« PreviousContinue »
When he had looked from the window he saw no longer the snow and ice of the day before, but beautiful gardens filled with flowers and shining in the morning dew. When he returned to the hall where he had eaten his supper there stood a breakfast table with cakes and honey, and at one side an urn of finest chocolate.
"My good fairy is a generous one, indeed," said the merchant; "I am greatly obliged for her care."
After a hearty breakfast he took his new hat and went out to the stable, where he found that his horse had been cleaned and fed and was ready for the journey. Saddling the animal, he led him into the garden, intending to start again for home. As he passed one of the arbors he thought of the request Beauty had made, and stopped before a bush bearing beautiful roses. Reaching up, he picked a fine one, and was just about to put it into his hat when he was startled by a frightful noise behind him. Turning, he saw a hideous Beast, roaring in anger, and shouting out:
"Who told you to pick my roses? Isn't it enough that I have fed you and clothed you and given you a bed in my palace? Is stealing flowers the way to show your gratitude? But you shall be terribly punished. You have not a half-hour to live."
The poor merchant, terrified at this awful threat, threw himself upon his knees before the Beast and begged for his life.
"Forgive me, my lord; I meant no harm. You have been so generous in other things that I thought you would not mind a rose, a single rose."
"I am no lord, and I want no excuses and no flattery. Die you must for your thieving ingratitude."
"But my poor daughters—and Beauty—she for whom I took the rose—what will she do if I do not come back?"
"What do I care for your daughters? You stole my rose, after I had been kind to you!"
"But Beauty loves me so, and she asked only for a rose. Surely you won't break her heart by slaving me!"
The Beast seemed to think a minute, and then he said:
"I'll tell you what I'll do. You bring one of your daughters to die in your place, and I will spare your life."
"But if I were willing to buy my life at such a price, how could I ever coax one of my daughters to come here? What should I tell them?"
"Tell them the truth. Tell them one must come to the hideous Beast and die, or you will lose your life. One must come willingly, or you shall surely die. Now we shall see how much your daughters think of you. If within three months one of your daughters is not here, you must come yourself. Do not think to escape and hide, for I shall certainly find you and bring you back."
After some further talk the merchant accepted the proposition, thinking only that it would give him another chance to see his children; for he had no idea of giving up one of them to so terrible an end.
"I do not wish to be too severe on you," said the Beast. "Stay here another night, and in the morning you shall go. First climb to the room above the one in which you slept, and there you will find gold in plenty. Take all you can carry in the chest you will find, and ride away. Take, also, a rose for Beauty, and remember your promise."
The rest of that day the merchant was pleasantly entertained, at night a fine supper was served him, and again he slept in the soft, downy bed. The next morning he went to the room as directed, and soon had the chest so filled with bright golden coins that he could scarcely carry it. However, he managed to get to his horse and to pick the rose for Beauty. As soon as he mounted his horse, it was off like the wind, and almost before he knew he was well started, he had stopped before his own door.
When the children saw the splendid horse and its rich trappings and noticed how finely their father was dressed, they rushed out to meet him, certain that he had returned a rich man again. They had worried over his long absence, but forgot everything in their joy at his return, nor did they even notice his sad face and dejecting bearing. Moreover, he tried to appear cheerful, and hid the truth from them at first, saying only to Beauty, as he gave her the rose, "Here is what you asked me to bring you. You little know what it has cost."
Then, amid the weeping and wailing of his children, he told them his unhappy adventures from beginning to end. The girls were very noisy in their grief and began at once to lay the blame upon Beauty, while the boys began to plan how they would kill the Beast if it came to fetch their father. But the man reminded them that he had given the promise to go back, and that nothing would induce him to break it. Then the girls began to abuse Beauty more shamefully than ever, saying that if she had been sensible and asked for dresses instead of a foolish rose, no trouble would have come upon them, and that now when she saw what she had done she showed no grief, and had not even a tear for her father's terrible danger.
It is true Beauty had said nothing thus far, but she had been thinking very deeply and had decided that there was no use in weeping, but that something must be done to save her father. Evidently, as she had brought the misfortune, she must be the one to save him. While the others were in the midst of their lamentations Beauty arose and said, "All this will accomplish nothing. I did the mischief, and I shall suffer for it. I will die in my father's place."
"No, no," cried three brothers at once. "You shall not die. We will go in search of this monster and kill him or perish in the attempt."
"You cannot hope to conquer the Beast," said their father. "He is far more powerful than you can dream. Beauty has shown fine spirit, but I shall not suffer her to die for me. I am old and cannot hope to live long, so I am quite willing to give up my few remaining years. My only sorrow is that I can no longer work for you."
"Now, father," cried Beauty, "you cannot prevent my going. I would much rather be eaten by the monster than to die here at home grieving for your loss. I shall start for the palace when the time is up."
No matter what the merchant said, he could not persuade Beauty from her resolve. The father and his sons were wretched at her decision, but her sisters were, on the whole, rather glad that Beauty would no longer annoy them or put them to shame because of her greater gentleness and beauty.
The merchant had been so much disturbed over his story and Beauty's decision that he had forgotten entirely his chest filled with gold, and at night he was much surprised to find it in his room by his bedside. Next morning he called Beauty in and told her the secret, but said nothing to the older sisters, for he knew they would wish to return to town at once.
As the time drew near, Beauty divided all her belongings among her sisters and said good-bye to everybody she loved, and when the three months were past she encouraged her father and spoke cheerfully to the children who were to be left behind. All wept sadly, although the grief of the sisters was make-believe; in fact, they bad rubbed their eyes with onion skins to force the tears.
Father and daughter mounted the noble horse which he had brought from the palace and started on their journey, which would indeed have been delightful had it not been for the thought of what was to happen at the end of it. Still her father tried to persuade Beauty to give up her mad project. She