Beauty and the Beast: Part Six

Part Six

 

Isabelle sat in the chair at the head of the dining table, attempting to feel at ease, but finding it most difficult. It was not the oddness of having a disembodied hand serve her wine or slice her meat off the joint, although that was surreal and peculiar enough. It was not the idea of knowing that the statues’ eyes were peering at her and then pretending as if they were not….Amazingly, after her nap, her old existence in that familiar English village and her merchant-father’s home seemed the dream and this her reality, except that she knew how she had come here and why…and her spine stiffened at the soft, nearly inaudible boot steps as her host approached.

 

The clock upon the mantlepiece chimed seven. He was punctual, she would give him that!

 

“Isabelle,” he greeted, noticing that she still wore the gown he had given her upon her first transformation. The chamber was filled with her perfume – the dark of the room alight with her loveliness. How could she not know how beautiful she was?

 

“Good evening, Beast,” she greeted, attempting to hide her nervousness behind a sweet smile, and she could hear his breathing as he leaned against the back of her elegant chair.

 

“Do not be afraid.”

 

“I…I won’t be….I’m not afraid.”

 

“Not of me?” He crossed around her until he was near her left.

 

“No…not any longer.” She could have sworn she saw him smile.

“You do not know how pleased that makes me, Belle….Do…Do you mind if I watch you dine?”

 

“I…No…No…not at all.” She picked up the sterling silver fork and knife. “After all, my lord…you are the master.”

 

“Oh no…” He gave what sounded like a laugh – if an animal could laugh. “No dearest Isabelle…I am no longer master….You are the only master here now.”

 

“But…”

 

“I told you earlier, my magic – the control of everything I also place into your hands…but I…I am not your master. You are a free being….” He placed a paw against his forehead, rubbing away his sudden headache. “I am the one who is not…” But he did not finish. “I’m sorry….Eat Belle – eat. You must be starving.”

 

She took a bite of her roast beef, but upon swallowing, cocked her head to one side. “Are you not hungry, my lord?”

 

“I…have eaten already, but thank you….I…will simply…watch…if you do not mind.”

 

She shook her head.

 

“And enjoy your company.”

 

“All right.” She ate a little more, noticing that he was attempting to not stare, but that her small actions were obviously causing him great delight. /Poor Beast….Are you so incredibly lonely that even this brings you pleasure?//

 

“You must find me revolting.”

 

Belle glanced up from her wine glass, startled by the statement. “Revolting is such a harsh word, but…I…I…I cannot lie.”

 

“I would expect nothing but honestly from you, Belle,” he sadly replied, and again came what sounded like a chuckle. “Had you said otherwise…I would have known….” He stood. “But…is everything to your liking? Is there anything more you desire?”

 

“I…feel uneasy dressed in such finery, nor am I used to being waited upon….”

 

“It is only what you deserve. Your sisters and that brother…” he nearly growled as he stomped to the fireplace, but then he calmed, “they wallow in their own selfishness and vanity and pretend you do not exist in your own home. They have enslaved you when your father is not home, mistreated you now that your mother is dead.” He saw her look at the tabletop. “You never deserved their hatred….Even that other woman….She knows what a threat you could be…if you were permitted to bloom…and yet they hide you away.”

 

“I…am accustomed to it now.”

 

“To grow old as their servant when you are a truer gentlewoman than those women will ever be? You listen to your brother’s whining and complaints…and you forgive them over and over when they deserve none.”

 

“How do you…?”

 

“I…know….Trust that.” And for some reason, Isabelle did not ask further for nothing surprised her. “That is why I knew you would return in your father’s stead….That is why I could never harm you and only wish to give you what the others deny you.”

 

“That…That is…most kind of you, Beast.” When she called him that, they both realized it was a moment of intimacy, of friendship that she no longer called him ‘my lord.’ “And… I know you are doing your utmost to help me forget your ugliness.”

 

“My heart, dearest Belle, is kind…but I am a monster.”

 

“Many men are more monstrous than you, but they hide it well. Believe me…I know.” Did she detect a smile?

 

“And besides my ugliness, I am most lacking in wit.”

 

“But you have wit enough to realize it.” There – she saw it again, the hint of a smile.

 

“Everything in this castle is yours. Your every whim will be fulfilled.”

 

“I shall not ask for much.”

 

“Regardless…it is all within your power, Isabelle….And every evening at seven, I will appear in order to enjoy your company…”

 

“I will like that,” she honestly replied, smiling at him.

 

“But before leaving you, I shall ask you a question; it will always be the same one.”

 

“What…” she gulped. “I’m sorry…What…What is your question?”

 

“Belle…Isabelle, whose name means ‘beautiful one‘….Belle…will you be my wife?”

 

She was stunned, not expecting such a question as that, but her answer was quick and honest. “No Beast.”

 

“Very well then, Belle….Farewell…until tomorrow evening.”

 

“You are going?!”

 

“You have had a busy, stressful day. You need your rest….I will see you on the morrow. Good night…dearest Belle.”

 

“Good…Good night Beast,” and she watched as he disappeared into the shadows on the other side of the Hall…leaving her alone.

 

He did not let her know he was listening.

 

The next evening, just before seven – his appointed time – he hid in the darkness at the edge of the Hall having come from an entrance off the terrace, but he paused on hearing the light tinkling of melodic keys, their music filling the interior. He eased nearer then stopped, peeping around the stone wall in one corner, and in the illumination he saw Isabelle – resplendent in an ivory glaze silk gown with silver needlework trim at the bottom – at the pianoforte, her attention upon nothing else but the music she performed from memory. And the Beast recognized it as Mozart, a sonata he had always adored, although he could not recall when he first heard it….She played the way he knew she would, pouring her emotion into each note as her fingers sought release, the music reaching deep into his soul until unbidden, a single tear crept into the inner point of one eye….

 

The clock chimed once….Belle, realizing the time, jumped from the bench.

 

/No…do not stop…// he silently pleaded.

 

The clock chimed twice, thrice. Belle hurried to her usual dining chair at the table, catching her breath as the familiar hand now poured her drink and two others began to serve her food. She had not known it was so late.

 

Four times, five, six.

 

/I wish you had not stopped….I have not been so happy in…I no longer remember if I have ever been so content….//

 

Seven. The beast stepped forth as though he had only arrived.

 

“Good evening, Isabelle,” he greeted and was thrilled to see that her smile was sincere – she was happy to see him.

 

“Good evening, Beast,” she answered.

 

“Are you well tonight?”

 

“As well as may be expected, thank you….And you? Are you well?”

 

“I am…I am light of heart on seeing you again…on hearing your voice…on knowing that you are well…or as well as you can be.”

 

She nodded. “Yes.”

 

“You miss your father?”

 

“Very much so.”

 

“I am certain he misses you greatly too, but…he understands why you have done this….He could not have a child that loved him as much as you do….” He saw her blush and shyly turn the other way, uncomfortable at his words. “‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.‘” He saw that Belle was staring at him, obviously shocked to hear him uttering Bible verses and he smiled. “I know….I am surprised that for once I found the right words. A Beast – such as myself – cannot always discover the right things to say when the moment arises.”

 

“I thought that was perfect…although I hardly gave my life for my father.”

 

“But…you considered it….You came here for that reason and for that you knew the risks.”

 

She allowed the words to sink in, then motioned with one hand. “Please — sit. There is no need for you to stand on ceremony.” He nodded and relaxed in one of the larger chairs that would fit his form, but enough of a distance away that when he looked at Belle she could not see him at a direct angle. “You’ll join me tonight, won’t you? Please.”

 

“Join…?”

 

“For dinner.”

 

The Beast appeared baffled. “You would want me to sit here with you?”

 

“You are my host after all…and I feel rude eating and drinking before you when you have nothing….Please…at least have some wine.”

 

He nodded at her request and was surprised when – instead of permitting the hand to perform the duty – Belle poured the ruby red drink into an empty glass at his place setting. He took it between both paws after two clumsy attempts and slowly drank, hoping that she did not realize that he was quietly lapping at the wine and not sipping it. On lowering the glass from his lips, he brushed some drops from his whiskers and sighed.

 

“I appreciate that Belle.”

 

“You’ll eat too then?”

 

He shook his head. “I…am not hungry, but please…enjoy yourself…and we will talk.”

 

Belle smiled, thrilled to see that he was behaving more as a human, although there was a quality about him that made him more of a gentleman than some she knew, she thought, recalling many of her brother’s friends. He did not make her desire to hide or stay away from groping hands and leers and innuendoes, as though her feelings did not matter. She had been right when she told him that some hid their monster sides well beneath their human forms.

 

And so they talked for more than an hour. He asked her to describe her home in detail – not the people, but the estate itself and he learned of how she had grown to love the roses her mother had planted, especially the white ones. She also told him of her various herb gardens, some for medicinal purposes and some for the house, while others she used in fragrances and purposes to help the body and spirit.

 

“Have you seen my gardens then?” Beast asked.

 

“No…not close. I tried to admire them from the balcony in my suite but they appeared to go on and on for acres…”

 

“You must not confine yourself to the castle, Belle….During your days, you must find ways to amuse yourself. The gardens are indeed massive….There are numerous paths for you to walk…and lakes you might rest by. Do not spend all your time indoors while you await my appearances. Promise me that.”

 

“I will,” she promised, curious to see what did lay beyond the house itself.

 

“And here you will find a library, one with books and manuscripts beyond your imagination….There…is music.” He was curious to hear what she answered to that.

 

“I saw the piece in my room. It’s beautiful. I’ve never seen anything quite like it….And this one…” she nodded her head towards the pianoforte in the Hall, “…I attempted a sonata I had not played in forever. It was such a temptation to hear how the instrument might sound.”

 

“And it was in tune?” He knew it had been, or Belle could coax magnificent notes from even the saddest of implements.

 

“Very much so. I have never heard anything so splendid, unless it was in one of the great houses I’ve visited with my father, or at a recital or a concert in London. You have wonderful tastes.”

 

“For a Beast?”

 

Belle shook her head. “You have wonderful tastes,”she repeated.

 

“Then…would you…Earlier…when I first entered the Hall…I heard you play…”

 

“You did?”

 

“And I would appreciate it beyond words…” Once more he paused as his request faltered.

 

“Yes, Beast?”

 

“Would…you play that one movement for me…the Mozart.”

 

“I…had no idea you enjoyed Mozart or I would not have ceased my…”

 

“He…is a great favorite of mine….The old expression does say that ‘Music has charms to soothe the savage beast,'” and he smiled when Isabelle recited ‘soothe the savage beast’ along with him. “Yes….And although…I am quite aware that it should be breast…and not beast…”

 

“In this case, might it be felt more than appropriate.”

 

“Indeed,” he agreed. He stood and held out his arm for her to take. “May I, Belle?”

 

She did not flinch as she accepted it, permitting him to escort her to the piano, and upon taking her seat, she deeply exhaled, momentarily closed her eyes, and began to play the second movement to the Austrian composer’s C-Minor sonata. Beast stood silently beside the instrument, his own eyes shut as he listened, often lifting one clawed hand as if conducting the music, but then stopping, sighing, as she continued the slow piece. When she ended, her head bowed over the keyboard, she heard applause and realized that Beast was clapping his paws together in a sort of thumping sound.

 

“Magnificent, Isabelle,” he complimented her, smiling at the way her cheeks reddened. “That was truly magnificent. Thank you so much.”

 

“It was my pleasure. I…I would be happy to play for you anytime.”

 

“Would you?”

 

“Of course. I have always enjoyed playing, but…I do not get to do it that often now.”

 

“When your father is home?” She nodded. “Or your siblings safely away and about their own concerns?” She nodded again and he sighed. “They deny you so much, Belle, when you have asked so little.”

 

“It does not matter,” she whispered, her fingertips lightly touching the keys, and she saw one talon hesitantly move over the back of her right hand, as if to sympathetically stroke it, but it hung in the air, trembling slightly and then withdrew. She could hear the frustrated rumbling in his chest.

 

“It does to me!” he nearly shouted, but caught himself in time before he startled her. “It does to me,” he said softly. “Anything related to your welfare concerns me.”

 

“Then knowing that is enough, Beast…knowing that you care so much….So…shall I play you something else? Something lighter? Something filled with humor and fun that will most certainly gladden your heart?” and she began to pick out the notes to a more cheerful selection. “Beast?” He was looking away. “Beast?”

 

“Belle?” Those eyes – the hue shifting from blue-green to green in the bright candlelight – grew determined as they studied her.

 

“Yes…?”

 

“Belle…will you become my wife?”

 

“No…” she whispered, shaking her head, disbelieving that he was asking yet again. “Oh Beast.”

 

“I told you that each evening I would ask you the same.”

 

“And I…And I told…I cannot Beast. I cannot….” There was such a hollow depth in her stomach as she uttered the words, but she could not lie to him. “I can’t be your wife.”

 

“Honorable – as always sweet Isabelle.”

 

“Please Beast…Please…let me play something more for you,” but she noticed that the massive head was looking away from her and into the dark at the end of the Hall.

 

“I…must…go…” he gruffly managed, moving from the pianoforte.

 

Isabelle jumped up and followed. “Beast…why? Why must you go? Please stay with me this evening. Please. Please don’t be angry with me.”

 

He glanced back over one shoulder as he proceeded out of the light, but with each step the castle’s new mistress took, one candle and then another and another were ignited. “You do not understand,” he called to her.

 

“But I do! Please! I…I know you are upset with me for refusing you once again, but I told you what my answer would be. Please forgive me.”

 

“Belle…you need not apologize.” He was now at the French doors, the wind blowing each layer of fur as it caressed the delicate folds of Belle’s evening gown until he could see the outline of her figure. “I shall ask each night….You shall reply the same.”

 

“Then why…?”

 

“Because…may I not hope?”

 

“Beast…please…” She moved nearer until she was standing under his huge form, gazing up at him pleadingly. “Stay….I…I have enjoyed your company so.”

 

He sighed. “Perhaps…tomorrow but…” His attention drifted and she could hear the low rumble in his throat, the same sound she heard when one of the cats at home were preparing to pounce. The eyes were more alert, the head jerking as if he had detected something nearby. “…I…” His last word disappeared, caught in the blowing wind, but Isabelle heard it: hunger.

 

She tried to take one arm but he pulled out of her grasp. “Beast…”

 

“I…hunger,” he uttered and in what seemed one fluid motion was out the open doors. Belle rushed after him, but only heard him say, “Until tomorrow….Good night Isabelle…” He then flung himself off the terrace and disappeared into the darkness.

 

The girl felt herself drawn back inside, as if pulled by the familiar invisible hands, and the

doors slammed shut, but not before she heard a mighty roar in the distance….

 

The third day had peacefully arrived and Isabelle, knowing now what to expect from her second day, allowed herself a bit of pampering as she went through her morning toilette. A porcelain tub – not metal and covered in linen as her sisters and Lady Nicole used – was magically filled with hot water and perfume, and the temperature remained warm until she had time to soak away her fears and finally relax as she washed. The towels were incredibly mink-like against her skin, unlike any cloth she had ever known, and with the greatest care and caution, as if caring for something greatly prized, the familiar “hands” applied the lotions and fragrances, and – as though aware of what her day might entail – prepared her hair and dressed her in the appropriate gown. Her initial skittishness had somewhat vanished now as she permitted the magic of her new home to take place, and once more, she laughed to herself on thinking that this now felt more real than anything she had known before.

 

This was also the first time she permitted herself to leave the protection of only the area immediately between her chambers and the Great Hall, and wander about the remainder of the Castle, to see exactly what the Beast had spoken of.

 

She discovered a massive library that encompassed one wing and two floors by itself, and it was here that she felt quite at ease, losing track of all time as she perused the books and scrolls…the parchments and manuscripts, studying artwork that appeared to be original pieces of Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Botticelli, for she had seen their works during travels with her parents. She wandered the grotto just adjacent it…and felt transported to the paths of ancient worlds she had never known, ones that existed only in her imagination due to the books she read, and she spent the longest time with a sketch pad, drawing to her heart’s delight. It was only when she heard the clock strike five did she realize that another day had passed and she must prepare for supper.

 

As was his promise, the Beast joined her at seven, and Belle was thankful to see that after the exit of the night before, he seemed fine as far as she could tell. He was wearing a light blue waistcoat over matching breeches, all of which complemented the darker blue jacket, and when he entered the Hall and the light touched his eyes upon drawing closer to her, she could see that the candle glow transformed them into amber with flecks of green, the blue of his wardrobe magnifying them twofold.

 

“Isabelle – another good evening to you,” he greeted, bowing slightly.

 

“Beast – good evening to you as well,” she replied, dipping a curtsy. Her “dressers” again had known – she was wearing a silken sapphire gown, her body tastefully adorned in jewels of the same color, so that her attire suited his to perfection. She stood by the fireplace, unmoving as he drew nearer and once more, she felt quite small in his presence and was yet not afraid.

 

“You are…” He paused, not wishing to embarrass her, but he felt the need to tell her at any rate. “This castle was so lonely and empty…until you came. I doubt I can ever express what that means to me…to have you here.”

 

“I…I hope I’ve done nothing to displease you. When you left yesterday evening…”

 

He raised a ‘hand’ to stop her. “I…It happens….I promised I would never stay long, to force my company upon you…especially considering how revolting I am….No Belle…you know I am. You have said as much.”

 

“Then if I did…I’m sorry. I only wish you would remain longer. We could talk more. I could play for you again.”

 

His answer was to smile and shrug. “We shall see, but…I will be most happy to join you at the table again…”

 

“And to dine?” she asked hopefully.

 

“I shall partake of wine with you…but no…I am not hungry. I will sit with you…and we’ll talk…”

 

He was not hungry. He seemed never to be hungry, Isabelle thought as she took her usual seat, and while the hands served her, she again – as on the previous evening – poured the Beast’s wine into his goblet. And yet when he flew from her side he had said ‘I hunger…’

 

/You know what it likely means…and yet you would rather not think it. No…put it out of your mind. You don’t want to think of that…not now, not when he is so kind and so…human at times….//

 

The Beast did not touch his drink, but instead, settled back in his chair. “So tell me, Belle…have you had a good day?”

 

Her brown eyes glowed as she smiled and nodded. “Oh! A very good day. I have never had such solitude in my life, and I feared it would leave me quite dejected at the prospect. But…”

 

“You were not?”

 

“Not at all! It was quite different than I expected, and I simply took advantage of the time and performed…well…to you they may seem the most mundane of activities.”

 

“Such as?”

 

“I…sketched….I discovered the grotto at the edge of the library, and it revealed to me such… such…amazing places, the ones I have read of; the ones I once visited when my mother still lived and we traveled outside England as a family. I should have brought my pad with me…”

 

“Will you tomorrow evening – if you remember?”

 

“Of course I can…”

 

And so the conversation continued throughout the meal, although all the Beast did was drink on occasion, his attention focused upon his guest, intent – unwavering. Her natural shyness was overcome; she revealed the erudite side she hid from her siblings and their friends; the passions for her faith, her books and music, her love of history revealed in every word. But there were times when she could not help herself, her speech faltering, the meal forgotten when she recalled some happier moment and the strong influence of her mother.

 

“I wonder…” she began, looking aside at the fireplace.

 

“Hmm? Yes, Belle?”

 

“My father…I saw him in my mirror today. He was at business….Since Mama died, it is often when he is at his happiest for our home – everything reminds him of her…but he would…I would see that glimmer in his eyes, see him whisper my name…see his attempt to hide from the world….He does not know if I live or if I have died, my lord.”

 

“Belle…do not call me that,” he insisted, afraid that the formality between them – when she was most frightened – would return.

 

“But does he realize how I am? Or does he believe I rode to my death and he will never see me again.”

 

“Belle…” This time he dared, and one ‘hand’ extended, gently patting the back of the small hand nearest him, smiling to himself when she did not flinch. He knew – beneath his rough, monstrous paw – that her skin would be delicate and he briefly imagined what it was like to yet again bear her in his arms…. “I have sent word to your father. I did upon your arrival at my castle.”

 

“You did?!”

 

“I told him that our bargain was sealed…and he need have no fear over your welfare….He will understand that you and he will never meet again, but you at least do live and he did not send you to your death….Belle?” He could see the beginnings of the moisture threatening to spill from her eyes as she fought to keep her lips from trembling.

 

“Then…I shall never leave this place?”

 

He started to nod, but instead bowed his head a single time, as if hoping that would lessen the blow. “Our…fates…Our…lives have been entwined, Belle….The moment Sir Benjamin cut that rose from the bower, you and I became one and did not realize…Isabelle…I will do my utmost to make you as happy as possible…although I know that means so little…especially now. Your young life…trapped with a…creature…a…monster…a monster that keeps you prisoner….”

 

Belle’s bent head jerked up and she vehemently shook it. “No….No Beast…I am not a prisoner. I came of my own volition when….I came of my own volition…”

 

“Because you meant to rescue your father.”

 

“But still I came. I accepted my…well…my fate and if that means ours are now united…”

 

She took a deep breath. “Then so be it.”

 

“And yet I will not let you leave.”

 

She smiled sadly. “You are my master.”

 

“No….I told you the first night…you are your own mistress. You are not my slave for if you were…” He stopped, not wanting to become too indelicate. “This is all yours, Isabelle, as I told you. The castle…The grounds…The gardens and woods and the seashore….I have wandered it and still have not seen what it completely possesses. I will likely spend my lifetime in exploration here and never see it all…”

 

“Then…I suppose we might explore it together…if we are here together…forever.” Unconsciously, her hand relaxed beneath his, her fingers turning slightly to stroke the palm.

 

They gazed at one another, not speaking, unmoving, until the Beast finally cleared his throat, chuckling as something occurred to him. “Belle…?”

 

“Hmm?”

 

“Have you heard…” He chuckled again, causing Belle’s eyes to widen in curiosity.

 

“What Beast?”

 

“Have you…? Let me tell you….”

 

And moments later, the Hall was filled with Isabelle’s groans and both their laughter as the Beast attempted to lighten her spirits. For once, her host did not make an early exit, but lingered while she performed for him again: Bach, Mozart…and before long they had lost track of the time and were relaxing on the terrace, savoring the breezy warmth of the late summer night.

 

“Are you cold?” Beast asked when he saw Isabelle shiver and rub her bare arms. “We can retire indoors if you…”

 

“I’m fine, thank you. It’s much too beautiful a night to remain inside,” she admitted, tugging a pretty blue shawl about her shoulders while she readjusted herself on the chaise longue, gazing upward at the moon and how the milky beams caressed the trees and the gardens within her sight, coating them a soft silver. The Beast paced nearby, his ‘hands’ either on his hips or behind his back but she felt he made such an impressive figure and not once was she ill-at-ease being alone with him. “Now you were telling me, you called those gardens there…?”

 

“Moonlight…because the flowers, each plant was chosen so that the moon would play upon them in such a way that they appear at their best at night….You should see…” He sighed.

 

“I should see…what Beast?”

 

“You should see how much more glorious the white roses are when touched by moonlight….You should see…how beautiful you are when bathed by it as well.”

 

Self-conscious, Belle turned away as the Beast approached where she was seated. “How can you not know how beautiful you are?”

 

“Because I’m not…” she hoarsely whispered, sitting upright but her eyes remaining down as she played with a silken fold in her gown.

 

“Only because that is what society has told you. The ideas of the elite are not always…They do not always know best, particularly in the ideas of what is beauty…or truth….Your brother simpers and whimpers worse than a helpless whelp of a pup and yet ladies toss themselves into his path, and declare him handsome. But what more does he possess?” Isabelle did not – could not – answer. “And your sisters….Their success has gone to their heads, making them more haughty than they have a right to be. Society declares them beautiful, gifted and overlooks how their phoniness reeks….You love them, don’t you?” he asked, his anger subsiding when he saw her dab at her eyes.

 

“They…They are my family.”

 

“They are your family, true, but they have done nothing to deserve the love you have given them, Belle. You must not allow them to dupe…”

 

“They have never duped me, Beast. I know their faults all too well,” she softly declared. “I do not much care for them at times…or their friends…or their pretentiousness and…and there are times…I wonder how my father so easily forgives them although they have nearly driven him to ruin….But they are his children…”

 

“Even so…I think he blinds himself…and in that he often hurts you when he should protect you more.” /He loves you most…and yet he allows them to harm you as they do….He will slip into the clutches of that…woman and consider himself the most fortunate man in the world to have such a new wife, to have such children…and the one to whom he owes all….Why must men be so foolish when they need not be?// These words he did not say to Isabelle, knowing they would have cut her even more, but he had to think them for it was too true. If she returned to her old home now, nothing would change…and only a stepmother would be added to the mixture…. “I…am sorry, Isabelle. I have wounded you again.”

 

“The truth hurts at times,” she muttered, smiling up at him as he stood a few feet away. “But at least you are honest, Beast – more honest than many men.”

 

“And you…” /No…I will not embarrass her again. Those wicked sisters – that ass of a brother….My God! What has she done to deserve such kin?// Her face upturned with that innocence and sweetness in her eyes, and the Beast had such a desire to take her into his arms, to plant kisses on her face and upon those naturally rosy lips…To love her with the passion she deserved….and he shoved the arousal deep down into his gut, demanding it leave him…. /Her beauty is ethereal; Shakespeare would have composed verses for her….Men should be tearing down her door to pay her court, and yet she languishes…with only me for company…Me…// he thought scornfully. /She deserves more than an ugly…thing that can offer her nothing…// “And you…Ah…Isabelle…you make me feel nearly human.” In the background they both heard the chiming of the clock. “Eleven…It is late. I had not realized how late the hour had grown and you must be exhausted.”

 

“No…not at all….The time has passed so quickly and I have so enjoyed you remaining with me tonight….Promise…”

 

“Yes?”

 

“That we will do it again. That you will not disappear into the night without…”

 

“I will, of course, always do my best when it concerns you. I can at least give you that in return….We…shall meet again…”

 

“On the morrow.”

 

“Yes…at our usual time…and you…” He tried to keep talking, pushing away the hunger he felt…for Belle…for substance…. “You…will continue to discover all that the castle offers.”

 

“I will.”

 

“Belle?”

 

“Yes, Beast?” It was time yet again.

 

“Isabelle…will you marry me?”

 

“Oh Beast…” She stood, closing the short distance between them and he was surprised when her hand caressed his mane. “Beast…” she whispered thoughtfully, her eyes full of sympathy.

 

/Were I a man…// “For I am a beast….”

 

“I cannot marry you…but I will always be your friend.”

 

/Friend…//

 

“Good night, Belle,” he said quickly and without another word was off the terrace….

 

Isabelle was in bed a short time afterwards, but her sleep was disturbed although she dozed almost at once. Her dreams – she knew she was having them; however when she awoke with a start, she could remember nothing, except that sweat had broken out on her brow, her breath was labored, and she was on fire.

 

/Oh Lord…// she considered, as she tossed back the white linen and fur, burying her face in her hands as she sat on the side of the bed. For a second she thought…/Thought…what? That someone was holding me in his arms; that he was showing me affections I have never known…and…such…// Her mind was drifting as her right fingertips drifted from the side of her neck and down to the hollow at the base of her throat. She remembered now and it had been so real, and yet his voice, his face had disappeared upon awakening…./Yet he was so familiar but so…//

 

There it was again – a roar that seemingly penetrated the very stone walls and now she knew what had woken her! In her sleep she had heard the boom, but with the confusion of the dream….

 

Another cry, this time of something in pain – a final death cry that made the usually unexcitable Isabelle spring from the bed and run to the balcony. She looked out but could see nothing, although again she heard the roar, the sound as anguished as whatever had died moments before, the echo bouncing off each surface and finally fading into nothingness. She snatched a robe off one of the chairs, pulling it on over the transparency of her pale nightgown, and rushing to the vanity, she gazed into the mirror.

 

“Mirror?” she whispered.

 

I am here, Belle. What is your desire?

 

“Beast….Where is the Beast? Is he all right?” There was silence. “Mirror – is he all right?”

 

He is well, Isabelle….He is about what comes naturally to him….He…hungered.

 

“Hungered?….Hungered….Oh Lord…poor Beast….Poor, poor Beast,” and she watched the image appearing in the mirror, one of the Beast stumbling into the castle, uninjured but obviously in distress….She ran to her door, and then quietly entered the hallway, about to hurry to the Great Hall when she heard boot steps from the other side of the floor.

 

Confusion overcoming her, Isabelle ducked behind one of the statues, drawing herself up so tightly that she was completely hidden, trying not to breathe, trying not to move and from there, she waited, and not for long.

 

He appeared as if out of the fog of a dream, walking past her hiding place – not detecting she was there, but Isabelle could see him clearly, the distortion of his features as despair flowed over them. The brilliant eyes were tormented as he stared at what should have been hands – he glared at the claws, then covered his face with his arms, and she could have sworn…he was weeping. He did not stop until he was at the door to her chamber, and leaning against it, he sobbed, the paws rubbing over the frame as if uncertain what he should do next. The door opened again and Isabelle saw him enter; only then did she move along the gallery wall while attempting to see what he was doing.

 

The Beast could be heard moving about although he said not a word, and then he sat down at Belle’s vanity, grabbing at the mirror as he did.

 

“Mirror!” he demanded.

 

Speak Master – what is your desire?

 

“Where is Belle?!!” When the reply was not immediately coming he shouted, “Where is Belle -damn you?!!”

 

Smoke suddenly wafted from the glass and Beast eagerly sat forward, his eyes fixated as the vision appeared: in it he saw Belle tiptoeing through the hallway and standing beside the door, just to the side, listening – obviously – to his activity. Trembling, he put down the mirror and stood, waiting for her to appear in the doorway, shame written all over his face.

 

“Belle…”

 

“Beast?” She sounded bewildered, and she clutched the collar of her robe in order to pull it tighter. “Why are you in my room?” He looked away from her. “Beast? Why are you in my room?”

 

“I…” His voice grew humble and he put one ‘hand’ behind his back. “I longed…I wanted to…I…I wanted…wanted to bring you…I came to your room to bring you a gift,” and when he held forth the ‘hand’ again, a pearl necklace with diamonds had magically appeared in his palm. “I…meant to present this to you at…at dinner but I…”

 

“But Beast…this is my room!”

 

He nodded, not wishing to make her angry although she was obviously upset. “I know…Belle – I know. I’m sorry….Please…accept this from me.”

 

“Beast…thank you, but…this is my room. It’s not proper.”

 

“Proper?”

 

“It is not proper that you be here – not at this time of night, not when I was asleep, not when I was…” She glanced down at herself, her face reddening, and Beast realized she meant that she was in her nightclothes and therefore undressed. “It is simply not done.”

 

“You are right, Isabelle…and I was wrong. I…I should not have come…not to the chamber of a young gentlewoman…not at this time of night…but…” He wanted to tell her that he needed her company, simply wanted to hear the sweetness of her voice, the warmth in her eyes – to make him feel that he was not totally the creature he knew he was. “I…do not know why…Forgive me, Belle….” The jewelry was dropped to the dressing table as he ran past her. “Forgive me…” he called again as he rushed out of the chamber, the door closing behind his retreating figure.

 

Isabelle was shaking, swallowing the tension in one gulp, closing her eyes and even then praying that her words had not been too harsh. He should not have been there, but the pity in his face had stopped the tirade she would have launched on the likes of her brother’s friends. No…this was so different….

 

She crossed the room, stopping at the vanity to pick up the pearls and as her eyes brimmed with unshed tears, she gazed upon the Beast’s gift and with the greatest affection, pressed her lips upon them in a salute.

 

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