There was once a Merchant who had three daughters, the youngest of whom was so beautiful that everybody called her Beauty. This made the two eldest very jealous; and, as they were spiteful and bad-tempered by nature, instead of loving their younger sister they felt nothing but envy and hatred towards her.
After some years there came a terrible storm at sea, and most of the Merchant's ships were sunk, and he became very poor. He and his family were obliged to live in a very small house and do without the servants and fine clothes to which they had been used. The two eldest sisters did nothing but weep and lament for their lost fortune, but Beauty did her best to keep the house bright and cheerful, so that her father might not miss too much all the comfort and luxury to which he was used.
One day the Merchant told his daughters that he was going to take a journey into foreign lands in the hope of recovering some of his property. Then he asked them what they would like him to bring them home in case he should be successful. The eldest daughter asked for fine gowns and beautiful clothing; the second for jewels and gold and silver trinkets.
"And Beauty what would Beauty like?" asked the father.
Beauty was so happy and contented always that there was scarcely anything for which she longed. She thought for a moment, then she said:
"I should like best of all a red rose!" The other sisters burst out laughing and scoffed at Beauty's simple request; but her father promised to bring her what she wanted. Then he said good-bye to his children and set out on his travels.
He was away for nearly a year, and was so fortunate as to win back a great part of his lost wealth. When the time came for his return, he was easily able to buy the things his eldest daughters wished for; but nowhere could he find a red rose to take home to Beauty, and at last he was obliged to set off without one.
When he was within a few miles journey of his home, he lost himself in a thick wood. Darkness came on, and he began to be afraid that he would have to pass the night under a tree, when suddenly he saw a bright light shining in the distance. He went towards it, and on his approach found it came from a great castle that was set right in the heart of the forest.
The Merchant made up his mind to ask if he might spend the night there; but to his surprise, when he reached the door he found it set wide open, and nobody about. After awhile, finding that no one came in answer to his repeated knocking, he walked inside. There he found a table laid with every delicacy, and, being very hungry, he sat down and made a good repast. After he had finished his supper he laid himself down on a luxurious couch, and in a few minutes was fast asleep.
In the morning, after eating a hearty breakfast, which he found prepared for him, he left the mysterious castle, without having set eyes on a single person. As he was passing through the garden he found himself in an avenue of rose-trees, all covered with beautiful red roses.
"Here are such thousands of flowers," he said to himself, "that, surely, one bud will not be missed;" and, thinking of Beauty, he broke off a rose from one of the bushes.
Scarcely had he done so when he heard a terrible noise, and, turning round, he saw coming towards him a hideous Beast, who exclaimed in an awful tone:
"Ungrateful wretch! You have partaken of my hospitality, have eaten of my food, have slept in my house, and in return you try to rob me of my roses. For this theft you shall die!"
The Merchant fell on his knees and begged for pardon, but the Beast would not listen to him.
"Either you must die now, or else you must swear to send me in your stead the first living thing that meets you on your return home," he said; and the Merchant, overcome with terror, and thinking that one of his dogs would be sure to be the first creature to greet him, gave his promise.
But to his horror and dismay, it was his youngest daughter, Beauty, who first ran out to greet him on his return. She had seen him coming from afar, and hastened to welcome him home.
She did not at first understand her father's grief at seeing her; but when he told her the story of the Beast and his promise she did her best to comfort him.
"Do not fear, dear father," she said, "perhaps the Beast will not prove so terrible as he looks. He spared your life; he may spare mine, since I have done him no harm."
Her father shook his head mournfully; but there was no help for it. He had promised to send the Beast the first living creature that met him on his return, so he was obliged to send Beauty herself in his place.
When he left Beauty at the palace of the Beast she found everything prepared for her comfort and convenience. A beautiful bedchamber was ready for her use; the rooms were filled with everything that she could possibly want, and in the great hall of the castle a table was set with every delicacy. And everywhere there were bowls full of red roses. No servants were visible; but there was no lack of service, for invisible hands waited upon her and attended to her every want. She had but to wish, and whatever she wanted was at once placed before her.
Beauty was filled with astonishment at all this luxury and magnificence.
"Surely the Beast does not wish to harm me," she thought, "or he would never have so ordered everything for my comfort." And she waited with a good courage for the coming of the Lord of the Castle.
In the evening the beast appeared. He was certainly very terrible to look at, and Beauty trembled at the sight of the hideous monster. But she forced herself to appear brave, and, indeed, there was no cause for her alarm. The Beast was kindness itself, and so gentle and respectful in his attentions to her that Beauty soon lost all fear. She soon became very fond of him, and would have been quite happy had it not been for the thought of her father and sisters, and the grief which she knew her father would be suffering on her account. The thought of his sorrow made her sorrowful too; and one night, when the Beast came to visit her at his usual hour, she was so sad that he asked her what was the matter.
Then Beauty begged him to let her go and visit her father. The Beast was very unwilling to grant her request.
"If I let you go, I am afraid you will never come back to me," he said, "and then I shall die of grief."
Beauty promised most earnestly to come back to him if he would only allow her to spend a few days with her family; and at last the Beast yielded to her entreaties.
He gave her a ring, saying:
"Put this on your little finger when you go to bed to-night, and wish; and in the morning you will find yourself at home in your father's house. But if you do not return to me at the end of a week, I shall die of sorrow."
Beauty's father was almost overcome with joy at seeing his daughter again, and he was delighted to hear of her happiness and good fortune. But her two sisters who in the meantime had married were more jealous than ever of their beautiful sister. They were not very happy with their husbands, who were poor and not over-lovable; and they were very envious of Beauty's clothes and of all the luxuries with which she told them she was surrounded. They tried to think of a plan by which they could prevent their sister from enjoying her good fortune.
"Let us keep her beyond the week that the Beast has allowed her," they said; "then, doubtless, he will be so angry that he will kill her."
So they pretended to be very fond of Beauty, and when the time came for her return, they overwhelmed her with tears and caresses, begging her not to leave them, and to stay at least one more day with them. Beauty was distressed at their grief, and at last she consented to stay just one more day; though her heart misgave her sorely when she thought of the poor Beast.
That night, as she lay in bed, she had a dream. She dreamt that she saw the Beast dying of sorrow at her forgetfulness; and so real did it seem that she woke up in an agony of dismay.
"How could I have been so cruel and ungrateful," she cried. "I promised faithfully that I would return at the end of the week. What will he think of me for breaking my promise!"
Hastily rising from bed, she searched for the ring the Beast had given her. Then putting it on her little finger she wished to be at the Palace of the Beast again. In a moment she found herself there; and quickly putting on her clothes she hurried out to look for the Beast. She searched through room after room; but nowhere could she find him. At last she ran out into the garden; and there, on a plot of grass, where he and she had often sat together, she found him lying as if dead upon the ground.
With a bitter cry she sank on her knees beside the poor Beast.
"Oh, Beast; my dear, dear Beast!" she cried. "How could I have been so cruel and wicked and unkind? He has died of sorrow as he said he would!" And the tears fell down from her eyes as she spoke. Overcome with grief and remorse, she stooped down and tenderly kissed the ugly Beast.
In a moment there was a sudden noise, and Beauty was startled to find that the ugly Beast had vanished. The Beast was a beast no longer, but a handsome Prince, who knelt at her feet, thanking her for having broken his enchantment.
"A wicked fairy," he said, "condemned me to keep the form of a beast until a beautiful maiden should forget my ugliness and kiss me. You, by your love and tenderness, have broken the spell and released me from my horrible disguise. Now, thanks to you, I can take my proper form again." And then he begged Beauty to become his bride.
So Beauty married the Prince who had been a Beast, and they lived together in the castle and ruled over the Prince's country, and were happy ever after.