The Little Mermaid

“Yes!” said the little mermaid, with a trembling voice; and she thought of the prince and the immortal soul.

“But, remember,” said the witch, “when you have once received a human form, you can never be a mermaid again; you can never go down through the water to your sisters or to your father’s palace; and if you do not win the prince’s love, so that he forgets father and mother for your sake, clings to you with every thought, and tells the priest to join your hands, you will not receive an immortal soul. On the first morning after he has married another, your heart will break and you will become foam on the water.”

“I will do it,” said the little mermaid; but she became as pale as death.

“But you must pay me, too,” said the witch; “and it is not a trifle that I ask. You have the finest voice of all here at the bottom of the sea; with that you think to enchant him; but this voice you must give to me. The best thing you own I will have for my costly draught! For I must give you my own blood in it, so that the draught may be sharp as a two-edged sword.”

“But if you take away my voice,” said the little mermaid, “what will I have?”

“Your beautiful form,” replied the witch, “your graceful walk, and your eloquent eyes: with those you can surely bewitch a human heart. Well, have you lost your courage? Put out your little tongue, and then I will cut it off for my payment, and then you shall have the strong draught.”

“Let it be so,” said the little mermaid.

And the witch put on her pot to brew the draught.

“Cleanliness is a good thing,” said she; and she scoured out the pot with the snakes, which she tied up in a big knot; then she scratched her breast, and let her black blood drop into it. The steam rose up in the strangest forms, enough to frighten and terrify one. Every moment the witch threw something else into the pot; and when it boiled hard it was like the weeping of crocodiles. At last the draught was ready. It looked like the purest water.

“There you have it,” said the witch.

And she cut off the little mermaid’s tongue, so that now she was dumb, and could neither sing nor speak.

“If the polypes should lay hold of you when you go back through my forest,” said the witch, “just throw a single drop of this drink on them, and their arms and fingers will fly into a thousand pieces.” But the little mermaid didn’t need to do this: the polypes drew back in terror when they saw the shining drink, that gleamed in her hand as if it were a twinkling star. In this way she soon passed through the forest, the bog, and the roaring whirlpools.

She could see her father’s palace. The torches were extinguished in the big ballroom, and they were certainly sleeping inside, but she did not dare to go to them, now that she was dumb and was about to leave them forever. She felt as if her heart would break with sorrow. She crept into the garden, took a flower from each of her sisters’ flower beds, blew a thousand kisses toward the palace, and rose up through the dark blue sea.

The sun had not yet risen when she saw the prince’s castle and mounted the splendid marble staircase. The moon shone beautifully clear. The little mermaid drank the sharp burning draught, and it seemed as if a two-edged sword went through her delicate body. She fainted from it, and lay as if she were dead. When the sun shone out over the sea she woke up, and felt a sharp pain; but just before her stood the handsome young prince. He fixed his coal-black eyes on her, so that she cast down her own, and then she saw that her fishtail was gone, and that she had the prettiest pair of white legs a little girl could have. But she had no clothes, so she wrapped herself in her long hair. The prince asked who she was and how she had come there; and she looked at him mildly, but very sadly, with her dark blue eyes, for she could not speak. Then he took her by the hand, and led her into the castle. Each step she took was, as the witch had told her, as if she were treading on pointed needles and sharp knives, but she bore it gladly. At the prince’s right hand she moved on, light as a bubble, and he, like all the rest, was astonished at her graceful swaying movements.

Now she got costly clothes of silk and silken muslins. In the castle she was the most beautiful of all; but she was dumb, and could neither sing nor speak. Lovely slaves, dressed in silk and gold, stepped forward and sang before the prince and his royal parents; one sang more charmingly than all the rest, and the prince smiled at her and clapped his hands. Then the little mermaid was sad; she knew that she herself had sung far more sweetly, and thought: “Oh! if only he could know that I have given away my voice forever to be with him.”

Now the slaves danced pretty waving dances to the loveliest music; then the little mermaid lifted her beautiful white arms, stood on the tips of her toes, and glided dancing over the floor as no one had yet danced. At each movement her beauty was seen more clearly, and her eyes spoke straighter to the heart than the songs of the slaves.

From Fairy tales and stories, by Hans Christian Andersen
New York: The Macmillan Company, 1921.

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