There was once a merchant who had three daughters. The two older ones were handsome enough, but the third was a beauty, and no mistake; her eyes were as blue as the sky, her hair was as black as ebony, and her cheeks were like roses. The merchant loved his two older daughters dearly, but this Beauty was the darling of his heart.
Things went along pleasantly for a long time, and the merchant was rich and prosperous, but then things began to go wrong with him. One after another of his ships was lost at sea, and a great part of his fortune with them.
One day the merchant called his daughters to him and said, “My children, I find it will be necessary for me to go on a long journey. I am no longer a rich man, but I wish to bring home a gift to each one of you, so tell me what you would like to have.”
Then the two older daughters began to think of all the things they wanted, and each was afraid the other would get something finer than she did.
At last the eldest spoke, “Dear father,” said she, “I wish you would bring me a velvet robe embroidered with gold, and shoes to match, and a fan to wave in my hand.”
“And I,” said the second, “would like a necklace of pearls, and pearls for my hair, and a fine bracelet.”
The merchant was troubled that his daughters should ask for such costly things, but he did not like to refuse them. “And you, Beauty,” said he, turning to his youngest daughter, “what will you have?”
“Dear father,” said she, “you have given me so much that I have nothing left to wish for; but if you bring me anything at all let it be a rose.”
When her older sisters heard this they were very angry. They thought that Beauty had asked only for a rose so that she might shame them before their father, and make him think she was more unselfish than they were. But Beauty had had no such thought as that.
The merchant smiled at his youngest daughter and kissed her thrice, but his older daughters he kissed only once. Then he mounted his horse and rode away.
He journeyed on for several days, and at last he reached the city he was bound for. Here he found he had lost even more of his fortune than he had thought. He was now a poor man. Still he managed to buy the gifts his two older daughters had asked for, and then with a sad heart he set out for home.
He had not journeyed far, however, when he was overtaken by a storm and lost himself in a deep forest. He rode this way and that, trying to find the way out, and then suddenly he came to an open place, and there he saw before him a magnificent castle.
The merchant was amazed. He had never heard of such a castle in that forest. He rode up to the door and knocked, hoping to find shelter for the night.
Scarcely had he knocked when the great door swung open before him. He entered and looked about, no one was there; everything was silent. Wondering he went on into one room after another. Everything was very magnificent and well arranged, but nowhere was a soul to be seen. At last he came to a room where a supper was set out. The plates were all of gold, and the fruits and meats were of the rarest and most delicious kinds.
The merchant was so hungry that he sat down at the table, and at once the food was served to him by invisible hands, while soft music sounded from a hidden room beyond.
He ate heartily and then arose and went in search of a place to sleep. This he soon found. A bed had been made ready in a large chamber, and here he undressed and lying down he slept until morning without being disturbed.