My retelling of Beauty and the Beast.
©2016 Robin Wood
Once upon a time, long ago in a far away land, there lived a rich merchant. His wife had been dead for many years, but he had three lovely daughters, each fairer than the one before. The eldest was named Hope, the middle daughter was Faith, and little Beauty was the youngest.
One fine day in early June the father got word that one of the two ships he owned had been spotted out at sea, and should be in the harbor by the end of the week. So he made plans to set off for the city, and be there to greet it.
He put on his best coat, the blue one with the big brass buttons, and put his finest hat, the purple one with the curling white feather, on his head. But before he mounted his fine white gelding, he asked his daughters what they would like him to bring home from the city; for he expected a great deal of money from selling the cargo the ship had in her hold.
“I would like a coral necklace, please!” said Hope, “to wear on my wedding day!” Not that she was engaged, you understand. But she had high hopes.
“I would like a set of silver candlesticks, please!” said Faith, “to burn during my prayers!” For, as you might have expected, Faith was very spiritual.
“Done and done!” said their father, “And what would you like, Beauty?”
“I don’t want anything, Papa,” Beauty said, “I have everything I need already!”
“That’s very sweet, my sweet,” said her Papa. “But I have to bring you something! Can’t you think of anything you’d like?”
Beauty smiled up at him. “Oh, Papa. If it will make you happy, bring me a single rose.”
“Are you sure?”
So the father swung himself onto his fine horse, and set off in the bright sunshine.
But when he got to the city, he found to his horror and dismay that there had been a terrible storm the night before, and his strong ship had gone down with all its rich cargo, almost in sight of the dock. The only bright spot was that the brave Captain and crew had made it to shore, just barely, by constantly bailing the lifeboat.
However, there wasn’t a chain, or a plate, or a scrap of cloth left from all the fine cargo. Insurance hadn’t been invented yet, either, so it was all really and truly lost.
The father had to sell his fine horse, and the clothes off his back, to pay the crew; and at that they didn’t get full wages.
There wasn’t a brass coin left to buy fine presents for his daughters. In fact, as the father set off on foot to walk the gloomy miles back to his home, he reflected that he would be lucky if he didn’t have to sell some of the presents from pervious trips, to buy food until the next ship was due. And if that one sank, they would be ruined. Paupers, beggars, homeless waifs. His poor daughters! Ah me!
So, full of despair and close to tears, he trudged wearily along, not paying particular attention to where he was going. At last, heart sick and hungry, he raised his head and realized that it had grown nearly dark, and he had no idea where he was. All around him grew a thick forest, when there was no forest at all on the road between his home and the city!
He was quite lost.
At that moment, of course, it began to rain. It always does, when things are at their darkest. Have you noticed? Because, you know, rain seems dreary and dismal. But really, it’s a promise of growth and life. We always do get such promises, when things are at their worst. But we seldom see them for what they are.
The poor father certainly didn’t see any promise in the rain. To him, it just meant that now he was cold and wet, as well as exhausted and sick at heart. And he seemed to have a blister on his right heel.
He thought about just giving up, and sitting down in the middle of the road.
At that moment there was a huge roll of thunder and lightning struck somewhere quite close, and he realized that it wouldn’t help his daughters at all to have him drown, or disappear, just as their fortunes seemed to turn for the worse.
So he started to run down the path, searching for a welcoming window between the trees, or the flicker of a wood cutter’s fire. Any place that he could find a bit of shelter.
The storm got worse, the trees got denser, and his breath grew shorter as he ran. Just as he was about to really give up, he saw a glimmer of light ahead. Was it? Yes! It was a window! And not the window of a cottage, either. This was no wood cutter’s house!
He broke out of the woods, and found that he was facing a stately palace, with beautifully manicured lawns and flower beds, tall stone walls, statues, and fountains gurgling in the rain.
For a moment he stood stunned. Imagine all of this within a days ride of his home, and he’d never known any of it was here! But then there was another crash of thunder, and with a little yip, he ran up the wide drive to the ornate iron gate, and reached for the bell pull he could dimly see there.
Before he could touch it, the gate swung open, all by itself, and light flared by the tall double front doors as the lamps on either side of them burst into sudden life.
Marveling, he walked up the broad marble steps. As he reached the top, the door swung wide, and he saw the lamps lighting themselves, pair by pair, to illuminate a hall with rich paintings hanging on the walls, and a deep piled carpet just the same shade of green as a mossy glade.
“I’m terribly sorry,” he said, as he stepped timidly into the hall, “But I seem to be dripping on your carpet.”
Not a word came in reply, but the farthest pair of lamps flickered off, and then back on again, as if beckoning him forward.
So forward he went, wondering at the rich furnishings, following the lamps that lit themselves in front of him, and extinguished themselves behind. It was all like a dream, somehow.
They led him to a sumptuous dining room, with a wide hearth where a cheerful fire crackled and leapt. As he stepped closer to the fire, he found a thick towel to dry himself hanging on the fire screen, toasty warm. And there was a dressing gown; red (his favorite color) embroidered with gold and purple, laid out on a comfortable chair. He quickly toweled his hair dry, slipped out of the wet and threadbare coat that he’d bought for a penny after he’d sold his good one, and slipped into the beautiful dressing gown. It fit him perfectly, and was toasty warm to boot! He took off his shoes – he did have a blister – and put on the velvet slippers that were under the chair.
He was just about to collapse into the plush cushions with a sigh of relief, when he heard a silver bell strike a clear note behind him.
“Oh, my dear host!” he said, straightening up and whirling around, “I am so very grateful…” but there was no one there.
Puzzled, he looked away from the door of the room, and noticed that in the time it had taken him to put on the robe and slippers, somehow a meal had been laid on the table, with fine china, silver, and crystal glinting in the light of two tall tapers.
But there was only a single place setting.
Slowly, he crossed the room. When he was close enough to reach the chair, it whisked itself away from the table, and waited expectantly for him to sit. He did, and it obligingly pushed itself in for him.
He reached for the cover of a silver dish, from which a most delicious smell was emerging. But before he could quite touch it, it lifted itself to reveal a savory soup. A silver ladle poured a generous helping into a soup bowl, which then settled itself on the silver chaser in front of him.
It was every bit as delicious as it had smelled.
When he finished it, the dish and chaser took off, and sailed away towards the door. At the same time, the cover flew off another dish to reveal a pair of chops, perfectly cooked and seasoned, in a bed of roast apples and potatoes. A silver knife and fork helped him to a generous serving, all by themselves, and then another dish came forward, floating in the air, and offered him a golden roll, with a crisp crust, and a pat of butter. Meanwhile, a cut-crystal decanter lifted itself, hovered for a moment by his shoulder for his approval, and then silently poured an exquisite white wine into his glass.
So it went through the meal. All his favorite dishes were revealed, and he was given as much as he cared for of each, until he had finished the port and trifle at the end.
He was excellently served, but there wasn’t a servant in sight. Nor did his host ever show himself. He ate entirely alone.
Finally, the candles on the table went out, and the one by the comfortable chair lit itself, inviting him to settle for a rest, with a good book, a cup of coffee, and a single piece of chocolate. It was more and more dreamlike, so he walked to the chair, as if in a dream, and read strange poetry that he had never heard of before, while sipping truly marvelous coffee, until his eyes were too heavy to stay open.
At which point, the book gently took itself out of his hand, and the candle on the table rose into the air, and waited for him. Obediently, he stood, and followed it to a comfortable bed chamber, where he wasn’t surprised to find a night shirt, just his size, laid on a lovely, soft bed. With a happy little sigh – it was such a nice dream – he settled into the bed, and fell deeply asleep.
He woke to birdsong, and was quite surprised to find that he was still in his dream although it was bright morning now!
His own clothes were folded on the chair next to the bed, clean, pressed, and mended. But the sight of those clothes reminded him that even if this was all a very pleasant dream, the shipwreck, and the wreck of the greater part of his fortune, were not.
So it was with a gloomy countenance that he retraced his steps of the night before, guided this time by the silver bell, to the dining room and a breakfast of fresh fruit and perfect, flakey croissants, with more of the marvelous coffee. He no longer expected to see his host, or the servants who were taking such good care of him.
After he’d eaten, though, as he made his way (following the silver bell) to the great front door, he did rouse himself enough to look around, in case his host should appear. But no one did.
The door opened itself onto a bright, rain-washed morning, full of light and the sweet sound of hundreds of birds singing their hearts out. Before he stepped out into it, the father paused on the threshold long enough to turn, and say, “Well, my host, I have no idea who you are, and I haven’t seen you. But I thank you for your hospitality. You probably saved my life last night, and I am grateful.”
Then he walked down the steps into the garden.
Now that it was daylight, and he could see it, he found himself marveling again. (And he thought his marveling juices were all used up!) The gardens were gorgeous. There were marble fountains splashing pure water into wide bowls filled with furtive goldfish. There were tall, graceful trees, with white painted benches below them, and swings hanging invitingly from their branches. There were statues of fauns and nymphs, peering coyly from behind flowering shrubs and boxwood topiary.
And everywhere there were roses! The air was heady with the scent of them. White roses, pink roses, yellow roses, red roses. Roses in bud, in bloom, and blown, so the ground was heavy with rose petals. And not a sign of blight or bruise or bug-chewed leaf anywhere. Never, in all his life, had the father seen so many perfect roses!
At the sight, he thought of his little Beauty, and realized that although he was doomed to disappoint his other daughters, he could still bring Beauty her single rose. Surely, with this wealth of blooms, his host wouldn’t mind if he cut just one, to bring to his daughter?
No sooner did he think it, than he brought out his pen knife. No sooner was it in his hand, than the deed was done.
But as he cut the rose, there was a scream, like a woman screaming in pain, and a cloud passed over the sun, plunging the garden into darkness!
“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?” The words were more a roar than spoken words. And before the startled father could draw a breath, a huge beast was in front of him, towering over him, snatching the rose from his hand.
“I took you in during the storm! I fed you and sheltered you! I gave you a bed to sleep in, and a good breakfast! You thanked me! You said you were grateful, and I’d probably saved your life!! And this! THIS!” he shook the rose in the cowering fathers face, “THIS IS HOW YOU REPAY ME!? HOW DARE YOU!!”
The father was on his knees by this time, groveling in the grass, with his hands up in supplication. “I’m sorry!” he wept, “I didn’t mean to offend! I had no idea they meant that much to you!”
The beast lowered his paw, although he was still snarling, with his long, pointed teeth showing through the coarse hair that covered his face. Behind the hair he had tiny, red eyes, and great curling horns that came to very sharp points. His large ears, also pointed, were laid back flat, and his mane, which was as coarse as a boar’s, stood up straight.
“Why?” he asked, in a voice that was more a growl than a roar, “Why did you desecrate my garden?”
“It was a gift for my daughter” gasped the father, “For my little Beauty.”
The Beast lifted his chin, and glared sideways at the father from one of his little red eyes. “Tell me about this daughter,” he growled.
So the merchant told him. About his three daughters, and the promised gifts, and the ship, and the rose. And about the beauty, intelligence, grace, and goodness of his daughters, especially his youngest, and how very much they needed their father.
Eventually the Beast seemed somewhat mollified. “Very well,” he said, handing the rose back to the father. “You may take Beauty the rose.”
The father sighed with relief, and scrambled back to his feet. “Thank you, sir,” he said, “I’m.. ”
“BUT,” interrupted the Beast, “We’ll see if she’s as good as you say she is. Give her the rose, with my compliments. And tell her that, instead of killing you now, I’ve decided to spare your life. In exchange for which, she must come and live with me for seven years.”
“Seven years!” gasped the father! “No! Please, sir! Not that! Ask anything else of me, and I’ll do it if I can! But not sell my little Beauty into captivity for seven years!”
“You would prefer I kill you now then?” growled the beast, stepping nearer to the terrified father.
“No! No!” he gasped. “I’ll give her the rose, and say goodbye.” He took a long breath. “Then I’ll come back and you can kill me. You have my word.”
The Beast lifted his chin again. “Humm… we’ll see. Ask her, and do what she says. If she chooses to come back in your place, then send her. If not, then come back yourself, and I’ll kill you then.”
“Done,” wept the father, miserably. And he took the rose that he had paid for so dearly, and turned to go.
“Wait,” growled the Beast. “I’ll send you in my coach. And I’ll send three chests of gold and jewels with you as well. It wouldn’t do to deprive such paragons of womanhood of both their father and their fortune. And if Beauty does choose to take your place, you’ll have gold to console you until she returns.”
Sadly the father turned to the Beast. “I pray she doesn’t choose to come,” he said, “But if she does, no amount of gold can ever console me for the loss of a daughter.”
The beast just curled his lip. “We’ll see.” he growled. “And I’ll be watching you; so don’t even think of disobeying me. You’ll have one day to say your goodbyes, either way. The coach will return in the morning, and pick up whichever of you is to be the passenger. Now GO!”
The father turned, full of fear, and fairly leapt into the fine carriage that had appeared by the gate. He wasn’t surprised to find that there was no horseman to drive it, and, indeed, no horses to pull it! But the carriage fairly flew anyway, and in a twinkling, it had pulled to a stop in front of his own house.
His daughters came racing, with laughter and cries of welcome, to greet him, and wonder at his strange conveyance. But he alighted slowly, with a heavy heart, and hugged them tightly without a word.
The three chests of treasure (and they weren’t small ones) placed themselves on the ground, and the carriage whirled away in a sprinkling of gravel, leaving them alone.
“What’s the matter, Papa?” Hope asked, sobered by his manner. “Why so sad, when you obviously did well?”
“What happened to your fine clothes, Papa?” asked Faith. “Why are you dressed in these mended tatters?”
“Why are you crying, Papa?” asked Beauty. “Please, tell us! Whatever it is, we have you safely home again, so it can’t be that bad!”
“Ah, my girls, my girls,” said the father, “The ship was lost, and the better part of our fortune with it. And here, Beauty, is your rose; and never has your foolish father made such a bad bargain, or paid so dearly for so little.” And he drew them close, and told them the whole story.
When he finished, they were all three pale, but none more so than Beauty.
“Oh Papa,” said Hope. “This is horrible. But the Beast can’t be that much of a monster! I’ll go, and explain, and I’m sure he’ll let both you and Beauty stay with us. We can give him back his gold. We don’t want it.”
“Oh Papa,” said Faith. “It is horrible. But Hope is right. We will all four weather this storm. I’ll go and pray that the Beast see reason, and that his heart will be turned towards us. He can take back his jewels. We don’t want them.”
“Oh Papa,” said Beauty, with a brave little smile. “It’s not as horrible as all that! Of course I’ll go to live with the Beast for seven years. It’s only seven years, after all. That’s not forever. And you never saw the Beast until you cut the rose, right? Perhaps I won’t see him either.”
“No, Beauty,” said the father, “I can’t send you to live in isolation with a Beast like that for seven days, let alone seven years! I won’t hear of it. And you two,” he continued, turning to his older daughters, “are to stay far away from him as well. Pray if you like, Faith, but Hope, you are not to try to talk to him. My mind is made up, and I’m putting my foot down. When the coach returns tomorrow morning, I’ll be the one who boards it. The treasure can go for your dowries, so you can all get good husbands to take care of you. But my foot is down!”
“Papa,” said Beauty, and her lip was trembling as she said it, but she said it anyway, “Didn’t the Beast tell you that you were to do what I said? And that he’d be watching to make sure you did?”
The father sighed. “Yes. There is that.”
“Then,” Beauty firmed her jaw, and looked steadily at him, “I have decided. When the coach comes back, I’ll be the one who boards. Now cheer up, it’s only for seven years!”
So they spent the day, trying to be cheerful, each for the sake of the others, and pretty much failing miserably at it. But Beauty got packed, and given keepsakes, and there was a last family dinner before they parted for seven years. No one mentioned that it might be forever; because seven years is a long time.
Anything can happen in seven years! Little children can turn into teenagers in seven years, and often do! In seven years, teenagers can grow up and get married and have children of their own.
The next morning, they were all waiting in the yard when the coach, flashing gold and polished wood in the June sun, pulled up to the door. Beauty kissed her father and sisters, and climbed in. The door closed itself smartly, and Beauty leaned out the window to wave goodbye, but they were already far behind. So she settled back in the soft cushions for a good cry, but she was already at her destination!
She expected invisible servants to help her; but instead, there was the Beast himself, opening the door of the coach.
A most dreadfully ugly and ferocious Beast he was!
He was standing upright, like a man, but he obviously wasn’t built for it, and was having trouble. He was dressed in rich clothing, cut to fit him as well as possible. But the fine lace on his cuffs was filthy, as if he’d been dragging them along the ground. And the velvet of his breeches was all creased, almost, thought Beauty, as if he’d scratched behind his ears with his hind leg.
He wasn’t wearing shoes, which was a good thing, thought Beauty, since the claws on his paws would have cut them to ribbons in an instant.
His hair was coarse, dusky brown, and looked bristly, although it was clean enough. He had a nose that was partway between a wolf’s nose, and a pig’s snout. His tail, which poked through a hole in his breeches, was rather like a wolf’s; but the hair on it was scraggly, and the skin showed pinkly through the hair, more like a rat’s tail, or a pig’s.
And he smelled.. well, he smelled like a Beast, and not a terribly pleasant one. It was a musky, dark, unhappy smell.
He reached out a paw, to help her from the coach, and Beauty tried not to flinch. But she couldn’t help shaking a little. He was so large, and so fierce looking, with tusks that poked above his bottom lip even when his mouth was closed.
His nostrils flared, his mane bristled, and his eyes really were as red as her father had told her. “I’m not going to eat you!” he barked.
She lifted her chin. “Yes, I know, You have promised to return me safe and sound after seven years.”
His lip curled. “I never said that.” he growled. “I said that you were to live with me for seven years, in return for your father’s life. I never said a word about what would happen when the time was up.”
“Oh!” said Beauty, shocked out of her certainty that it would be all right, eventually. “But you will return me! Won’t you?”
“Would you have come if you thought I wouldn’t?” asked the Beast.
“Yes. Yes of course. I couldn’t let you kill my father!” Now that she saw him, any lingering doubts that he would have done exactly that had fled. “But you’re not going to kill me after seven years, are you?”
The beast sighed heavily. “No. I’m not going to kill you at all, ever. If you want to leave after seven years, you’ll be free to go.”
“Oh, good! I’m sure that I shall.” chirped Beauty, almost cheerful in her relief.
“Yes.” said the beast, and his great head drooped. “I’m sure you shall too. Well, until then, welcome to your new home. If there’s anything you would like, simply say what it is, and it will be given to you.”
“My freedom!” Beauty responded instantly.
“Except that!” growled the Beast, and his eyes glowed redder than ever.
“Well, it was worth a try.” said Beauty.
The Beast looked at her sharply, and his lip curled, showing pointed canines that didn’t seem to go with the tusks, as his eyes darkened until they were nearly brown. “I suppose it was, at that.” he said, in the most human like voice he’d used yet.
Beauty just stood, and looked at him. He shifted uneasily. “You like roses?” he said.
“Oh yes!” and now Beauty looked beyond the Beast, and saw the gardens. Enchanted, she ran into them with a cry of delight. Behind her, the beast gratefully dropped to all fours, and then sat on the ground with a whuff.
And so life in the enchanted castle began for Beauty. Gradually, it turned into a routine.
In the mornings, she would waken and invisible servants would help her wash her face, comb her hair, and dress in a new gown. Always a new gown, always a color she’d mentioned she liked the day before, or a design that she’d spoken of, or with embroidery that pictured something she’d remarked on.
She would eat breakfast in the dining room, always alone, always fresh fruit, meltingly wonderful bread of some kind, cream, and coffee.
After breakfast, she’d go into the gardens, and wander among the flowers for a while, or, if it was raining, she’d go into the library (there was a vast library) and read the strange and wonderful books there.
Luncheon would be taken, also alone, al fresco in the garden if the weather was fine, or in the conservatory if it rained. She loved that; the rain on the glass panes was as beautiful, in its own way, as the sun on the dewy garden.
After lunch, she would read for a while, or practice the spinet, or do a bit of drawing or embroidery until she was summoned to visit with the Beast.
Sometimes, she would see him in his private study, where he’d be lying on cushions while they talked. But more often, she would sit on one side of a screen, while he … sat? Lay? Stood? Was on the other.
They would talk about this and that, everything and nothing. He wanted to know all about her life, and her sisters, and what she thought about his books, and his garden, and his castle. He asked her opinion about things that were happening in the world, and about her hopes and dreams.
In turn, he would wax eloquent about gardens, and art, and poetry, and occasionally politics. He’d talk to her about horses, and fashion, and great cities of the world. But never, ever, about himself. Any questions about his life, or his family, or his hopes and dreams would be turned aside. She learned that if she pressed him, he would cut the visit short.
In the beginning, the first few days – well, to be honest, the first few weeks – she would do that when she felt that she could no longer bear the sight, sound or smell of him. Just ask him about himself a few times, and the visit was over, leaving her was free to go and explore the castle, or return to the gardens.
But as the weeks wore on into months, she found that she was really enjoying these visits. They slowly became the highlight of her days, and she found that she was thinking about them, even when she wasn’t with him.
During dinner, for instance, when it was just her and the silent, invisible servants, she would think about the things he’d been telling her, turning them this way and that in her head, finding different ways of looking at the world through his eyes.
During the hours between dinner and time for her bath and bed, which she usually spent in the library (when she wasn’t exploring; the castle was huge, and fascinating) she would memorize passages in books that she wanted to ask him about, or spend time in the reference section, looking up something that he’d said.
At night, before she fell asleep, she’d invent clever turns of phrase that she was sure would amuse him the next day.
One day, when the bell rang for supper, she found herself saying, “Oh Beast! I wish it wasn’t supper time already! I miss you so, after our visit is over! Can you please have supper with me, just this once?”
He was reclining on his cushions, so she could see his face. He looked very surprised. “Oh! Umm… my! Oh!” he grumped into his chin whiskers. “Urrrumph. Well, no not dinner. I am a Beast, you know. Knives and forks defeat me.” and he spread a paw, with its huge talons.
For some reason, that made Beauty laugh, and he curled his lip in what she now knew was his smile, with a twinkle in his deep brown eyes. (They were only red when he was angry, which almost never happened now.)
“But I can come and see you after dinner, if you like. I’ll help you explore the castle. Some parts I don’t think I’ve seen for years!”
So the routine changed slightly. Now, after dinner, the Beast and Beauty explored the castle together.
She was running gaily down a corridor, and he was pretending to chase her, when she realized that it was not only difficult, but probably painful, for him to run on his hind legs.
“Dear Beast!” she said, panting and laughing. “You don’t have to stand on your hind legs on my account. I’m perfectly sure I can outrun you even if you went in the natural way.”
He stopped, and kind of choked.
“What’s the matter?” she cried, “Did I say something wrong? I didn’t mean to! Oh, please forgive me!”
“No, no” he replied, still sounding a bit strangled. “I just don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I don’t try to walk like a man just for you, you know. It’s more than that. But.. there’s no way you’d be able to outrun me if I went on all fours!”
“Oh no?” Beauty tossed her head. “Let’s just give that a test, shall we?” and she took off like a bird.
In an instant, the Beast was racing past her, then rounding in front of her, and cutting her off. Grinning like a fool, which meant all his teeth were exposed, in all their pointed glory. On all fours like that, he was fast. He was also larger than she’d expected, and more.. well.. beast like. She stopped stock still, pale as a ghost.
He dropped to the ground, almost cowering, paws over his face so only his eyes showed, deep and brown, “Oh Beauty! What have I done?” he whispered. And to her amazement, she saw tears welling in those brown eyes.
Her heart went out to him, and she knelt down with him, taking his great paws into her hands. She’d never actually touched him before. “Beast, dear Beast. It’s all right. You just startled me a little, that’s all.” and she kissed his knuckles.
He stared at his paws, and then turned his head away. “I think this is enough visit for one night,” he choked.
“No, please, please, Beast. Don’t send me away because I was startled! I just didn’t know.. I’d never seen you on all fours before. It won’t happen again, I promise!”
“Too right,” said the Beast bitterly. “It won’t. You will never see me on all fours again.”
“That’s not what I mean, and you know it!” retorted Beauty. “I want to see you on all fours! I don’t mind that you’re a Beast! I just wasn’t expecting it, and now I will be!”
“No, Beauty,” and the Beast struggled to his feet. “I will walk like a man in your presence, no matter the cost.”
“Well, if you won’t go on all fours, then I will!” said Beauty, And she rolled onto her hands and knees and began to crawl down the corridor.
There was a strangling sound behind her, and she turned to find the Beast on his haunches, with his face in his paws. “All right, you win!” he shook his head, while his lip curled. “I can’t do anything if you don’t wish me too. And I’m somehow compelled to obey your every whim.” He looked at her, wonderingly. “How did this happen?”
“Well,” Beauty said, complacently, “You struck a bargain with my father… ”
So the Beast walked on all fours, and Beauty strolled next to him, with her hand on his neck, which was about shoulder high to her. She didn’t quite dare to put her arm around it, although she did want to. His hair turned out to be very soft to the touch, for all it looked so coarse and bristly.
And now a new routine began, and was swiftly settled into. Beauty still spent all her meals by herself, but most of the rest of the day she spent in the company of the Beast. It turned out that it was, indeed, painful for him to walk on his hind legs, and he’d limited their time together because of that. And also, of course, because he was a Beast, and was afraid that he disgusted her.
That much he would tell her; but except for that, his life remained a forbidden topic. She asked if she was allowed to ask, and when he told her no, she didn’t; because she didn’t think she would be able to bear it if he left her alone now.
As time passed, she noticed that there was snow in the woods outside the garden. Eventually, the snow melted, and early spring flowers appeared. But inside, it was always June. “Why is that?” she asked.
The Beast laughed. “You might not have noticed,” he said, grinning at her, “But the castle is under an enchantment.”
“Is it now?” she laughed back, “I don’t suppose that you can tell me about it?”
“No. No I can’t.”
A new thought occurred to her. “Are you the Enchanter, or are you under an enchantment too?”
For the merest heartbeat he looked stricken. Then he smiled, and said, “I’m a Beast, as you see me; but I’m under your spell.”
She smiled back. “Good.” she said. “And you have to tell me whatever I want to know, right?”
The Beast looked at her warily. “If I can.” he said.
“Then tell me how you know so much about the world, when you never leave this castle.”
“Oh, that! I can tell you all about that!”
And from the pocket of his jerkin (he always wore clothes, even when he was going on all fours,) he fumbled a silver mirror. “I can see the whole world in this mirror.” He hooked it between two pads with the claws on his other paw. “Show me a caravan on the desert!” he said, And there it was, in the mirror, as bright and clear as looking through a clean window.
“It can show you anything?” asked Beauty.
“Anything. You try it.” and he handed it to her.
She barely dared breathe, as she took the precious thing in her hand. “Show me… ” her voice failed, and she cleared her throat. “Show me my father’s home.”
And there it was, tiny and clear. Her father seemed to have done well, investing the gold and jewels the Beast sent. Or perhaps the other ship had come in. How long had she been living with the Beast, anyway?
There were new curtains at the windows, and her sisters looked better dressed than ever. But they also looked sad.
“Can I hear them?” whispered Beauty.
“Yes.” she could hardly hear the beast. “Just say you wish to hear all that is said.”
“I wish to hear all that is said,” said Beauty, in a tremulous voice.
Faith was putting tulips and daffodils into a vase. “Beauty would have loved these.. ” she was saying.
“Faith, I’ve told you and told you,” said Hope. “Don’t talk about her in the past tense. Beauty is going to love these, when she sees the garden that we’ve planted for her.”
Their father put down the book he was reading. “Beauty, if she still lives, is enjoying a garden that puts any other I’ve seen to shame. Cursed thing. I wish I’d never seen it. This is all my fault.”
Hope and Faith ran and put their arms around him. “Oh Papa, it’s not anyone’s fault. How could you have known? It’s just a thing that happened!”
“And besides,” said Hope, “One year is nearly gone already. Just a bit more than six left before she’s home again.”
“Do you really think so, Hope?”
“I know so, Papa.”
and the image faded.
Beauty lowered the mirror. “Oh Beast! I have to go see them! Please let me!”
The beast turned away from her, and spoke so softly she had to strain to hear him. “I thought you were happy here.”
“I am! Oh Beast! Don’t you see? That’s why I have to go and tell them! They are so sad, and I’m so happy! It’s not right! They need to know how happy I am, so that they can be happy too!”
“Are you really happy?” he turned and looked at her, and his eyes now reminded her of a very sad puppy. “The first thing you did was look at them.”
“Well, yes!” she was a bit exasperated. “They are my family, and I love them, and miss them. But that doesn’t mean I’m not happy here! I’ll come right back, I promise! I just want to go and see them for one day, to tell them how wonderful it is here. Just one little day.”
“One day? You promise?”
“I promise. Just for one short little day. I couldn’t bear to be away from you for much longer than that, anyway!” and as she said it Beauty realized, to her surprise, that it was true.
“Okay.” said the Beast. “You can go and see them for one day. Just one. I’ll miss you so much that I’ll start to die, as soon as you go. If you’re not back in three days, I’ll be quite dead, and after that, it doesn’t matter if you come back, or stay forever.”
“Oh, don’t be melodramatic, Beast. You’ll be fine.”
“No, honestly. I won’t. I will really die. So if you care for me at all, don’t stay away more than the single day.”
“Of course I care for you! And thank you, Beast! Thank you so much!” and she leaned forward, and kissed him quickly on the nose. Then she jumped to her feet. “I’ll go pack!”
That night she spent with the Beast (she insisted that he be there, or he would have gone and hidden.) She only packed one dress, since it was only for one day. Mostly, she packed presents for her sisters, and for her father. She kept thinking of more things to give them, and the Beast kept producing them, until she had several quite large trunks. She tried to jolly him, and get him to share her good mood, but he remained morose, no matter how often she protested that she was going to come right back, the next day.
“Is this what it felt like to you, when you were packing to come here?” he asked her. She stopped, and put her hands in her lap, looking intently at him.
“Yes, it was, I think. Like the world was going to end, and I’d never see the people I loved again.”
“Oh Beauty! I’m so sorry I ever did that to you. I was being quite selfish, only thinking of me, and what I needed. If I’d known what this was like then, I never would have done it.”
“Well,” she said, returning to folding a silk scarf for Hope, “I’m glad you did. Because I was being a silly goose, like you are now. If you hadn’t driven that bargain with my father, I never would have met you, and then.. Oh, I would have missed so much!”
“Really and for truly-oh? You really really feel that way?”
“Yes, I do. And I really really will be back day after tomorrow. Now be a good Beast, and hand me that gold bracelet.”
So it was done, and the next morning, the coach was waiting in front of the castle to take Beauty away. “You’ll send the coach for me, tomorrow morning?” she asked, with her foot on the step.
“No, Beauty. I can’t. You have to chose to come back here,” and he handed her the magic mirror. “As soon as you want the coach, take out the mirror, and say, ‘Bring me my coach,’ and it will come. But until you do, I am powerless to fetch you back.”
“Oh! Well, but that’s okay, then. See you tomorrow morning, Beast!” and Beauty sprang into the coach, and was off. She leaned out the window to wave goodbye, but he was already far behind. So she settled back in the soft cushions to think about him, but she was already there!
“BEAUTY!” Hope was shrieking as she ran from the house! “YOU’RE BACK! YOU’RE BACK!” Her cries brought Faith, and their Father, and all the servants running as well.
“Oh, my little Beauty!” and her father folded her, weeping, into his arms. She found that her eyes were filled with tears, too. “You came back! The beast didn’t kill you after all!”
“No, of course not!” she replied, laughing through her tears, “He wouldn’t harm a fly! Well, unless he was hungry. But he’d never hurt a person. He’s really very good, and wise, and kind, and gentle, and .. oh wait until I tell you all about it. And he’s sent a lot of presents for all of you!”
“You mean he let you bring presents for us,” said Faith, “But the best one of all is you! I can’t believe he actually let you come home! And six years early!”
“Oh, I’m not here for good. Just for a visit.”
“Ah. Well, how long can you stay?” asked her father.
“Just the one day. I promised.”
“Wait,” said Hope, “So you’ll be leaving tomorrow morning? That’s not nearly enough time! Is he sending the coach for you?”
“No, no. I can call it whenever I like. There’s a magic mirror!” and she pulled it out to show them.
“Oh, that’s okay then. Just stay until tomorrow noon, please oh please! There’s going to be a picnic, and I’m sure that everyone is going to want to see that you’re safe, and happy. Did you say you were happy?”
Her sisters shook their heads in wonder. “Well, I don’t see how,” said Faith, “But if you say you are, I’ll take your word for it.”
“Do that!” laughed Beauty. “But come see your presents!” and she led the way to her trunks, opened them, and began distributing gifts.
The next day at the picnic, everyone was pleased to see Beauty, safe and sound. Of course, they didn’t know what had actually happened to her. (Her father had wisely decided not to mention the Beast, especially after combing every inch of the way between his home and the city, and failing to find any sign of the wood, or the castle.)
All they knew was that something had happened, and her family was sad, and her father blamed himself. But now here she was, safe and sound and glowing with health and happiness, so whatever it was, it couldn’t have been that bad, now could it?
At the picnic, Hope was so happy that she was glowing, as well, and her beau actually proposed to her!
So, of course, Beauty couldn’t leave after that! She had to stay one more night, and help to plan the wedding. She was sure the Beast would let her come back for it, but there was so much to do! Maybe the Beast would provide a wedding dress. What should it look like? Exactly? And what food should the Beast send along?
So another night slipped away. Beauty had now stayed away two whole days.
When she woke on the morning of the third day, Beauty reached for the mirror, to look in on the Beast and make sure he was all right before she got dressed and called the coach. But just as she did, Faith burst into the room, with more news.
Their father’s newest ship had come into harbor! He had four now; it seemed that everything he did was charmed since Beauty went to live with the Beast. A ship coming in was exciting enough, but this particular ship had, as one of the passengers, their own cousin!
Yes, it turned out that their mother’s brother, who had been assumed lost at sea before she had married their Papa, hadn’t really died at all! He had been cast away on an island, where he married one of the native women. And now their own cousin, who was as dark and dashing as a Spaniard, had traced them and was on his way to meet them!
Well, she couldn’t leave with THAT going on! She had to stay to meet him too! And he was, indeed, dashing and handsome and debonaire. Uncle Paul appeared to have made quite a bit of money out in the South Seas before he managed to trace his dead sister’s family.
It was quite late at night before she got to bed, and she was too tired to look in on the Beast. ‘I’m sure he’s perfectly all right,’ she said to herself, as she drifted off to sleep. ‘And I’ll go home tomorrow. First thing in the morning.’
Late that night, in the darkest hour, she woke with a horrible foreboding in her heart. In a panic, she reached for the mirror. “Show me the Beast!” she said.
And there he was. He was lying stretched among the roses, crushing a handful of them in one paw. His eyes were closed, and his breathing was shallow. His beautiful clothing was torn and filthy. From one corner of his mouth, a trail of blood wound into his chin bristles. He was, quite clearly, dying.
“NO! NO!” she screamed, struggling out of bed. The noise woke her sisters, and they came running into her room.
“What is it? Beauty!? What’s the matter!?”
“It’s the Beast! He wasn’t being melodramatic. He really is dying! I must go to him, now!”
“You can’t go now!” said Faith, scandalized. “It’s the middle of the night! You’re not even dressed!”
“I don’t care! I’ve stayed away too long!” Beauty was crying now, “My beautiful, wonderful beast is dying, and it’s all my fault! I’m going now! Bring me my coach!”
And it was in the yard.
Barefoot, in her nightdress, uncombed, Beauty ran out to it, her sisters running after her. “At least put on a robe! And hug us good bye!”
“No time! No time!” cried Beauty, wrenching the door open, and scrambling inside. “Go, go, GO!”
And they were there.
Almost blinded by her tears, Beauty burst through the door, and ran into the garden, heedless of the fallen rose thorns that pierced her bare feet. “Beast! Oh Beast!” It took her several panicked, precious minutes; but she found him at last.
“Oh Beast!” she flung herself on him, holding him, stroking his hair, smoothing his whiskers, weeping and weeping. “Beast, you mustn’t die! You can’t die! I forbid you to die! Please, Beast, please, please, come back to me!”
The Beast managed to open one eye, although it was clearly a struggle. His lip curled, ever so slightly. “Beauty” he croaked. “You came back… ” and his eye closed again, as his huge head lolled to one side.
“No!” screamed Beauty, “No! You must not die! You can’t, you can’t. Oh Beast, Beast! You can’t die!” She pounded on his chest. “You can’t die, Beast! I love you! Come back to me, Beast. I love you! I love you!” and she buried her face in his chest, smelling his dear beast smell, crying as her heart broke.
And he must be dead, because he was shrinking, dwindling, all his hair falling out. And the morning must have come, because it was getting bright, and brighter. It was so bright that she gasped, and sat back, looking at the body of her dear Beast. Which was glowing! Too bright to look at!
She covered her eyes, and peered through her slitted fingers, as he glowed, and changed, and became… a man!
He gasped, and sat up, and looked at his hands, then looked up at her, as the glow around him faded. “Beauty?” he said.
“What.. who.. where is my Beast!?”
He made a strangled sound, as if he didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “Here I am. You’ve done it. Oh Beauty… ”
He laughed aloud, a warm, joyful, human sound, with just a touch of a growl about it, “Beauty! You broke the spell! You did it! I’m a man again!” and he sprang to his feet, catching her up by one hand.
“You’re.. you’re my Beast?” She looked deeply into his bright brown eyes and knew it was true. “You’re my Beast! And you’re alive! Oh, Beast! I was so afraid I’d lost you!” and she went into his arms, crying and laughing herself.
Well, of course they got married, with all Beauty’s family (including her lost-and-found cousin, and her new brother-in-law) at the wedding. Also in attendance were all the faithful servants, who could now be seen and heard.
It turned out that the man formerly known as Beast was really a Prince, and also an Enchanter. He had been vain and thoughtless as a young man, and he’d quarreled with an enchantress, ages ago.
She had told him he was the most unloving person she’d ever met, and he needed to be taught a lesson.
He’d told her that he didn’t need to be loving, since he was handsome, rich and powerful.
Well, that had been too much for her. She’d gotten the drop on him, and turned him into a Beast, making all his servants invisible and inaudible to everyone but each other, to teach him that people need love more than they need anything else. Because, you know, it really truly is the most important thing anywhere.
By the terms of the enchantment, he was doomed to live as a Beast until he found someone who would love him for himself, without knowing that he had ever been a man. Which is why Beauty’s love had shattered the spell.
Naturally they ruled the kingdom wisely and well, since it was disenchanted again too. Eventually they had several children, and they lived as happily ever after as anyone can expect, and more than many do.
And that’s the end of this story.
Now, isn’t it time you were in bed?
Picture from Dover Books