The Little Mermaid

“To the daughters of the air!” answered the others. “A mermaid has no immortal soul, and can never gain one, unless she wins the love of a mortal. Her eternal existence depends on the power of another. The daughters of the air have likewise no immortal soul, but they can make themselves one through good deeds. We fly to the hot countries, where the close, pestilent air kills men, and there we bring coolness. We spread the fragrance of the flowers through the air, and send refreshment and health. After we have striven for three hundred years to do all the good we can, we receive an immortal soul and take part in the eternal happiness of men. You, poor little mermaid, have striven with your whole heart after the same things; you have suffered and endured; now you can raise yourself by good deeds to the world of the spirits of the air, and can gain an immortal soul after three hundred years.”

And the little mermaid lifted her bright arms toward God’s sun, and for the first time she felt tears. On the ship there was again life and noise. She saw the prince and his lovely bride searching for her; then they looked mournfully at the bubbling foam, as if they knew that she had thrown herself into the waves. Invisible, she kissed the forehead of the bride, smiled to the prince, and mounted with the other children of the air on the rosy cloud which floated through the air.

“After three hundred years we shall thus float into paradise!”

“And we may even get there sooner,” whispered one. “Invisibly we float into the houses of men where children are, and for every day on which we find a good child that brings joy to its parents and deserves their love, our time of trial is shortened. The child does not know when we fly through the room; and when we smile with joy over the child, a year is counted off from the three hundred; but when we see a naughty or a wicked child, we shed tears of grief, and for every tear a day is added to our time of trial.”

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

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