There was once a rich merchant who had six children, three sons and three daughters; and 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 extremely pretty, but the youngest was more than pretty, she was beautiful; and as every one called her Little Beauty when she was a child, and she became more lovely each year, the name grew up with her, so that she had no other but 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 and would not condescend to visit other merchants' daughters, but were always dangling after persons of quality, and going to plays and grand balls; they laughed at Beauty, who lived quietly at home with her 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 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.
But suddenly it fell that the merchant lost all his great wealth; nothing remained save one small house in the country, and there the poor man told his children they must all now go and earn their daily living. The two eldest daughters said that they were not going, for they had plenty of lovers in town who would be glad enough to marry them, though they had lost their fortune. But they were greatly mistaken in this, for their lovers would not even look at them now, and jeered at them in their trouble because they had been so odiously proud. Yet everyone pitied poor Beauty, and several gentlemen who loved her, begged her 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, where the merchant and his three sons plowed and sowed the fields, and worked all day in the garden; 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, and no one helped her; but every day it grew easier to work, and Beauty waxed healthier and rosier. When her work was done, she would read, or play on the harpsichord, or sit at her spinning-wheel, singing as she spun. As for her two sisters, they were idle and miserable, and perfectly helpless; they never got up till ten o'clock, and then they spent the day moping and fretting because they no longer had fine clothes to wear, and could not go to fine parties and be admired. They sneered at Beauty, and said she was nothing but a servant-girl after all, to like that way of living; but Beauty lived on cheerfully.
They had been in the country about a year, when the merchant received a letter which brought the news that a ship laden with rich goods belonging to him, and which was thought to be lost, had come into port. At this the two eldest sisters were half wild with joy, for now they could soon leave the farm-house and go back to the gay city; and when their father was about leaving for the port, to settle his business there, they begged for all manner of fine clothes and trinkets, which he was to bring with him. Then the merchant asked Beauty,—
"And what shall I bring you, Beauty?" for Beauty had yet asked for nothing.
"Why since you ask me, dear father," said she, "I should like you to bring me a rose, for none grow in these parts." Now it was not that Beauty wished 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 when he reached the port he was obliged to go to law about the cargo, 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 forest through which he must pass. The snow began to fall and covered the path; and night closed in, and it grew so dark and so cold that the poor man gave himself up as lost. He could not see the way, and he was faint with cold and hunger; when, all of a sudden, 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; and there was a splendid palace, yet not a soul could he see at the windows which were blazing with light, or by the door or in the courtyard. His horse, seeing a stable door open, walked in, and finding a crib full of hay and oats, the poor jaded beast fell to eating heartily. The merchant left him in the stall and entered the palace; but, though he found nobody, and nobody came out to him, there was a fire blazing, and a table spread with the richest viands and set for one person. Being wet to the skin, he went toward the fire to dry himself, saying;—
"I hope the master of the house or his servants will excuse the liberty I am taking, for no doubt they will soon make their appearance."
He waited, but no one came. The clock struck eleven; and then, faint for want of food, he went to the table and ate a chicken, yet all the while in a great fright; he took several glasses of wine also; and being now satisfied, he felt more courage and looked about him. The clock struck twelve, and he left the hall through an open door and passed through several splendid rooms till he came to one with a comfortable bed; and now, being excessively tired, he took off his clothes and got into it.
The merchant did not wake till ten o'clock on the following morning, when he was surprised to find a new suit of clothes instead of his own, which had been quite ruined. He now began to believe that the palace belonged to some good fairy, and was sure of it when he looked out of the window and saw that the snow had given place to lovely gardens with flowery arbors. Returning to the great hall, where he had supped, he found the table prepared for breakfast. He sat down without hesitation to this meal, and when he had finished he went to look after his horse. The way led under a bower of roses; and remembering Beauty's request, he plucked a bunch to take home. No sooner had he done this than he heard a frightful roar, and saw such a horrible Beast stalking up to him that he was ready to faint with fear.
"Ungrateful wretch!" cried the Beast in a terrific voice; "I saved your life by admitting you into my palace, and you reward me by stealing my roses, which I love beyond everything! You shall pay forfeit with your life's blood!" The poor merchant threw himself on his knees before the Beast, saying,—
"Forgive me, my lord. I did not know I was offending you; I only wanted to pluck a rose for one of my daughters, who had asked me to bring one home to her. I pray you, do not kill me, my lord."
"I am not a lord, but a Beast," answered the monster. "I hate flattery, and you will not wheedle me with any fine speeches; but as you say you have daughters, I will forgive you, provided one of them comes willingly to die in your stead; but swear that, should they refuse, you will return in three months." The merchant had not the most distant intention of suffering any of his daughters to die for him; but wishing to see his children once more before he died, he swore to return; and the Beast dismissed him, telling him he need not go empty-handed, but that he might go back to the room where he had slept, and there he would find a large chest which he was at liberty to fill with whatever he fancied in the palace, and that it would be sent after him to his home. The merchant, comforting himself with the thought that at least he would leave his children provided for, returned to his room and found the chest as the Beast had said, with heaps of gold pieces about the floor. He filled the chest with the gold, and left sadly for his home. He held the roses in his hand, and as the children came to meet him, he gave them to his youngest daughter, saying,—
"Take them, Beauty; you little think how dear they have cost your poor father;" and then he told all that had befallen him since he left his home.
The two eldest sisters then began to lament loudly, and to rail at Beauty because she had been the cause of their father's death. She so wise, indeed! if she had been content to ask for dresses, as they had, all would have been well; and now the hard-hearted thing had not even a tear for the mischief she had done! But Beauty replied quietly that it were of little use to weep, for she had resolved within herself to go and die in her father's stead.
"No, no!" cried the three brothers at once; "we will go and seek this monster, and either he or we shall perish."
But the merchant told them they did not know the Beast. He was more mighty than they could imagine, and it would be vain attempting to resist his will. Their duty it was to live and protect their sisters, for, as for himself, he would go back to the Beast, as he had promised, and sacrifice the few remaining years which he could expect to enjoy; and saying this, he left his children and went to his room for the night. There, to his surprise, for he had quite forgotten the Beast's promise, he found the chest with the gold in it, which he had packed in the Beast's palace; but he determined to say nothing about this at present to his eldest daughters, for he knew they would at once pester him to return to town.
Beauty was firm in her resolve, and when the three months were over, she made ready to go with her father. As they set out on the journey, the family gathered about and wept over her,—her father and brothers shedding real tears, but the two heartless sisters pretended ones; for they rubbed their eyes beforehand with an onion, to make it seem as if they had cried a great deal. The horse took the right road of his own accord, and, on reaching the palace, which was illuminated as before, he went at once into the stable, while the father and daughter entered the great hall, and found the table spread for two persons with most dainty fare. After supper there was a tremendous noise, and the Beast entered. Beauty shuddered, and when he asked her whether she had come of her own will, she could not help trembling as she faltered out "Yes."
"Then I am obliged to you for your kindness," growled the Beast; and turning to the father, he added, "As for you, get you gone to-morrow, and never let me see you here again. Good-night, Beauty."
"Good-night, Beast," said she; and Beast walked out. The merchant again fell to entreating his daughter to leave him there, while she should return to her home; but when the morrow came she prevailed on him to set out, he thinking, the Beast will after all relent; surely he will not harm Beauty.
When her father was gone, Beauty could not help shedding a few tears; but soon she dried her eyes and began walking about the various rooms of the palace, and came to her surprise to a door upon which was written, "BEAUTY'S ROOM." Opening it hastily, she found herself in a splendidly furnished chamber, where were a multitude of books, a harpsichord, and much music. "It cannot be," she thought, "that I have only a day to live, else such pleasure would not have been provided for me." Her surprise increased upon opening one of the books and seeing written in golden letters,—Your wishes and command shall be obeyed! You are here the queen over everything! "Alas!" she thought, "my wish would be to see what my poor father is now about." No sooner had she spoken this wish to herself, than, casting her eyes upon a large looking-glass, she saw in it her father's arrival at home. Her sisters came out to meet him; they tried to look sorrowful, but it was plain enough they were highly delighted that he should return without Beauty. The vision lasted but a moment; then it disappeared, and Beauty turned away, grateful to the Beast for fulfilling her wish.
At noon she found dinner ready for her, and all the while beautiful music was played; but though she heard the music she saw nobody. At night the Beast came and asked leave to sup with her, which of course she could not refuse, though she trembled from head to foot. Presently he inquired whether she did not think him very ugly?
"Yes," said Beauty, "for I cannot tell a lie; but I think you very good." Then the supper went on, pleasantly enough, and Beauty had half recovered from her alarm, when he suddenly asked her,—
"Beauty, will you marry me?"
Though in great alarm, she faltered out,—
"No, Beast;" when he sighed so as to shake the whole house; and, saying in a sorrowful tone, "Good-night, Beauty," left the room, to her great relief, though she could not help pitying him from her soul.
Beauty lived in this manner for three months. The Beast came to supper every night, and by degrees, as she grew accustomed to his ugliness, she learned to mind it less, and to think more of his many amiable qualities. The only thing that pained her was, that he never failed to ask her each night if she would marry him, and when, at last, she answered that she had the greatest friendship though no love for him, he begged her at least to promise never to leave him. Now that very morning Beauty had seen in her glass that her father lay sick with grief, supposing her to be dead; her sisters were married, her brothers were gone for soldiers, and so she told the Beast, and weeping said she should die if he refused her leave to go once more and see her father.
"No," said the Beast, "I will not refuse you, for I would much rather your poor Beast should die of grief for your absence; so you may go." But Beauty promised to return in a week; and the Beast telling her that she need only lay her ring on her toilet-table before she went to bed, when she meant to return, bade her goodnight as usual and left her.
The next morning Beauty awoke to find herself in her father's cottage, and so rejoiced was he to see her alive that his sickness left him quickly. He sent for her sisters, who came and brought their husbands; but they were not living happily with them, for one was so vain of his person that he thought nothing of his wife, and the other so sharp-tongued that he was playing off his wit all day long on everybody around him, and most of all on his own wife. The sisters were so jealous on finding Beauty grandly dressed and hearing how kind the Beast had been to her that they laid a plan for delaying her return beyond the time which she had promised, in hopes that the Beast would be so angry as to devour her. Accordingly, when the week was over they made such an ado about her leaving, and professed to be so grieved, that Beauty agreed to stay another week, though she felt some misgivings.
On the night of the tenth day when her sisters had been feasting her and pretending great affection, she dreamt that she saw poor Beast lying half dead on the grass in the palace garden; and waking all in tears, she got out of bed, laid her ring on the table, and then went to bed where she soon fell asleep. When she awoke, she was relieved to find her- self once more in the palace, and she waited impatiently till supper time, when she should see the Beast. But the clock struck nine, and no Beast appeared.
"Oh, if I have killed him!" she cried, and ran into the garden toward the spot she had dreamed of, and there she saw the poor Beast lying senseless on the grass. She threw herself upon his body in despair; she felt his heart beat, and running to a neighboring fountain for water, she threw it in his face. The Beast opened his eyes and said in a faint voice,—
"You forgot your promise, and I resolved to starve myself to death; but since you are come, I shall at least 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 suddenly ablaze with light, fireworks flew in the air, and a band of music sounded. There was no Beast, but in his place a very handsome prince was at her feet, thanking her for having broken his enchantment.
"But where is my poor Beast?" asked Beauty anxiously; "I want my dear Beast."
"I was the Beast," said the prince. "A wicked fairy condemned me to live in that ugly form until some good and beautiful maid should be found, so good as to love me in spite of my ugliness." Beauty, filled with surprise, took the prince by the hand and they passed into the palace. There stood Beauty's father; and the young pair were at once married, to the joy of the prince's subjects who had long mourned his mysterious absence, and over whom the prince and his beautiful bride reigned wisely for many a long and happy year.