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In spite of his hideous shape, Beauty could not help feeling that there were worse monsters in the world, and that many a man with a handsomer form did not have so kind a heart as the poor Beast. Her heart was heavy with grief, for she saw how sensitive he was in spite of his coarse and repulsive form.
For three months Beauty lived in this way, spending every day pleasantly in the castle or garden, finding every wish gratified as soon as it was uttered. Many times she called before her the vision of her father's home, and seemed to mingle with her brothers and sisters as they sat about the fireside or attended to their daily work. She might, indeed, have been quite happy if it had not been that every night the Beast asked her to marry him. Every time she refused as gently as she could, and every time he turned away with his sigh and his pleasant, "Good night, Beauty." So much had he done for her that she felt the greatest friendship for him and was willing to do almost anything to serve him, although she could not love him.
One day when she had called up the vision of home she learned that her brothers had gone away to war and her sisters had ungratefully deserted her father, who lay moaning in sickness. That night when the Beast met her in the garden and asked her to marry him she told him very firmly that it could never be, that as she knew her father was sick and alone she felt that she must go to him, and she begged the Beast to give her permission to return home.
"If I cannot see my father again I am sure I shall die with grief," she said.
"I would rather die myself, Beauty," said the Beast, "than cause you a tear. I will send you to-morrow to your father's cottage. I shall remain here to die of sorrow at your absence."
"No," said Beauty, "I cannot allow that. You have been too kind to me, and I promise you that I will come back in a week."
"Very well," said the Beast. "To-morrow morning you will find yourself at home, but do not forget your promise. When you are ready to return, lay your ring upon the table and you will find yourself with me. Good-bye, Beauty."
With these words the Beast sighed heavily as usual and left Beauty to go to her bed, feeling sad indeed to leave him in so much suffering.
Next morning when Beauty awoke she found herself in her father's cottage, and he was so delighted to see her alive and in such good health that his sickness quickly deserted him and he was able to leave his bed before the day was out.
The sisters had all been married, and that day they came back with their husbands to see Beauty. Not one of them had married happily, and not one was wealthy. The husband of one was handsome, but he had no means to support a wife comfortably. The husband of another was a scholar, but cared more for his books than for his wife. Another had married a soldier who was away from home all the time, and who was too cowardly to win promotion. And so it was with the rest of them. When these women saw Beauty's rich dresses, and how much like a princess she looked, they were more vexed and revengeful than ever at the good luck that seemed to follow her. They hoped in their evil minds for some revenge, and planned to keep Beauty with them till after the week had expired, so that the Beast would be angry and eat her up as soon as he had caught her. Every one tried to be pleasant and to make Beauty so happy that she would forget the day of her departure.
All came about as they had planned, but scarcely had the week ended when Beauty began to worry about her broken promise. Every night she dreamed a strange dream of a beautiful prince who came to her and told her that she had left him to perish unaided and alone and urged her never to trust appearances. She could not account for this remarkable dream, nor could her father assist her at all in explaining it. On the tenth night, the dream changed. She thought she was back in the garden of the palace, and as she wandered through one of the arbors, she saw the Beast dying on the ground. She ran hastily up to him and cried out, "You poor Beast, what is the matter? What can I do to help you?"
"You have forgotten your promise and left me to die of grief. My Beauty has proved false," said the Beast, with a pathetic moan.
At that moment Beauty awoke, and the remembrance of the broken promise was more than she could bear. Hastily jumping out of bed she took off her ring and laid it on the table, saying, "O, I must return to the palace and my poor Beast."
Immediately she became calm and crept back into bed, where she soon fell asleep. In the morning, as the Beast had said, she found herself again in the palace, with everything at her command as before. It seemed a long day, for she was impatient for the Beast to come to her supper. She knew now how very kind and gentle he had always been, and she felt growing in her heart some love for the unfortunate creature. At night the table was spread as usual, but no Beast came to watch her, and no voice begged her to marry. After her supper was finished, Beauty became alarmed and ran through the palace, calling the Beast's name and begging him to come to her. The more she searched the more frightened she became, until, almost beside herself with fear and excitement, she rushed out into the garden to the very place she had dreamed of. There on the ground lay the Beast, just as she had dreamed, at the very gates of death. She forgot everything, and threw herself upon his body, thinking nothing of his ugliness, but only of his kindness and the love he had lavished upon her. When she found that his heart was still beating, she ran to the fountain, gathered water in her hands and dashed it into his face. The shock recalled his wandering senses and made him open his eyes.
"Is it you returned, Beauty?" he said. "You forgot your promise, and my grief has made me starve myself to death. But at least I shall die happy, having seen you once again."
"You shall not die," said Beauty. "You must live for me, for I can never forget your kindness and can never be happy without you. I have come to stay with you as long as we both live."
"Then will you many me?" said the Beast delightedly.
"Yes, live and be my husband, for I love you with all my heart," was the reply of Beauty.
Like a flash of lightning, every window in the palace was illuminated, torches blazed out in the garden, and all tbe place took on a festal appearance, while sweet music filled the air. Beauty gazed about her in astonishment, and then turned her eyes to the ground, where to her amazement no Beast could she find. As she looked up with a great fear in her heart, she was still more astounded to see standing before her the beautiful prince of her dreams.
BEAUTY TOOK THE PRINCE BY THE HAND
"O, where is my poor Beast?" she asked the prince anxiously. "I want my Beast. He has become everything to me."
"I was the Beast," said the prince. "A wicked fairy changed me into that hideous form, in which I was to remain until some kind and gentle maiden loved me enough to marry me in spite of my ugliness."