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Nursery Rhymes . . . for children.

Once upon a time . . . . .  from our fabulous collection of Fairy Tales for children . . .  they lived happily ever after . . .

The Little Mermaid - Part 3

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!'

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