More than a week had passed since that day at the fountain when she had given him drink.
It was a cool evening, perfect for the emerald green velvet gown she wore, and Belle nervously paced before the mantlepiece, barely noticing that the marble busts on either side were following her movements, not only with their eyes, but their heads as well. She was nervous they thought. No…not nervous — frightened, and they knew why once the clock struck seven…and their master did not appear. Five after seven – Isabelle was on the terrace, stretching her neck as her eyes sought him, knowing that at any second he would coming walking out of the garden or the woods. At a quarter after the hour he was still absent…and the girl began her pacing, from one end of the Hall to the other. When twenty-five minutes had passed, she was nearly distraught — praying aloud, tears flowing, sitting for one or two seconds before she was on her feet again. She did not know to whom she might go. In the dark, without him as a guide, she was not sure how or where to search for him.
The clock struck half past seven and she looked at it…and then saw the Beast’s reflection in the mirror on the wall above it. Emitting a tiny cry of joy, Belle ran to him, noticing that while he was well-dressed as always, there was something askew about his clothing, but she could not say what.
“Beast! Oh my God – Beast!”
“Belle,” he greeted, pretending all was well. “Good evening, Belle.”
“Where have you been? I was so worried….Where were you? How late you are!”
He smiled sadly, unable to tell her that he had been hunting again and for the first time since she had come to live with him, he could not break away from his animal side. It was as though something had possessed him, and for hours he had barely thought intelligently or as a human…but now he knew nothing but shame, hurrying to bathe and cleanse himself properly before he entered the Hall. She must never know what he had done….
“Thank you, Belle, for noticing.”
“Yes…I was awaiting you with great impatience, Beast,” she tried to say harshly as if annoyed that he would do this, but instead she stammered, “and…and…” She suddenly threw her arms about him while standing tiptoe. “I was so worried for you, Beast!”she cried.
“You have never been late – never! Never in all the time that I’ve known you.” She pulled away to look at him better. “Are you alright? Where were you?”
“I…Belle…I…must apologize….I…lost…I was negligent and forgot the time…and when I at last realized…You know I would never hurt you purposefully.”
“No…I know you wouldn’t but…I was so worried. I was so worried about you. You have never been late.”
“I know…and Belle…I swear…it will never happen again. I will never leave you alone here, wondering as to my whereabouts and fearing the worst….I promise…it will never happen again.”
“It’s just…I was silly.”
“I was….I should have known you were well. You have never disappointed me.”
“Then say the word, Isabelle.”
“What word, Beast?” She was smiling up at him, and it was not until she asked the question did she realize he likely meant ‘the word’ that would make him happiest.
“Make a demand of me, Belle! I…I will do whatever you ask as my way of apologizing for upsetting you tonight. Ask it…and I shall not deny you.”
Now it was his turn to realize what he had offered. What if she begged him to end his nightly proposal? What if she begged him to nullify the agreement and allow her to return to her father’s house? But he had already spoken and must live with it. “Anything, Isabelle….Anything at all.”
“Then…will you spend tomorrow with me?” She saw the shock on his face. “Might we have an entire day together: not part of one, or the evening after seven, but the day – from breakfast until we separate and retire for the night?”
“Would…Would that mean a great deal to you?”
“More than you can imagine,” she admitted, smiling and reaching out to take both his ‘hands’ in hers. “Please….If you must apologize for your tardiness, then let it be in this manner.”
And yet your dream is to be far away from me. Isabelle had been given an opportunity…and yet had not done what others might have.
“Very well then. Tomorrow – all of tomorrow – will be yours…”
Just after dawn, at the time they had decided upon the evening before, Isabelle hurried to the stables, finding herself looking even more forward to this than she would have believed. She had barely slept and for one of the few times since coming to the castle, she ‘spoke’ to the invisible servants as far as her toilette was involved. Normally they always seemed to ‘know’ and she agreed to their selections, but on this day she wanted to make sure.
Therefore, when the time came for her dressing to proceed, she specifically thought He complimented me on the green gown last evening. The Beast had told her that the green emphasized the red in her hair and made her eyes even more brilliant than they were. That must be why you chose it…you knew how it would please him. Please – might I have something such as that, if it will make him happy, make him smile? It…That would make me content knowing I’ve brought him any sort of happiness….Whatever I can do….
When she entered the stables and discovered her host standing before Magnifique’s stall, it was the glow in his blue eyes that told her the choice was a good one.
“Isabelle…you are wearing green again,” he commented, bowing slightly in response to her deep curtsy and she smiled back.
“Good morning, Beast…and yes, yes I am.”
His eyes swept over the fitted Irish green riding gown, which made her soft curves even more elegant and the white cravat with Valenciennes lace was masculine in cut and quite similar to his own. The front of her hair was simple, but the sides and the back had been swept into ringlets, all of it crowned by a black beaver hat with a deep green, wide ribband and two plumes.
“It suits you,” he complimented her.
“I’m glad and…” She took in the dark blue habit he was wearing, thinking that it made him appear even more human. “…and I am not mistaken when I say that yours suits you as well.”
“You are very kind, Isabelle. Thank you…and thank you for the green….I do not know if you realize how much these little things mean to me….Now…you know Magnifique of course.”
“Yes…of course,” she answered, letting one York tan gloved hand sweep over the horse’s white face. “How are you this morning, Magnifique?”
“I have one for you, Belle,” and he nodded in the direction of a bay colored filly, patiently waiting in her own stall. Isabelle emitted a little gasp of delight and rushed over to where the horse stood. “This is Morning Glory.”
“Morning Glory….She’s beautiful, Beast, absolutely beautiful.” The second she saw the horse she adored it, and she was thrilled to see the peaceful attitude when she led her out of the small area and more into the open.
As are you he thought to himself before saying, “You told me you had been riding since childhood, so I do not believe you will have any trouble with her. She’s quite gentle, but she has the spirit of an Amazon when the situation arises.”
“As long as she can maintain stride with Magnifique I shall be fine,” Belle declared, permitting the Beast to give her a leg up so she could sit side-saddle on the mount. Now he could better see the Spanish black leather boots, laced and fringed in green. “I will not allow you to ride too far ahead of me and not give me a fighting chance whatsoever…” She was laughing as she said it but then grew slightly more serious when she continued: “…and I refuse to put the crop to her. She’s much too precious for that.”
“That does not surprise me,” Beast told her after he had climbed into the saddle. He had ridden the horse on occasion, but there was always the nagging feeling that – as he was also an animal – he was taking advantage of Magnifique on some level. The stallion never complained, but there was simply an oddness about the entire matter, although he could sense his desire to please when Isabelle entered the building. “And do not worry – Morning Glory may attempt to outpace Magnifique if she’s given the opportunity.”
“Then we will definitely see about that,” Belle teased, giving the reins a slight tug so that the filly walked out of the stables, closely followed by Magnifique and his master, and it only took moments before they were both cantering across the grounds.
It was several hours before they finally came to a rest after a very satisfying ride. Mostly they had taken the most splendid gallops, racing one another or simply pushing each other to the limit. But there were times when they would dismount and lead their horses along, walking as the Beast showed her more of the property, his pride in this world of his quite obvious, although he again confessed that he could not remember how he had first come there or in fact, many of the circumstances involving his life prior to Belle’s arrival.
“It has simply always been,” he sadly told her during one pause. “There are moments when…well…I try and try to recall…something…of my heritage…my parents…anything at all….Why am I a beast and yet possess intelligence and speech. It is as though someone…some thing…removed that portion of myself as if thinking I had no need for it.”
Then he would realize that his words only depressed Isabelle because she felt so bad for him, and he would find a way of lifting her spirits again, not wanting her to feel sorry for him.
When they finally decided to take an extended rest, the Beast assisted Belle in getting down from Morning Glory, permitting his ‘hands’ to take her about the waist as she alighted. She thanked him, moving away, not realizing that he was thinking it was only the second time he had held her so intimately. The first had been so long ago, upon her arrival, when he had born her to her chamber, and so much had passed since then. Now, he thought, he no longer feared her gazing deep into his eyes….
“Beast?” She was motioning to where she stood beneath an oak, seeing that a white cloth was spread upon the ground and on top of it was a picnic luncheon, complete with the finest plate and an abundance of meat, bread, cheeses and fresh fruits.
“Where did this…?”
Isabelle blushed. “You once told me that I would possess similar powers as yours.”
He nodded. “Yes…and yet you have not used them.”
“I’ve had no need, Beast. I have been well taken care of but…since I invited you to spend the day with me and neither of us have eaten…”
“I…” He suddenly felt hungry. The day normally spent finding nourishment had been granted to her. “Yes.”
“Well…I thought…this time…I would take advantage of your gift to me….Please…come eat with me.”
He hesitated only a moment. In her own innocence she was so tempting by offering him such attentiveness, such generosity, but all he could do was continue to ask his question each day, listen to her understandable refusal…and then go on as they always did. Smiling, he watched as she adjusted her skirts and slipped to the cloth before he came to join her.
He jerked awake, suddenly opening his eyes so that he could remind himself of where he was. Only then did he notice the soothing touch of Isabelle’s fingers as they brushed over his mane, and realized he was not alone….
“Beast?” she softly asked, concern in her voice. “Beast are you alright?”
“All right?….Am I all right?” The words were labored and he was unsure how to answer her, but the scene became more recognizable as he finally calmed. I went riding with Isabelle….We’ve lunched….We were talking and…I felt tired…and Belle…sweet Belle…
Rest here, Beast she had said and moments afterward, his head was in her lap and he was listening to her gentle words as their conversation continued. He could listen to her forever….
“Are you alright?” Belle repeated. “What happened?”
“I…” He stopped. He what? He had slept so peacefully; even recalled looking up at one point and noticing that Isabelle’s head was nodding to one side, her eyes shut as she dozed sitting upright. He had thought her so beautiful, the rosy lips parted, her hands still resting on his head and his shoulders. Not wishing to disturb her, he eased back down to her lap and once more fell asleep, until….What? “I…I obviously dreamt…I do not know.”
“You no longer remember?” He shook his head as he finally sat up, reluctant at surrendering her touch.
“It…For a moment I thought I did…but…there is nothing. There is nothing now…only darkness….Did I frighten you?”
Belle swallowed hard. “I…I did not know what was wrong with you. You twitched; I heard you moan. I heard you moan over and over again. I know we spoke of animals dreaming but whether they have nightmares as well….You seemed to be disturbed.”
“Disturbed,” he echoed, kneeling before her. “Disturbed…and I know not why.” The Beast rubbed his eyes as if hoping that would wipe away the haze in his mind. “I hate this…emptiness…these missing pieces….I worry…as to what it may mean….So…I have gone great lengths in destroying our day together.”
“But I have. You ask this one small thing of me and I ruin it.”
“Do you think that matters to me?” Belle was nearly angry. “What matters is you…your health….I heard you cry out and the last thing on my thoughts was that our day was ruined. We will have other days…but not if you are sick or bothered by these black dreams you can never recall upon awakening.”
“Belle…you do care.”
“Of course I do,” she replied, the backs of her fingers stroking his cheeks. “Do you believe I would wish any ill-will upon you?”
“If it meant you might return to your father…”
“No!” she almost shouted before catching herself. “I would never do that to you. Of course I wish to see my father again, but not in this manner…and yes…yes Beast…I do care.”
“But as a friend.” It was not a question but a statement of fact.
“As a friend.”
“You know I must ask.”
“And you know my reply.”
“I remain…persistent,” he said sadly, “and I shall not wait until evening…as usual.”
“Ask.” She so wished he would not, making her break his heart again.
“Belle…my sweet, beautiful Isabelle – will you marry me?”
“No Beast…no…I cannot marry you…but I will always, always be your friend.” She thought she saw a tear shimmering in one eye and she pulled him forward, kissing the top of his head after she did. “You may share all things with me, even your dreams…and I will share all mine with you.”
He said nothing more, only nodding. There was a part of him that wanted to run away, to return to the things of which he never told her, but he lingered, unwilling to go, only wanting to stay in her presence, to let her know he was not afraid.
“Try to rest again,” Belle insisted. “You always seem so tense.”
“I have never required much sleep,” he admitted.
“Then just relax – be at peace…” and Beast found himself resting upon Isabelle’s lap once more, tamed by her affection and her gentleness.
“You coax me as though I were an animal,” he finally said, as she continued to stroke his hair, and he heard a purr emit from his chest.
“Yes…I thought that once too – that you were an animal….Now…Now I no longer know.”
When seven o’clock came, they had been back at the castle several hours, time enough for Belle to rest and consider all that had happened during the morning and afternoon. All had ended well enough with no further bad dreams, but now something further was bothering her and that was the welfare of Sir Benjamin, her father. She could not deny that he was never far from her thoughts, and she wondered how her siblings and Lady Nicole were treating him or whether he thought of her. She felt she would be all right in the Beast’s world if she knew her parent was not being mistreated or played for a fool. That was when her mind was made up.
And so, after their usual dinner – without the question being asked for he had requested it of her during the picnic – they went out onto the balcony for air. It was Beast who noticed that Isabelle seemed even more distracted now than she had during the meal, and upon expressing his concern, he was shocked when the girl suddenly threw herself to her knees, grabbing hold of the black cloak that he wore.
“Beast…please…I must talk to you.”
“Belle…not on your knees! Not on your knees, I beg you….Stand up, Belle, stand up!” he boomed, lifting her up and half-carrying her to the iron chaise longue. “I should be on my knees taking orders from you,” he continued, sitting down beside her. “You are not my subject or my slave so do not kneel to me.”
“Then let me go, Beast.”
His stomach began to churn. “Let you go?”
“Not forever….Not forever, Beast – only for a little while. I must see to my father. I promise…I promise to return.”
Beast briefly glanced away, attempting to reconcile his feelings, but it was difficult. “And when you return…will you be my wife?”
“Oh Beast!” She buried her face in her hands.
“Yes, I know….I know I am repulsive.”
“I know I am repulsive, Belle – neither of us can deny that, despite our friendship. I am a Beast, a monster…but I would still die of despair if I let you go and you took advantage of your freedom, never to return.”
“I promise you…I will come back in a week’s time. I only need to see to my Father and then…then I will return to you….I respect you far too much to cause your death….Please Beast…please…consider it.”
He sighed. “Your request…is a very serious matter…but I swear…I will think about it.”
“Thank you,” and she told herself that she would not ask him again until he had decided.
“Belle…may I ask something of you?”
“It may seem silly but…”
“I feel you have a right to ask me…particularly when I have asked so much. What do you want to know?”
“I only wondered….I…wondered…is someone waiting for you?”
Belle shook her head. “I don’t…Do you mean my father?”
“No…No….I mean…has someone already asked for your hand in marriage?”
The girl’s eyes widened. “No Beast, no.”
“You are certain?”
“Very certain.” She giggled slightly and Beast was glad to see her smile. “Few men know I exist. Those that do either think little of me because I am nothing compared to my sisters, or…their attentions…they are not those of a gentleman, not a true gentleman.” She unintentionally shuddered at the memory of the leers of Sir Maxwell or that Pitt who thought himself God’s gift to women. “So no, Beast…no one has asked for my hand. If I was at home, permanently, I would either marry as my father commanded or resign myself to becoming a governess…or being the spinster in the family.”
“You are undeserving of that, Belle – of any of those future prospects.”
“Then I shall stay here where I am happiest, but…I do love my father, Beast, and I only fear what my sisters and brother and Lady Nicole will do if they have too much influence over him.”
“I have told you before – and I realize it hurts – that they manage to prey upon his greatest weaknesses. There may be nothing you can do.”
“True…but I should like to try.”
“And you will be all right?”
She nodded. “I will be well.”
“I simply…when you came to me, I never asked if you left someone behind…someone who loved you.”
“No Beast,” she softly laughed. “There are times I have felt as sequestered as a nun.”
“And you do not dream…of a lover…a husband?” As I dream of making you my wife….Belle – I have loved you from the moment your father spoke of you…his youngest daughter. Seeing you only sealed it…and I have never believed in love upon first sight…until you….
She nearly said no, but remembered her promise never to lie to him. Beast saw it in her eyes and on her lips, so he was not surprised when she quietly confessed: “Not long ago…well…after my arrival here…I had a dream…but as with yours…I can remember little or nothing….Cannot remember a face…or his voice…nothing, except I know that I was loved.”
Beast stared at her, turned away as though in pain, and suddenly ran off the terrace and into the woods. Belle jumped to her feet and ran to the stone handrail.
“Beast! What’s the matter?!” she shouted. “Beast! Beast!! What is it?! Beast!!” she screamed at the top of her lungs, before collapsing to the stone floor in tears.