NCE UPON A time, a long while ago, there was a Beast. He was a Great Beast, and lived in a Great Castle that stood in the middle of a Great Park, and everybody in the country held the Beast in great fear. In fact everything about the Beast was great; his roar was great and terrific and could be heard for miles around the park, and when he roared the people trembled.
|BEAUTY AND THE BEAST|
Nobody ever saw the Beast, which was by no means remarkable, for the Beast never came out of his Park, and no one, I can assure you, ever ventured on to his estate.
But matters were not allowed to remain like this for ever, for something very wonderful happened to the Beast and to somebody else, and if that something had not happened this story would never have been written.
About two miles and three quarters from the Castle gates there lived a rich merchant and his three daughters. The two elder girls were ugly disagreeable things, and although they had all they could wish for to make them happy they were always grumbling; but the youngest daughter, whose name was Beauty, was very pretty, and her nature was happy and good, her presence was sunshine, and she was the joy of her father's heart.
Well, one day the two elder sisters had something to grumble about with a vengeance, for a telegram arrived to say that the merchant was no longer a rich merchant, for he had lost all his money.
So the horses and carriages had to be sold, and everything that was of value was got rid of, the servants were sent away, and the merchant and his daughters had to do their own work.
Dear me, it was shocking, the way those two sisters grumbled, but Beauty, oh dear no, she was all smiles, for her heart was as sunny as ever, as she rolled up the sleeves of her print frock, and cooked the dinner, and scrubbed the floors, and made herself useful, here, there, and everywhere.
Things had been going on like this for about three months, when one fine morning another telegram boy came with another telegram to say that somebody who owed the merchant a great deal of money was ready to pay the debt, and all the merchant had to do was to go to the city and get it.
Of course, everybody was delighted at this good news, and the merchant didn't waste any time, but started off to the city at once.
"Mind you bring me something back," said the eldest daughter as he was starting.
"What shall it be?" asked the merchant.
"A white satin dress trimmed with lace and pearls," said his eldest daughter.
"And you must bring me something too, please, father," said the second daughter.
"And what do you want," asked the merchant.
"A purse full of gold so that I can buy what I want myself," said the second daughter.
"I will try and do what you both ask," he said, "and what shall I bring for my Beauty?"
"I will wait a little for my dresses and things," replied the smiling Beauty, as she helped her father on with his cloak, "but I should like you to bring me home a rose, a lovely red rose, if you can."
So her father kissed her, and promised he would bring her the rose, and went on his way full of hopes.
What a pity it is that our hopes cannot be always realized, and that we are so often doomed to disappointment! When the merchant arrived at the city, to his dismay he found that the man who owed him the money was still unable to pay him, the man had been disappointed himself at the last moment.
So the unhappy father had to return home without the white satin dress trimmed with lace and pearls, and without the bag of money, and he dreaded meeting his two daughters, for he knew they would be terribly angry.
Now on his way home from the station to his house he had to pass by part of the wall that surrounded the Great Park where the Great Beast lived in his Great Castle; and as he passed by a corner of the wall what should he see hanging just over the top, and just within his reach if he stood on his toes, but a lovely red rose.
"At any rate I can take my Beauty what she asked for," he said to himself, and, without so much as giving a thought to the wrong he was doing, he stood on his toes and plucked the rose.
He was sorry he did it.
Of a sudden there was a roar, such a roar that the very ground shook, and as to the poor merchant he quivered like a leaf.
Enough to make him quiver indeed, for a gate in the wall suddenly opened, and out rushed the Beast.
Yes, the Beast, if you please, and he seized the merchant by the scruff of his neck, and dragged him into the Park, and shut the gate after him.
"Don't you know it's a sin to steal?" roared the Beast. "How dare you steal my roses? I am going to kill you."
"Oh, mercy, Mr. Beast," cried the unhappy man, flinging himself on his knees before the monster.
"I'm going to kill you," roared the Beast still more loudly. "It's taken years to cultivate this sort of rose, and—and I'm going to kill you. Unless," he added after a pause, "you send me one of your daughters here instead."
"All right," said the merchant and got on his feet again.
"She must be here to-morrow by breakfast time, and I breakfast early," said the Beast, as he let the merchant out of the gate. "If she is not here, I shall come for you, and don't you forget it."