HERE WAS ONCE a very rich merchant, who had six children, three boys and three girls. As he was himself a man of great sense, he spared no expense for their education, but provided them with all sorts of masters for their improvement. The three daughters were all handsome, but particularly the youngest: indeed she was so very beautiful that in her childhood every one called her the Little Beauty, and being still the same when she was grown up, nobody called her by any other name, which made her sisters very jealous of her. This youngest daughter was not only more handsome than her sisters, but was also better tempered. The two eldest were vain of being rich, and spoke with pride to those they thought below them. They gave themselves a thousand airs, and would not visit other merchants' daughters; nor would they indeed be seen with any but persons of quality. They went every day to balls, plays, and public walks, and always made game of their youngest sister for spending her time in reading, or other useful employments. As it was well known that these young ladies would have large fortunes, many great merchants wished to get them for wives; but the two eldest always answered that, for their parts, they had no thoughts of marrying any one below a duke, or an earl at least. Beauty had quite as many offers as her sisters, but she always answered with the greatest civility, that she was much obliged to her lovers, but would rather live some years longer with her father, as she thought herself too young to marry.
It happened that by some unlucky accident the merchant suddenly lost all his fortune, and had nothing left but a small cottage in the country. Upon this, he said to his daughters, while the tears ran down his cheeks all the time, "My children, we must now go and dwell in the cottage, and try to get a living by labour, for we have no other means of support." The two eldest replied that, for their parts, they did not know how to work, and would not leave town; for they had lovers enough who would be glad to marry them, though they had no longer any fortune. But in this they were mistaken; for when the lovers heard what had happened, they said, "The girls were so proud and ill-tempered, that all we wanted was their fortune; we are not sorry at all to see their pride brought down. Let them give themselves airs to their cows and sheep." But every body pitied poor Beauty, because she was so sweet-tempered and kind to all that knew her; and several gentlemen offered to marry her, though she had not a penny; but Beauty still refused, and said she could not think of leaving her poor father in this trouble and would go and help him in his labours in the country. At first Beauty could not help sometimes crying in secret for the hardships she was now obliged to suffer; but in a very short time she said to herself, "All the crying in the world will do me no good, so I will try to be happy without a fortune."
When they had removed to their cottage, the merchant and his three sons employed themselves in ploughing and sowing the fields, and working in the garden. Beauty also did her part, for she got up by four o'clock every morning, lighted the fires, cleaned the house, and got the breakfast for the whole family. At first she found all this very hard; but she soon grew quite used to it, and thought it no hardship at all; and indeed the work greatly amended her health. When she had done, she used to amuse herself with reading, playing on her music, or singing while she spun. But her two sisters were at a loss what to do to pass the time away: they had their breakfast in bed, and did not rise till ten o'clock. Then they commonly walked out; but always found themselves very soon tired; when they would often sit down under a shady tree, and grieve for the loss of their carriage and fine clothes, and say to each other, "What a mean-spirited poor stupid creature our young sister is, to be so content with our low way of life!" But their father thought in quite another way: he admired the patience of this sweet young creature; for her sisters not only left her to do the whole work of the house, but made game of her every moment.
After they had lived in this manner about a year, the merchant received a letter, which informed him that one of the richest ships, which he thought was lost, had just come into port. This news made the two eldest sisters almost mad with joy; for they thought they should now leave the cottage, and have all their finery again. When they found that their father must take a journey to the ship, the two eldest begged he would not fail to bring them back some new gowns, caps, rings, and all sorts of trinkets. But Beauty asked for nothing; for she thought in herself that all the ship was worth would hardly buy every thing her sisters wished for. "Beauty," said the merchant, "how comes it about that you ask for nothing; what can I bring you, my child?" "Since you are so kind as to think of me, dear father," she answered, "I should be glad if you would bring me a rose, for we have none in our garden." Now Beauty did not indeed wish for a rose, nor any thing else, but she only said this, that she might not affront her sisters, for else they would have said she wanted her father to praise her for not asking him for any thing. The merchant took his leave of them and set out on his journey; but when he got to the ship, some persons went to law with him about the cargo, and after a deal of trouble, he came back to his cottage as poor as he had gone away. When he was within thirty miles of his home, and thinking of the joy he should have in again meeting his children, his road lay through a thick forest, and he quite lost himself. It rained and snowed very hard, and besides, the wind was so high as to throw him twice from his horse. Night came on, and he thought to be sure he should die of cold and hunger, or be torn to pieces by the wolves that he heard howling round him. All at once, he now cast his eyes towards a long row of trees, and saw a light at the end of them, but it seemed a great way off. He made the best of his way towards it, and found that it came from a fine palace, lighted all over. He walked faster, and soon reached the gates, which he opened, and was very much surprised that he did not see a single person or creature in any of the yards. His horse had followed him, and finding a stable with the door open, went into it at once; and here the poor beast, being nearly starved, helped himself to a good meal of oats and hay. His master then tied him up, and walked towards the house, which he entered, but still without seeing a living creature. He went on to a large hall, where he found a good fire, and a table covered with some very nice dishes, and only one plate with a knife and fork. As the snow and rain had wetted him to the skin, he went up to the fire to dry himself. "I hope," said he, "the master of the house or his servants will excuse me, for to be sure it will not be long now before I see them." He waited a good time, but still nobody came: at last the clock struck eleven, and the merchant, being quite faint for the want of food, helped himself to a chicken, which he made but two mouthfuls of, and then to a few glasses of wine, yet all the time trembling with fear. He sat till the clock struck twelve, but did not see a single creature. He now took courage, and began to think of looking a little more about him; so he opened a door at the end of the hall, and went through it into a very grand room, In which there was a fine bed; and as he was quite weak and tired, he shut the door, took off his clothes, and got into it.
It was ten o'clock in the morning before he thought of getting up, when he was amazed to see a handsome new suit of clothes laid ready for him, instead of his own, which he had spoiled. "To be sure," said he to himself, "this place belongs to some good fairy, who has taken pity on my ill luck." He looked out of the window, and, instead of snow, he saw the most charming arbours covered with all kinds of flowers. He returned to the hall, where he had supped, and found a breakfast table, with some chocolate got ready for him. "Indeed, my good fairy," said the merchant aloud, "I am vastly obliged to you for your kind care of me." He then made a hearty breakfast, took his hat, and was going to the stable to pay his horse a visit; but as he passed under one of the arbours, which was loaded with roses, he thought of what Beauty had asked him to bring back to her, and so he took a bunch of roses to carry home. At the same moment he heard a most shocking noise, and saw such a frightful beast coming towards him, that he was ready to drop with fear. "Ungrateful man!" said the beast, in a terrible voice, "I have saved your life by letting you into my palace, and in return you steal my roses, which I value more than any thing else that belongs to me. But you shall make amends for your fault with your life. You shall die in a quarter of an hour." The merchant fell on his knees to the beast, and clasping his hands, said, "My lord, I humbly beg your pardon. I did not think it would offend you to gather a rose for one of my daughters, who wished to have one." "I am not a lord, but a beast," replied the monster; "I do not like false compliments, but that people should say what they think: so do not fancy that you can coax me by any such ways. You tell me that you have daughters; now I will pardon you, if one of them will agree to come and die instead of you. Go; and if your daughters should refuse, promise me that you yourself will return in three months."