The noise in the hallway was what caused her to stir, and sitting up in bed, Belle listened more carefully, her entire body at attention. She heard it again – a groan, barely perceptible, but it was definitely there.
“Lights!” she whispered and the wicks immediately illuminated the room. Grabbing her robe, she hurried to the door which opened before her and stopping in the threshold, she scanned the passage, finally noticing that the Beast was hiding in the shadows.
“Beast?” she called to him. “Beast…what are you doing here? What happened?” She had not seen him since he had flown from her side earlier that evening, and following several hours of awaiting his return, she had finally retired. “Where have you…?”
The creature finally moved into the light and Belle gasped, a small scream escaping her lungs.
“Oh my God! Oh my God….Beast! Beast – where did all this blood come from?” And not only that, but smoke wafted from his ‘hands,’ his torn shirt, each part of him that was spread in the fluid. He looked exhausted and completely at a loss….
“Forgive you? Why?” She was so frightened he was injured.
“For…For being a beast….Forgive me, Isabelle.”
“But how did this happen?” she cried. “You disappeared and I was so worried and…Oh Beast….” She stumbled back into her room and reappeared moments later with a large towel, a few bathing cloths and a pan of warm water. Hurrying into the hall, she dipped the cloth into the water, but at the first touch, he pulled back. “If I had only known…”
“There would have been nothing you could have done,” he said. “I was simply…being a beast…living by my nature.”
“But you’re so much more than that. You have revealed that again and again so it doesn’t become you to talk in this way.”
“I do not know if you can forgive me though. Not even your mercifulness is endless.”
“That is for me to decide.” She tried to help clean his fur, but he drew away again, taking a step backwards. “Please Beast…let me help you. Let me help clean you and then you can go to sleep.”
It was too much. She was standing there, trembling, dressed in a white shift and robe now soiled with blood from where she had come too close. The sight of her innocence and purity corrupted by his animal nature caused him to roar as he was overcome with self-disgust and shame. For the first time in weeks, her gaze into his eyes was causing him pain.
“Close the door!” he cried in despair. “Close the door!” Belle did not move, but again tried to see what she might do for him. “No! Do not help me, Belle! Quick…quick…close the door!! Your look is burning me! I cannot bear it! Close the door, damn it! Close the door!!”
And as he backed away again, Belle felt the unseen hands draw her inside her chamber before the door shut in her face and the Beast’s. She could hear him crying and howling for seconds after until the sound finally vanished from her hearing as he moved from the entrance. Only then did Belle permit herself to shed the tears she was fighting, fighting not for her own sake, but in order not to upset the Beast more. Thoughts of her old home seemed far away….
They spoke no more about that night, not the next day at seven when they saw one another for dinner, nor when they met during the ten days and evenings that followed. It was as though both had suffered and shared a horrible dream of which they dared not speak in case it proved to be real, and for a time the pretense was fine.
Isabelle patiently awaited her host’s decision, still believing it was not right for her to pressure him when all he had done was shown her kindness and understanding. Yes, she was eager to see her father again and to stand in the home she had known her entire life, but to make the Beast feel as if he did not matter would not have been right in her eyes.
Therefore she spent her days in continuing projects – tending the herb garden or cutting roses for arrangements after ordering the ‘servants’ to leave that duty to her — not realizing that the Beast was often about, witnessing what she did but leaving her in privacy. She did not know how he had observed her in the library doing the things she loved, or creating some dish for his supper because she loved to cook and wished for him to try something made with her hands. Belle never knew that one afternoon, he watched her sitting on the balcony to her room, enjoying the sunlight and the pleasant temperatures while she did some needlework, listening to the invisible musicians perform the latest pieces from the Continent.
His gratefulness was authentic when he found napkins at his place setting at dinner, each one embroidered with silver roses and the tiny fancy stitching of a B . They would meet and talk and laugh as they always did, taking their walks, rides out on Magnifique and Morning Glory, and never mentioning the things uppermost in their minds….
Then on the evening of the eleventh day, the Great Hall mantlepiece clock chimed seven and the Beast appeared as always.
But there was no Belle.
For the first time in her stay there, the young woman had failed to appear and panic-stricken, Beast rushed up the main staircase, taking two or three at a time, racing through the long passageway that extended from the second floor landing to the opposite side of the level. There was no need for him to speak the order for the door swung open before he was inches away, and upon entering, it only took one glance for him to see the one he sought.
“Belle,” he whispered.
The girl was on top of the bed and reclining on her side. Although her face was partially hidden, she was softly weeping, not knowing he was attentively watching, not knowing he had spoken. He looked about the room, seeing nothing out of place, the moved closer and said again, “Belle?”
Now she rolled onto her back and the Beast could visibly see the tear-streaked features as she dabbed at her eyes, attempting to hide the evidence. Even then she was still beautiful, the chamber’s radiance enhancing every trait. He saw a petite, curvaceous figure in a ball gown of gossamer ivory embellished in dawn colored threads and embroidery, all draped over the pinkish petticoat. The dress encompassed the most incredible elaborate detail and yet possessed a simplicity making the design even more magnificent. The favored pearl and diamond necklace was about her bared neck, and she lay there, looking as though she had fallen from Heaven…an angel in white and rose….
“Belle?” he repeated again, standing at the foot of the bed.
The brown eyes blinked as though awakening from a dream. “Beast?”
“You have been crying.” Isabelle shook her head as a response, knowing he would not believe her when he had obviously seen everything. “You have been crying, Isabelle….I…was worried for you when you were not in the Hall. It is often I who is late but not you…never you.”
She glimpsed the tiny, ornate porcelain clock on the table beside her bed. “I…Oh my God. Oh Beast….Beast I’m so sorry. I did not know…”
He raised a ‘hand’ to stop her. “No…I was only worried that….Belle…what is wrong? Are you ill?”
She bit her lower lip then slowly nodded. “Yes…Yes Beast, I am.”
The words sank deep into his stomach like a weight in the water. Swallowing the bile threatening to invade his throat, he bowed his head and asked, “What ails you, dearest Belle?” He saw her look towards the Mirror but she said nothing. “Isabelle…what ails you?”
“I have said nothing…” she softly replied. “You have been so kind to me….It has not been a hardship for me to await your answer for I know you will always do what is best.”
“Regarding you returning home?”
“I regret…I have taken long days to advise you, but this is a difficult thing for me.”
“I know…and I understand, Beast, I really do.”
“Then what has caused you to…”
“I was dressing…and something in the back of my mind told me I should ask about my father…”
She indicated the Mirror and following her instruction, the Beast approached the looking glass and quietly ordered: “Mirror?”
Master – speak the word.
“Show me what your mistress has seen. Hide nothing from me.”
A thin vapor hid his reflection, then parted, and now Beast saw the scene as Isabelle had: There was Sir Benjamin, beneath the covers of his massive bed and inside a dimly lit room with the curtains drawn, although it was apparently daytime outside. He was propped up on several pillows. A trembling hand was raised to take a big but obviously feminine hand in his. A face bent near the older man’s and the Beast saw an auburn haired woman whisper in his ear, causing him to smile and return her affection with a kiss before he collapsed, a white pall creasing his once handsome features. His breath was labored, his eyes nearly two hollows, and he spoke although Beast heard nothing. That was when he realized others were in the chamber as well: a boyish man with hangdog looks and two more women, wearing the most fashionable dresses inspired by the Continent. They were all doing their best to attempt the saddest of attitudes, but Beast could tell they were hard pressed to hide their satisfaction at what they saw. The image faded from sight…and Beast turned to Isabelle again.
“I fear my father is dying. I fear they all are using him, as I have long suspected. You were right in saying they prey upon all his weaknesses: his loneliness…his…” She could not finish as tears choked her voice.
“Oh Belle…I cannot bear to see you so ill and wasting away.”
“Then please…please Beast…send me home to my father….I do not know if there is anything much I can do…but at least I can tell him farewell. Please Beast….”
He sighed. For days he had tried to delay the inevitable, but that was at an end. There was nothing else he could do and she deserved a chance. Sir Benjamin had his faults – loving some people too much and another not enough. But if he died, at least let it be in the presence of one who honestly cared. “Isabelle…if I agree…will you promise…promise…to return in a week’s time, to this very day?”
Belle sat up completely, her eyes shining with both passion and tears. “You will let me go to my father?”
“Promise that you will return to me in a week’s time, to this very day?”
The emotion escaped her chest as she sobbed, excited at the prospect. “I promise….Oh Beast I promise…I promise….Thank you, thank you so much.”
“You know I cannot deny you this,” Beast softly said. “If I did and your father died without you saying good-bye, you would never forgive me and…I could never hurt you that way.”
“And I will never hurt you. This means so much to me. Thank you.”
The Beast went to the edge of her bed and held out a ‘hand’ to her so that he could assist her to her feet. “Come with me, Belle. There is something important I must show you.”
They walked through the French doors and out onto the balcony, heady with the honeyed and fruit-filled fragrance of roses. Pointing off to their left, Isabelle noticed the building for the first time as the tree branches parted, revealing a small silver pavilion, ornately decorated and completely surrounded in sparkling glass. As they watched, the building brightened so the interior could at last be seen and even at that distance, Belle could see the enormous abundance of jewels and fine metals, the treasures spilling onto the grass-covered floor.
“I’ve…All this time…I have never seen…”
“No…It remains well-hidden. There has been no need to reveal it…until now.”
“It is called the Pavilion of Diana, the huntress and goddess of the moon,” and now Belle noticed the centerpiece of the room, a pedestal upon which was a full-size marble statue of the deity, her bow and quiver at the ready. “You know of her?” Belle nodded, remembering the many tales she used to read as a child. “It is the only part of my domain where no one may enter…not even you or I. Everything I possess…I possess by magic powers, but there Belle…my true riches lie locked in that pavilion.”
He reached inside a waistcoat pocket and withdrew a key which he now showed her. “A golden key opens the door….” He glanced out at the pavilion and with a deep sigh continued. “Belle…I could not give you greater proof of my faith in you. If you do not return in seven days…I shall die.”
“No!” She grabbed both his ‘hands,’ tears misting her eyes. “You mustn’t tell me things such as that.”
“I…will…die, Belle. That is the truth of it and have I ever lied to you?” The girl slowly shook her head. “If you do not return I shall die, and after my death, you risk nothing more and all my riches, my powers will be yours forever.” She felt the cold metal as it pressed into her right palm. “Take the key, Belle. I have faith in you….The key will be your pledge to return.”
For the first time she looked at the object in her hand, the key weighing her down as she accepted the gravity of what her going home would mean. If her father was not ill, she would not leave the Beast, would not accept this responsibility, but she had to go and she knew without a second thought she would return to this world. To the Beast’s world.
Her expression might have been joyous, but the tears continued to flow. “Oh Beast…you cannot imagine what this means to me.”
“Oh but I do know…and I trust you. I trust you with my life and what we have come to mean to one another….I realize you may…that you…I know you will likely never answer my request as I dream…” He saw her sad smile, smiled himself at the touch of her hand upon his cheek. “But I know when the deadline arrives, you will return.”
“You have my word…upon our friendship.”
He nodded, barely touching her back, and escorted her into the bedroom. “Then you will be with your father this very morning, for my night here is not the same as yours. It is night in my world, but it is morning in your former one. When it is the seventh day, I will send Magnifique to fetch you. Be ready.”
“I will,” she quietly replied, her eyes never leaving his face. “I won’t be a moment late.”
“Isabelle…a rose that has already played its’ part…my mirror…my golden key…my horse…” He now removed one of the formal white gloves, the gold adornment glimmering in the candlelight. “…and my glove are the five secrets of my power….I surrender them to you.” She almost reluctantly accepted it. “Just place the glove upon your right hand and think where you wish to be….It will transport you wherever you wish.”
“Yes…I….Beast…I will miss you….I’ll miss…” She lowered her head, unable to finish.
“Belle…wish your father the best and thank him for his sacrifice. It will not go unrewarded,” then carefully, he raised her chin, intently studying her face as if he would never see her again. “And take care….This castle will be so empty until you return….Know that you are never far from my thoughts.”
“You will not be far from mine, Beast.”
Smiling, he walked slowly to the door, but turned around one final time, taking in every detail of her features, her gown…the aura about her that would leave his life a void. But he had to let go, just for a week….
“Remember your promise….” The door opened behind him and he moved to the threshold. “Farewell Isabelle – for now.”
“Farewell Beast,” and she raised her hand to wave to him as the door silently closed, taking him from her sight. She gulped, a new rush of tears streaming down her cheeks.
Farewell….No…No…I should have not have said ‘farewell.’ I should have told him Godspeed or until we meet again or Au Revoir…but not farewell….It’s so final. Her grip tightened around the glove and the key as she paced the room. I have seven days to see Father and set things right… then I must return to him. I will not betray him….I will not let him die…
She stared at the glove, then hurriedly placed it on her right hand while whispering, “My father’s house.”
The wall in Sir Benjamin’s bedroom seemed to rent. Isabelle slipped through the magical crevice, her body gently sliding onto the floor. Catching her breath, the girl turned the glove so she might see it better, breathing hard as she realized what just happened and that it had been as simple as moving from one room to another. But on seeing her father’s sleeping form, she tossed it onto the bed so she could sit at the old man’s side. A wisp of smoke surrounded the handwear and just as quickly faded from sight.