Authors: Nicole Dreadful
"Everything here is very beautiful," Beauty said finally, "but I miss my family."
"Look on your dressing table," the Beast said. "You will find a mirror there. I see that you have a talisman from your family." He pointed a long claw at her hands and she shrank back from him. "If you look into the mirror and hold the ring while thinking of them, you will see your family."
This was such an astonishing idea that Beauty forgot her terror for a moment. "Truly?" she asked. "I will see them again?"
The Beast nodded and Beauty wanted nothing more than to leave his terrifying presence, to rush straight back to her bedroom and look into the mirror. Gradually, though, she began to feel a little less fearful, as the Beast did not move from the chair, but sat quietly and only asked her what rooms of the house she had explored that afternoon. Finally, he took his leave, saying, "Good night, Beauty."
She forced herself to sit by the fire and count to one hundred after his steps had faded away in the hall. Then she went back to her room and set a lighted candle on the dressing table. She cupped the garnet ring in her hands, thinking all the while about her father and her siblings. Presently the surface of the mirror grew cloudy. When it cleared she found herself looking into the sitting room of the little cottage.
Her siblings were all talking animatedly around a table heaped with the Beast's treasure. Only Angeline sat near the fireplace with her father, who slumped in his chair, head in his hands. "Oh!," Beauty cried, stretching her hand out to touch the glass. The ring fell to the floor and the image faded. By the time she had retrieved it from underneath the sofa, the clock was chiming midnight. She went to bed, sad to think of her father so sorrowful, but glad to know that he had returned home safely.
The next morning she watched her family eat breakfast and begin their daily work. At first Beauty thought she could spend the whole day watching their dear faces, but she was too restless to sit for hours on end. She slipped the ring back onto her finger and went to explore the house and gardens.
In the evening the Beast appeared again. This time Beauty felt herself more composed, and she greeted him without trembling too obviously. As he walked across the hearth to his chair, though, there was a cruel scraping of claws on stone and Beauty found her heart beating wildly in her chest again.
"Do I still frighten you?" the Beast asked as he sat down.
"Yes," Beauty whispered.
As before, the Beast sat very still and asked her how she had spent her day. She answered him politely, and thanked him for the use of the magical mirror. She told him how she had spent the afternoon in the garden, and described the little cottage garden she kept at home, which seemed to please him.
They fell into this pattern. Beauty looked through the mirror each morning, then spent the remainder of her day exploring the house or the gardens. Although she conversed with the Beast each evening, she felt a bit lonely during the day, until she began to delve into the numerous books in the library.
Each night the Beast asked if she was frightened. As he made no move towards her, eventually she felt comfortable enough to answer that she was not. The Beast's fierce eyes flashed at this admission and he sat forward in the chair. "May I kiss you, Beauty?" he asked.
The sudden movement startled her, for it showed all the muscles of his leonine body. It put her in mind of a cat about to pounce, and Beauty felt herself as the unwary bird on the ground.
When she did not reply, the Beast said, "Since you have learned that I am not so fearsome, now you must answer 'yes' or 'no' without fear."
"No," Beauty replied, spinning the garnet ring nervously about her finger.
"Then good night, Beauty," the Beast said, and leapt from his chair. It tottered and fell, but the Beast was gone before it hit the ground. Beauty drew up her legs to hug her knees. Though she had not wept in many weeks, she began to cry now. What answer had he expected to such a peculiar request? He was a monster, all fur and whiskers and teeth; he hardly had lips to kiss her with. The thought almost made her giggle, but she stifled it quickly. She had already hurt his feelings, but she was not so cruel that she would laugh at him.
The next morning, she couldn't concentrate on the mirror or the book she had been reading. Instead she roamed through the halls until she came to the portrait gallery where the faces of some unknown family inhabited the walls. Near the end was Beauty's favorite, a woman with her sewing on her lap, who looked out of the frame quite pleasantly, as if she were just about to tell you something. Next to her was a young man who, though handsome, struck Beauty as rather arrogant. She paced up and down for a long time, looking at the human faces and wondering where they had gone. Perhaps this family, like hers, had fallen on low fortunes, she thought, and been forced to sell the fine house to the Beast.
The Beast did not appear that evening or the next. When he did return, he was much subdued, sitting silently in his chair. Beauty did not dare ask him what he had been doing, for she half imagined that he roamed the countryside during the day, catching smaller animals and tearing them to shreds. At other times, however, his speech was so clever despite the roughness of his voice, that she thought he might be something like the wise and ancient dragons she found in some books. Now she asked him the riddles the literary heroes used on dragons and sphinxes, hoping to lighten his mood. He answered all of them easily. "Did you think I have not read my own books?" he asked.
Beauty felt rather foolish, and said so, but the Beast shook his head. "You have a quick mind," he said, "and I have a riddle for you. Why do I want to kiss you?"
She thought on this riddle after the Beast had left her for the night. In books, the answer was never the first thing you suspected, if you could think of anything at all. She might answer, "Because I am beautiful," but that was terribly vain. She might say, "To taste me before you eat me," but she could not imagine making any such joke to his face.
The next morning, though, all thoughts of the Beast's riddle were driven from her mind when she sat down at the mirror. She saw Angeline hovering nearby as a platoon of dressmakers swarmed around Mariela, fitting her for a wedding dress.
Though the seasons did not change inside the garden walls, Beauty had been watching the days turn on the calendar. "It will be my birthday soon," she told the Beast. "And my sister will soon be married." When the Beast said nothing, she continued. "I would like to go to the wedding."
"Are you unhappy here?" the Beast asked.
"No," Beauty answered, surprising herself a little.
"But you wish to leave."
"I wish to visit my family," Beauty said stubbornly. The Beast turned his head away to stare into the fire, and she saw his sharp claws digging into the arm of the chair. "I will come back after the wedding," she said. "We have a bargain."
"If you wish to go," he said finally, loosening his claws from the upholstery, "I will not keep you. You may a pack a trunk to take to your sister, and when you go to sleep tomorrow night, you will wake in your father's house. When you are ready to return, say goodnight to your family and turn your ring so the stone faces inwards before you go to sleep, and you will wake in your own bed here."
Her family was greatly surprised to discover Beauty with them when they convened at the breakfast table, and her father could not hide his tears of joy at finding her alive and untouched. Her sisters embraced her fondly and Mariela was delighted with the fine dresses and jewels that Beauty had brought her.
Elliot had immersed himself in the merchant business while Mariela and Angeline were taken up with the wedding, and Daniel was still following his own whims. Beauty longed to join her brother riding, or even to see the entertainment halls he frequented, but instead she found herself pulled into the wedding preparations and her sisters' social calls. As they had when she was a child, Angeline and Mariela chose the dresses she should wear. Beauty thought that she was old enough to choose her own outfits, but she was happy to see her sisters that she let them do what they liked with her.
The family had given out that Beauty had gone to stay with an elderly aunt and she soon found herself telling stories about "dear Aunt Margaret" as she took tea with her sisters in the salons. She imagined Aunt Margaret to be the sweet-faced woman in the portrait gallery, grown elderly and her kind features softer. Even at home, they used this euphemistic name for the Beast. "Does Aunt Margaret treat you well, Beauty? Is she strict with you?" And Beauty said yes, Aunt Margaret treated her well, and was hardly strict at all.
One morning, she managed to go riding with Daniel. She hadn't been on a horse since she left the cottage, but she hadn't forgotten a bit and Daniel bragged at how well he had taught her. At first she only reveled in the joy of the ride, but she found a way to turn their light conversation to serious matters.
"Father is ashamed of having sent you away," Daniel admitted, "and it would ruin his reputation if it became known. After all, he used the treasure he brought back to reestablish his business. Even if he had no choice, what sort of father could so brazenly sell his daughter to a monster?"
"Does it have to be that Father gave me away?" Beauty asked. "Can't it be that I saved him? It was all because of my foolishness, asking for a rose. If I hadn't asked for anything, I would be with you still, and we'd all still be in the country."
"Aye, Beauty," Daniel said. His horse danced nervously beneath him. "You paid a high price, and we owe you everything."
"I don't regret my choice, Daniel," Beauty said softly.
"Then we regret it for you," he replied.
At last the wedding day arrived. The merchant had spared no expense for his eldest daughter's wedding, and the guests ate and drank and danced late into the night. Beauty had not had time to learn any of the steps, so she sat with Elliot, who had categorically refused to dance. "Isn't there anyone you'd like to dance with?" she asked her brother. He shook his head and she asked with great gravity, for she had become a bit silly with drink, "Elliot, have you been unlucky in love?"
He scowled at her for a moment. "I was lucky in love," he said, "and unlucky in life."
"How can you say that, when all our family's wealth is recovered?"
Elliott shook his head. "I thought that would make me happy, but the things I wanted were all foolish." He walked away to get himself another drink, and a young man immediately took his seat next to Beauty. He introduced himself, smiling broadly, and invited her to dance.
"Thank you," Beauty said, "but I haven't learned the steps."
"I'm ever so disappointed," he said, taking her hand. "If you won't dance, you must make it up to me. Give me a kiss, if I can't have a dance."
Beauty pulled her hand away. "Why do you want to kiss me?"
He took the opportunity to put his arm around her bare shoulders instead. "What man wouldn't want to kiss a pretty girl like you?" he asked, leaning in towards her.
Beauty could smell the wine on his breath, and she pushed him away as Elliot reappeared, glaring fiercely. "This is my sister," Elliot said. "Get out of here, you vulture." The other man spread his hands in a pacifying gesture and walked away, giving Beauty a sly grin over his shoulder.
"He wanted to dance with me," Beauty said.
Elliot shook his head. "Aunt Margaret hasn't taught you much of men, little Beauty," he said. "I know him, and it's a horizontal dance he has in mind." He took her hand. "Come, it's time you were in bed."
The next evening, Beauty looked around the parlor. Only she and Angeline remained; the rest of her siblings were gone their separate ways. Many evenings, she was sure, her father sat alone. She wished she could stay with him every night, but when she counted the days, she realized she had been in town for two months. Mindful of her promise to the Beast, Beauty bade farewell to her father before bed, and turned her ring to her palm.
When she woke, bright sunlight was streaming in through the wide windows of her bedroom in the manor. She dressed in her customary casual tomboy clothing, and went out to revisit all her favorite spots in the gardens. When evening came, however, she shimmied out of the pants and shirt and chose a dress from her wardrobe. She pulled the sleek cloth over her skin, closing her eyes with a request to the invisible hands which acted as servants in the enchanted place. They complied and she felt their light touch running over her body, straightening the dress and pulling at the corset laces. The sensation brought goose bumps to her skin.
When they withdrew, she opened her eyes and ran her own hands from her breasts down to her hips. In the mirror she was no longer a little girl who climbed trees and scraped her knees falling out of them. She was as much a woman as her sisters.
It was long after dinner that evening when the Beast appeared, and she had almost given up waiting for him. He seemed very tired as he sank into his accustomed chair.
"Why did you return?" he asked.
"I made you a promise."
"Didn't you wish to stay with your family?"
"I am content here," Beauty replied. She was truly glad for the solitude of the manor after the hustle and bustle of town, for she had grown accustomed to following her own whims, and not relying on the time tables of other people. The many rooms of the manor and the vast gardens provided her with a host of solitary pursuits, and she was never bored. When she felt lonely, the Beast was there to talk with in the evenings, or she could look into the mirror to check on her family.