Authors: Nicole Dreadful
"I provided you with food and shelter," the Beast said in a terrible voice. "And you repay my kindness by stealing my flowers?"
The merchant threw himself to the ground. "You have been more than generous, my lord, and I owe you a debt of my life," he said. "But when everything here was so freely available, how could I have guessed that such a small thing as a rosebud would be forbidden?"
"You are right in one thing," said the Beast. "You owe me your life, and I could take it from you." He stretched out a huge paw, and unsheathed shining claws. The merchant whimpered a little, but then he remembered all the misfortunes that had befallen him, and he began to laugh.
The Beast pulled back his paw and narrowed his yellow eyes. "Why do you laugh?"
"Because my life has already ended," the merchant replied, sitting up. He began to tell the Beast of his luckless years. "Of all the things I have done for my children," he finished, "now it is the smallest request from my youngest daughter which proves my final undoing. Yet if you were a father, you would do no differently."
"Perhaps I will forgive you," said the Beast, "if you will give me one of your daughters instead."
"My daughters are all young and have their lives ahead of them. Better that I should die than one of them."
The Beast laughed, ragged and harsh. "Did I say I would take her life? I prefer a live woman to a dead man. Bring me your youngest daughter, and she may have all the flowers she likes. But," and here the Beast leaned down so the merchant could feel the hot breath on his face, "she must come willingly or I do not want her."
Now that his initial terror had passed, the merchant began to see the Beast more clearly. At first he had perceived only the wide yellow eyes, the taloned paws, the dark fur--but the creature stood on two legs. A brocade vest blended into the coarse hair, and a pair of leather breeches stretched tight at the waist covered, but left no doubt of, the Beast's maleness.
"You would take one my daughters to wife?" the merchant asked. The image of the monster slavering over his daughter's body in lust sickened him more than the thought of the long fangs tearing hungrily into her flesh.
"I have made you an offer to save your life," the Beast said shortly. "You may have a month to think it over. If you do not return in that time, be sure that I will seek you out." He turned and disappeared as suddenly as he had come, but the merchant felt in the prickle at the back of his neck that he was still watched, and he made haste to lead his nervous horse away.
Beyond the gates, the snow lay crisp on the ground. He returned to the road and found that it was one he knew well, though he had never formerly noticed the side path which led to the Beast's manor. He made note of the milepost and rode hard until he reached his own doorstep.
His children were glad to see him, for though they longed to return to their sumptuous life in town, they were not so spoiled that they did not love their father. With no gifts for them but Beauty's hard won rose, it was not long before the merchant found himself telling the tale of his journey.
The news that the family's fortunes were not mended did not upset them half so much as he had expected. It had been three years since they left town, a long time to hold on to hope, however young and idealistic one might be. Seeing how well they took this first bad news, the merchant was emboldened to continue. When he described the consequences of plucking the rose, however, Mariela clucked in dismay and disapproval at Beauty, who burst into tears.
"If that was the price of a rose," Daniel joked, "we should be thankful you didn't ask Father to bring you a candlestick!" This comment did nothing to console his sister, who continued to sob.
"Don't be a little goose," Mariela said, putting an arm around the girl.
"What's done is done," said Angeline, sitting at Beauty's other side and smoothing her hair. Their combined caresses calmed her somewhat, and she subsided to the occasional sniffle.
"Elliot, Daniel," the merchant said to his sons. "You kept watch over your sisters while I was gone, and you must continue to do so. I will write you letters of introduction, and you will make your own way in the world, as I did."
"Father," Elliot said. "You can't mean to go back! We are three, and this Beast is only one. Let us wait, and if he truly comes for you, we will finish him." He made a few jabs in the air, recalling duels he had fought in town.
But the merchant shook his head, thinking of the Beast's fearsome appearance and the magical powers he must possess. "I made a deal," he said, "and I have always held up my end of a bargain. Let me enjoy these last few weeks with you, before we part for evermore."
At these sad words, Mariela and Angeline also began to weep, while their brothers paced the room.
But Beauty lifted her head and wiped her tear-streaked face. "I will go to the Beast, Father," she said. "I caused the trouble by asking for the rose; it's only fair that I take the blame."
In the days that followed, she repeated this argument to her father quite earnestly. Each time, the merchant shuddered at the thought of her in the power of the Beast. His downcast features, however, only made Beauty more determined that she should take his place, and the merchant could not bring himself to say aloud what he knew the Beast would want of her.
He was certain that his youngest daughter could know nothing of the relations between men and women. Any romantic knowledge his daughters possessed would be meager, gleaned from the few novels of chivalrous love in his small library, and Beauty was far more often out of doors than reading. He had often felt the lack of a mother for his children; now he desperately wished his wife were here to explain to Beauty how things stood.
The troubled days slipped by, and the merchant found that not only was the month up, but he had agreed to allow Beauty to accompany him back to the Beast's home.
While Daniel and Elliot saddled the horses, the merchant brought out a small jewelry box. "These are the things your mother wore on her wedding day," he said to his daughters. "I had planned to give you each a piece for your own wedding, but because Beauty is leaving today, I will give them to you now. For Mariela, a pair of diamond earrings. For Angeline, a golden necklace. And for you, little Beauty, a garnet ring. I hope these things will always remind you of your family."
Beauty slipped the ring on her finger and embraced her sisters. They shed many tears, but Beauty was strong in her resolve to go with her father, and finally they departed.
As they turned their horses from the road and up the avenue leading to the Beast's manor, the merchant cleared his throat. "Beauty," he said. "I'm afraid that the Beast may wish to, well, to touch you. If he does, you must try to make him promise to be gentle." He looked down at his hands on the pommel of his saddle. "It's only that he is so large, and you are so small. He might easily hurt you without noticing."
Beauty did not reply. Her mind was such a jumbled confusion of regret at leaving behind her family, fear and anticipation of meeting the Beast, and love for her father, that she hardly noticed her surroundings. The sun was setting, making the oranges glow amongst the foliage of the garden, but she passed along the flower-lined paths unseeing.
The Beast did not appear to greet them, and Beauty began to shake off her daze and look around as they passed through the rooms of the manor. When they came to a small room where a dinner had been laid out for them, she nearly forgot her anxiety, for they had traveled far and she was very hungry. However, no sooner had they finished eating when the Beast appeared in the doorway.
At first Beauty clutched at her father's arm in fright, but she felt she must be polite to this creature who held their lives in his hands. She stood and curtsied. "Good evening, my lord," she said.
The Beast gazed at her with unblinking yellow eyes. Beauty could not tell if he was pleased with her or not. "Good evening, Beauty," he said. His voice was a harsh rumble, like ice breaking on the river in spring, and she could not control a shiver. "Have you come willingly?" he asked.
"Yes," she said bravely.
"And will you be content to stay with me when your father leaves?"
Beauty glanced at her father, who had also risen at the Beast's entrance. His knuckles were white where he gripped the back of his chair. "I will be content," she replied.
The Beast nodded his hairy head. "You may leave in the morning," he said to the merchant. "But you will not leave empty handed. In the next room you will find two trunks. You may put anything into them that you wish, and take them with you." So saying, the Beast left them alone.
Beauty stepped carefully back to her own chair and sat down weakly. She felt her heart pounding in her chest, as if she had been riding over fences, which she had been forbidden to do. The Beast seemed all claws and teeth to her and she felt the prickle of sweat and fear on her skin. Her father still held tightly to his chair, as if it supported the whole of his weight. "O daughter," he said, "what have I done?"
Beauty laced her fingers together tightly so they could not quiver, and the unfamiliar shape of the garnet ring pressed into her skin. "You have only done what I asked of you, Father," she said. "And I am quite content." She made herself smile at him. "Everything is so beautiful. I am sure I will be happy here." The master of such a lovely garden and such a beautiful house could not be so cruel, she told herself, and she began to feel some control over her unruly limbs. "Come," she said, taking her father's hand. "Let us choose gifts for my brothers and sisters. It would be rude to refuse such a generous offer."
The merchant followed her in a daze. He was grateful that the Beast offered some bride price for his daughter, and yet deeply ashamed to sell little Beauty to such a creature. She had reached a marriageable age, but it was not so long ago that he watched her play in the hayloft with the barn cats, seeming as an unruly young kitten herself. Now she led him down the hall with a sense of determination, and he was hard-pressed to hold back tears.
The two chests stood in a great storeroom where shelves and cupboards were piled high with gold and silver and jewels, with furs and linens, and all manner of riches. The merchant turned his face away to look through the finery. If he would lose his daughter, he would take here the most valuable items in exchange. At first they put jewels and gold into the chests, but there seemed always to be more room, and they piled in silks and fine brocade. Finally, the merchant closed the hasps and bent to heft one of the chests. To his surprise, it seemed no heavier than if they had filled it with feathers.
"I should put you into one of the chests," he said to Beauty.
"No, Father," Beauty said. "You said yourself, you must always keep a bargain once you have made it."
Her father sighed and hugged her tight. "Dear Beauty," he said, stroking her hair. "I hope the Beast will be as honorable as you are, and treat you well."
Beauty and the Beast
After a fitful night, they rose early. Beauty helped lash the two chests to the horse she had ridden, and said a tearful goodbye to her father. Outside the gates it appeared to her that a storm was raging, and almost immediately she lost sight of her father. She dared not step out of the garden to follow him, for the wide gates were already swinging closed. Soon, more than the snow obscured her vision. Her tears came faster, until she felt that she could scarcely breathe. She sank down onto the paving stones of the path and sobbed.
When she had worn herself out with weeping, Beauty lay on the ground and looked up at the sky, which was prettily framed by the line of trees along the avenue. It was not so different than lying at the edge of the field with Daniel, watching the changing shapes of the clouds, and she began to feel better. She picked herself up and walked back to the house. In the room she had chosen for her bedroom, however, she spied herself in the mirror. Her hair was a mess from laying on the ground, and her face was dirty where it had not been washed clean by her tears. She had grudgingly taken a dress from Angeline, but now it, too, was quite dirty.
Beauty returned to the storeroom and looked through the wardrobes until she found a few dresses that did not seem too complicated or restrictive. "I do wish there were some pants I could wear," she said to herself, and immediately found several pairs which suited her in the next cupboard.
She did not see the Beast until evening. When his shadowy form appeared in the doorway, she could not control a little gasp, but soon recovered and greeted him politely. He shambled into the room and half sat, half crouched, on the chair across from her. As darkness had fallen, a cheery fire had sprung up in the grate and now the firelight glinted red from the Beast's wide pupils. Beauty had again clasped her hands together tightly to hide their shaking, but the Beast said, "I frighten you, Beauty."
"Yes, my lord," she replied, sure that he would know if she lied. To avoid his shining eyes, she looked down and began to spin the garnet ring on her finger. But this reminded her that she would never see her family again and tears sprang to her eyes.
"You are not so unfortunate as you might feel," the Beast said. "Anything you desire you will find in this house."
These words only made more plain to Beauty that she would never again go riding with Daniel, or be scolded by Mariela, or anything else. The tears overflowed and fell hot and fast on the pretty dress she had taken from the magical wardrobe. She wiped them away desperately while the Beast watched her without moving a muscle.