To my loving daughter, Belevia,
My only goal in raising you was to ensure you had the future you deserved, a path paved by your own free will, and not by what is expected of you. You can have a family and be a wife and mother, like your mother and the women around you, or you can venture out of this town, and explore the world, defy the limitations others try to push onto you. Or...really who says you can’t be a mother and explore the world at the same time? You can do anything you set your mind to. However, I fear I may not live to see the adventures you set out on. After I have passed I want to leave you with one final story, of how I met, and lost, the one woman I truly loved.
As you know, I was a man of honor, a hero within this town: I fought off attackers at the young age of 12, and often hunted for enough food to feed the entire town. I spent over a decade fighting off dowry proposals, trying to keep the happy face and everlasting charm that the town’s people loved so much. Eventually, it started to feel like every day was the same day. Was time ever really moving? Despite the mundane life I lived, I felt compelled to stay within the town’s perimeter, hoping that one day things would change.
Then as if by magic, a beautiful, intelligent, independent, young woman and her aging father just strolled through town, emptying their carriage into the first available house they saw. The very house I gave to you when you turned 18. This house had been my hobby over the years, the one thing that kept me sane. I’d fix up the walls, tend the garden, and build new pieces of furniture, oftentimes I’d find myself imagining a family living in this house. My family, but as pretty as the women were in this town, and as arrogant as I tried to make myself seem, being pretty just wasn’t enough.
One day I snuck away from the bar, leaving your Uncle Lefou to tend to the barrage of drunk women, and ran off to the small cottage tucked away at the edge of town. When I arrived I found a horse and carriage stationed outside, and the young woman and her father standing in the doorway.
“Excuse me,” I said, “may I ask what you are doing here?”
The young woman turned around and I nearly fell over, as my lungs desperately gasped for air. I had never seen a maiden so beautiful. Her chestnut hair elegantly flowed down to her waist, her honey-brown eyes glimmered in the sun, and her smile was so radiant, I thought my eyes might never see the light again.
I was awoken from my daze when her effervescent voice rang through my ears, “I’m so sorry, does this house belong to you?” She asked.
I took a step forward, straightening my back, trying to find the ability to speak, but I couldn’t.
“We just moved here,” she said, “this town seems very peaceful which is just what we are looking for. No one seemed to notice us and they didn’t pay any mind to this house. We thought it was empty...but it has clearly been well-maintained. If you’ll just point us to somewhere we can go, we will gladly get out of your hair.” She reached down to grab her bags.
“W-wait!” I stuttered, “This home is empty. I only come here to make sure it doesn’t crumble to the ground, you are more than welcome to stay. If you need help with anything, I would be more than happy to assist.” I extended my hand, bowing to the woman and her father.
The surly old fellow smacked my hand away and grumbled under his breath, “My daughter does not need your hand and we certainly do not need your help.” He straightened his back and hiked up his pants, “I am an inventor, and I am perfectly capable of fixing a couple of household items, in fact, I’ll make so many new items, you’ll think me to be a God!” The man grabbed his bags and huffed off into the next room.
“I apologize,” I said, “I hope I didn’t offend him.”
The woman sighed, “It’s not you, my father’s mind has slowly started to escape him. He was an inventor and a very good one at that, but I think too many hours working with God knows what, or perhaps it is just old age, he is just no longer the man he used to be. So we left our old city, to find a place that hopefully, he could live out his days in peace.” She extended a hand, “I’m Belle, my father’s name is Maurice.”
I hesitantly took her hand in mine, taking another bow as I placed a kiss on her knuckles, “Gaston, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” As I stood I couldn’t help but notice the slight flush on her face, it took a moment for me to realize I was still holding her hand in mine. I wanted to ask more about where she had come from and what she hoped to do in our provincial town, however, as soon as I opened my mouth to speak, Lefou came crashing through the door.
“Gaston!” He yelled, panting as he stood in the entryway, grasping onto the doorframe.
“Lefou! Pull yourself together, there is a lady present,” I bellowed. Lefou was my oldest, and truly only, friend, but even if he knew of my calm demeanor in private, he still expected me to show a certain haughtiness in public.
He quickly straightened his back, sweeping into a bow before swiftly standing up again, “My apologies sir, ma’am, I deeply regret barging in like this, and I hope to one day properly make your acquaintances and hear all about how you know my friend here.” He gave me a quick elbow to the ribs and winked, I swatted him away as Belle giggled to herself. “However, he is needed in town as there is a small...tiff between some gentlemen, and Gaston here is really the only one who can de-escalate the situation.”
“Of course,” I said with a sigh, “Belle, I hope you can forgive me, I would love to tell you all about the house and our town if you’d let me, but unfortunately duty calls.” As I made my way toward the door, a crash came from the kitchen, followed by incoherent yelling.
“Please,” she said, “go help your townspeople, I will probably have my hands full here. If you’d like to come back in the morning, we can discuss things over breakfast.” She leaned over, gleaming at Lefou, “You are more than welcome to join us if you would like.”
Lefou quickly grabbed my arm, pulling me out the door, “Yes, that would be lovely, but we really must go! Goodbye!”
I waved goodbye as we ran down the stairs and through the garden, making our way back to the bar.
The rest of the day seemed to float by. I continued on with my everyday tasks, keeping the peace, surveilling the town, eating a dozen eggs purely for the amusement of children...I really am surprised that trick never killed me...but suddenly there was a liveliness to my day. The mundane activities I had grown to hate, didn’t seem that bad. I helped Ms. Lavigne carry her laundry back to her home, I hoisted the Babin children into the air having them fly like little birds, and for once I took the Arnaud family up on their offer to cook me dinner...it was not good...and when the day was finally over I stretched across my bed, squeezing my eyes shut as I tried to force myself to sleep.
Just as the sun began to creep over the hilltop Lefou came rushing into my room, throwing me out of bed. “Wake up!” He yelled, “If you wish to properly court this woman we have to be ready for breakfast!”
I shook my head, trying to break away from my daze, “Court her? We only just met. I cannot assume she wants to be courted.”
Lefou smacked me across the face, “Who are you? Every woman in this town has thrown themselves at you for over a decade, their fathers are willing to pay you just to have you as their son, of course she wants you to court her!”
I sat up in my bed, head in my hands, “She’s different Lefou, she doesn’t know of my stories, she isn’t expecting me to be a hero...all she is expecting of me, is maybe a tour of the town, and to help her fix up the house. Shouldn’t I let her know who I am, who I truly am without all the stories, and let her decide if that is what she wants?” Lefou slapped me again and I quickly rose to my feet, “Now Lefou, you are my dearest friend and I care for you, but if you hit me again I will be having breakfast over your grave.”
“There’s the Gaston I know!” He grabbed my clothes and started forcing me into them, “Listen, you want her to know who you are? You are the man who gave her a house! I have watched you sneak off to that cottage for years, slaving away as you repaired its tattered walls, tending to the garden, and secretly dropping off its produce and flowers at the elders’ homes. You put your blood, sweat, and tears into that house...and you just gave it away! That’s who you are. She’d be a fool to do anything less than beg for your hand.”
I threw on my boots and headed for the door, “No, I would be a fool to expect anything other than a simple meal and conversation, and if this is how you are going to act, you are not welcome to come with me.”
“But I want breakfast!” He yelled.
“Then you will behave! Now, we must be off.” Without a second look over my shoulder, I headed towards the cottage, I could hear Lefou’s sullen feet trailing behind me.
We made our way through town and I cautiously climbed the same porch stairs I walked up nearly every day, this was the first time I ever had to knock before entering. I took a deep breath and balled my hand, ready to show strength and power behind my knock, but instead, all I could muster was a small tapping on the door.
“Gee, I hope she could hear that,” Lefou quipped .
I took another deep breath and went to knock again, but before my fist could reach the door it swung open, and there stood Maurice.
“Who are you?” He yelled, “What are you doing at my house? I told you I need another week before it’s finished!”
“Father please!” Belle came running to the door and pulled him back, “This is Gaston remember, he is letting us stay here.” With a grunt he went back inside and sat on a chair, folding his arms. “Please excuse him, he woke up not knowing where he was, he’s usually okay within a few hours so I just need to keep him inside until he calms down. Please come in.” She stepped aside and motioned for Lefou and me to walk to the kitchen.
“Wow Gaston, I haven’t been in here in a while...you’ve really fixed up the place!” My old friend beamed.
“It really is a wonderful home, I can’t thank you enough for letting us stay here. Please have a seat.” Belle stepped over to the kettle, lighting a flame below it, “Can I ask who you bought the table from? The furniture here is quite lovely, I want to be sure I acquaint myself with the craftsman if I ever need something.”
I rocked a chair back and forth, testing its legs before taking a seat, “Actually,” I said, “I created everything here. The house was empty when I found it...and I wanted to make it feel like a home. I always hoped a family would live here.” I looked to the side, trying to hide my flushed face.
“Well you certainly are a wonderful craftsman,” Belle said, as she laid out an array of fruits and pastries. “I’m not too sure about a family though, I have my hands full as is, and even if my father weren’t sick...motherhood just never seemed to be in my future.”
“But..you’re a woman!” Lefou yelled. I quickly kicked him under the table and shoved an apple in his mouth.
“Please excuse my friend,” I tried to give Belle a smile, but her face was beginning to show disdain, “there are more women than men in our town, so when there’s not enough of something...tends to be when people want it more. This is good though! The other ladies will be happy to hear there is no extra competition, right Lefou?”
Lefou quickly started piling pastries into a cloth, “Right right right, of course, independence is great, but you know what I think? You two should take breakfast to go! I can stay here with Maurice, and have him teach me all about his inventions, and Gaston you can show Belle the town!”
Before we could even say a word, Lefou was shoving the pastries into my hands and pushing us out the door. “Everything will be great here, don’t you worry! Might I suggest starting the tour in the meadow?” And with that, we were standing on the porch and the door was slamming behind us.
I took a quick glance at Belle and offered her a tart, “Uhm, I must apologize about his...outburst. Shoving you out of your own home,” Belle raised her hand to interject, but I stopped her, “before you try to say that it is my home you should know that won't make the situation any better.”
Belle placed her hands in front of her dress and smiled at the ground, “Well, I guess we should be going then. I do wish to have a tour of the town...I just hope my father doesn’t give him too much trouble.”
We started down the stairs and I gave a quick overview of the area. “To the east are some more homes, the stables, and the meadow, in the center of town is the washing area for clothes, there is a church, a school, and more fields, and to the west are some more homes, the market, the pub, the baker, the library, and the blacksmith.”
“What about the south?” She asked.
“Well...this home is really all there is, behind it is the woods, and we do not know what is beyond the woods.”
“Well then!” She said as she marched towards the west, “I would like to head to the market and the library. I know Lefou was...excited about the meadow, but that is the direction I came from so I have seen it. I would love to buy some fresh produce and bread before I run out! I’ve already read all the books I brought with me, so perhaps the library will have something new.”
I stopped short behind her, “You can read?” I asked.
“Of course I can read!” She huffed, “Do the women here not read?” There was a hint of anger in her voice, but she tried not to let her face show any emotion.
“Well...no they don’t. But it’s great that you do! Truly! There are so many more topics we can discuss now, and I can show you my favorite books...I once tried to have the Dupont’s youngest daughter read along with me...the book was promptly ripped from my hands and I was scolded for diminishing their daughter's chance at a future husband.”
Belle rolled her eyes and continued on towards the market, “That’s just ridiculous. My mother died when I was young but my father told me she would always read to me before bed. Lots of women could read in the city! At least the ones I knew.”
I quickly ran ahead of her, trying to get her to look me in the eyes. “I hope my question didn’t offend you, I do honestly love that I have someone to share literature with. I never used to like it...I thought books to be silly and for the weak, and, the town needed me to be strong...but they soon became an escape. I would grab a book from the library and sit by the fire at the cottage. No one ever bothered me, and it gave me a chance to feel at peace.”
Belle tilted her head as if she were examining me, before grabbing the pastries out of my hand, “Well! We can’t let these pastries go to waste, and we can’t let our grumbling stomachs take focus from the books! It is still quite early, why don’t we take a seat on that wall over there? We’ll eat, talk, and when we are stuffed to our hearts’ content we will move on with our tour.”
Now, Belevia, I won’t bore you with the details of our conversation, but after breakfast, I knew I had to keep Belle in my life. I thought I would be okay with having her as just a friend, but after that day we spent most days together, and with each and every moment I spent with her, I fell more and more in love. As promised, we toured the town, picked out some items from the market, and we spent hours in the library trying to find books she hadn’t read yet. In the days and weeks that followed, we would meet to discuss the books she had finished, occasionally reading together as we sat by the fire. I introduced her to all the townspeople, although...they didn’t really like her. They felt threatened by her intelligence, the women threatened by her beauty, and the men angered that I was “neglecting” my duties, but for the first time in years, I felt free.
I began bringing tools over to the house and Belle and her father would assist me in making furniture, sculptures, and anything that would quiet Maurice’s inquisitive mind. Lefou seemed to take a liking to him, when Belle and I would leave to go to town, Lefou would stay at the cottage and spend time with Maurice, who seemed equally intrigued by his new friend. However, as the months went on it became more and more apparent that his mind was fading. After ten months of living here, my time with Belle began to dwindle, as he became sicker she stopped being able to see me more and more. After a few weeks of her not answering the door, I gave up and went back to my old routine.
“I don’t know what to do Lefou,” I paced back and forth in my home, hoping my friend could give me some insight on how to handle the situation. “I spent almost a year with Belle and...and I fell in love! N-now! It has been months since I have been able to say more than one word to her. I didn’t realize being without the one you love...could hurt this much.” I threw myself into a chair, burrowing my head into my hands. “Tell me! What can I do to help her father? You spent so much time with him, is there any way to get him to stay lucid?”
Lefou rocked back and forth on his heels, rubbing the back of his neck, “I don’t know Gaston. The last time I was with him...it wasn’t good. One minute he was explaining his idea for a new invention, the next he was trying to kill me. The only reason he stopped is that Belle came home. At this point, she might be the only one who can keep him calm.”
I was desperate, I just needed a moment alone with her. “A meal is all I ask. If we can find a way to keep him calm just for one meal...Belle and I can eat in the garden! We won’t even leave the house.”
“I’m not sure it’ll work, but I’m not going to say no to trying...but we can’t go empty-handed, and if they say no, I’m sorry but we have to leave.”
I sat there shocked, this wasn’t the friend I was used to, I thought for sure he would have shoved me out the door just for a chance at getting me and Belle in the room. Spending so much time with Maurice must have changed his heart. I patted him on the back and walked towards the door, “Perfect, we’ll grab some flowers and if the baker is still open we will arrive with fresh bread.”
We made our way through town, collecting gifts on the way to the cottage. The baker had pulled the last batch of rolls from the oven and I practically threw Lefou inside to buy some before they were all gone. As we walked up the stairs and I prepared myself to knock on the door, I suddenly felt more nervous than I had ever been in my entire life. I took a deep breath, balled up my fist, and...chickened out.
“Lefou I can’t do this, what if you’re right? We can’t disturb her, we have no idea what kind of state her father is in.”
“Gaston I did not fight off a bunch of old women just to eat these rolls alone. Just knock on the door!”
“Then I’ll do it!”
I tried to hold Lefou back as he kicked me in the shins trying to make his way to the door. We must have been quite loud because without us even noticing Belle had opened the door, and she and Maurice were standing in front of us.
“Boys, can I ask what you are doing, fighting outside my house?!” She yelled.
We quickly stood up and straightened our clothing, a couple of rolls had fallen into the garden, and rose petals scattered across the ground.
“Uhm, well you see,” I stammered.
“Belle can’t you see!” Maurice chimed in, “They are here for dinner! The young man brought flowers and bread. Please please, come in, Lefou my friend, I feel as if I haven’t seen you in ages! We were just sitting down for dinner. Please come in.”
I stood there with my mouth agape, confused by the sudden lucidity of the old man, Lefou on the other hand took no time in rushing into the house and grabbing himself a plate. I took a step into the entryway and handed Belle the bouquet. I could hear Lefou and Maurice’s laughs from the kitchen. Perhaps this night would be alright, I thought.
Belle and I just looked at each other for a moment, she stared down at the half-wilting roses.
“I’m sorry...that we showed up unannounced...and that we ruined the flowers,” I whispered.
She put on a soft smile and tried to reshape the daisies to their regular form, “It’s alright. They are still beautiful, and my father is certainly happy to see Lefou.”
“Yes! He seems to be in good spirits!”
Belle motioned to take a seat in the living area, “He’s had a good couple of days, but even if the day is good there will still be moments where he forgets everything. It’s...becoming harder, I’m honestly not sure how much longer I can take care of him myself.”
“Well,” I said, “I would be more than happy to assist you, I am sure Lefou and I are capable of keeping him safe if you ever needed to go out by yourself. Even if you just needed some extra hands at night! We would be more than happy to keep watch while you slept, making sure he didn’t get into any trouble.”
Belle forced a smile, but before she could give an answer, Lefou and Maurice came waltzing into the room.
“You guys need to eat!” Lefou yelled. “There’s still some food left, Maurice had an idea for the garden so we’ll be right outside discussing his next invention.” He pulled Belle and me out of our seats and ushered us into the kitchen, “Sit! Eat! We’ll be fine, and if we need you we’ll be right outside.” With a wink, he turned, and he and Maurice were out the door.
I looked down at the plates on the table, and back up at Belle, “Well, I am starving, and these rolls aren’t going to be warm for much longer!”
Belle sighed and smiled, “Would you like some tea?”
I relaxed into the chair, “I would love some.”
We sat there for some time, catching up on what has been going on in town, the latest pub brawls, and how Belle has managed to sneak away to the market each day without anyone noticing. I’m not sure how much time had passed, but I wanted to sit there forever.
“I haven’t even had time to go to the library!” She exclaimed, “I have been left reading the same books over and over again.”
“I would be more than happy to go for you if you would like! Or if your father is up to it, the four of us can go into town.”
Belle pondered on my offer for a moment, but once again, as she prepared herself for an answer, Lefou came running through the door.
“Gaston! Belle! Maurice ran off!”
We quickly jumped to our feet, “What do you mean ran off? Where is he? Where’s my father!” Belle yelled.
“I-I don’t know! He ran into the woods. He wanted to discuss something in the back of the house, he was talking about creating a new way to illuminate the yard, and then something just snapped! He didn’t know who I was, or where he was, he kept yelling about having to get the medicine for his wife, and then he just ran into the woods. It’s so dark...I couldn’t see where he went, and I couldn’t keep up with him.”
I quickly grabbed a torch and gave another to Lefou, “Belle stay here in case he comes back, Lefou and I will go look for him.”
“I am not leaving my father alone out in the woods! You two can stay on foot but I am grabbing my horse and going after him.”
I looked back and forth between her and Lefou, I wasn’t sure what to do. But I knew she wasn’t going to take no for an answer. “If...if you’ll just wait one moment I will grab a horse as well. The stable isn’t far from here. Lefou, stay at the cottage and wait for Maurice, I will be right back!” I quickly grabbed Belle’s hand as she made her way towards her steed, “Belle please, please wait for me to come back. We can’t risk losing you both in there.” She gave me a small nod, and I ran off toward the stable.
I didn’t even bother to grab my own horse, Mr. Dupont was at the stables about to remove his mare’s saddle when I quickly grabbed the reins from him. “This is an emergency! I will give her many carrots when we get back!”
Without waiting for an answer I jumped onto the horse’s back and made my way to the cottage, but when I got back...Belle was nowhere to be found.
“Gaston!” Lefou yelled, “I tried to stop her! But she heard a yell and went off! She headed straight back, she still has the torch so you may be able to find her.” As Lefou finished his statement, we heard howls coming from deep in the woods.
“Wolves,” I whispered. “Lefou! Get my bow and gather the men! If the wolves are near Maurice and Belle I’ll try to hold them off until you can get there!” I quickly ushered the mare into the woods and Lefou ran towards my house, I followed the sound of the howls and soon began to hear Belle screaming her father’s name. I galloped towards the sound of her voice and saw the glimmer of her fire, along with a pack of wolves headed straight towards her.
“Belle!” I screamed. I tried to get the mare to move as quickly as possible, but when I finally found myself face to face with Belle’s horse, we were near a cliff. Belle was on the ground waving the fire to keep the wolves away, and Maurice was standing at the edge, holding a blanket. I dismounted and ran towards her, trying to keep the wolves at bay with my fire, throwing rocks in their direction as the mare and Belle’s stallion kicked at the beasts.
“Belle! Why did you run off!”
She looked between the wolves and her father, “I heard him yelling my name, he was scared!”
“You could have been killed!”
“He’s my father!” She was crying. There was only so much we could do until Lefou found us. Maurice stood at the cliff, rocking the blanket like a baby, screaming at us to get away.
“Go Belle, I’ll do what I can to hold them off, Lefou will be here soon...go save him.” Without a second thought, she handed me her torch and ran to her father. I lunged at the wolves, grabbing anything to light on fire and throwing them towards the beasts. Behind me, I could hear Belle struggling.
“Father, please! Listen to me!”
“Those beasts!” He yelled, “They are trying to take my baby! I have to get her to safety.”
“Look at me! I am your daughter! This is just a blanket!”
“Father, let me take you home. It’s dangerous out here.” I could hear hooves coming closer, the flicker of fire coming through the trees, she just needed to keep him calm, we would be safe soon.
“You’re trying to take my Belle! You’re trying to feed her to the wolves! She didn’t catch her mother’s disease I swear!” He took another step closer to the edge.
“Look at me! I am Belle! There’s nothing in this blanket!” Belle reached to grab the cloth from Maurice’s arms.
“Don’t touch her!” He screamed.
I turned around just as Maurice grabbed Belle’s arm, and threw her off the cliff.
“No!” I screamed, I threw the torches and ran towards the cliff. I knew I wasn’t going to make it, but I had to try. I laid on the ground looking over the edge, Belle was gone. I wanted to scream, I wanted to throw Maurice off, I didn’t get to do either before a wolf grabbed my leg and tried to drag me back toward the woods. I did my best to fight it off, but I was fortunately saved from further damage as Lefou ran over and hit the beast away with an axe.
“Gaston! Are you okay!” He bent down and began wrapping my leg. “Where’s Belle? Where’s Maurice?” I looked up to see that the old man was gone. I wasn’t sure if he had run off, or if he had jumped, or maybe I really did throw him off. If the wolves had gotten to him, he would still have been here in the chaos. The men were successful in driving the wolves away and killing those who had attacked us and the horses. Mr. Dupont’s horse was uninjured thankfully, as was Belle’s.
“Lefou...he killed her.”
“He...he threw her off the cliff. I don’t know where he is. But she’s gone. She’s dead.”
Lefou picked his head up in shock, he looked around the woods, desperation filled his eyes as he searched for Maurice and Belle. “This is your fault!” He screamed, “We should have just left them alone!” He ran off toward the men and explained the situation. A small group went out looking for Maurice, while the others helped me back onto the horse and led us back into town.
Maurice was never found. I’m still not sure if I am happy or upset about it. Part of me hopes he had died, whether he went off the cliff or was taken by animals. But...another part wishes I could have helped him. Taken him in and cared for him in, as a way to honor Belle.
It took six months for me to go back into the cottage, I cleaned out the rotting food and gathered all of their belongings. Most of the items were brought to the market and given for free to those who needed clothing, and any household items. I kept their horse and treated him like a king, I began to take care of the cottage as I had done for so many years.
After about two years, I finally decided to marry, while I admit I couldn’t love your mother like I did Belle, I cared for her deeply, and there was never a moment I regretted our family.
I hope you will find some meaning in this story, and I hope I haven’t bored you too much. With this letter you will find a blue ring, I have kept it with me all these years. It was Belle’s mother’s, and I couldn’t bear to bring it to the market. Do with it what you like, but I hope you keep it close to your heart, as I always have.
I will love you always,
“Beauty And The Beast.” Dir. Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise. Perf. Paige O'Hara, Robby Benson, Richard White, Jerry Orbach. Walt Disney Studios, 1991.
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