T HERE was once a wealthy merchant who had six children, three sons and three daughters; and he loved his children more than he loved his riches and was always trying to make them happy. The three daughters were very handsome, but the youngest was the most attractive of all. While she was little she was called Beauty, and when she grew up she still kept the same name—and she was as good as she was beautiful. She spent much of her time studying, and when not engaged with her books she was busy doing all she could to make her home pleasant for her father. The older sisters were not like Beauty. They were proud of their riches and cared little for study, and they were constantly driving in the parks or attending balls, operas, and plays.
Thus things went along until misfortunes began to overtake the merchant in his business, and one evening he came home and told his family that storms at sea had destroyed his ships, and fire had burned his warehouses. "My riches are gone," said he, "and I have nothing I can call my own but a little farm far off in the country. To that little farm we must all go now, and earn our daily living with our hands."
The daughters wept at the idea of leading such a different life, and the older ones said they would not go, for they had plenty of friends who would invite them to stay in the town. But they were mistaken. Their friends, who were numerous when the family was rich, now kept away and said one to the other, "We are sorry for the merchant and his family, of course. However, we have cares of our own, and we couldn't be expected to help them; and, really, if those two older girls are having their pride humbled it is no more than they deserve. Let them go and give themselves quality airs milking the cows and minding their dairy and see how they like it."
So the family went to live on the little farm in the country, and the merchant and his sons ploughed and sowed the fields, and Beauty rose at four o'clock every morning to get breakfast for them. After the breakfast things were out of the way she busied herself about the other housework, and when there was nothing else to do she would sit at her spinning-wheel, singing as she spun, or perhaps would take a little time for reading. The work was hard at first, yet when she became used to it she enjoyed it, and her eyes were brighter and her cheeks more rosy than ever before.
Her two sisters did not change their habits so easily, and they were wretched. They were always thinking of the wealth they had lost, and they did not get up till ten o'clock and did very little work after they were up, but spent most of the time sauntering about and complaining.
A year passed and then the merchant received news that one of his ships which he had believed to be lost had come safely into port with a rich cargo. This news nearly turned the heads of the two eldest daughters, who thought that now they could soon leave the little farm and return to the gay city. As soon as their father made ready to go to the port to attend to the unlading and sale of the ship's cargo they begged him to buy them new gowns and hats and all manner of trinkets.
Then the merchant said, "And what shall I bring you, Beauty?"
"The only thing I wish for is to see you come home safely," she answered.
Her father was pleased, but he thought she ought to tell him of something he might bring her from the town. "Well, dear father," said she, "as you insist, I would like to have you bring me a rose, for I have not seen one since we came here."
The good man now set out on his journey, but when he reached the port he found that a former partner had taken charge of the ship's goods and disposed of them. The man would not turn over the money he had received to the merchant, and the merchant was obliged to sue for it in the courts. But what he recovered barely paid the costs, and at the end of six months of trouble and expense he started for his little farm as poor as when he came.
He travelled day after day until he was within thirty miles of home, and he was thinking of the pleasure he would have in seeing his children again when he lost his way in a great forest through which he had to pass. Night came on cold and rainy, and the poor man grew faint with hunger. But presently he saw bright lights some way off shining through the trees, and he turned his horse toward them and soon came into a long avenue of great oaks. This led to a splendid palace that was lit from top to bottom. Yet when the merchant entered the courtyard no one met him, and when he halooed he received no answer. His horse kept on toward an open stable door, and he dismounted and led the creature inside and hitched it to a manger that was full of hay and oats.
The merchant now sought the castle and went into a large hall where he found a good fire, and a table plentifully set with food, but not a soul did he see. While he stood by the fire drying himself he said, "How fortunate I am to find such shelter, for I should have perished this stormy night out in the forest. But I can't imagine where the people of this house can be, and I hope its master will excuse the liberty I have taken."
He waited for some time and the clock struck eleven. No one came, and then, weak for want of food, he sat down at the table and ate heartily; yet all the while he was fearful that he was trespassing and might be severely dealt with for his presumption. After he had finished eating he felt less timid and he concluded he would look for a chamber. So he left the hall and passed through several splendid rooms till he came to one in which was a comfortable bed, and there he spent the night.
On awaking the following morning he was surprised to find a new suit of clothes laid out for him on a chair by the bedside, marked with his name, and with ten gold pieces in every pocket. His own clothes, which were much the worse for wear and had been wet through by the storm, had disappeared. "Surely," said he, "this palace belongs to some kind fairy who has seen and pitied my distresses."
In the hall where he had supped the night before he found the table prepared for his breakfast, and after he had eaten he went out into a great garden full of beautiful flowers and shrubbery. As he walked along he passed under a bower of roses. "Ah," said he stopping, "I had no money when I left the town to buy the gifts my older daughters wanted, and my mind has been so full of my troubles that I have not thought of the rose for which Beauty asked, until this moment. She shall have one of these," and he reached up and plucked one.
No sooner had he done this than a great beast came suddenly forth from a side path where he had been hidden by a high hedge and stood before the merchant. "This place is mine," said the beast in his deep, gruff voice. "Why do you pick my flowers?"
"Forgive me, my lord," begged the merchant, throwing himself on his knees before the beast. "I did not know I was giving offence. I only wanted to carry a rose to one of my daughters."
"You have daughters, have you?" said the beast. "Now, listen! This palace is lonely and I want one of your daughters to come here and live."
"Oh, sir!" cried the merchant, "do not ask that."
"Nothing else will appease me," the beast responded. "I promise no harm will be done her. So take the rose you have picked and go at once and tell your daughters what I have said; and in case not one of them will come you must return yourself and be prisoned for the rest of your days in the palace dungeon."
"My lord," replied the merchant, "I shall not let a child of mine suffer for me, and you may as well lock me up in your dungeon now as later."
"No," the beast said, "you go home and consult with your daughters first."
"I am in your power," said the merchant, "and I can only obey you."
Then he went to the stable and mounted his horse and by night he reached home. His children ran out to greet him, but instead of receiving their caresses with pleasure the tears rolled down his cheeks, and he handed the rose to Beauty, saying, "Little do you think how dear that will cost your poor father;" and he related all the sad adventures that had befallen him. "To-morrow," said the merchant in closing, "I shall return to the beast."
"I can't let you do that, dear father," said Beauty. "I am going in your stead."
"Not so, sister," cried her three brothers, "we will seek out the monster and either kill him or die ourselves."
"You could accomplish nothing," declared the merchant, "for he lives in an enchanted palace and has invisible helpers with whom you could not hope to contend successfully."
"How unfortunate it all is!" said the older girls. "What a pity. Beauty, that you did not do as we did and ask for something sensible."
"Well," said Beauty, "who could have guessed that to ask for a rose would cause so much misery? However, the fault is plainly mine, and I shall have to suffer the consequences."
Her father tried to dissuade her from her purpose, but she insisted, and the next morning he mounted his horse and, with Beauty sitting behind him, he started for the beast's palace. They arrived late in the afternoon and rode down the long avenue of oaks and into the silent courtyard to the door of the stable where the horse had been kept before. Then they dismounted, and after the merchant had led the horse into the stable and seen it comfortably housed for the night they went into the palace.
A cheerful fire was blazing in the big hall and the table was daintily spread with most delicious food. They sat down to this repast, but were too sad to eat much and were soon through. Just then the beast came in and addressed the merchant. "Honest man," said he, "I am glad that you could be trusted. I was rude and threatening toward you yesterday, but it seemed necessary. However, in the end, I think you will have nothing to regret. Spend the night here and to-morrow go your way."
"This is my daughter, Beauty," said the merchant.
The beast bowed and said, "My lady, I am very grateful to you for coming, and I beg you to remember that I am not what you think me. But I cannot tell you what I really am, for I am under a spell. This spell I hope you will be able to remove."
So saying, the beast withdrew and left the merchant and his daughter sitting by the fire. "What the beast means," said the merchant, "I do not know; but he talks very courteously."
Then they sat long in silence, but at last arose; and they each hunted up a chamber and retired to try to sleep.
On the morrow they found breakfast prepared for them in the hall, and after they had eaten, the merchant bade his daughter an affectionate farewell. He went to the stable for his horse. It was all ready for him to mount, and to his surprise the saddlebags were full of gold. "Ah, well!" said he, "here is wealth once more, but it cannot make up for the loss of my dear daughter."
Beauty watched him ride away. As soon as he was gone she threw herself down on a cushioned window-seat and cried till she fell asleep; and while she slept she dreamed she was walking by a brook bordered with trees and lamenting her sad fate, when a young prince, handsomer than any man she had ever seen, came to her and said, "Ah, Beauty, you are not so unfortunate as you suppose. You will have your reward."
She awoke late in the day a good deal refreshed and comforted, and after a little she decided she would walk about and see something of the palace in which she was to live. She found much to admire and presently came to a door on which was written
She opened the door and entered a splendidly furnished apartment where were a multitude of books and pictures, a harpsichord and many comfortable chairs and couches. She picked up a book that lay on a table, and on the fly-leaf she found written in golden letters these words:
"Your wishes and commands shall be obeyed. You are here the queen over everything."
"Alas!" she thought, "my chief wish just at this moment is to see what my poor father is about."
While she was thinking this she perceived some movement in a mirror on the wall in front of her, and when she looked into the mirror she saw her father arriving home and her sisters and brothers meeting him. The vision faded quickly away, but Beauty felt very thankful she had been allowed such a pleasure. "This beast shows a great deal of kindness," said she, glancing about the attractive room. "He must be a far better creature than we have imagined."
She did not see the beast until evening, and then he came and asked if he might sup with her, and she replied that he could. But she would much rather have eaten alone, for she could not help trembling in his presence. As long as they sat at the table soft, beautiful music was played, though whence it came or who were the musicians she could not discover. The beast talked to Beauty with great politeness and intelligence, yet his gruff voice startled her every time he spoke. When they had nearly finished he said, "I suppose you think my appearance extremely ugly."
"Yes," said Beauty, "for I cannot tell a lie, but I think you are very good."
"You show a most gracious spirit," said the beast, "in not judging me wholly by my uncouth exterior. I will do anything I can to make you happy here."
"You are very kind, Beast," she replied. "Indeed, when I think of your good heart, you no longer seem to me so ugly."
As they rose from the supper table, the beast said, "Beauty, do you think you could ever care enough for me to kiss me?"
She faltered out, "No, Beast," and he turned and left the room sighing so deeply that she pitied him.
In the days and weeks which followed Beauty saw no one save the beast, yet there were invisible servants who did everything possible for her comfort and pleasure. She and the beast always had supper together, and his conversation never failed to be entertaining and agreeable. By degrees she grew accustomed to his shaggy ugliness and learned to mind it less and to think more of his many amiable qualities. The only thing that pained her was that when he was about to leave her at the end of supper he was sure to ask if she thought she could sometime care enough for him to kiss him.
Three months passed, and one day Beauty looked in her mirror and saw a double wedding at her father's cottage. Her sisters were being married to two gentlemen of the region. Not long afterward her mirror showed her that her three brothers had enlisted for soldiers and her father was left alone. A few days more elapsed and she saw that her father was sick. The sight made her weep, and in the evening she told the beast what her mirror had revealed to her and that she wished to go and nurse her father.
"And will you return at the end of a week if you go?" asked the beast.
"Yes," she replied.
"I cannot refuse anything you ask," said he. "I will have a swift horse ready for you at sunrise to-morrow."
The next day at sunrise Beauty found the swift horse saddled for her in the courtyard, and away she went like the wind through the forest toward her father's cottage. When she arrived, the old merchant was so overjoyed at seeing her that his sickness quickly left him and the two spent a most happy week together.
As soon as the seven days were past she returned to the castle of the beast, which she reached late in the afternoon. Supper time came and the food was served as usual, but the beast was absent and Beauty was a good deal alarmed. "Oh, I hope nothing has happened to him," she said. "He was so good and considerate."
After waiting a short time she went to look for the beast. She ran hastily through all the apartments of the palace, but the beast was not there; and then in the twilight she hurried out to the garden, and by the borders of a fountain she found the beast lying as if dead.
"Dear, dear Beast," she cried, dropping on her knees beside him, "what has happened?" and she leaned over and kissed his hairy cheek.
At once a change came over the beast, and on the grass beside the fountain lay a handsome prince. He opened his eyes and said feebly, "My lady, I thank you. A wicked magician had condemned me to assume the form of an ugly beast until some beautiful maiden consented to kiss me. But I think you are the only maiden in the world kind-hearted enough to have had affection for me in the ugly form the magician had given me. When you went away to your father I was so lonely I could no longer eat or amuse myself, and I became so weak that to-day, when I was walking here in the garden, I fell and could not rise."
Then Beauty filled a cup with water from the fountain and lifted him up so that he could drink. That revived him somewhat and with her help he rose to his feet. The enchantment had been removed from the palace as well as from the prince, and the servants were no longer invisible.
"Call for help," said the prince; and when she called, several men instantly came to their aid and carried the prince to the palace. Once there, warmth, food, and happiness went far toward restoring him. The next morning he sent for Beauty's father to come and make his home with them, and not long afterward Beauty and the prince were married and they lived with great joy and contentment in their palace ever after.