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.
When he awoke he found his own travel-stained clothes had been taken away. In their place a handsome suit had been laid out, and other necessary things, all of the richest kind. There was also a bag filled with gold pieces. Wondering still more, the merchant arose and dressed and went out into the gardens to look about him. Here everything was more beautiful than any garden he had ever seen before. There were winding paths and fountains, and fruit-trees and flowering plants.
Beside one of the fountains was a rose-bush covered with the roses. The sight of these roses reminded the merchant of Beauty’s wish, and he thought it would be no harm to break off one to carry to her. He chose the largest and finest rose. Scarcely had he plucked it, however, when the air was filled with a sound of thunder, the ground rocked under his feet, and a terrible looking beast appeared before him.
“Miserable man!” cried the Beast, “what have you done? All the best in the castle was offered to you. Why have you broken my rose-bush that is dearer to me than anything in the world? Now for this you must surely die.”
The merchant was terrified. “Oh, dear, good Beast do not kill me!” he cried. “I meant no harm. Only let me go, and I will never trouble you again.”
“No, no,” answered the Beast. “You shall not escape so easily. You have broken my rose-bush and you must suffer for it.”
Still the merchant begged and entreated to be spared and at last the Beast had pity on him. “If I spare your life,” said he, “what will you give me in return for it?”
“Alas,” said the merchant, “what can I give you? I have lost all my fortune and I am now a poor man. I have nothing left in the world but my three daughters.”
“Give me one of your daughters for a wife and I will be satisfied,” said the Beast.
The merchant was horrified at the thought of such a thing. He would have refused, but he feared that if he did so the Beast would tear him to pieces at once.
“You may have three months in which to think it over,” said the Beast. “But you must promise me that at the end of that time you will return here and either bring me one of your daughters or come prepared to die.”
The merchant was obliged to promise this; he could not help himself. As soon as he had promised the Beast disappeared and the man was free to go, and this he was not slow to do.
He rode on toward his home and his heart was heavy within him. He did not see how he could possibly give one of his daughters to be the bride of a hideous beast and yet he did not wish to die.
His daughters met him with joy, and the two older sisters were delighted when they saw the beautiful gifts he had brought them. Only Beauty noticed his sad and downcast looks.
“Dear father,” said she, “why are you troubled? Has something unfortunate happened to you?”
At first her father would not tell her, but she urged and entreated him to tell her until finally he could keep silence no longer. He told his daughters all about the castle and his adventure there and of the Beast, and of how unless one of them would consent to marry the Beast he would have to lose his life.
When the older daughters heard this they were ready to faint. Not even to save their father’s life could they consent to marry such a creature.
“Dear father,” said Beauty, “you shall not die. I will be the Beast’s bride.”
“Yes, yes,” cried her sisters. “That is only right. If Beauty had not asked for the rose this misfortune would not have happened.”
To this the merchant would not at first agree. Beauty was the dearest to him of all his daughters. He had hoped that if any of them was to marry the Beast it might be one of the older sisters. But they would not hear of this and when, at the end of three months, the merchant set out to return to the castle he took Beauty with him.
They rode along and rode along and after awhile they came to the forest, and then it did not take the merchant long to find the castle. He knocked at the door, and it opened as before, and he and Beauty went in through one room after another, and everything was so magnificent that she could not but admire it. At last they came to the supper-room, and here a delicious feast was set out for them. They sat down and ate while soft music sounded around them. Beauty began to think the master of all this could not be such a terrible creature after all.
But scarcely had they finished their supper before the Beast appeared before them, and when Beauty saw him she began to shake and tremble, for he was even more dreadful looking than her father had said.
“Do not fear me, Beauty,” he said in a gentle voice. “I will do you no harm. Your father has brought you here, and it is true that here you must stay, but you need not marry me unless you are quite willing to.”
“I do not wish to marry you, Beast, and you must know that,” said Beauty. “But I fear that if I do not you may harm my father.”
“No, Beauty, I will not harm him. He may go in peace, and perhaps after you have been here awhile you may learn to like me enough to marry me.”
Beauty did not believe this, but the Beast spoke so gently that she no longer feared him and when the time came for her father to go she bade him good-bye and did not grieve him by weeping.
After that Beauty lived there in the Beast’s castle and was well content. Every day she went out into the gardens, and the Beast came and played with her for awhile, and she grew very fond of him. Every day before he left her he said, “Beauty, are you willing to marry me?”
But always Beauty answered, “No, dear Beast, I do not wish to marry you.”
Then the Beast would sigh heavily and go away.
One day Beauty was sitting before a large mirror in her room, and she was sad because she had not seen her father for so long.
“I wish,” said she, “that I could see what my dear father is doing at this moment.”
As she said this she raised her eyes to the mirror. What was her surprise to see in it the reflection of a room quite different from the one she was in. It was a room in her own home that she saw reflected there. She saw in it the images of her father and sisters. She could see them smile and move, and she could tell exactly what they were doing. She found she could watch them in the mirror for as long as she pleased and whenever she pleased.
After this Beauty often came to sit before the mirror, and she had only to wish it and she could see her home, and all that was going on there.
But one day when she sat down before the glass she saw that her father was ill. He lay upon his bed so pale and weak that Beauty was terrified. She jumped up and ran out into the garden calling for the Beast.
At once he appeared before her. “What is it?” asked the Beast anxiously. “What has frightened you, Beauty?”
“Alas,” she cried, “my father is ill. Oh, dear, kind Beast let me go to him I pray, and I will love you for ever after.”
The Beast looked very grave. “Very well, Beauty,” he said, “I will let you go, for I can refuse you nothing. But promise me you will return at the end of a week, for if you do not some great misfortune will happen to me.”
Beauty was very willing to promise this. The Beast then gave her a ring set with a large ruby. “When you go to bed to-night,” he said, “turn the ruby in toward the palm of your hand and wish you were in your father’s house, and in the morning you will find you are there. When you are ready to return do the same thing, and you will find yourself back in the castle again. And do not forget that by the end of a week, to an hour, you must return or you will bring suffering upon me.”
Beauty did as the Beast told her. That night when she lay down she turned the ruby of the ring in toward the palm of her hand and wished she were in her father’s house, and what was her joy, when she awakened the next morning, to find herself in her own bed at home. She arose and ran to her father’s room, and the merchant was so delighted to see her that from that hour he began to get better, and in a few days he was as well as ever again.
Beauty’s sisters asked her a great many questions about the castle where she lived, and when they heard how fine it was, and how happy she was there, they were filled with envy. “Beauty always gets the best of everything,” they said to each other. “She is younger than either of us, and see how finely she lives; much better than we do.” They then planned together as to how they could keep Beauty from going back to the castle at the end of the week. “If we can only make her break her promise to the Beast,” said they, “he might be so angry with her that he would send her away and take one of us to live at his castle instead.”
The day before Beauty was to return to the Beast they put a sleeping-powder in the goblet that she drank from.