren, ruhigen Meer gespiegelt. Das Schiff selbst war so hell erleuchtet, daß sie jedes kleine Tau und erst recht die Menschen erkennen konnte. Oh, wie schön war doch der junge Prinz! Er drückte den Leuten die Hand, lachte und lächelte, während die Musik in die herrliche Nacht hinaustönte.

Es wurde spät, doch die kleine Meerfrau konnte den Blick von dem Schiff und vom schmucken Prinzen nicht abwenden. Die bunten Laternen wurden gelöscht, weder Raketen noch die Kanonen wurden abgefeuert, doch tief unten im Meer summte und brummte es. Die kleine Meerfrau saß auf dem Wasser und ließ sich vom Wellen­gang schaukeln, um in die Kajüte hineinzuschauen.

Aber das Schiff fuhr nun schneller, ein Segel nach dem anderen blähte sich auf, die Wellen gingen höher, große Wolken zogen heran, in der Ferne zuckten Blitze. Ach, ein schlimmes Unwetter braute sich zusammen! Deshalb stri­chen die Matrosen die Segel. Schwankend jagte das große Schiff über das wilde Meer, das Wasser türmte sich gleich­sam zu riesigen schwarzen Bergen und drohte sich über den Mast zu wälzen, doch wie ein Schwan tauchte das Schiff hinunter ins Wellental und ließ sich vom aufsteigen­den Wasser wieder in die Höhe tragen. Die kleine Meer­frau fand diese Fahrt gerade lustig, doch die Seeleute fan­den das gar nicht. Das Schiff ächzte und knackte, seine dicken Planken bogen sich unter den heftigen Stößen der See, der Mast brach mittendurch, als wäre er Schilfrohr, und das Schiff neigte sich schlingernd zur Seite, während das Wasser in seinen Innenraum drang. Da erkannte die Meerfrau, daß hier Gefahr im Verzug war, sie selbst mußte sich vor den treibenden Balken und Wrackteilen in acht nehmen. Einen Augenblick lang war es so kohlraben­schwarz, daß sie nicht das geringste sehen konnte; doch wenn es dann blitzte, war es wieder so hell, daß sie auf dem Schiff alle Leute erkannte - jeder tummelte sich nach Kräf­ten. Vor allem suchte sie den jungen Prinzen, und als das Schiff auseinanderbrach, sah sie ihn im tiefen Meer versin­ken. Zuerst freute sie sich sehr, denn jetzt sollte er zu ihr kommen; dann aber dachte sie daran, daß die Menschen im Wasser nicht leben können und daß er sterben müßte, um zum Schloß ihres Vater zu gelangen. Nein, sterben, das durfte er nicht! Deshalb schwamm sie zwischen die trei­benden Balken und Planken hindurch, vergaß ganz und gar, daß sie zerquetscht werden könnte, tauchte tief unter und stieg wieder hoch empor, bis sie endlich den jungen Prinzen erreichte. Der vermochte in der stürmischen See kaum noch zu schwimmen, seine Gliedmaßen erlahmten, die schönen Augen fielen ihm zu, und wenn die kleine Meerfrau nicht gekommen wäre, hätte er sterben müssen. Sie hielt seinen Kopf über Wasser und ließ sich dann mit ihm treiben, wohin die Wellen wollten.

Am Morgen war das böse Wetter vorüber; von dem Schiff war kein Span mehr zu sehen. Als die Sonne ganz rot und leuchtend aus dem Wasser stieg, schienen sich die Wangen des Prinzen zu beleben, doch seine Augen blie­ben geschlossen. Die Meerfrau küßte ihn auf seine schöne hohe Stirn und strich ihm das nasse Haar zurück; sie fand ihn der Marmorstatue in ihrem kleinen Garten ähnlich, küßte ihn wieder und wünschte sich sehr, er möge am Leben bleiben.

Da erblickte sie vor sich das feste Land, hohe blaue Berge, so schimmernd mit weißem Schnee bedeckt, als lägen auf ihren Gipfeln Schwäne. An der Küste dehnten sich herrliche grüne Wälder aus, und davor sah sie etwas, das vielleicht eine Kirche oder ein Kloster war, jedenfalls war es ein Gebäude. Zitronen- und Apfelsinenbäume wuchsen im Garten, und vor dem Tor ragten hohe Palmen auf. Eine kleine Bucht, mit ruhigem, jedoch sehr tiefem Wasser, zog sich bis zu einer Klippe hin, wo feiner, weißer Sand aufgespült war. Hierhin schwamm die Meerfrau mit dem schönen Prinzen, bettete ihn in den Sand und sorgte vor allem dafür, daß sein Kopf höher und im warmen Sonnenschein lag.

Nun läuteten in dem großen weißen Gebäude Glocken, und durch den Garten kamen viele junge Mädchen gezo­gen. Da schwamm die kleine Meerfrau weiter hinaus, versteckte sich hinter ein paar hohen Steinen im Wasser, legte sich Meerschaum auf Brust und Haar, damit niemand ihr kleines Gesicht sehen könnte, und hielt Ausschau, wer wohl den armen Prinzen entdeckte.

Es dauerte nicht lange, da näherte sich ihm ein junges Mädchen; sie schien heftig zu erschrecken, doch nur für einen Augenblick, dann holte sie mehrere Leute herbei. Die Meerfrau sah, wie der Prinz zum Leben erwachte und allen zulächelte, die ihn umgaben, nur für sie hatte er kein Lächeln übrig, er wußte ja auch nicht, daß sie ihn gerettet hatte. Darüber wurde sie sehr betrübt, und als die Leute ihn dann in das große Gebäude brachten, tauchte sie trau­rig unter und schwamm heim zum Schloß ihres Vaters.

Schon immer war sie still und nachdenklich gewesen, jetzt aber wurde sie es noch viel mehr. Die Schwestern fragten sie, was sie bei ihrem ersten Auftauchen gesehen habe, aber sie erzählte nichts.

Oft stieg sie abends und morgens zu jener Stelle empor, an der sie den Prinzen verlassen hatte. Sie sah, daß im Gar­ten die Früchte reiften und abgepflückt wurden, sie sah den Schnee auf den hohen Bergen schmelzen, aber den Prinzen sah sie nicht, und deshalb kehrte sie jedesmal trauriger zurück. Es war ihr einziger Trost, in ihrem Gärtchen zu sitzen und die schöne Marmorstatue zu umar­men, die mit dem Prinzen Ähnlichkeit hatte. Doch ihre Blumen pflegte sie nicht mehr, die wuchsen wie wild, wucherten über die Wege und verflochten ihre langen Sten­gel und Blätter mit den Zweigen der Bäume, so daß es in ihrem Garten ganz dunkel war.

Schließlich hielt sie es nicht mehr aus und vertraute sich einer der Schwestern an, worauf es sogleich alle an­dern erfuhren, mehr aber nicht, und noch ein paar wei­tere Meerfrauen, die es auch nur ihren engsten Freundin­nen erzählten. Eine von ihnen wußte Bescheid, sie hatte auch die Pracht auf dem Schiff gesehen und wußte, wer der Prinz war, woher er stammte und wo sein Königreich lag.

»Komm, Schwesterchen!« sagten die andern Prinzes­sinnen, und Arm in Arm stiegen sie in einer langen Reihe aus dem Meer, an jener Küste, wo das Schloß des Prinzen liegen mußte.

Das war aus einem hellgelben, glänzenden Gestein, und eine seiner großen Marmortreppen führte direkt bis zum Meer. Prächtige vergoldete Kuppeln erhoben sich auf den Dächern, und zwischen den Säulen, die das ganze Ge­bäude umgaben, standen Marmorbilder, die aussahen, als wären sie lebendig. Durch das klare Glas der hohen Fen­ster blickte man in die herrlichsten Säle, mit Teppichen und kostbaren Seidengardinen, und alle Wände waren mit großen Gemälden geschmückt - es war eine rechte Au­genweide. Mitten im größten Saal plätscherte ein riesiger Springbrunnen und ließ seine Strahlen zur Decke hinauf­steigen, wo die Sonne durch eine gläserne Kuppel auf das Wasser im großen Bassin mit seinen prächtigen Pflanzen schien.

Jetzt wußte die Meerfrau, wo der Prinz wohnte, und oft begab sie sich abends und nachts dorthin. So nah wie sie hatte sich keine der andern Schwestern ans Land gewagt, ja, sie schwamm durch den schmalen Kanal bis unter den prächtigen Marmorbalkon, der einen langen Schatten aufs Wasser warf. Hier saß sie und schaute den jungen Prinzen an, und der wähnte sich im hellen Mond­schein ganz allein.

So manchen Abend sah sie ihn in seinem prächtigen Boot fahren, mit Musik und wehenden Fahnen, und wenn sie aus dem grünen Schilf hervorguckte und der Wind ihren langen silberweißen Schleier packte, konnte man sie für einen Schwan mit flatternden Flügeln halten.

Oft hörte sie nachts den Fischern zu, die mit Fackeln unterwegs waren und über den jungen Prinzen soviel Gutes erzählten. Da freute sie sich, daß sie, als er be­wußtlos auf den Wellen trieb, sein Leben gerettet hatte, und sie dachte daran, wie fest sein Kopf an ihrer Brust geruht und wie innig sie ihn geküßt hatte - während er gar nichts davon wußte und nicht einmal von ihr träu­men konnte.

Immer besser gefielen ihr die Menschen, immer bren­nender wurde ihr Wunsch, zu ihnen emporzusteigen. Die Welt der Menschen erschien ihr viel größer als ihre eigene; sie konnten mit Schiffen über das Meer fliegen, auf die hohen Berge hoch über den Wolken steigen, und so weit dehnten sich ihre Länder mit Wäldern und Feldern aus, daß es gar nicht zu überschauen war. Die Meerfrau hatte so viele Fragen, doch die Schwestern wußten nicht immer Antwort. Deshalb wandte sie sich an die alte Großmutter, und die kannte sich mit der höheren Welt aus und nannte sie ganz richtig die Länder über dem Meer.

»Wenn die Menschen nicht ertrinken«, fragte die kleine Meerfrau, »können sie dann immer leben, brauchen sie nicht zu sterben wie wir auf dem Meeresgrund?«

»Doch«, sagte die Alte, »sterben müssen sie auch, und ihre Lebenszeit ist sogar kürzer als unsere. Wir können dreihundert Jahre alt werden, aber wenn wir dann von hier verschwinden, bleibt von uns nur Schaum auf dem Wasser, wir finden nicht einmal ein Grab bei unsern Lieben. Wir haben keine unsterbliche Seele und werden nicht wieder zum Leben erweckt, wir sind wie das grüne Schilf - ist es erst einmal abgeschnitten, dann kann es kein zweites Mal grünen. Die Seele der Menschen dagegen lebt immer, auch dann, wenn der Körper Erde ist; sie steigt durch die klare Luft empor, zu all den leuchtenden Sternen. So wie wir aus dem Meer auftauchen und dann die Länder der Menschen erblicken, so tauchen sie zu unbekannten, wunderbaren Orten auf, die wir niemals zu sehen bekommen.«

»Warum sind wir nicht mit einer unsterblichen Seele geboren?« fragte die kleine Meerfrau betrübt. »Ich würde alle meine dreihundert Jahre Lebenszeit dafür geben, um nur einen einzigen Tag lang ein Mensch zu sein und dann an der himmlischen Welt teilzuhaben!«

»An so etwas darfst du gar nicht denken!« sagte die Alte. »Wir leben viel glücklicher und besser als die Men­schen da oben.«

»Ich muß also sterben und als Schaum auf dem Meer treiben, ohne die Musik der Wellen zu hören, ohne die prächtigen Blumen und die rote Sonne zu sehen! Kann ich denn gar nichts tun, um eine ewige Seele zu gewinnen?«

»Nein!« sagte die Alte »Nur wenn ein Mensch dich so lieben könnte, daß du ihm mehr wärst als Vater und Mut­ter; wenn er mit allen Gedanken und all seiner Liebe an dir hinge und seine rechte Hand vom Pfarrer in deine Rechte legen ließe, mit dem Versprechen ewiger Treue, dann würde seine Seele in deinen Körper strömen, und auch du könntest am Glück der Menschen teilhaben. Er würde dir eine Seele geben und seine eigene doch behal­ten. Aber das kann niemals geschehen! Was hier im Meer gerade schön ist, dein Fischschwanz, das finden die da oben auf der Erde häßlich, mehr verstehen sie nicht davon, man muß zwei plumpe Stelzen haben, die sie Beine nennen, um schön zu sein!«

Da seufzte die Meerfrau und sah ihren Fischschwanz traurig an.

»Wir wollen lustig sein«, sagte die Alte, »hüpfen und springen in den dreihundert Jahren, die wir zu leben haben, das ist doch eine ganz schöne Zeit! Danach kann man sich um so vergnüglicher in seinem Grab ausruhen. Heute abend wollen wir einen Hofball geben!«

Es war eine solche Pracht, wie man sie niemals auf Erden sieht! Wände und Decke des großen Tanzsaals be­standen aus dickem, aber klarem Glas. Auf jeder Seite waren mehrere hundert kolossale rosenrote und gras­grüne Muschelschalen aufgestellt, mit einem blau bren­nenden Feuer, das nicht nur den ganzen Saal erhellte, son­dern seinen Schein auch durch die Wände nach draußen warf, so daß die See hell erleuchtet war. All die unzähligen Fische, große und kleine, die auf die Glasmauer zu­schwammen, waren zu sehen; bei einigen glänzten die Schuppen purpurrot, bei anderen wie Silber und Gold. - Mitten durch den Saal ergoß sich ein breiter Strom, und darauf tanzten Meermänner und Meerfrauen zu ihrem ei­genen Gesang, und ihre Stimmen waren so wunderbar, wie Menschen auf der Erde sie gar nicht haben. Am herr­lichsten von allen sang die kleine Meerfrau, und als die an­dern ihr Beifall klatschten, spürte sie für einen Augen­blick in ihrem Herzen Freude, denn sie wußte, daß keiner auf Erden und im Meer eine schönere Stimme hatte.

Bald aber mußte sie wieder an die Welt über der ihren denken; sie konnte den schönen Prinzen nicht vergessen und ihren Kummer darüber nicht verwinden, daß sie keine unsterbliche Seele wie er besaß. Deshalb schlich sie heimlich hinaus, und während das Schloß ihres Vaters ganz und gar von Gesang und Frohsinn erfüllt war, saß sie betrübt in ihrem kleinen Garten. Da hörte sie durch das Wasser hindurch den Klang von Waldhörnern und dachte: »Jetzt ist er wohl da oben in seinem Schiff, er, den ich mehr liebe als Vater und Mutter, er, an dem meine Ge­danken hängen, in dessen Hand ich das Glück meines Le­bens legen möchte. Alles will ich wagen, um ihn und eine unsterbliche Seele zu gewinnen! Derweil meine Schwe­stern im Schloß des Vaters tanzen, will ich zur Meerhexe gehen, vor der ich immer so große Angst hatte, aber sie kann mir vielleicht raten und helfen.«

Da verließ die kleine Meerfrau ihren Garten und machte sich zu den brausenden Mahlströmen auf, hinter denen die Hexe wohnte. Diesen Weg war sie noch nie gegangen, hier wuchs keine Blume, kein Seegras, er führte nur über nackten, grauen Sand, bis hin zu den Mahlströ­men, wo das tosende Wasser wie rasende Mühlräder wirbelte und alles mit in die Tiefe riß, was sich mitnehmen ließ. Zwischen diesen toddrohenden Strudeln mußte sie hindurch, um ins Gebiet der Meerhexe zu gelangen, wo es noch eine lange Strecke mit heißem, brodelndem Schlamm zu überwinden galt, was die Hexe ihr Torfmoor nannte. Dahinter stand ihr Haus, umgeben von einem seltsamen Wald. Alle Sträucher und Bäume waren Poly­pen, halb Tier und halb Pflanze, was aussah, als wüchsen aus dem Boden hundertköpfige Schlangen. An Stelle der Zweige hatten sie lange, schleimige Arme, mit Fingern, die geschmeidigen Würmern glichen und sich Glied für Glied von der Wurzel bis zur äußersten Spitze bewegten. Sie umklammerten alles, was sie im Meer ergreifen konn­ten, um es nie wieder loszulassen. Die kleine Meerfrau blieb ganz erschrocken stehen, ihr Herz klopfte vor Angst, und beinahe wäre sie umgekehrt. Dann aber dachte sie an den Prinzen und an die Seele der Menschen, und da faßte sie Mut. Sie band sich ihr langes, flatterndes Haar fest um den Kopf, damit die Polypen sie nicht daran packen konnten, preßte die Hände vor der Brust zusam­men, und dann flog sie, wie ein Fisch durchs Wasser fliegt, zwischen den häßlichen Polypen hindurch, die ihre ge­schmeidigen Arme und Finger nach ihr ausstreckten. Sie sah, daß jeder von ihnen etwas gefangen hatte und mit hundert kleinen Armen wie mit starken Eisenbändern festhielt. Menschen, die auf See umgekommen und in die Tiefe gesunken waren, steckten als weiße Gerippe in den Polypenarmen. Sie hielten Schiffsruder und Kisten um­klammert, auch Skelette von Landtieren, und sogar eine kleine Meerfrau hatten sie gefangen und erwürgt - das war für die jüngste Prinzessin fast das Schlimmste.

Nun kam sie zu einem weiten, schlierigen Platz, auf dem sich große, fette Wasserschlangen tummelten und ihre häßlichen weißgelben Bäuche zeigten. In der Mitte stand ein Haus, errichtet aus den weißen Gebeinen er­trunkener Menschen. Hier saß die Meerhexe und ließ eine Kröte aus ihrem Mund fressen, wie die Menschen einen kleinen Kanarienvogel mit Zucker füttern. Sie nannte die häßlichen, fetten Wasserschlangen ihre Hühnchen und gestattete ihnen, sich auf ihrer großen, schwammigen Brust zu wälzen.

»Ich weiß schon, was du willst«, sagte die Meerhexe, »das ist eine Dummheit! Trotzdem sollst du deinen Wil­len haben, denn das wird dich ins Unglück stürzen, mein schönes Prinzeßchen! Du möchtest deinen Fischschwanz loswerden und dafür zwei Stümpfe zum Gehen haben, so wie die Menschen, damit sich der junge Prinz in dich ver­lieben kann und du ihn und eine unsterbliche Seele be­kommst!« Dabei lachte die Hexe so laut und häßlich, daß ihr die Kröte und die Schlangen von der Brust fielen und sich nun auf dem Boden wälzten. »Du kommst gerade zur rechten Zeit«, fuhr sie fort, »denn wenn morgen früh die Sonne aufgeht, muß erst wieder ein Jahr verstreichen, bevor ich dir helfen kann. Ich werde dir einen Trank brauen, damit mußt du vor Sonnenaufgang zum Land schwimmen, mußt dich ans Ufer setzen und ihn trinken. Dann teilt sich dein Schwanz auseinander und schrumpft ein, bis du hast, was die Menschen hübsche Beine nennen. Aber das tut so weh, als ginge das scharfe Schwert durch dich hindurch. Alle Leute werden sagen, sie hätten noch nie ein so herrliches Menschenkind wie dich gesehen. Du wirst deinen schwebenden Gang behalten, keine Tänzerin kann schweben wie du, doch bei jedem deiner Schritte glaubst du auf ein scharfes Messer zu treten und dich bis auf das Blut zu schneiden. Wenn du bereit bist, all das zu leiden, dann will ich dir helfen.«

»Ja!« sagte die kleine Meerfrau mit bebender Stimme und dachte an den Prinzen und den Gewinn einer un­sterblichen Seele.

»Aber denk dran«, sagte die Hexe, »hast du erst einmal menschliche Gestalt angenommen, dann kannst du nie wieder eine Meerfrau werden! Du kannst nie wieder durchs Wasser zu deinen Schwestern und zum Schloß dei­nes Vaters hinuntersteigen, und wenn es dir nicht gelingt, die Liebe des Prinzen zu gewinnen - so daß er über dir Vater und Mutter vergißt, mit all seinen Gedanken an dir hängt, den Pfarrer eure Hände ineinanderlegen läßt und ihr Mann und Frau werdet -, dann bekommst du keine unsterbliche Seele! Am ersten Morgen nach seiner Hoch­zeit mit einer anderen muß dir das Herz brechen, und du wirst Schaum auf dem Wasser.«

»Ich will es!« sagte die kleine Meerfrau und war bleich wie der Tod.

»Aber du mußt mich auch bezahlen«, sagte die Hexe, »und was ich verlange, ist nicht wenig. Du hast von allen auf dem Meeresgrund die schönste Stimme und glaubst wohl, du könntest den Prinzen damit bezaubern, und diese Stimme sollst du mir überlassen. Ich wünsche für meinen kostbaren Trank das Beste, was du besitzt. Ich muß dir ja mein eignes Blut darin geben, damit er so scharf wird wie ein zweischneidiges Schwert!«

»Aber wenn du mir meine Stimme wegnimmst«, sagte die kleine Meerfrau, »was bleibt mir dann noch?«

»Deine schöne Gestalt«, sagte die Hexe, »dein schwe­bender Gang und deine sprechenden Augen, damit kannst du ein Menschenherz wohl betören. Na, hast du den Mut verloren? Streck mal dein Zünglein heraus, damit ich es abschneiden kann, als Bezahlung, und dann sollst du den kräftigen Trank bekommen!«

»Es geschehe!« sagte die kleine Meerfrau, und die Hexe setzte ihren Kessel auf, um den Zaubertrank zu kochen. »Reinlichkeit ist eine gute Sache«, sagte sie, machte aus den Schlangen einen Knoten und scheuerte damit den Kessel blank. Dann ritzte sie sich in die Brust und ließ ihr schwarzes Blut hineintropfen, wobei der Dampf so absonderliche Gestalten formte, daß einem angst und bange werden konnte. Alle Augenblicke warf die Hexe neue Dinge in den Kessel, und als es darin richtig kochte, schien ein Krokodil zu weinen. Endlich war der Trank fertig und sah nun aus wie das klarste Wasser.

»Da hast du ihn!« sagte die Hexe und schnitt der klei­nen Meerfrau die Zunge ab. Die war nun stumm und konnte weder singen noch sprechen.

»Wenn du nach Hause gehst und die Polypen in mei­nem Wald nach dir greifen«, sagte die Hexe, »dann brauchst du nur einen einzigen Tropfen von diesem Trank auf sie zu spritzen, und ihre Arme und Finger zerspringen in tausend Stücke!«

Aber das war gar nicht nötig. Sowie die Polypen den Trank nur erblickten, der in der Hand der kleinen Meer­frau wie ein heller Stern funkelte, zogen sie sich er­schrocken zurück. Bald hatte sie den Wald, das Moor und die brausenden Mahlströme überwunden und konnte schon das Schloß ihres Vaters sehen. Die Fackeln im großen Tanzsaal waren erloschen, gewiß schliefen alle, doch sie wagte sich nicht zu ihnen hinein, denn sie war stumm und wollte sie nun für immer verlassen. Es war, als müßte ihr Herz vor Kummer zerreißen. Da schlich sie sich in den Garten, pflückte von jedem Beet ihrer Schwe­stern eine Blume, warf dem Schloß tausend Kußhände zu und stieg durch das dunkelblaue Meer empor.

Als sie das Schloß des Prinzen erblickte und die präch­tige Marmortreppe erklomm, war die Sonne noch nicht aufgegangen. Der Mond schien wunderbar hell. Die kleine Meerfrau schluckte den brennend scharfen Trunk, und es war, als ginge ein zweischneidiges Schwert durch ihren zarten Körper, sie verlor das Bewußtsein und blieb wie tot liegen. Erst als die Sonnenstrahlen über das Wasser fielen, wachte sie auf und spürte einen brennenden Schmerz. Doch gerade vor ihr stand der schöne junge Prinz, und als er seine kohlschwarzen Augen auf sie heftete, schlug sie die ihren nieder und sah, daß ihr Fischschwanz verschwunden war. Sie hatte die reizendsten weißen Beine, wie sie ein kleines Mädchen nur haben kann; doch sie war vollkommen nackt und hüllte sich deshalb in ihr dichtes, langes Haar. Der Prinz fragte nach ihrem Namen und wie sie hierhergekommen sei, und sie blickte ihn freundlich und doch so traurig mit ihren dunkelblauen Augen an, sie konnte ja nicht sprechen. Da nahm er sie bei der Hand und führte sie ins Schloß. Bei jedem ihrer Schritte glaubte sie, wie die Hexe vorausgesagt, auf spitze Ahlen und scharfe Messer zu treten, aber das ertrug sie gern. An der Hand des Prinzen stieg sie leicht wie eine Blase das Ufer hinauf, und er wie alle anderen wunderten sich über ihren anmutigen, schwebenden Gang.

Sie bekam kostbare Kleider aus Seide und Musselin und war im Schloß die Schönste von allen, doch sie war stumm, konnte weder singen noch sprechen. Reizende Sklavinnen, gekleidet in Gold und Seide, erfreuten den Prinzen und seine königlichen Eltern mit ihrem Gesang; eine sang lieblicher als alle andern, und der Prinz klatschte und lächelte ihr zu. Da wurde die kleine Meerfrau, die einst viel herrlicher gesungen hatte, traurig und dachte: »Ach, wenn er nur wüßte, daß ich meine Stimme für alle Ewigkeit weggegeben habe, um bei ihm zu sein!«

Als nun die Sklavinnen zur schönsten Musik anmutige, schwebende Tänze darboten, hob die kleine Meerfrau ihre hübschen weißen Arme, schwebte auf Zehenspitzen durch den Saal und tanzte, wie nie zuvor jemand getanzt hatte. Bei jeder Bewegung wurde ihre Schönheit mehr of­fenbar, und ihr Auge sprach das Herz inniger an, als es der Gesang der Sklavinnen vermochte.

Alle waren davon begeistert, besonders der Prinz, der sie sein kleines Findelkind nannte, und sie tanzte und tanzte, obwohl sie jedesmal, wenn ihr Fuß den Boden berührte, einen Schmerz wie von scharfen Messern emp­fand. Da sagte der Prinz, sie solle immerfort bei ihm sein, und sie durfte nun vor seiner Tür auf einem Samtkissen schlafen.

Er ließ ihr Männerkleidung nähen, damit sie ihn zu Pferde begleiten konnte. Sie ritt mit ihm durch die duf­tenden Wälder, wo ihr die grünen Zweige auf die Schulter schlugen und zwischen den frischen Blättern die Vöglein sangen. Sie kletterte mit dem Prinzen auf die hohen Berge, und obwohl auch für andere sichtbar war, daß ihre zarten Füße bluteten, lachte sie nur darüber und folgte ihm, bis sie die Wolken unter sich ziehen sahen, wie eine Schar Vögel in ferne Länder.

Wenn nachts alle andern im Schloß des Prinzen schlie­fen, stieg die Meerfrau die breite Marmortreppe hinunter und ließ sich vom kalten Seewasser die brennenden Füße kühlen, und dann dachte sie an jene in der Tiefe.

Eines Nachts kamen ihre Schwestern Arm in Arm durch das Wasser geschwommen und sangen dabei ein trauriges Lied, und sie erkannten die Meerfrau, die ihnen zuwinkte, und erzählten ihr, daß sie allen in der Tiefe großen Kummer zugefügt habe. Von da an erschienen sie jede Nacht, und einmal sah die Meerfrau in weiter Ferne die alte Großmutter, die viele Jahre nicht über der Mee­resfläche aufgetaucht war, dazu den Meerkönig mit seiner Krone auf dem Kopf, und beide streckten sie die Hände nach ihr aus, wagten sich jedoch nicht so dicht ans Land heran wie die Schwestern.

Mit jedem Tag gewann der Prinz sie mehr lieb; er hatte sie gern, wie man ein gutes, liebes Kind gern hat, doch sie zu seiner Königin zu machen, das fiel ihm gar nicht ein, und seine Frau mußte sie werden, sonst würde sie keine unsterbliche Seele bekommen und am Morgen nach sei­ner Hochzeit zu Schaum auf dem Meer werden.

»Bin ich dir nicht die Liebste von allen?« schienen ihre Augen zu fragen, wenn er sie in seine Arme nahm und auf die schöne Stirn küßte.

»Doch, du bist mir am liebsten«, sagte der Prinz, »denn du hast von allen das beste Herz, du bist mir am treuesten ergeben, und du ähnelst einem jungen Mädchen, das ich einmal sah und wohl niemals wiederfinden werde. Ich war einmal auf einem Schiff, das untergehen mußte, und die Wellen trieben mich an Land, zu einem heiligen Tem­pel, in dem mehrere junge Mädchen Dienst taten. Die Jüngste von ihnen fand mich am Ufer und hat mir das Leben gerettet - nur zweimal habe ich sie gesehen. Sie ist die einzige, die ich auf dieser Welt lieben könnte, du aber ähnelst ihr und verdrängst fast ihr Bild aus meiner Seele. Sie gehört dem heiligen Tempel an, und du wurdest mir von meinem guten Glück geschickt - wir wollen uns nie­mals trennen!« - »Ach, er weiß nicht, daß ich es war, die sein Leben rettete«, dachte die kleine Meerfrau, »ich habe ihn über das Meer bis zum Wald mit dem Tempel getra­gen. Ich saß hinter dem Schaum und hielt Ausschau nach Menschen. Ich habe das schöne Mädchen gesehen, das er mehr liebt als mich!« Und sie seufzte tief, sie konnte nicht weinen. »Das Mädchen gehört dem heiligen Tempel an, hat er gesagt, nie wird sie in die Welt hinauskommen, sie werden sich niemals wieder begegnen. Ich aber bin bei ihm, sehe ihn jeden Tag, ich will ihn pflegen, ihn lieben, für ihn mein Leben opfern!«

Doch nun sollte der Prinz heiraten, wurde erzählt, und zwar die schöne Tochter des Nachbarkönigs, deshalb sei er dabei, so ein prächtiges Schiff auszurüsten. Es hieß zwar, er wolle die Länder des Nachbarkönigs besichtigen, aber man wußte wohl, daß er sich die Tochter des Nach­barkönigs ansehen wollte, begleitet von einem großen Gefolge.

Doch die kleine Meerfrau schüttelte den Kopf und lachte, sie kannte die Gedanken des Prinzen viel besser als alle andern. »Ich muß verreisen«, hatte er zu ihr gesagt, »ich muß mir die schöne Prinzessin ansehen, wie meine Eltern es verlangen. Aber sie als meine Braut heimzu­führen, dazu werden sie mich niemals zwingen! Ich kann sie nicht lieben! Sie gleicht nicht dem schönen Mädchen im Tempel, dem du ähnlich bist. Sollte ich mir einmal eine Braut erwählen, dann eher dich, mein stummes Findel­kind mit den sprechenden Augen!« Und er küßte sie auf den roten Mund, spielte mit ihrem langen Haar und legte seinen Kopf an ihr Herz - und das träumte von Men­schenglück und einer unsterblichen Seele.

»Du hast doch wohl keine Angst vor dem Meer, mein stummes Kind?« fragte er, als sie dann auf dem prächtigen Schiff standen, das ihn in die Länder des Nachbarkönigs bringen sollte. Und er erzählte ihr von Sturm und Mee­resstille, von seltsamen Fischen der Tiefe und was dort der Taucher gesehen, und sie hörte ihm lächelnd zu, denn über den Meeresgrund wußte sie besser Bescheid als jeder andere.

In der mondhellen Nacht, als alle schliefen, nur der Steuermann am Ruder nicht, setzte sie sich an die Reling und schaute ins klare Wasser hinunter. Da glaubte sie das Schloß ihres Vaters zu sehen, wo ganz oben die alte Großmutter stand, mit der silbernen Krone auf dem Kopf, und durch die reißenden Fluten empor zum Schiffskiel starrte. Nun tauchten ihre Schwestern aus dem Wasser auf, blickten sie traurig an und rangen ihre weißen Hände. Die Meerfrau winkte ihnen und lächelte, doch ge­rade als sie erzählen wollte, wie gut es ihr gehe und wie glücklich sie sei, kam der Schiffsjunge zu ihr, die Schwe­stern verschwanden, und da mußte er glauben, das Weiße, das er auf dem Wasser gesehen, sei nichts weiter als Schaum gewesen.

Am nächsten Morgen lief das Schiff in den Hafen der prächtigen Stadt des Nachbarkönigs ein. Alle Kir­chenglocken läuteten, von den hohen Türmen ertönten Posaunen, und die Soldaten paradierten mit wehenden Fahnen und blitzenden Bajonetten. Jeden Tag wurde ein Fest gefeiert, Bälle und Gesellschaften folgten im Wech­sel. Doch die Prinzessin war noch nicht gekommen, sie wurde weit weg von hier in einem heiligen Tempel erzo­gen, hieß es, um dort alle königlichen Tugenden zu erlernen. Endlich traf sie ein.

Die kleine Meerfrau, die begierig auf den Anblick ihrer Schönheit gewesen war, mußte zugeben, daß sie eine so liebliche Gestalt wie die Prinzessin noch nie gesehen hatte. Ihre Haut war ganz zart und rein, und unter den langen dunklen Wimpern lächelte ein Paar schwarzblauer, treuer Augen.

»Du bist es«, sagte der Prinz, »du hast mich gerettet, als ich wie tot am Ufer lag!« Und er nahm seine errötende Braut in die Arme. »Oh, ich bin überglücklich!« sagte er zu der kleinen Meerfrau. »Mein innigster Wunsch ist in Erfüllung gegangen, wie ich es niemals zu hoffen wagte. Du wirst dich über mein Glück freuen, denn du hast mich von allen am liebsten!«

Und die kleine Meerfrau küßte ihm die Hand, und ihr war, als müßte ihr das Herz brechen. Der Morgen nach seiner Hochzeit würde ihr ja den Tod bringen und sie in Schaum auf dem Meer verwandeln.

Alle Kirchenglocken läuteten, die Herolde ritten durch die Straßen, um die Verlobung zu verkünden. Auf allen Altären brannte duftendes Öl in kostbaren Silberlampen. Die Priester schwenkten die Weihrauchfässer, Braut und Bräutigam reichten sich die Hand und empfingen den Segen des Bischofs. Die kleine Meerfrau war in Gold und Seide gekleidet und trug die Schleppe der Braut, doch sie vermochte die festliche Musik nicht zu hören, die heilige Zeremonie nicht zu sehen, sie dachte an ihre Todesnacht, an alles, was sie auf dieser Welt verloren.

Noch am selben Abend gingen Braut und Bräutigam an Bord ihres Schiffs, wo die Kanonen dröhnten, alle Fahnen wehten und wo in der Mitte ein kostbares Zelt errichtet war, aus Gold und Purpur und mit den prächtigsten Pfühlen, hier sollte das Brautpaar die stille, kühle Nacht verbringen.

Die Segel blähten sich im Wind, und das Schiff glitt leicht und ohne große Bewegung über die klare See.

Als es dunkelte, wurden bunte Lampen angezündet, und die Seeleute tanzten auf dem Deck lustige Tänze. Die kleine Meerfrau mußte daran denken, wie sie das erste Mal aus dem Meer aufgetaucht war und die gleiche Pracht und Freude gesehen hatte. Jetzt wirbelte sie mit im Tanz, schwebend wie die Schwalbe, wenn sie verfolgt wird, und alle brachen in Bewunderung und Jubel aus - so herrlich hatte sie noch nie getanzt. Es schnitt in ihre zarten Füße wie mit scharfen Messern, aber das spürte sie nicht; es schnitt ihr noch tiefer ins Herz. Sie wußte, daß sie ihn an diesem Abend zum letzten Mal sah — ihn, für den sie ihre Familie und ihr Heim verlassen, ihre herrliche Stimme hingegeben und jeden Tag unendliche Qualen gelitten hatte, ohne daß er etwas davon ahnte. Es war die letzte Nacht, in der sie dieselbe Luft atmete, das tiefe Meer und den sternblauen Himmel sah wie er. Auf sie, die keine Seele hatte und keine gewinnen konnte, wartete eine ewige Nacht, ohne Gedanken und ohne Traum. Und alles an Bord war Freude und Frohsinn, bis weit nach Mitternacht, sie lachte und tanzte mit dem Todesgedanken im Herzen. Der Prinz küßte seine schöne Braut, und sie spielte mit seinem schwarzen Haar, und Arm in Arm gingen sie in das prächtige Zelt und legten sich zur Ruhe.

Auf dem Schiff wurde es still, alles verstummte, nur der Steuermann stand am Ruder. Die kleine Meerfrau legte ihre weißen Arme auf die Reling und spähte nach der Morgenröte im Osten - der erste Sonnenstrahl, wußte sie, würde sie töten. Da sah sie ihre Schwestern aus dem Meer emporsteigen, blaß wie sie selbst; ihr langes schönes Haar flatterte nicht mehr im Wind, es war abgeschnitten.

»Wir haben es der Hexe geschenkt und sie um Hilfe ge­beten, damit du in dieser Nacht nicht zu sterben brauchst! Sie hat uns dafür ein Messer gegeben, hier ist es, siehst du, wie scharf? Das mußt du vor Sonnenaufgang dem Prinzen ins Herz stechen, und wenn sein warmes Blut auf deine Füße spritzt, dann wachsen sie zu einem Fischschwanz zusammen, und du wirst wieder eine Meerfrau, kannst durch das Wasser zu uns hinuntersteigen und deine drei­hundert Jahre leben, bevor du zum toten, salzigen Meerschaum wirst. Beeil dich! Er oder du, einer muß sterben, bevor die Sonne aufgeht! Unsre alte Großmutter hat vor lauter Kummer ihr weißes Haar verloren, wie wir das unsere unter der Schere der Hexe. Töte den Prinzen und kehr zurück! Beeil dich, siehst du den roten Streifen am Himmel? In wenigen Minuten kommt die Sonne, und dann mußt du sterben!« Und sie stießen einen sonderbar tiefen Seufzer aus und verschwanden in den Wellen.

Die kleine Meerfrau zog den Purpurvorhang vom Zelt, und als sie die liebliche Braut mit dem Kopf auf der Brust des Prinzen schlafen sah, beugte sie sich über ihn, küßte ihn auf die schöne Stirn, blickte zum Himmel, an dem immer heller das Morgenrot leuchtete, blickte auf das scharfe Messer und schaute dann wieder den Prinzen an, der im Traum seine Braut bei Namen nannte, weil er nur sie in Gedanken hatte, und das Messer zitterte in der Hand der Meerfrau - da aber warf sie es weit ins Meer hinaus, und wo es niederfiel, glänzten die Wellen rot, als würden Blutstropfen aus dem Wasser quellen. Noch ein­mal betrachtete sie den Prinzen mit halbgebrochenem Blick, stürzte sich dann vom Schiff ins Wasser und merkte, wie sich ihr Körper in Schaum auflöste.

Da stieg die Sonne aus dem Meer und ließ ihre Strahlen mild und warm auf den todkalten Meerschaum fallen. Die kleine Meerfrau spürte nichts vom Tod, sie sah die helle Sonne und über sich Hunderte von anmutigen Geschöp­fen schweben, die so durchsichtig waren, daß sie durch sie hindurch die weißen Segel des Schiffs und die roten Wol­ken des Himmels erkennen konnte. Ihre Stimmen verein­ten sich zu einer Melodie, die aber so geistig war, daß kein irdisches Ohr sie vernehmen konnte, wie auch kein irdi­sches Auge sie zu sehen vermochte. Sie wurden nicht von Flügeln, sondern von ihrer eignen Leichtigkeit durch die Luft getragen. Da entdeckte die kleine Meerfrau, daß auch sie einen solchen Körper hatte, und hob sich höher und höher aus dem Schaum.

»Wohin komme ich?« fragte sie, und ihre Stimme klang wie die der anderen Wesen, so geistig, wie es keine irdi­sche Musik wiederzugeben vermag.

»Zu den Töchtern der Luft!« war die Antwort. »Die Meerfrau hat keine unsterbliche Seele und bekommt sie nur dann, wenn sie die Liebe eines Menschen gewinnt. Von einer fremden Macht hängt ihr ewiges Dasein ab. Auch den Töchtern der Luft fehlt die ewige Seele, doch sie können sich durch gute Taten selbst eine schaffen. Wir fliegen in die warmen Länder, wo der schwüle Pesthauch die Menschen tötet, und fächeln dort Kühlung. Wir ver­breiten den Duft der Blumen und bringen Labsal und Heilung. Haben wir uns dann dreihundert Jahre bemüht, nach unseren Kräften Gutes zu tun, dann bekommen wir eine unsterbliche Seele und haben teil am ewigen Glück der Menschen. Du arme kleine Meerfrau, du hast mit dei­nem ganzen Herzen nach demselben gestrebt, hast gelit­ten, geduldet und hast dich in die Welt der Luftgeister emporgehoben - jetzt kannst du dir durch gute Taten in dreihundert Jahren selbst eine unsterbliche Seele schaf­fen.«

Und die kleine Meerfrau streckte ihre hellen Arme zur Sonne, und zum ersten Mal spürte sie Tränen.

Auf dem Schiff herrschte wieder Leben und Treiben, sie sah den Prinzen mit seiner schönen Braut nach ihr su­chen, wehmütig starrten sie auf den wogenden Schaum, als wüßten sie von ihrem Sprung in die Wellen. Unsicht­bar, wie die Meerfrau nun war, küßte sie die Braut auf die Stirn, lächelte dem Prinzen zu und stieg dann mit den an­dern Kindern der Luft auf die rosenrote Wolke, die durch die Luft segelte.

»In dreihundert Jahren schweben wir auf solche Art in Gottes Reich!«

»Schon früher können wir dorthin kommen«, flüsterte eins. »Wir schweben unsichtbar in die Häuser der Men­schen, wo es Kinder gibt, und für jeden Tag, an dem wir ein gutes Kind entdecken, das seinen Eltern Freude macht und ihre Liebe verdient, wird unsre Probezeit von Gott verkürzt. Das Kind merkt nicht, daß wir durchs Zimmer fliegen, und wenn wir dann vor Freude lächeln, wird ein Jahr von den dreihundert abgezogen. Doch wenn wir ein unartiges und böses Kind erblicken, dann müssen wir vor Kummer weinen, und jede Träne verlängert unsre Probe­zeit um einen Tag!« 

Icelandic

Hafmeyjan litla
 
coming soon!
  • Impact

    On her fifteenth birthday, the little mermaid swims up to the surface of the sea. She has eagerly been awaiting this day, since in every one of the previous five years one of her sisters has also visited the surface. The little mermaid thinks the human world is the most exciting thing imaginable. Until this day, she has experienced it only through the flotsam carried by the sea. It turns out to be an extraordinary experience for her, and best of all is the handsome prince with whom she falls deeply and passionately in love. When his ship is wrecked, she rescues him.

    The little mermaid is prepared to sacrifice everything to win the prince, and enters into a pact with the sea witch. In exchange for her voice, she obtains a magic potion that turns her into a human being; but if she fails to win the prince's heart, she will die and become foam on the sea.

    The prince grows very fond of the little mermaid, but nonetheless decides to marry a princess. Now all seems to be lost for the little mermaid; but her sisters make a bargain with the sea witch to return her to the sea. To become a real mermaid again, she must kill the prince, which she cannot do, and so she dies.

    The story seems very modern in its treatment of the theme of masculine versus feminine, with the sea and the mermaid representing the feminine, emotions and imagination, and the prince and the human world representing the masculine, reason and science. It also addresses the theme of developing from a child into an adult and becoming conscious of one’s own identity and sexuality – as illustrated by the little mermaid's awareness of wanting to leave behind her life in the sea for the sake of the prince.

    The mermaids, the sea witch and the other fantastical creatures that Anderson deftly borrows from folk tales underline here the dangerous aspects of sexuality. Finally, the story is also about love, which proves fatal for the little mermaid but is also what gives her a soul.

    The Little Mermaid has been translated into 50 languages or more. The fairy tale is famous worldwide and has been adapted to various media, including a Walt Disney film.

    Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales have been translated into 135 languages, all Baltic languages included. 

    Sofie Kiersgaard, librarian, Odense Central Library (translated from the Danish version on Litteratursiden  http://www.litteratursiden.dk)

  • Balticness

    The sea plays a central and strongly symbolic role in the story. The sea, or rather the surface of the sea, represents a boundary between the two worlds below and above, which the Little Mermaid must transgress.

  • Bibliographic information

    The submitted text is part of the collected works “Eventyr, fortalte for Børn” (Fairy Tales for Children) published in the years 1838-41.

  • Translations
    Language Year Translator
    English 1872 Susannah Mary Paull
    English 1949 Jean Hersholt
    Finnish 1914 Maila Talvio
    German 1850  
    German ca 1900 Julius Reuscher
    German 1909 Mathilde Mann
    German 1953 Eva-Maria Blühm
    German 1976 Thyra Dohrenburg
    German 1982 Gisela Perlet
    German 1996 Heinrich Detering
    Icelandic 1987

    Steingrímur Thorsteinsson

    Swedish 1955 Erik Asklund
    Swedish 1997 Bengt Anderberg
  • Year of first publication
    1837
  • Place of first publication
    Copenhagen