There was once a rich merchant who had six children, three sons and three daughters. He loved them more than he loved all his riches, so that he was always seeking to make them happy and wise.
The daughters were very pretty; but the youngest was more than pretty—she was beautiful. As every one called her Little Beauty when she was a child, and she became more lovely every year, the name grew up with her, so that she had no other than just—Beauty.
Now Beauty was as good as she was beautiful. But her elder sisters were ill-natured and jealous of her, and could not bear to hear her called Beauty. They were very proud, too, of their father's riches, and put on great airs. They would not visit the daughters of other merchants, but were always following persons who had titles, Lady This and Duchess That. They laughed at Beauty, who lived quietly at home with their father.
The father was so rich that many great merchants wished to marry his daughters. But the two eldest always said that they could never think of marrying anybody below a duke, or at the least an earl. As for Beauty, she thanked her lovers for thinking so well of her, but as she was still very young, she wished to live a few years longer with her father.
Now it happened that the merchant all at once lost his great wealth. Nothing was left but one small house in the country, and there the poor man told his children they must now go, and earn their daily bread.
The two eldest daughters said they need not go, for they had plenty of lovers who would be glad enough to marry them, even though they had lost their fortune. But they were wrong, for their lovers would not look at them now, and jeered at them in their trouble, because they had been so proud before.
Yet every one felt sorry for Beauty. Several gentlemen who loved her begged her still to let them marry her, though she had not a penny. Beauty refused, and said she could not leave her father now that trouble had come upon him.
So the family went to live in the small house in the country. There the merchant and his three sons ploughed and sowed the fields, and worked hard all day. Beauty rose at four o'clock every morning, put the house in order, and got breakfast for the whole family. It was very hard at first, for no one helped her. But every day it grew easier to work, and Beauty grew stronger and rosier. When her work was done, she could read, or play on her harp, or sit at her spinning-wheel, singing as she spun.
As for her two sisters, they were idle and unhappy, and became quite helpless. They never got up till ten o'clock. They spent the day moping and fretting, because they no longer had fine clothes to wear, and could not go to fine parties. They jeered at Beauty, and said that she was nothing but a servant-girl after all, to like that kind of living. But Beauty did not mind them, and lived on cheerfully.
They had been in the country a year, when one morning the merchant had a letter. It brought the news that a ship laden with rich goods belonging to him had not been lost after all, and had just come into port. The two sisters were half wild with joy, for now they could soon leave the farm-house, and go back to the gay city.
When their father was about to go to the port to settle his business there, they begged him to bring back all manner of fine things for them.
Then the merchant asked Beauty:—
"And what shall I bring you, Beauty?" for Beauty had yet asked nothing.
"Why, since you ask me dear father, I should like you to bring me a rose, for none grow in these parts." Now Beauty did not care so very much for a rose, but she did not like to seem to blame her sisters, or to appear better than they, by saying that she did not wish for anything.
The good man set off; but all was not as he had hoped. The ship had come in, but there was a dispute about the cargo. He went to law, and it ended in his turning back poorer than when he left his home.
He set out to return to the farm-house. When he was within thirty miles of home, he came to a large wood through which he must pass. The snow began to fall, and covered the path. The night closed in, and it grew so dark and so cold that the poor man gave himself up for lost. He could not see the way, and he was faint with cold and hunger.
All at once, he saw a light at the end of a long avenue of trees. He turned into the avenue, and rode until he came to the end of it. There he found a great palace; the windows were all lighted, and the door stood open, but he saw no one.
The door of the stable was also open, and his horse walked in. A crib full of hay and oats was there, and the tired beast fell to eating heartily. The merchant left his horse in the stall and entered the palace. He saw nobody and heard nobody, but a fire was burning on the hearth, and a table was spread with choice food, and set for one person. He was wet to the skin, and went to the fire to dry himself, saying:—
"I hope the master of the house or his servants will not blame me for this. No doubt some one will soon come."
He waited, but no one came. The clock struck eleven. Then, faint for want of food, he went to the table and ate some meat, yet all the time in a great fright. But when he was no longer hungry, he began to pluck up courage, and to look about him.
The clock struck twelve. He left the hall, and passed through one room after another until he came to one where there was a bed. It was made ready, and, since he was very tired, he lay down and slept soundly.
The merchant did not wake until ten o'clock the next morning. He had placed his clothes on a chair by the side of the bed. They had been nearly ruined by the storm, and were besides old and worn. Now he saw a wholly new suit in their place.
He began to think he must be in the palace of some fairy, and he was sure of it when he looked out of the window. The snow had gone, and a lovely garden lay before him, full of flowers. He dressed and went back to the hall. A table was spread for breakfast, and he at once sat down to it. Then he went to get his horse. On the way he passed some roses. He remembered Beauty, and plucked a rose to take home with him.
As soon as he had done this, he heard a frightful roar, and saw a dreadful Beast coming toward him. He was so frightened that he nearly fell down. The Beast cried out in a loud voice:—
"Ungrateful man! I saved your life by letting you come into my palace. I gave you food to eat and a bed to rest in, and now you steal my roses, which I love beyond everything. You shall pay for this with your life!" The poor man threw himself on his knees before the Beast, saying:—
"Forgive me, my lord. I did not know I was doing wrong. I only wanted to pluck a rose for one of my daughters. She asked me to bring one home to her. I pray you, do not kill me, my lord."
"I am not a lord. I am a Beast. I hate soft words, and you will not catch me by any of your fine speeches. You say you have daughters. Well, I will forgive you, if one of them will come and die in your stead. But promise that, if they refuse, you will come back in three months."
The merchant did not mean in the least to let one of his daughters die for him. But he wished to see his children once more before he died, so he promised to return if one of his daughters would not die for him. The Beast then told him to go back to the room where he had slept. There he would find a chest. He might fill it with anything he found in the palace, and it would be sent after him.
The merchant did as he was bid. The floor of the room was covered with gold, and he filled the chest. If he must die, he would at least provide for his children. Then he took his horse and rode out of the wood, and came at last to his home. He held the rose in his hand, and as the daughters came out to meet him, he gave it to the youngest saying:—
"Take it, Beauty. You little know what it has cost your poor father;" and then he told all that had happened since he left home.
The two eldest daughters began to cry aloud, and to blame Beauty. Why did she ask for roses? Why did she not ask for dresses, as they did; then all would have gone well. Now the hard-hearted thing, they said, did not shed a tear. Beauty replied quietly that it was of little use to weep. She meant to go and die in her father's stead.
"No, no!" cried the three brothers. "We will go and seek this Beast, and either he or we must die!"
"It is all in vain," said the father. "You do not know the Beast. He is more mighty than you can think. No! you must stay and care for your sisters. At the end of three months I shall go back and die." The merchant then went to his room, and there he found the chest of gold.
He was greatly amazed. He had forgotten the promise of the Beast. But he said nothing about the chest to his daughters. He was sure they would tease him to go back to town to live.
Beauty said little, but when the three months were over, she made ready to go with her father. The brothers and sisters bade them good-by, and wept over Beauty. The brothers wept real tears, but the sisters rubbed their eyes with onions, so as to make tears; they did not really care.
The horse took the right road, as if he knew the way, and when he came to the palace, he went at once to the stable. The merchant and Beauty entered the palace. They found the table spread for two persons, and they sat down to it.
After supper there was a great roar as before, and the Beast entered. Beauty trembled, and the Beast turned to her and said:—
"Did you come of your own self?"
"Yes," said Beauty, still trembling.
"Then I thank you. But you, sir," and he turned to the father, "get you gone to-morrow, and never let me see your face again. Good-night, Beauty."
"Good-night, Beast," she replied, and Beast walked off. The merchant begged and begged his daughter to leave him, and to go back to her home. But she was firm, and when the morning came, she made him leave her.
"Surely," he thought, "Beast will not hurt Beauty."
Beauty wept, but she was a brave girl, and soon she dried her eyes, and began to walk through the palace. She came to a door, and over it was written Beauty's Room . She opened the door, and found herself in a fine chamber, with books, music and a harp, and many beautiful things.
"It cannot be that I have only a day to live," she said, "for why should all this be done for me?" She opened a book and saw written in letters of gold: Your wishes and commands shall be obeyed. You are here the queen over everything.
"Alas!" she thought, "I wish most of all I could see my father and know what he is doing." Just then her eyes fell on a large looking-glass, and in it she saw her father just reaching home. Her sisters came out to meet him. They tried to look sad, but it was plain that they were not sorry to see him come home alone.
The sight in the glass was only for a moment, then it faded, and Beauty turned away and in her mind thanked Beast for what he had done.
At noon she found dinner ready for her, and sweet music sounded as she ate. But she saw nobody. At night Beast came and asked leave to sup with her. Of course she could not say no, but she sat in a fright all through supper. He did not speak for some time. Then he said:—
"Beauty, do you think me very ugly?"
"Yes, Beast; I cannot tell a lie. But I think you are very good." Nothing more was said, and Beauty was beginning to be rid of her fear, when all at once he asked:—
"Beauty, will you marry me?" Beauty was in a fright again, but she answered:—
"No, Beast." He gave a great sigh which shook the house. Then he got up from the table and said:—
"Good-night, Beauty," and went away. Beauty was glad he had gone, but she could not help pitying him.
Beauty lived in this way three months. The Beast came to supper every night. He did not grow less ugly, but Beauty did not mind his ugliness so much, for she saw how kind he really was. But there was one trouble. Every night the Beast was sure to ask:—
"Will you marry me, Beauty?" and Beauty always answered:—
But one night he begged her at least never to leave him. Now it chanced on that very day Beauty had looked in her glass. There she saw her father sick with grief, for he thought his child was dead. Her sisters were married. Her brothers were soldiers. So she told all this to the Beast, and wept and said she should die if she could not see her father once more.
"Do not refuse to let me go!" she begged.
"No," said the Beast. "I will not refuse you. I would much rather your poor Beast should die of grief for your absence. So you may go."
"Oh, thank you, dear Beast," said Beauty, "and I will surely come back in a week."
"When you wish to come back, Beauty, lay your ring on the table before you go to bed, and you will find yourself here when you wake. Good-night, Beauty."
The next morning Beauty woke to find herself at the farm-house. Her father was so glad to see her once more, and to know she was alive and well, that his sickness left him at once. He sent for her sisters, who came and brought their husbands.
These husbands were not much to be praised. One was so vain that he looked at himself, and seldom looked at his wife. The other had a sharp tongue, and liked to use it on other people, and most of all on his own wife. So the sisters were no happier than they had been.
But they were still jealous of Beauty, and they laid a plan for her hurt. They thought if they could keep her at home after the week was over, the Beast would be so angry, he would soon make an end of her. So, at the end of the week, they made a great ado, and begged her to stay just a little longer. Beauty could not help being glad to have her sisters want her. She said she would stay one week more; but she was not quite easy in her mind.
On the night of the tenth day the sisters gave her a feast, in order to make her forget the Beast. But at night Beauty dreamed she saw poor Beast lying half dead on the grass in the palace garden. She woke in tears, and at once laid her ring on the table, and then went to sleep again.
When she awoke, she was once more in her room at the palace. All day she wished for supper time to come. Then she would see Beast again. But supper time came, and no Beast was at the table. Nine o'clock struck, and still Beast did not come.
Beauty flew into the garden. She went to the spot she had dreamed of, and there lay poor Beast on the grass. She felt his heart beat. He was still alive. She ran for some water and threw it on his face. The Beast opened his eyes and said in a faint voice:—
"You forgot your promise. I could not live without you, and I meant to starve to death. Now you have come, and I shall die happy."
"No! you shall not die, dear Beast," cried Beauty. "You shall live to be my husband, for now I feel I really love you."
At these words the whole palace was ablaze with light. Music sounded, and there was a stir all about. There was no Beast, but in his place a very handsome prince was at Beauty's feet.
"You have broken the charm that held me," he said.
"But where is my poor Beast?" asked Beauty, weeping. "I want my dear Beast."
"I was the Beast," said the Prince. "A wicked fairy had power to make me live in that ugly form, till some good and beautiful maid should be found, so good as to love me in spite of my ugliness."
Beauty was amazed, but she took the Prince's hand and they went into the palace. The people of the country were full of joy. They had mourned for their Prince, and now he had suddenly come back again, and with him was a beautiful princess. So Beauty and the Beast, who was no longer a Beast, reigned happily in the kingdom.