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FAR out in the sea the water is as blue as the petals of the most beautiful corn-flower, and as clear as the purest glass. But it is very deep, deeper than any cable will sound; many steeples must be placed one above the other to reach from the bottom to the surface of the water . And down there live the sea people .

Now, you must not believe there is nothing down there but the bare sand ; no ,----the strangest trees and plants grow there, so pliable in their stalks and leaves that at the least motion of the water they move just as if they had life . All fishes , great and small , glide among the twigs, just as here the birds do in the trees. In the deepest spot of all lies the Sea King' s castle: the walls are of coral, and the tall pointed windows of the clearest amber; mussel shells form the roof , and they open and shut according as the water flows . It looks lovely , for in each shell lie gleaming pearls, a single one of which would be a great ornament in a queen s diadem.

The Sea King below there had been a widower for many years, while his old mother kept house for him. She was a clever woman , but proud of her rank , so she wore twelve oysters on her tail , while the other great people were only allowed to wear six . Beyond this she was deserving of great praise , especially because she was very fond of her granddaughters , the little sea princesses . These were six pretty children ; but the youngest was the most beautiful of all. Her skin was as clear and as fine as a rose leaf, her eyes were as blue as the deepest sea, but, like all the rest , she had no feet , for her body ended in a fish-tail .

All day long they could play in the castle, down in the halls, where living flowers grew out of the walls. The great amber windows. were opened, and then the fishes swam in to them, just as the swallows fly in to us when we open our windows; but the fishes swam straight up to the princesses, ate out of their hands, and let themselves be stroked .

Outside the castle was a great garden with bright red and dark blue flowers: the fruit glowed like gold, and the flowers like flames of fire; and they continually kept moving their stalks and leaves. The earth itself was the finest sand, but blue as the flame of brimstone. A peculiar blue radiance lay upon everything down there : one would have thought oneself high in the air, with the canopy of heaven above and around , rather than at the bottom of the deep sea. During a calm the sun could be seen; it appeared like a purple flower, from which all light streamed out.

Each of the little princesses had her own little place in the garden, where she might dig and plant at her good pleasure . One gave her flower-bed the form of a whale ; another thought it better to make hers like a little mermaid; but the youngest made hers quite round, like the sun , and had only flowers which gleamed red as the sun itself. She was a strange child, quiet and thoughtful; and when the other sisters made a display of the beautiful things they had received out of wrecked ships, she would have nothing beyond the red flowers which resembled the sun, except a pretty marble statue. This was a figure of a charming boy , hewn out of white clear stone , which had sunk down to the bottom of the sea from a wreck . She planted a pink weeping willow beside this statue; the tree grew famously , and hung its fresh branches over the statue towards the blue sandy ground , where the shadow showed violet, and moved like the branches themselves; it seemed as if the ends of the branches and the roots were playing together and wished to kiss each other.

There was no greater pleasure for her than to hear of the world of men above them , The old grandmother had to tell all she knew of ships and towns, of men and animals. It seemed particularly beautiful to her that up on the earth the flowers shed fragrance , for they had none down at the bottom of the sea, and that the trees were green, and that the fishes which one saw there among the trees could sing so loud and clear that it was a pleasure to hear them. What the grandmother called fishes were the little birds; otherwise they could not have understood her, for they had never seen a bird .

“When you have completed your fifteenth year,” said the grandmother, “You shall have leave to rise up out of the sea, to sit on the rocks in the moonlight, and to see the great ships sailing by. Then you will see forests and towns !”

In the next year one of the sisters was fifteen years of age, but each of the others was one year younger than the next ; so that the youngest had full five years to wait before she could come up from the bottom of the sea, and find out how our world looked . But one promised to tell the others what she had seen and what she had thought the most beautiful on the first day of her visit ; for their grandmother could not tell them enough----there was so much about which they wanted information.

No one was more anxious about these things than the youngest----just that one who had the longest time to wait, and who was always quiet and thoughtful . Many a night she stood by the open window, and looked up through the dark blue water at the fishes splashing with their fins and tails . Moon and stars she could see; they certainly shone quite faintly , but through the water they looked much larger than they appear in our eyes . When something like a black cloud passed among them, she knew that it was either a whale swimming over her head , or a ship with many people : they certainly did not think that a pretty little sea maid was standing down below stretching up her white hands towards the keel of their ship .

Now the eldest princess was fifteen years old , and might mount up to the surface of the sea .

When she came back , she had a hundred things to tell----but the finest thing, she said, was to lie in the moonshine on a sand-bank in the quiet sea, and to look at the neighbouring coast, with the large town, where the lights twinkled like a hundred stars, and to hear the music and the noise and clamour of carriages and men, to see the many church steeples , and to hear the sound of the bells . Just because she could not get up to these, she longed for them more than for anything.

Oh, how the youngest sister listened! And afterwards when she stood at the open window and looked up through the dark blue water, she thought of the great city with all its bustle and noise; and then she thought she could hear the church bells ringing , even down to the depth where she was.

In the following year, the second sister received permission to mount upward through the water and to swim whither she pleased. She rose up just as the sun was setting; and this spectacle, she said, was the most beautiful . The whole sky looked like gold , she said , and as to the clouds, she could not properly describe their beauty. They sailed away over her head , purple and violetcoloured, but far quicker than the clouds there flew a flight of wild swans, like a long white veil, over the water towards where the sun stood. She swam towards them; but the sun sank , and the roseate hue faded on the sea and in the clouds .

In the following year the next sister went up . She was the boldest of them all , and therefore she swam up a broad stream that poured its waters into the sea. She saw glorious green hills clothed with vines; palaces and castles peeped forth from amid splendid woods; she heard how all the birds sang; and the sun shone so warm that she was often obliged to dive under the water to cool her glowing face . In a little bay she found a whole swarm of little mortals. They were quite naked, and splashed about in the water: she wanted to play with them, but they fled in affright, and a little black animal came----it was a dog, but she had never seen a dog----and it barked at her so terribly that she became frightened, and made out to the open sea. But she could never forget the glorious woods, the green hills, and the pretty children, who could swim in the water though they had not fish-tails.

The fourth sister was not so bold: she remained out in the midst of the wild sea, and declared that just there it was most beautiful. One could see for many miles around, and the sky above looked like a bell of glass. She had seen ships , but only in the far distance----they looked like seagulls; and the funny dolphins had thrown somersaults, and the great whales spouted out water from their nostrils, so that it looked like hundreds of fountains all around .

Now came the turn of the fifth sister. Her birthday came in the winter, and so she saw what the others had not seen the first time. The sea looked quite green, and great icebergs were floating about ; each one appeared like a pearl , she said , and yet was much taller than the church steeples built by men. They showed themselves in the strangest forms , and shone like diamonds . She had seated herself upon one of the greatest of all , and let the wind play with her long hair; and all the sailing ships tacked about in great alarm to get beyond where she sat; but towards evening, the sky became covered with clouds, it thundered and lightened, and the black waves lifted the great iceblocks high up, and let them glow in the red glare. On all the ships the sails were reefed, and there was fear and anguish . But she sat quietly upon her floating iceberg, and saw the forked blue flashes dart into the sea.

Each of the sisters, as she came up for the first time to the surface of the water, was delighted with the new and beautiful sights she saw; but as they now had permission, as grown-up girls, to go whenever they liked, it became indifferent to them. They wished themselves back again, and after a month had elapsed they said it was best of all down below, for there one felt so comfortably at home.

Many an evening hour the five sisters took one another by the arm and case up in a row over the water. They had splendid voices, more charming than any mortal could have ; and when a storm was approaching , so that they might expect that ships would go down, they swam on before the ships and sang lovely songs , which told how beautiful it was at the bottom of the sea, and exhorted the sailors not to be afraid to come down . But these could not understand the words, and thought it was the storm sighing; and they did not see the splendours below, for if the ships sank , they were drowned , and came as corpses to the Sea King' s palace .

When the sisters thus rose up, arm in aim, in the evening time, through the water, the little sister stood all alone looking after them; and she felt as if she must weep; but the sea maid has no tears, and for this reason she suffers far more acutely .

“Oh , if I were only fifteen years old ! ” said she .“I know I shall love the world up there very much , and the people who live and dwell there . ”

At last she was really fifteen years old .

“Now , you see , you are grown up ,” said the grandmother,the old dowager. “Come, let me adorn you like you sisters .”

And she put a wreath of white lilies in the little maid' s hair, but each petal in the flower was half a pearl; and the old lady let eight great oysters attach themselves to the princess' s tail, in token of her high rank .

“But that hurts so !” said the little sea maid .

“Yes , one must suffer something for the sake of rank , ” replied the old lady .

Oh, how glad she would have been to shake off all the tokens of rank and lay aside the heavy wreath ! Her red flowers in the garden suited her better; but she could not help it . “Farewell!” she said , and then she rose , light and clear as a water-bubble, up through the sea.

The sun had just set when she lifted her head above the sea, but all the clouds still shone like roses and gold, and in the pale red sky the evening star gleamed bright and beautiful. The air was mild and fresh and the sea quite calm. There lay a great ship with three masts; one single sail only was set, for not a breeze stirred, and around in the shrouds and on the yards sat the sailors . There was music and singing, and as the evening closed in, hundreds of coloured lanterns were lighted up, and looked as if the flags of every nation were waving in the air. The little sea maid swam straight to the cabin window , and each time the sea lifted her up she could look through the panes , which were clear as crystal , and see many people standing within dressed in their best . But the handsomest of all was the young prince with the great black eyes : he was certainly not much more than sixteen years old; it was his birthday, and that was the cause of all this festivity. The sailors were dancing upon deck; and when the young prince came out , more than a hundred rockets rose into the air; they shone like day, so that the little sea maid was quite startled, and dived under the water; but soon she put out her head again, and then it seemed just as if all the stars of heaven were falling down upon her. She had never seen such fireworks. Great suns whirled around, glorious fiery fishes flew up into the blue air, and everything was mirrored in the clear blue sea. The ship itself was so brightly lit up that every separate rope could be seen, and the people therefore appeared the more plainly . Oh, how handsome the young prince was ! And he pressed the people's hands and smiled, while the music rang out in the glorious night.

It became late; but the little sea maid could not turn her eyes from the ship and from the beautiful prince . The coloured lanterns were extinguished, rockets ceased to fly into the air, and no more cannons were fired; but there was a murmuring and a buzzing deep down in the sea; and she sat on the water, swaying up and down, so that she could look into the cabin. But as the ship got more way, one sail after another was spread . And now the waves rose higher, great clouds came up, and in the distance there was lightning. Oh ! It was going to be fearful weather, therefore the sailors furled the sails . The great ship flew in swift career over the wild sea : the waters rose up like great black mountains, which wanted to roll over the masts; but like a swan the ship dived into the valleys between these high waves, and then let itself be lifted on high again. To the little sea maid this seemed merry sport, but to the sailors it appeared very differently . The ship groaned and creaked; the thick planks were bent by the heavy blows; the sea broke into the ship; the mainmast snapped in two like a thin reed; and the ship lay over on her side, while the water rushed into the hold . Now the little sea maid saw that the people were in peril; she herself was obliged to take care to avoid the beams and fragments of the ship which were floating about on the waters .

One moment it was so pitch dark that not a single object could be descried, but when it lightened it became so bright that she could distinguish everyone on board . Everyone was doing the best he could for himself. She looked particularly for the young prince, and when the ship parted she saw him sink into the sea. At first she was very glad, for now he would come down to her. But then she remembered that people could not live in the water, and that when he got down to her father' s palace he would certainly be dead.

No, he must not die:so she swam about among the beams and planks that strewed the surface , quite forgetting that one of them might have crushed her. Diving down deep under the water, she again rose high up among the waves, and in this way she at last came to the prince, who could scarcely swim longer in that stormy sea. His arms and legs began to fail him, his beautiful eyes closed, and he would have died had the little sea maid not come . She held his head up over the water, and then allowed the waves to carry her and him whither they listed .

When the morning came the storm had passed by . Of the ship not a fragment was to be seen . The sun came up red and shining out of the water; it was as if its beams brought back the hue of life to the cheeks of the prince, but his eyes remained closed. The sea maid kissed his high fair forehead and put back his wet hair, and he seemed to her to be like the marble statue in her little garden: she kissed him again and hoped that he might live .

Now she saw in front of her the dry land----high blue mountains , on whose summits the white snow gleamed as if swans were lying there . Down on the coast were glorious green forests, and a building----she could not tell whether it was a church or a convent----stood there .

In its garden grew orange and citron trees , and high palms waved in front of the gate . The sea formed a little bay there; it was quite calm, but very deep. Straight towards the rock where the fine white sand had been cast up, she swam with the handsome prince, and laid him upon the sand, taking especial care that his head was raised in the warm sunshine.

Now all the bells rang in the great white building, and many young girls came walking through the garden . Then the little sea maid swam farther out between somehigh stones that stood up out of the water, laid some sea foam upon her hair and neck, so that no one could see her little face, and then she watched to see who would come to the poor prince .

In a short time a young girl went that way. She seemed to be much startled , but only for a moment ; then she brought more people , and the sea maid perceived that the prince came back to life and that he smiled at all around him. But he did not cast a smile at her: he did not know that she had saved him . And she felt very sorrowful ; and when he was taken away into the great building, she dived mournfully under the water and returned to her father's palace.

She had always been gentle and melancholy, but now she became much more so . Her sisters asked her what she had seen the first time she rose up to the surface, but she would tell them nothing.

Many an evening and many a morning she went up to the place where she had left the prince . She saw how the fruits of the garden grew ripe and were gathered; she saw how the snow melted on the high mountain; but she did not see the prince, and so she always returned home more sorrowful still.

Then her only comfort was to sit in her little garden, and to wind her arms round the beautiful marble statue that resembled the prince: but she did not tend her flowers; they grew as if in a wilderness over the paths, and trailed their long leaves and stalks up into the branches of trees , so that i1 became quite dark there .

At last she could endure it no longer, and told all to one of her sisters, and then the others heard of it too; but nobody knew of it beyond these and a few other sea maids, who told the secret to their intimate friends. One of these knew who the prince was; she too had seen the festival on board the ship; and she announced whence he came and where his kingdom lay .

“ Come , little sister ! ” said the other princesses ; and, linking their arms together, they rose up in a long row out of the sea at the place where they know the prince's palace stood.

This palace was built of a kind of bright yellow stone, with great marble staircases, one of which led directly down into the sea. Over the roof rose splendid gilt cupolas, and between the pillars which surrounded the whole dwelling stood marble statues which looked as if they were alive. Through the clear glass in the high window one looked into the glorious halls, where costly silk hangings and tapestries were hung up, and all the walls were decked with splendid pictures , so that it was a perfect delight to see them . In the midst of the greatest of these halls a great fountain plashed: its jets shot high up towards the glass dome in the ceiling, through which the sun shone down upon the water and upon the lovely plants growing in the great basin .

Now she knew where he lived , and many an evening and many a night she spent there on the water. She swam far closer to the land than any of the others would have dared to venture ; indeed , she went quite up the narrow channel under the splendid marble balcony , which threw a broad shadow upon the water. Here she sat and watched the young prince, who thought himself quite alone in the bright moonlight .

Many an evening, she saw him sailing, amid the sounds of music, in his costly boat with the waving flags; she peeped up through the green reeds, and when the wind caught her silver-white veil, and any one saw it, they thought it was a white swan spreading out its wings.

Many a night when the fishermen were on the sea with their torches, she heard much good told of the young prince ; and she rejoiced that she had saved his life when he was driven about , half dead , on the wild billows ; she thought how quietly his head bad reclined on her bosom, and how heartily she had kissed him ; but he knew nothing of it, and could not even dream of her.

More and more she began to love mankind, and more and more she wished to be able to wander about among those whose world seemed far larger than her own . For they could fly over the sea in ships, and mount up the high hills far above the clouds, and the lands they possessed stretched out in woods and fields farther than her eyes could reach. There was much she wished to know, but her sisters could not answer all her questions ; therefore she applied to the old grandmother; and the old lady knew the upper world, which she rightly called “the countries above the sea” , very well .

“If people are not drowned , ” asked the little sea maid, “can they live for ever? Do they not die as we die down here in the sea?”

“Yes , ” replied the old lady .“They too must die , and their life is even shorter than ours . We can live to be three hundred years old, but when we cease to exist here, we are turned into foam on the surface of the water, and have not even a grave down here among those we love . We have not an immortal soul; we never receive another life; we are like the green seaweed, which when once cut through can never bloom again. Men, on the contrary, have a soul which lives for ever, which lives on after the body has become dust ; it mounts up through the clear air, up to all the shining stars! As we rise up out of the waters and behold all the lands of the earth, so they rise up to unknown glorious places which we can never see . ”

“Why did we not receive an immortal soul?” asked the little sea maid, sorrowfully. “I would gladly give all the hundreds of years I have to live to be a human being only for one day , and to have a hope of partaking the heavenly kingdom.”

“You must not think of that ,” replied the old lady . “We feel ourselves far more happy and far better than mankind yonder.”

“Then I am to die and to float as foam upon the sea, not hearing the music of the waves, nor seeing the pretty flowers and the red sun? Can I not do anything to win an immortal soul?”

“No!” answered the grandmother. “Only if a man were to love you so that you should be more to him than father or mother; if he should cling to you with his every thought and with all his love, and let the priest lay his right hand in yours with a promise of faithfulness here and in all eternity, then his soul would be imparted to your body , and you would receive a share of the happiness of mankind. He would give a soul to you and yet retain his own . But that can never come to pass . What is considered beautiful here in the sea----the fish-tail----they would consider ugly on the earth : they don't understand it ; there one must have two clumsy supports which they call legs , to be called beautiful . ”

Then the little sea maid sighed , and looked mournfully upon her fish-tail .

“Let us be glad !” said the old lady . “ Let us dance and leap in the three hundred years we have to live. That is certainly long enough ; after that we can rest ourselves all the better. This evening we shall have a court ball.”

It was a splend............

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