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BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
Adapted from the story by Madame Villeneuve
N a far-off country, a long time ago, lived a rich merchant and his happy family. There were six sons and six daughters; all the sons big, strong and manly; all the daughters graceful and beautiful. But one of the daughters, the youngest, was more graceful than her sisters, and so far surpassed them in comeliness that the only name she was known by was Beauty. It cost no small sum to support this large family, but the merchant was an affectionate father, and he gave his children everything they wanted, so that their lives were as joyous as the days were long.
But suddenly misfortunes came upon them all and left the poor merchant sadly distressed. First, their great house burned down, and all their silver, paintings and costly clothing and jewelry were destroyed. The same day came the news that a large ship, full of costly merchandise, was sunk; and soon it was learned that every ship belonging to the merchant was lost with crews and cargoes. These misfortunes worried him greatly, but when he learned that his trusted employes had banded against him and stolen all that was left of his property, he was brought face to face with direst poverty.
At first the daughters thought that their friends would take pity on them, and that homes would be offered them, but they soon learned how false the world often is, and that friends may desert when riches fail. In fact, nothing was left them but a little cottage and a small field many leagues away from the city where they had lived. With tears in his eyes their father begged the children to be contented and to work honorably for their daily bread. None seemed willing to do this except Beauty, who showed now that her soul was as fine as her face. She had been as sad as any when trouble first overtook them, but soon recovering her spirits she set bravely to work, making the best of things, amusing her father and brothers and trying to persuade her sisters to join in her dancing and singing. The more she tried to help them, the more discontented and vexed her sisters became, until they all declared that she was fit for nothing except this hovel in the country; but that they themselves worked only because they had to, and that just as soon as they could they meant to get back to the city.
For two whole years they slaved in this manner, and then, just as they were all beginning to get used to their country home, a great surprise came. The father received word that one of the richest ships that he had supposed lost had returned to port. The sons and daughters were overjoyed at the news, and wished to set out at once to reclaim their property. Only the father, who was older and wiser, hesitated, for he knew how many chances there were for mistakes to happen. Beauty, too, was doubtful, and joined with her father in urging them to stay at home until the harvest was all in.
When, finally, the father decided to go to town, he was besieged by every one but Beauty with requests for presents of dresses and jewels, fine things to eat and more knickknacks than a shipload of gold could purchase. The father smiled at their wishes, but felt a little angered at their greed. He had noted, too, that Beauty took no part in their excitement and asked for nothing.
"What shall I do for my little daughter? Is there nothing you want, my little Beauty?"
"All I ask is that you may come safely home to me," answered the girl.
This angered her sisters, for they thought that Beauty had said it to reproach them for their greed; but the father was delighted and said, "Now choose something, Beauty; surely there are some pretty things you will like."
"Really, father, I want nothing but what I said; only, as you ask me, I will beg for a rose. I haven't seen one since we came here, and I love them dearly."
Thus the merchant set forth on his long journey, and his children did their best to kill time till his return. As for the merchant himself, he found out as soon as he reached the city that his former partners had pretended that he was dead and had divided his recovered property among themselves. Although he stayed there for six months and tried in every way to get some of his property back, he was able to recover barely enough to pay the expense of his journey.
When he knew his case was hopeless he set out on his return journey, heartsick and discouraged. The weather was terrible, and it was only with great difficulty that his horse was able to carry him along. Yet he managed to make some progress until nightfall, when he found himself about thirty miles from home and at the edge of a big, lonesome forest. The night had grown cold, and snow was falling fast, hut he made up his mind to push on, rather than die from exposure where he was. Deep into the forest he went, but after a while the paths became hidden in snow and he lost his way completely. He could rouse no one by his shouting, and was even glad to
THE PALACE AT END OF AVENUE OF TREES
find a hollow tree in which he could crouch through the night.
When the morning came he roused himself, and stiff and lame from exposure, began his painful search for a road. After a little he saw an opening in the trees, which, upon examination, he found led into an avenue at the end of which appeared a beautiful palace glistening in the morning sun. He hurried toward it, and after walking rapidly forward for about ten minutes, came to its gates. Not a person nor a living creature of any sort could he see, and no one replied to his numerous calls. Opening the gates, he found the stable, and having littered and fed his horse, he hastened to the house. The door was closed, and no one came to his loud knocking. Hungry and impatient, he threw the door open and entered a large hall, where he found a cheerful fire burning, and a table set comfortably for one. Not a person had he seen about the place, and so, going to the fire, he turned about in front of the blaze, saying to himself,
"I hope the master will excuse the liberty I am taking, for he will doubtless soon be here."
He waited for an hour, and still no one came. Then his hunger overcame him, and seating himself at the table he ate till he was satisfied. Another hour of rest convinced him that no one was coming, and feeling drowsy he got up to explore the palace. At the end of a long hall he came upon a bedroom richly furnished and having in its center a great, comfortable bed. This was too much for the weary merchant, and he threw off his clothes and covered himself. Almost before his head touched the pillow he fell asleep, and it was broad daylight when he awoke the next morning.
No one was in the room, but when he started to get up he found that in place of his old suit, new clothes lay on the chair by the head of his bed.
"Surely," he said, "this place must belong to some good fairy who pities my misfortunes."