A long time ago, in a far away land, a merchant was returning home after a long journey. As night fell, he entered a deep forest. His head was full of thoughts of his six daughters. He had left home in summer, and now he was returning in deep winter. The most bitter sleet and snow came down, and his horse stumbled on a patch of ice. He heard wolves howling, and soon he realized that he was lost.
At last, he saw some sort of track. At the beginning it was rough and slippery, but soon it led him into an avenue of orange trees covered with flowers and fruit – but here there was no snow.
He saw a flight of stone steps. He went up them into a great castle. Inside he passed through several splendid rooms. Everywhere in the castle there was a deep silence. At last, he stopped in a small room where a fire was burning. He lay down on a couch and very soon fell into a sweet sleep.
He woke up feeling hungry. He was still alone, but a good dinner had been laid on a little table. He began to eat, hoping that he might soon have a chance to thank his kind host, whoever it might be. But no one appeared.
Then he went down into the garden, and though it was winter everywhere else, here the sun shone, and the birds sang, and the flowers bloomed, and the air was soft and sweet. The path had a hedge of roses on each side of it, and the merchant thought he had never seen or smelt such beautiful flowers. Then he remembered a promise he had made to his youngest daughter, who was so lovely that every one knew her as Beauty. Before setting out on his journey, he had asked his daughters what presents they would like him to bring back for them. The five eldest wished for jewels and fine clothes, but Beauty asked only for a single rose. Now, as he stopped to pick a rose to take home to Beauty, he was startled by a strange noise behind him. Turning round, he saw a frightful ugly Beast, which seemed to be very angry and sad and said in a terrible voice:
“Who said that you could pick my roses? Was it not enough that I let you say in my palace and was kind to you? This is the way you thank me, by stealing my flowers! But you shall not go unpunished!”
The merchant was terrified by these furious words. He dropped the fatal rose, and, throwing himself on his knees, cried: “Pardon me, noble sir. I am truly grateful to you for your kindness. I could not imagine that you would mind so much if I took such a little thing as a rose.”
But the Beast was still furious. He cried:
“Excuses and flattery will not save you from the death you deserve!”
“Alas!” thought the merchant; “My daughter’s rose has put me in this terrible danger.”
And he began to tell the Beast of his journey, not forgetting to mention how Beauty had asked him for a rose.
“I beg you to forgive me, for I meant no harm,” he pleaded.
The Beast thought for a moment, and then he said, in a less terrible voice:
“I will forgive you on one condition – that is if you will give me one of your daughters.”
“Ah!” cried the merchant, “What excuse could I invent to bring her here?”
“No excuse!” answered the Beast. “She must come willingly. Go home. I give you a month to see if one of your daughters will save you. If none of them is willing to come to me, you must come back alone. And do not think that you can hide from me, for if you do not keep your word I will come and fetch you!”
The poor merchant, more dead than alive, went to the stable where his horse was ready for his journey. It carried him off so swiftly that in an instant he had lost sight of the palace, and he was still wrapped in gloomy thoughts when it stopped before the door of his house.