Once upon a time there was a very rich merchant, who had three children, all of them girls. He spared no expense for his daughters, not for their education, nor their material desires.
His daughters were extremely handsome, but also spoiled and pretentious. They gave themselves ridiculous airs and would not visit other merchants’ daughters, but only keep the company of nobles, persons of quality. They ignored the masters of their studies which their father had provided and went out instead to parties of pleasure, balls, concerts and so forth. They desired but one thing: to find a rich and handsome, noble husband who could care for them, and thus they believed they didn’t need anything more in life than their beauty.
Only the merchant’s youngest daughter was different. Her name was Belle, for she was the most beautiful of all, yet she did not share her sister’s vices. She was hard-working and friendly to rich and poor alike. While her sisters were partying, she spent most of her free time reading books; much to the ridicule of her elder siblings.
One faithful day however, the merchant lost his whole fortune in a single blow. His ships had been caught by a terrible storm and his merchandise never reached safe shores. To pay his debtors, he had to sell all he owned.
With tears in his eyes, he told his children of their misfortune and that they would move to a small cottage in the countryside, where from now on, they must work for a living.
His two eldest daughters refused. They had many lovers in the city who would be glad to have them, they said. Yet now that they had no fortune, the poor ladies discovered they were mistaken. Their lovers slighted and forsook them in their poverty, as they were not beloved on account of their pride. Everybody said they did not deserve to be pitied.
The youngest daughter however, received many invitations from those who wished to care for her. Several noblemen would have married her, had she not refused. Belle instead chose to stay with her father and help him in his time of need.
When they came to their country house, Belle and her father applied themselves to their work. The two older sisters however, did not know how to spend their time. They did nothing but saunter about the whole day, lamenting the loss of their fine clothes and acquaintance.
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