There was once upon a time a Merchant who had three beautiful daughters. But though the two eldest were very lovely, the youngest, who was called Beauty, was the fairest of all. For besides being beautiful she had a kind, gentle heart, which shone out of her eyes and made her always look happy and bright. The elder sisters were selfish and discontented, and only cared for jewels and fine clothes. So it was no wonder that the father loved his youngest daughter best.
Now it happened one day that the Merchant was obliged to go off on a long journey, and before he started he asked his three daughters to choose what present he should bring home to them.
"Oh! bring me a necklace of emeralds, the finest you can find," said the eldest.
"I would like a string of pearls," cried the second.
"And what would you like, little Beauty?" asked her father, for Beauty had not been as quick to answer as her sisters.
"I would like you to bring yourself back as soon as possible," said Beauty. "And if you could find a white rose for me, I would like that best of all."
So the Merchant rode off, while the two sisters laughed at Beauty, because she had asked for such a common gift.
"You have roses enough in your garden," they said scornfully.
"But my roses are all red, and I want a white one," said Beauty. And she wondered how her sisters could choose to have jewels when they might have living flowers.
The Merchant did not forget the presents for his daughters, and before he started for home again he bought a necklace of emeralds and a string of pearls. But a white rose he could not find. It was too late for roses, people said, and so he had to set off without a present for Beauty.
It was growing late and the roads were dark, and before he had gone very far, the Merchant found he had missed his way. He could not tell where he was, for everything looked strange to him, and he was sure that he had never travelled along this way before. He was just about to turn back and try another road when, to his joy, he saw lights shining in front, and presently he came to a great castle.
"I must ask if they will give me shelter here for to-night," said the Merchant to himself. So he rode through the garden and went up to the great door.
To his surprise the door stood wide open, and not a servant was anywhere to be seen. He went to the stables and tied up his horse, and then returned to the hall, where he found a splendid supper prepared. Everything was made ready as if a prince had been expected. Still there was no one to be seen, so the Merchant sat down and began to enjoy the feast, for he was very hungry.
When he had finished supper and was feeling very sleepy, he noticed an open door leading out of the hall into a room. He walked to the door, looked in, and found it was a bedroom where everything was ready for him just as the supper had been. He was so tired that he went to bed at once and slept soundly until the next morning. When he awoke and looked about he was more surprised than ever, for a beautiful velvet suit was laid out ready for him to put on, and in the hall a delicious breakfast was awaiting him.
He really felt most grateful to his unknown host, and when he was ready to set out again, he wished there had been some way in which to show his gratitude.
Still thinking of his strange adventure, the Merchant walked slowly through the garden. He scarcely noticed the wonderful flowers which lined his path, until suddenly he spied a beautiful white rose growing on a bush above his head.
"Why, I shall have a present for Beauty after all," he cried out gladly. And he reached up and picked the beautiful white rose.
But scarcely had he snapped its stalk when a terrible roar sounded from the bushes close by, and out there sprang a great fierce Beast.
"Who is stealing my white rose?" he growled, glaring at the poor Merchant, who trembled with terror. "You came to my castle and I gave you all you could wish, and this is your gratitude."
"I did not mean to steal," said the Merchant very humbly. "My little daughter begged me to bring her a white rose, and this is the only one I have been able to find."
"It is my favourite rose," said the Beast, "and any one who touches it is instantly put to death. But I will let you go free if you will promise me one thing. Come back in a month's time and bring with you the first thing that runs to meet you when you reach home."
The Merchant promised at once, glad to be set free so easily. He only hoped it might be the cat and not his favourite dog that would run to meet him, for he did not mind parting with the cat.
But, alas! it was neither the cat nor the dog! It was no other than his little daughter Beauty.
She had been watching all the morning from the tower, and when she saw him riding along the road she was so glad that she ran out quickly to welcome him.
"O father!" she cried, "I see you have brought me my beautiful white rose."
But her father looked so white and strange, and gazed at her so sadly, that she grew frightened.
"Dear father, what has happened?" she asked, "and why do you look so troubled?"
Then the Merchant dismounted and took Beauty's hand. And as they walked through the garden he told her all that had happened to him, and the promise he had made to the Beast.
"But I will never, never give you up, my little Beauty," said her father, when he had told her all.
"But, father, it was a promise," said Beauty, "and I could not let you break your word for my sake. I will go back with you to meet the Beast, and perhaps, after all, he will not hurt me. He must be a good Beast if he loves to have such beautiful white roses in his garden."
So the Merchant let Beauty have her way, hoping that something might happen before the month was ended. But the time slipped quickly by, and the day came when he must return with Beauty to the palace of the Beast.
Beauty rode on her own white pony by her father's side, and they went silently through the forest, for they were both too sad to talk.
And when they came to the palace, which the Merchant remembered so well, the door stood wide open just as it had done before. There, too, in the hall a feast was prepared, but this time two places were set, as if for a prince and princess.
Poor Beauty and her father sat down very sadly to supper, but they could eat nothing. And just then the clock struck nine, and a terrible roaring noise was heard outside. Then the door opened and the Beast came in.
Now, although he looked so fierce and terrible, the Beast had a kind voice, and he spoke quite gently to the trembling Merchant.
"Is this your daughter for whom you stole my rose?" he asked.
"Yes, this is Beauty," answered her father. "I would have broken my promise to you, but she would not allow me."
"You are welcome to stay here for one night," said the Beast. "But to-morrow you must go away and leave Beauty with me. She shall have everything she can wish for here, therefore do not be unhappy about her."
So the next morning the poor father was obliged to ride off alone. He was very, very sad, but Beauty leaned out of her window and smiled, and waved her handkerchief to him, that he might believe she was quite happy.
Indeed she soon grew quite gay and contented, for she had everything in the castle which she could want. Her bedroom was the prettiest room she had ever seen, with pink and white walls and daintiest silken curtains, and the roses, which peeped through the window, framed a wonderful mirror which stood upon the table. Beauty knew at once this was a magic mirror, for underneath in golden letters she read:
"This my magic heart of glass
Paints your wishes as they pass.
Know, by these our fairy laws,
What you wish for shall be yours."
"I shall be able to wish myself home, whenever I am unhappy," said Beauty, clapping her hands. "And so I need never feel lonely."
Now Beauty had no one to play with and was quite alone all the day long. Only at supper-time, when the clock struck nine and she was seated at the great table in the hall, there would come a knock at the door and a voice would say, "May I come in, Beauty?"
"Certainly, Beast," she would answer. And then the door opened and the Beast would come in.
And they would have supper together, and after they had finished Beauty would sit and sing, with the soft light of the tall candles shining on her golden hair, while the poor Beast sat spellbound listening to her music.
The poor beast sat spellbound listening to Beauty's music.
"Do you think I am very ugly?" asked the Beast one night. And his voice sounded so sad that Beauty found it very difficult to answer quite truthfully.
"You have a kind face," she said at last with a sigh, "but you really are very ugly."
"Then I suppose you hate me," said the Beast mournfully.
"O! no, indeed, I do not," said Beauty. "I like you very much."
"O Beauty," cried the Beast, "will you marry me, then?"
"How can I marry a beast?" said Beauty, the tears standing in her blue eyes. "I do not love you enough for that."
When Beauty went to bed that night she felt very sad because she had made the poor Beast so unhappy. And then she began to long to see her home and her father again. So she went to the magic mirror, and as she looked, her wish was painted on its shining surface, and she saw her old home and her dear father lying ill in bed.
Next day Beauty could neither play nor work, and could only wait impatiently until supper-time came. Then when the door opened and the Beast came in, she ran to meet him and asked if she might go home, just for one week, to see her father.
"If you go you will never, never come back," said the Beast slowly.
"I promise you that I will come back in one week, dear Beast," said Beauty, and there was the sound of a sob in her voice.
The Beast shook his head and sighed deeply.
"Well, go if you wish it so much," he said, "but take this ring with you." And he placed on Beauty's finger a curious old gold ring.
"If you should ever want to come back," he said, "place this ring on your table before you go to bed, and when you wake up you will find yourself here in your own little pink and white room."
Beauty promised to keep the ring carefully, and that night she looked again in the magic mirror and wished herself home.
In a moment the pink and white room faded away, and she found herself standing by her father's bedside, and he was weeping with joy to think he had found his little Beauty again. He began to get well at once, for the very sight of Beauty seemed to make him better.
But the week soon came to an end, and then Beauty felt she could not bear to leave her father. So she made up her mind she must break her promise and stay just one other week.
She could not help wondering what the poor Beast would think of her, and one night when she had been thinking a great deal about him, she dreamed a strange, sad dream.
She thought she was back in the garden of the Beast's palace, and as she wandered about she came to the white rose bush. There lay the poor Beast, so thin and wan that he looked as if he were dying, and as she ran towards him she heard him moan, "O Beauty, Beauty, you have broken my heart, and I shall die without you!"
Then Beauty awoke with a cry, and she felt so unhappy that she slipped out of bed and placed her magic ring upon the table, for she longed to see her dear Beast again.
Next morning, just as the Beast had promised it should be, she woke up in her own little pink and white room, where the roses nodded a welcome through the open window.
All day she waited anxiously for supper-time, and when the clock struck nine she held her breath, waiting to hear the Beast's voice saying as usual, "May I come in, Beauty?"
But no one knocked at the door, and a great stillness hung over the castle.
"Oh, what has happened to my dear Beast?" cried Beauty. And then she remembered her dream and ran quickly out into the garden to look for him.
Straight to the white rose bush she ran, and there lay the poor Beast, so stiff and quiet that she thought he must be dead. The white roses bending over him had wept their white petals on his rough coat, but he never stirred.
"Oh, my dear Beast!" cried Beauty, and she kneeled down and threw her arms round his neck. "I have come back to take care of you. Do not die, and I will marry you now, for I love you with all my heart."
And Beauty hid her face in her hands and burst into tears.
Was the Beast indeed dead? Surely there was a sound as if something moved. Beauty looked up quickly, and through a mist of tears she saw the Beast was no longer there, but a handsome young Prince stood by her side.
"Who are you?" asked Beauty; "and what have you done with my dear Beast? My heart will break if I do not find him."
"Dear Beauty," said the Prince, "do you not know me? I am the Beast whom your love has brought back to life and happiness. An evil spell was cast around me so that I was obliged to take the form of a beast, and nothing could set me free until a beautiful maiden should love me, and promise to marry me."
"If you truly are my dear Beast, I will marry you," said Beauty.
Then they wandered together in the moon-lit garden, and the Prince made a crown of white roses, which he placed on Beauty's head. And together they went to the magic mirror, and when Beauty looked in she saw her dear father living for all the rest of his days in the palace with his little daughter Beauty, and when the Prince looked in he saw the picture of a wedding where the bride wore a wreath of pure white roses.
And the roses and the magic mirror nodded to one another, for they knew that the wishes would come true, and that there was nothing but happiness in store for Beauty and the Beast.