Little Mermaid: Part 5
(see previous page for audio)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.
(illustration by Dulac)
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.
Next: Little Mermaid: Part 6