Beauty and the Beast
Continued from the last issue
Thus it was that the merchant's lovely daughter came to live in the enchanted palace. Each day, gorgeous robes were laid before her. Each day, she was entertained by new diversions. She would ride through the dark forests in unharnessed carriages, the trees and bushes parting before her. She would read and play music and embroider as the fancy took her.
So time passed -- the tale is sooner told than the deed is, done -- and the merchant's youngest daughter grew accustomed to her new life. Nothing made her fearful any more. Daily she grew more fond of her gracious master, though she had never seen him, for she saw that he loved her moe than he loved himself. He made her life as happy and beautiful as he possibly could, and she linged to hear his voice and to converse with him. The only way he communicated with her was to write his messages in words of fire upon the marble wall.
So she began to beseech him. But he would not listen to her, afraid that his savage voice would destroy her trust. She continued to beg him and, at last, unable to resist her any longer, he wrote his final message on the marble wall:
'In the garden at midday,
Dear Beauty, you must say;
Speak with me, my loyal servant."
The merchant's lovely daughter could not conceal her joy. Long before midday she was seated in the garden and as the sun rose overhead, she said in a trembling voice, 'Fear not, my kind and gracious master, that you will scare me with your voice, Speak with me, my loyal servant.'
From behind a nearby bush there came a piteous sigh. Then a terrible voice rang out, wild and snarling. At first she was filled with horror and not a little afraid but she mastered her fear and as she listened to his words, so wise and kind, her heart grew lighter.
From that time forth they conversed throughout the day -- the beauty and the beast. His snarling voice made her afraid no longer and they would hold long conversations from dawn to dusk.
Time passed. But there came a day when the merchant's youngest daughter longed to see the beast with her own eyes. Again she began to beg and beseech him. For a long time he did not consent, afraid that she would hate him once she set eyes on his repulsive form. Yet he couldn't endure her tears and at last yielded to her pleas.
'I cannot go against your wishes, since I love you more than I care for myself,' said the beast. 'I will grant your wish, but I know it may destroy us both. Come to the gardens in the shadows of the dusk and say -- show yourself to me, dear friend.'
Unalarmed and unafraid, she went directly to the garden at the appointed hour and, as the sun was sinking low, she called, 'Show yourself to me, dear friend.'
At a distance, the beast showed himself to her. But fleetingly. He quickly moved across the path and disappeared into the bushes. At once she let out a cry of horror and swooned upon the ground, so horrible indeed was that awful creature.
When the maid regained her senses, she heard sobbing as if a heart would break. She felt ashamed and sorry. Mastering her timid heart, she spoke up firmly. 'Do not weep, my friend, I fear your form no longer. Your ugly shape is not your doing: true beauty lies within, not in what is without."
From that day forth, they walked and talked together in trust and wisdom; and the merchant's daughter slowly lost her fear. All day they were together. At breakfast and dinner they ate their fill of sweetmeats and refreshed themselves with meads and sherbets. Of a morning and afternoon, they would wander through the verdant gardens or drive in the dark forests in a carriage which needed no horses.
One night, however, the merchant's lovely daughter dreamed that her father was lying ill, and an inconsolable grief fell upon her. When she told the beast of her deep sorrow, he, kind soul, at once despatched her home. 'Go forthwith,' he said, 'but heed this, dear Beauty, should you not return within three days I shall die that very instant, because I love you dearly and cannot live without you.'
He put the golden ring upon her finger and straightaway she found herself transported home. How happy her father and her sisters were; how astonished they were to hear her story; and how swiftly the good merchant recovered his sound health.
But when the hour drew near for her return, her sisters begged her not to go. 'Let him perish, as he deserves,' they said.
'Should I repay such kindness with a selfish act,' the girl replied, 'I would not be worthy of life upon this earth.'
But her sisters, being envious of her devotion, played a trick upon her. Secretly, they put back by one full hour all the household clocks.
Thus when the final hour came, the merchant's youngest daughter felt a piercing heartache and looked constantly at her father's clocks. At least her heart could bear the pain no longer and, one minute before the appointed time, she put the golden ring upon her finger and found herself once more before the splendid palace.
All was still. No music played, no birdsong echoed from the verdant gardens, and no answer met her when she called. With fast-beating heart, she ran to the grassy mound and there beheld the beast lying on the ground, clasping the rose in his misshape paw. Gently she tried to rouse him, thinking that he'd fallen asleep while waiting for her. But she found no life in his body.
Her eyes brimmed with shame and pity. She put her slender arms about his ugly neck and kissed him tenderly, a single tear falling on his death-cold head.
No sooner had she kissed him than lightning flashed on every side and thunder struck the grassy mound. The girl fell senseless to the ground.
When she awoke she found herself in a chamber of white marble, sitting on a golden throne beside a young and handsome prince. Before them stood her dear father and her sisters amidst a host of resplendent courtiers.
The handsome prince spoke thus to her: 'When I was but an infant, an evil sorceress, being angry with the king, my father, turned me into that best whom you befriended. Full thirty years I suffered thus, enticing eleven maidens to my enchanted palace. You were the twelfth. But only you could break the spell because you grew to love me truly, forgetting my form and seeing the kindness in my heart and the wisdom in my mind. I beg you now to my queen.'
Without more ado a grand wedding was held amid great rejoicing. And their happiness, being built on goodness, was complete.
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