Once upon a time there was a rich merchant who had six children-three boys and three girls and his daughters were very beautiful but the youngest was admired the most. Her name was Belle (French for beauty) because the name suited her, which made her sisters green with envy. If this were not enough, she was also more intelligent than her sisters. One day the merchant lost everything he owned, except for a little cottage far away from the city. In tears he told his children that they would have to move to the cottage and that, from now on, they would have make a living by farming. So they moved to the cottage and the merchant and his three sons became farmers and learned to work the land. Each morning Belle would wake up at four o’clock and hurry to clean the house and make breakfast for the family. When she had finished the house work she spent her time reading, playing the harpsichord or singing. By contrast, her two sisters were always bored and they didn’t wake until ten o’clock in the morning; then they would go for long walks and pass their time talking about all the friends and beautiful clothes they’d once had. They looked with scorn and jealousy on Belle’s simple pleasures.
“Look at our youngest sister,” they said to each other. “She is so stupid to be happy in this misery.”
When they had been in the cottage for about a year the merchant received a letter telling him of a ship which would make his fortune. In haste he made ready to travel on the long journey to the port. The good news made the two elder sisters excited. When their father was ready to leave they danced around him and begged him to bring them new dresses and all kinds of presents. Belle, however, said nothing.
“Don’t you want me to buy you anything?” asked her father.
“There is nothing I really need,” she said, “but, since you are so kind as to ask, would you please bring me back a rose if you should see one on your travels? There are no bushes to be found in these parts and they are the one thing that I have truly missed since we have been here.”
So their father left but when he arrived at the port he found that the ship’s cargo was worthless and he had to return home just as poor as he had been before. Dejected, he started the long journey back, disappointed that he could not even afford one present for his children. He was only about thirty miles from home when disaster struck once more. While riding through a vast forest he somehow missed his way and became lost. It began to snow heavily and the wind was so strong that he was twice thrown from his horse. When darkness came he was sure he would starve of hunger or cold or that he would be eaten by the howling wolves.
Suddenly he saw a light at the end of a long tree-lined path. It seemed quite far away but just the thought of shelter gave the merchant a little strength. He walked towards it and saw that the light came from a brightly lit palace. Astonished, he passed through the gateway; the courtyard was quite empty. His horse, which followed him, saw an empty stable and went inside. The cold, starving animal found some hay and oats which it started to eat greedily, while the merchant walked to the house. Still he found no one but when he entered a large hall, there he found a welcoming fire blazing in the fireplace and a table full of food, set for just one person! The merchant was soaked to the skin so he went to the fireplace to dry himself off.
“The master of the house will forgive me for making myself at home,” he thought. “He will probably arrive soon and I can explain.”
He waited for quite a long time, but when still no one had arrived by eleven o’clock he could no longer resist his hunger and helped himself to a chicken which he ate in two bites. Then he drank a couple of glasses of wine which made him very sleepy. He left the hall and passed through several huge corridors, all magnificently decorated. At the end of one he found a bedroom in which there was a comfortable bed. The sight of it was too much for the tired man; without thinking further, he threw himself into it and fell fast asleep. He slept well and did not wake up until ten o’clock the next morning. When he got up and looked for his clothes he was very surprised to find that they had been replace by brand-new ones. After a magnificent breakfast he went outside to find his horse. On the way he walked under a rose-covered archway and remembering Belle’s request, he picked a branch on which there grew several roses.
“At least one of my dear children will have a gift,” he smiled and said to himself.
Suddenly he heard a terrible noise and saw a beast coming toward him, a monster so horrible that he almost fainted in terror.
“You ungrateful wretch,” roared the beast. “I saved your life by letting you into my palace and you reward me by stealing my roses which I love more than anything in the world. Now you will die! The merchant fell to his knees and begged the beast not to harm him.
“Forgive me, Sir, I did not think you would be offended if I picked a rose for one of my daughters. She wanted one so badly.”
“Don’t call me Sir. I am known as The Beast,” answered the creature. “I prefer that people say what they think, so your flattery will not change anything. However, I will forgive you on condition that one of your daughters comes here willingly to die in your place. If your daughters refuse to die for you then you must return to me in three months and receive your punishment. “The man had no intention of sacrificing one of his daughters to the evil monster but he said to himself, “At least I will have the chance to embrace them one more time before I die.”
So he promised that he would return and fetching his horse, he left the palace. A few hours later the man arrived home, tired and sad. His children ran towards him with open arms but the merchant looked at them with tears in his eyes. In his hand he held the branch of roses he brought for Belle. He gave it to her and said, “Take these roses; your unhappy father has indeed paid a great price for them.” Then he told his family all about the worthless ship, the magical palace and the misfortune that had befallen him. After hearing his story his two older daughters started to cry. But Belle said, “There is no need for our father to die. I will willingly offer myself to the beast in his place.”
“No, my sister,” said her three brothers. “We will track down the monster and kill him first. Surely all three of us can defeat him.”
“My children,” said the merchant, “this beast is too powerful even for you. Besides, the beast saved my life, although he now intends to take it. I gave my word: I am old and will not regret losing the last few years of my life, thanks to you, my dear children.”
“I assure you, my father, that you will not go to the palace without me,” said Belle. “You can’t stop me from following you. I would rather be eaten by this monster than die of a broken heart from losing you.”
Her father and brothers begged and pleaded with her but there was nothing they could say to make her change her mind. The two older daughters rubbed their eyes with an onion and pretended to cry when Belle left with her father. Her brothers and her father also wept but Belle didn’t cry at all because she did not want to make her family even more miserable. They rode the horse to the palace and as darkness fell, found it as brightly lit as before. The horse found shelter in the stable and the man entered the large hall with his daughter, where they found a table magnificently laid out and set for two. Belle thought to herself, “The beast wants to fatten me up before he eats me.”
After dinner they heard a great roaring. Belle could hardly stop herself from fainting in terror when she saw the horrible monster but she tried to control her fear and when the beast asked her if she had come of her own choice she told him, with a trembling voice, that she had.
“You are very kind,” said the beast, “and I am very grateful that you decided to come.” He then turned to the man and said to him, “Say goodbye to your daughter. You will leave here tomorrow morning and never come back. Now, goodnight, Belle !”
“Goodnight, Beast,” she answered and the monster disappeared.
That night, while she slept, Belle dreamed of a fairy who told her, ” I like and admire your kind heart, Belle. The good deed you have done will be rewarded.” When Belle woke up she told her father of her dream. Although this comforted him a little, it did not stop him from weeping bitterly when he had to leave his daughter. When he had gone, Belle sat down in the large hall and began to weep herself, thinking that the beast must surely eat her that night. Then, pulling herself together, she decided to explore. She was very surprised when she came to a door with a sign that read, ‘Belle’s Room’. She opened it and was impressed by what she saw: a large library, a harpsichord and several books about music. On a shelf was a book inscribed in gold letters, ‘Wish, command: here you are the queen and the mistress’.
“Alas!” she sighed. “I only wish I could see my poor father to know what he is doing at his very moment.” To her surprise, in the mirror she saw a vision of her father arriving home, looking very wan and sad. All too soon the vision disappeared, but Belle was no longer scared because she believed the beast didn’t mean to eat her after all. At noon she found the table set with food for her. During the meal she could hear beautiful music, although she never saw anyone playing. In the afternoon Belle walked in the palace gardens. She felt quite safe but that evening, as she sat at the table, she heard the noise of the beast arriving and could not quit shivering.
“Belle, would you mind if I watch you have your dinner?” he asked.
“You are the master,” answered Belle, trembling.
“Yes but you are the only mistress here,” assured the beast. “You only have to tell me if I bore you and I will leave at once. Tell me, don’t you think I am very ugly?”
“I admit that is true because I can’t lie,” said Belle, “But I think that you are very kind.”
“But that doesn’t change my dreadful ugliness,” said the monster. “I know very well that I am just a beast.”
“One is only a beast if one thinks it,” Belle assured him, kindly. “Only fools are not aware of that.”
“Enjoy your meal, Belle,” said the monster. “Everything in this house is yours and I would be sad if you were unhappy.”
“You are very kind,” said Belle, “and I appreciate your generosity.”
“Oh, yes, Belle!” answered the beast. “I have a good heart but I am still a monster.”
Belle enjoyed her meal and she was no longer afraid of the monster but she was very shocked when he suddenly said, “Belle, will you marry me?”
She waited a moment before answering fearing that if she refused the monster would be angry. At last she told him with a trembling voice, “No, Beast.” The poor monster wanted to sigh but instead he made a dreadful hissing noise that echoed through the whole palace. Then he quietly said, “Goodnight Belle.” He left the room, sadly looking over his shoulder before he closed the door. Beauty felt sorry for the the poor beast and her thoughts began to overwhelm her. His kindness was evident but she was certain she could never love him.
Belle spent three very happy months in the palace and every evening the beast would visit her and talk to her while she had dinner. Every day she discovered new virtues in the monster and she became quite fond of him. Just one thing troubled her; at night, before the monster went to bed he always asked her if she would become his wife and every time he seemed to be overcome with pain when she refused.
One day she said to him, “You make me sad. I will always be your friend but I could never marry you.”
“If that is how it has to be,” said the beast, “I deserve what I get. I know very well I am horrible to look at, nevertheless, promise me that you will never leave me.”
These words embarrassed Belle. She was missing her father a great deal and although she could see a vision of him in the mirror any time she liked she dearly wished to be able to speak to him again and assure him that she was alive and well. She could also see how much he was missing her.
“I could promise never to leave you but I would so much like to see my father once more. I would die of a broken heart if you were to refuse me this wish,” said Belle.
“I would rather die myself than to make you unhappy,” replied the monster. “But if I send you to your father you will stay there and your poor beast will die of heartbreak.”
“No,” answered Belle. “I promise that I will return within a week. Your mirror has shown me that my sisters have married and that my brothers are now soldiers. My father is all alone- allow me to visit him for a week.”
“You will be there tomorrow morning,” said the beast, giving her a jeweled ring. “Remember your promise. When you want to return you only have to put this magic ring on a table and go to sleep. Farewell, Belle.”
Having said this, the beast sighed as usual and Belle went mournfully to sleep, feeling guilty that she had hurt his feelings. When she woke up the next morning she was in her father’s house. He was beside himself with joy when he saw his sweet daughter again and they embraced each other for a very long time. When Belle’s sisters heard the news they rushed to the house with their husbands. They were furious when they saw her dressed like a princess and more beautiful than ever. She was very sweet to them but nothing could stop them from being jealous. The two girls went to the garden to grumble together.
“Listen my sister,” said the eldest, “I have an idea. Let’s try to make her stay here longer than a week. Her stupid beast will be angry because she didn’t keep her promise and maybe he will tear her to shreds.”
“You are right, my sister,” answered the other. “Let us be very sweet to her.”
When a week had passed the two sisters begged so prettily for Belle to stay that she promised to remain one more week. Yet Belle blamed herself for the grief she must be causing the poor beast and, indeed, she even found that she missed his company. The tenth night she spent at her father’s house, she dreamt that she was in the palace garden. Before her the beast was stretched out on the grass, dying of a broken heart because she had not returned to him. Belle woke up in a start and began to weep.
“How could I break the beast’s heart who has been so sweet to me?” she cried. “Is it his fault that he is so ugly and has given up hope? He is kind and that is more important than anything else. I could never forgive myself if he died because of my ingratitude.”
So Belle got up, put her magic ring on the table and went back to sleep. When she woke up the next morning she was delighted to find that she was back in the beast’s palace. She dressed herself quickly, then spent all that day waiting for the beast to arrive. She waited and waited, until the clock struck nine but the beast did not appear. Belle then feared the worst and ran through the palace, searching desperately for the beast. After she’d looked everywhere she suddenly remembered her dream and ran out to the garden where she had seen him lying. There she found the beast unconscious on the ground and she thought he was dead. She threw herself on him without a thought for his ugliness and felt his heart still beating, although only just. She took some water from the pond and threw it on his face. At last the beast opened his eyes and said, “You did not keep your promise, Belle! But now I will die happily because I have had the chance to see you one more time.” Once more he closed his eyes and Belle stroked his forehead.
“No, my dear beast, you will not die,” she said. “You will live to become my husband; from this moment I will give you my hand in marriage and I promise I will never leave you again. The pain I felt when I could not find you made me realize that I truly love you and I could not live without you.”
Belle looked at her dear beast. Suddenly, she had a great surprise because the beast had disappeared and at her feet she saw the most handsome prince she had ever seen. He got to his feet and stretched then thanks her for breaking an evil spell put on him. Although she had no eyes for anyone except the prince, Belle could not stop herself from asking where the beast had gone.
“You see him here before you,” the prince told her. “An evil fairy changed me into a beast to remain that way until the day that a beautiful girl agreed to marry me of her own free will. Under the spell, I was forbidden to tell any girl the true story. It was hopeless, for who would want to marry a fearsome beast? You were the only one in the world with the heart to give me a chance to show my kind and gentle character and by offering you my crown, I now also show you my gratitude and sincerity. You already know that I love you.”
Belle, who was amazed, took the handsome prince by the hand. Together, they went into the palace and Belle was happier than ever when she saw her father and the rest of her family in the large hall. The fairy who had appeared in her dream had brought them to the palace and she too was there, smiling. “Belle, at last you have received your reward for making the right decision,” said the good fairy. “You have put virtue above beauty and you deserve this prince who has such qualities himself. You will become a great queen and I have no fear that you will rule wisely and well.”
Then the fairy turned to Belle’s two sisters.
“I know your evil hearts,” she said. “You will become two stone statues that will stand at your sister’s palace gate. All you will do each day is to witness her happiness and there you will stay until the moment you admit your mistakes. However, I am afraid that you may well remain statues for a very long time.”
That very day the Prince, who had been the beast, married Belle. She lived with him in the palace in perfect happiness forever after because, after all, their love was an honest virtue.
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