84 THE LITTLE SEA MAID
Sadly they sang as they floated above the water ; and she beckoned to them, and they recognized her, and told her how she had grieved them all. Then they visited her every night; and once she saw in the distance her old grandmother, who had not been above the surface for many years, and the sea king with his crown upon his head. They stretched out their hands towards her, but did not venture so near the land as her sisters.
Day by day the prince grew more fond of her. He loved her as one loves a dear good child, but it never came into his head to make her his wife ; and yet she must become his wife, or she would not receive an immortal soul, and would have to become foam on the sea on his wedding morning.
* Do you not love me best of them all ? ' the eyes of the little sea maid seemed to say, when he took her in his arms and kissed her fair forehead.
' Yes, you are the dearest to me !' said the prince, ' for you have the best heart of them all. You are the most devoted to me, and are like a young girl whom I once saw, but whom I certainly shall not find again. I was on board a ship which was wrecked. The waves threw me ashore near a holy temple, where several young girls performed the service. The youngest of them found me by the shore and saved my life. I only saw her twice : she was the only one in the world I could love ; but you chase her picture out of my mind, you are so like her. She belongs to the holy temple, and therefore my good fortune has sent you to me. We will never part!'
* Ah ! he does not know that I saved his life,' thought the little sea maid. ' I carried him over the sea to the wood where the temple stands. I sat there under the foam and looked to see if any one would come. I saw the beautiful girl whom he loves better than me.' And the sea maid sighed deeply—she could not weep. ' The maiden belongs to the holy temple,' he has said, ' and will never come out into the world—they will meet no more. I am with him and see him every day ; I will cherish him, love him, give up my life for him.'
But now they said that the prince was to marry, and that the beautiful daughter of a neighbouring king was