This retelling of Beauty and the Beast from "If all the seas were ink we'd call them fish tales"


A retelling by J. Kearns

Belle's sisters could have been just plain mean, each believing herself to be the most beautiful girl in town, and angry this wasn't appropriately recognized by their peers or, indeed, a mother and father who had the ill-judgment to favor one daughter over the others with a name such as Belle. I'd be kind of ticked too if my parents named me "Good Looking But Has Big Ankles" while naming my younger sister "Beautiful", then tried to pass it off as having nothing to do with a value judgment on appearances, saying instead that Belle was just a recognizably beautiful spirit from the get-go.

There is a very old law that is known as The Golden Rule. It is in many books revered as holy. Different versions of it, each very much the same, can be found in the histories of different cultures the world over. The law is found in the Udana-Varga of the Buddhists and in theAnalects of Confucianism; in the Mahabharata of the Brahmans, the Talmud of the Jewish people, and the Sunnah of the Islams. It can be found in the Christian books of The Gospel of Matthew and The Gospel of Luke, but it is a law that was in existence long before these gospels were written. That law, which must be a very sound law, is this--that one is to do to others as you would have them do to you. Such a law would seem a very simple one to keep. After all, shouldn't we know ourselves well enough that we would be certain of how we would want others to treat us?

No doubt that law--this Golden Rule--had been taught to the six children of the merchant of our story, a man who had been so fortunate in all his undertakings that he was verly wealthy.

Then, sadly, the man's wife died, leaving him to care alone for their three sons and three daughters. Since he was a merchant who imported exotic goods from far away places, one can imagine he was very busy and perhaps often away from home on business, but his wealth enabled him to employ excellent teachers for his children, each one a master in his discipline. The merchant felt secure that though he was very busy, his children were receiving the training they needed to be educated, responsible adults.

The merchant's three daughters were said to each be beautiful, and the youngest daughter was said to be especially so, for, after all, she was the one given the name Belle, which means beautiful.Some say that since the youngest was the prettiest, she was also better than her sisters. This is an error in judgment, a false supposition, for just because a person is good-looking (at least, good-looking according to the standards of their peers) doesn't mean they are also good. Belle, however, was a sweet girl with a beautiful spirit, while her sisters, who were jealous of her, were not very nice. Her two elder sisters were prideful because, according to the standards of their peers, they were rich and because (also according to the standards of their peers) they were pretty. The sisters erroneously assumed this made them better than others who were either not so rich or not so pretty. But when one starts putting "most beautiful" stamps on things, as there can only be one "most", then even "almost as good as best" becomes a sort of failure, and with this kind of thinking, from the time Belle had been born, with all the praise she had received for her beauty, her sisters may have secretly felt she must be better than them, which is perhaps one reason they were jealous of her and treated her spitefully.

Or, they could have been just plain mean, each believing herself to be the most beautiful girl in town, and angry this wasn't appropriately recognized by their peers, or, indeed, a mother and father who had the ill-judgment to favor one daughter over the others with a name such as Belle. I'd be kind of ticked too if my parents named me "Good Looking But Has Big Ankles" while naming my younger sister "Beautiful", then tried to pass it off as having nothing to do with a value judgment on appearances, saying instead that Belle was just a recognizably beautiful spirit from the get-go.

When the merchant's two eldest daughters were old enough to marry, it fluffed their pride no end that they received proposal after proposal from the other merchants and merchants' sons who, it must be admitted, were primarily interested in their wealth.

Belle, when she was of age, was courted but turned down all proposals, explaining to each suitor she was too young yet to marry, that she chose to stay with her widowed father a few years longer.

The two elder daughters also disdained all their suitors, though for a different reason. They didn't turn down the proposals because they wanted to marry out of love, or because they wanted to continue their education, but because they had grown so prideful that they felt the merchant class was beneath them. This was in a day and age and place where women were expected to marry and run a household. It was also in a place and time when society was divided into classes and the class you were in determined your rank in society, much like in most places today despite protestations to the contrary. Merchants were above artisans and other ordinary people but they were not as high as people who held auspicious titles or royalty. These daughters, who had grown so prideful over the privilege of their great wealth, insisted they would only be interested in marrying if the individual had a title; he had to at the very least be a Duke or an Earl. In the meanwhile, they, and the three brothers as well, lavished themselves with expensive trinkets and playthings, with expensive clothing and shoes all of the latest fashion. Every night they had another party or ball to attend, and went to all the new plays and operas so that they seemed very busy, but it was little more than frivolous, mindless entertainment; sparkly settings in which they pursued their favorite past-time--gossip.

The wheel turns. When you ride at its height, without a care in the world, you can be sure that just as you've ascended to that position of great fortune, so you must also descend. For some the revolution is subtle so that you hardly know when you are up or down; you seem to always be up or always down or somewhere in the middle. The descent of the merchant, however, was unexpected, swift and fierce. First, fire swept through his warehouses. Then every ship he had upon the sea was lost, almost overnight, to hurricanes, pirates or fire. Finally, he learned that his clerks in distant countries, individuals he'd trusted entirely, had secretly embezzled from him so that he was no longer on the brink of ruin but thrown over it into actual poverty.

The merchant's sons had amassed tremendous gambling debts, while his two eldest daughters owed fortunes to dressmakers and jewelers. In order to pay off the creditors, the merchant was forced to sell his opulent city house and all that it contained--suffering the humiliation of a general auction in which all the furniture, expensive pictures, books, gold, silver, virtually anything with any worth whatsoever, with each strike of the gavel against the auction block, was replaced with empty air. All that remained was a little house in the country which the merchant used to rent out but was now forced to occupy with his family.

Life in a little country house might not sound like a very bad deal, but for the two eldest sisters and their three brothers this turn was a terrible disgrace. The two eldest daughters at first hoped their friends, who had been so numerous while they were rich, would insist they stay in the city with them. Instead, their supposed friends vanished as all their property and possessions had disappeared. That's how we know they weren't very good friends. But the way the two eldest sisters were, and their three brothers--self-absorbed and caring only about surface appearances--you can be sure that if someone they knew had lost all they had, they would have dropped them from their social list also.

This little house in the country was the one in which the merchant had been born, and in which he had lived when he was a boy. It was only after he'd left home that he'd become rich. He was sorry he'd lost everything he had, but he consoled himself with the thought there was more to life than wealth. After all, he hadn't been unhappy in the little house when he was a boy.

"Awfully selfish of the old man to decide now that he's satisfied with things as they are," the sisters and brothers said. "A musty country house may be good enough for him in his old age, but what about us? We have our whole lives ahead of us, and he has thoroughly ruined our hopes with his disgrace."

The merchant's sons and eldest daughters thought the house the most dismal place on the face of the earth, but if they thought the situation couldn't get any worse, they had a nasty surprise coming.

Too poor now to have any servants, they quickly realized how time-consuming, exhausting, and essential to normal everyday-life were the mundane chores which their servants had done for them in the city. If they didn't cook their meals there would be no food. If they didn't wash their dishes they soon had nothing to eat on. If they didn't wash their clothes and mend and iron them (the elder sisters having managed to keep a few nice dresses, and the sons having kept their fancy city things) then soon they had nothing to wear.

There were floors to be swept, bed linens to be changed and washed, and dusting to be done. There was a vegetable garden to be tilled, and, horrors, livestock to be tended--the cow they kept for milk and butter, a goat for cheese, and chickens for eggs. On top of which there were numerous repairs to be done on the house. What did they know about doing any of these things?! Nothing. Belle was the only one interested in learning how to accomplish these tasks, and her brothers and sisters soon enough found ways to leave pretty much all of the work for her to do. Sure, they helped some, but it was grudgingly, with great--hhhuuummmm--moans of complaint, and loud--aaagchh!--noises of disgust. Plus, they were slow at anything they did.

Belle was no martyr, but often enough, despite her good temper, she would tell them they were only in her way and send them off, which wasn't exceptionally bright of her as it was exactly what they wanted. And they would gladly wander away to do something or other, that something or other being usually to laze about the house and complain about how they had nothing to do in the country.

"How could you do this to us?" the merchant's eldest daughters complained. "Beauty makes for a fine compliment, but we have virtually no hope of marrying above our fallen social status. Our brothers, had they the will, could possibly still make something of themselves, marry into decent families, and thus help our prospects, but they show no inclination to be industrious."

The merchant had to agree. For all the education he'd provided them, he considered that he had never shown his children he believed them to have worthwhile talents, especially after a certain age when he determined they did not. Oh, and wasn't it probably too late to think about that lapse now, to wonder if they might have turned out otherwise had he not been so preoccupied with his business that for years he saw them as little more than well-dressed accidents of fate who would eventually marry up in the world and increase the family's status and wealth, at which point, and only then, would they become good investments.

The merchant had ably occupied himself with his chores at the country house, but, in truth, he was unreconciled with his losses, and life there seemed of a dream-like quality. He felt as if his phantasmal ship should come in any time now, a treasure ship that would restore the life he'd previously known.

One did. The merchant received news that a ship of his, believed lost at sea, had come into port some time ago.

"This is the chance I need to build my business again," the merchant told his relieved children, preparing himself to go meet the ship.

Certain their former wealth was at hand, his elder daughters and sons complained over how their father wanted them to stay at home until he inquired as to the latest development and how it would profit them. "Well then," they said, "we've lived so long without anything, at least purchase us what we will need when we return to town, so that we can arrive in style and not looking ridiculously out of fashion." Then they loaded their father down with demands for the latest in fine clothing, shoes and jewels which would require a fortune to buy.

"And what shall I bring you, Belle?" the merchant asked, for Beauty had kept silent and not asked for anything. She was worried that the ship would bring her father less profit than he hoped, and she didn't want him to feel disappointed if he had to return home without expensive gifts for her.

"All I want is for you to bring yourself safely home," she told him.

"Oh, listen to her," Belle's elder sisters said. "She doesn't ask for anything so that we will look as though we're selfish because we want to look nice."

The merchant insisted, "Belle, please, isn't there anything you want?"

"Dear father," Belle said, "as you insist, I think that I would like it if you brought me a rose. I haven't seen any since we came here. If there is anything of which I sometimes think and miss, it is the courtyard of our city house with its lovely rose garden."

"If that is your fondest desire, then I will bring you a rose," her father said.

The next morning, the merchant set out for the port city where they used to live. When he reached it, only disappointment awaited him, for he found out much of the ship's cargo, Chinese silks and beautiful oriental carpets, had rotted during the long journey. The profits from what remained were rapidly eaten away by debts incurred by the ship while in dock, legal fees, and the costs of his trip. Weeks of trouble and expense left him as poor as when he started.

Returning home, more trouble awaited, and I don't mean the anticipated, contemptuous moans and wails of his sons and eldest daughters. The merchant was within thirty miles of the country house when a terrible storm blew up, the worst he'd ever seen, while he was riding in a forest through which he'd passed many times in his youth. The freezing rain was sharp as pine needles on his skin and mixed with such a fierce blizzard of snow that he soon could see nothing, and so it was that though the merchant thought himself familiar with the road and believed at any moment he should reach the forest's edge, he found himself, as night fell, wandering in a part of the forest completely unfamiliar to him. The strong wind twice nearly throwing him from his mount, he was forced to continue on foot, leading his horse. He dared not stop lest he be overcome by the cold and freeze to death, but the colder it became, the more he desired to lie down and sleep. It was about then that he made out some sort of track and tried following it. And, much to his relief, the storm's violence lessening, he came upon a wide avenue he thought he would soon reach the forest's edge.

But what was this place? Lined with orange trees covered with blossoms and fruit, the avenue, free of snowfall, was fully lit as though by a full moon, an illumination that the perplexed merchant realized proceeded from a magnificent palace that stood at the avenue's end.

No one met him when he entered the courtyard over which complete silence reigned. His exhausted horse needing rest, the merchant led him into the stables where he tied him to a manger filled with oats and hay, and still he met no one. He returned to the courtyard, where he went up a flight of agate stairs into the palace, "Hello!" he called out repeatedly, but no one came to meet him.

Thinking someone would soon appear to whom he could introduce himself properly and beg a room for the night, the merchant sat down on a couch before fireplace in which a warm fire heartily glowed. Exhausted, he must have fallen asleep, for when he next opened his eyes he saw a small table had been drawn up beside him, and that on it was a splendid meal which was evidently meant for him. He ate and waited for his host to appear, but no one did and he shortly dozed off again, this time for the night.

When the merchant woke again it was morning. This time on the table was laid out a nice breakfast.

"Thank you, good Madam Fairy, I'm much obliged to you for your favors" the merchant laughed, sipping his hot chocolate. When he was done eating, the merchant again went to seek his host in order to offer him his gratitude. Instead he found apprehension. The quiet was such that he began to feel ill at ease. He searched all the rooms, even the kitchen and the servants' quarters, but there was no one anywhere. So the merchant wrote a note to his invisible host or hostess, thanking them for their kindness, and left it on the table beside the breakfast dishes.

Going outside to saddle his horse and continue on his way home, the merchant was struck anew with how strange this place was. Though the forest outside was white and bare with winter, in the palace garden one would have thought it was summer. The air was soft and sweet with the fragrance of flowers where a hedge heavy with exquisite roses surrounded a bubbling fountain. Remembering his promise to Belle, that he would bring her a rose, the merchant hesitated with a moment's uncertainty, then plucked one.

"Who told you that you might gather my roses?!" came immediately a voice from behind the merchant that was so terrible and menacing the merchant fell to the ground in fear. As he turned his head to see who had spoken, his fear doubled, for towering over him in man's clothing stood a creature unlike any he'd ever seen. The beast seemed part lion, covered with fur and with a great wild mane, and seemed also part bull, hot air billowing out its nostrils, yet it stood on two legs like a man, its body shaped like a man's, but its voice was utterly inhuman, gigantic, unlike anything the merchant had ever heard in his life except perhaps the clashing of thunder.

"I allowed you refuge in my palace," the beast roared. "I fed you. Was this not kindness shown towards you? And you repay me buy stealing one of my roses, which I value beyond anything in the universe?! Your ingratitude will not go unpunished!" Struggling to his knees, the merchant managed to say, "I beseech you, my lord, forgive me. I am truly grateful for your hospitality, which was so magnificent I couldn't imagine you would be offended by my taking such a little thing as a rose." "My name is not My Lord! I am Beast, and your excuses mean nothing to me," the creature growled in his thunderous voice. "When you plucked that rose your heart cried out against you. With these ears I heard your guilt! With this nose I smelled your guilt! Your own heart has spoken against you, and for that you shall die!"

Death having assured him it was at hand, the merchant cried, "Oh Belle, how is it your innocent request for a rose would prove fatal to me?" Then (as most are never truly convinced death has had the last word until silenced by it) in despair, with some hope for compassion, the merchant told the Beast about his misfortunes, the reason for his journey, and about Belle's request for the rose.

The merchant told the beast how Belle was beautiful beyond compare, not just in appearance but also in temperament.

"So be it," the Beast said, after listening, no less furious. "Your daughter, Belle, shall shoulder your guilt in your place. Bring her to me by this time next month and I will let you go free. If you fail to return with her, I shall hunt you down, and, I warn you, there is no means of hiding from me."

Horrified, the merchant pled, "How can I buy my own life at the expense of Belle's?"

"Go!" the beast commanded.

"What excuse could I invent to bring her here?" begged the merchant.

"Go!" the Beast thundered. "A horse is ready for you that will speed you home with the swiftness of thought! All your daughter need do is will it to return and it shall. Now, go!"

Nearly witless with fear, the merchant fled to the stable where he found a white horse waiting for him, ready and saddled. The moment he mounted it, the horse carried him off so swiftly away that in an instant he was at the gate of his country house.

All the more the pity.

"Father," Belle cried out, the first to see him, "you're safe!" Her brothers and sisters, who had been uneasy at their father's long absence, heard her and rushed out to meet him, eager to know the result of his journey which, they assumed, had gone favorably, when they saw the magnificent horse upon which he was riding. The elder daughters, eager for their new dresses, flung open the saddlebags. In them, much to the astonishment of the merchant, was one wonderful dress after another, everything they had requested, including shoes and jewels.

Atop all this finery rested the single red rose which the merchant had plucked for Belle.

"Your rose, Belle, little you know what it has cost," the merchant said, eyes downcast. And he told them all about what had occurred in the Beast's garden.

The brothers, along with their elder sisters, lamented loudly over their lost hopes when they found out this was all their father had brought them, that there would be no gold to finance a return to their lives in the city. "And you," they accused Belle, "your miserable request almost cost our dear father his life!"

"My life is lost," the merchant said, "for I must return myself and take my punishment. I only came home in order to see my children one last time, and bid goodbye to them."

The month allotted quickly passing by, the girls cried frequently while the brothers protested they would find and kill the Beast rather than permit their father to return to its palace. But Belle, who had been mortified at what had befallen her father, said very little. She had already made up her mind that her father not pay with his life for her innocent request. Very early in the morning, on the day her father was to return to the Beast, before anyone else woke, Belle got up and dressed. Bending over the merchant as he restlessly slept, she said, "Goodbye, dear father," then crept out of the house, saddled the horse and climbed upon it. "Horse," she whispered in its ear, "swiftly, carry me to the Beast."

It was just as her father had said; in an instant she was no longer at the country house but in the courtyard of the Beast's palace where, even in the midst of winter, it was summer. Trembing with fear, scarcely able to walk, Belle went through the garden and up the agate stairs into the palace, expecting the Beast to appear any moment. But he didn't, not even when she cried out, "Hello!" Not so eager as to continue looking, she seated herself on a chair in one of the splendidly furnished rooms and waited, terrified. Still, the Beast made no appearance, and Belle began to fear that he might think she had not come after all and go hunting her father. So, crying, "Hello," she mounted the great staircase to the second floor of the palace. She fully intended to search all the rooms for the Beast.

To her astonishment, the first door to which she went had, inscribed in its wood in graceful letters, her name, Belle. What in the world?--she wondered, and opened the door to find, well, one could hardly imagine a more magnificent apartment.

Beautiful paintings hung on the walls. Oriental carpets covered the floors. There was a canopy bed piled with pillows, and couches and a small table and chairs. Several armoires were filled with fancy dresses and shoes. A dresser had in it nightclothes and underthings. There was a library filled with books, a harpsichord and music books. There were music boxes that played little tunes when you wound them up. There were drawing pencils and paints to paint with. On the small table was a silver dish filled with dainty cakes. A silver pot was filled with hot coffee. Belle considered that if she had been doomed to be eaten by the Beast right off, there wouldn't have been made all these preparations to see to her comfort.

"If only I had some company, I might not feel so afraid," Belle said, and perhaps would not have with a little more forethought, but immediately noticed there was bird cage with a dove hanging in the corner. Had it been there all along and she not noticed it?

"If only," she sighed, "I could see my poor father, and know what he is doing." Immediately, Belle looking into a large mirror, saw an image of her grief-stricken father, surrounded by her brothers and sisters, seated at the kitchen table in their country home.

Belle wondered what manner of hallucination she had entered into when she climbed atop the white horse and was spirited away to the palace. Exhausted, she lay down on the canopy bed and fell asleep.

When she woke it was night. The rooms were cheerfully lit, and the grounds of the palace were illuminated with flaming torches. Music played, but from where it came she couldn't tell. Belle dressed herself in one of the fancy gowns she had found in the armoires and went downstairs. Upon a great table, in the dining room, there was laid out a feast on silver dishes and porcelain. "Is this for my enjoyment? Am I free to eat?" she asked. Belle then saw, before a place setting of fine china, a beautiful red rose and a place card, bearing the name, Belle. Had it been there before she asked if she was free to eat? She didn't know.

Belle took a seat at the table and was beginning to eat when she heard a low thundering voice behind her.

"Belle," the voice growled.

"Good evening," Belle said, placing down her fork. "You are the Beast, I assume," she asked, not turning around.

"Yes," the Beast replied. "Did you come here by your own will?"

"Yes," Belle answered, trembling. "My father told me about your white horse, how it sped him home, and how he intended to have it carry him back here. I rose before him this morning and came in his place"

"Belle," the Beast said, "will you give me leave to see you sup?"

"Do as you please. It is your house," Belle answered.

"No," replied the Beast, "you alone are mistress here. If my presence is troublesome, you need only bid me gone, and I will immediately withdraw. But, tell me, beautiful one, do you think me very ugly?"

Belle heard the Beast move to stand beside a chair opposite her. Slowly, she looked up just enough to catch a glimpse of him, his terrible lion-like face which somehow also resembled a bull's, his great mane of hair, his form which resembled that of a man's. "Yes," Belle said, lowering her eyes, "I find you to be ugly."

"So I am," said the monster, "but then, besides my ugliness, I have no sense; I know very well that I am a poor, silly, stupid creature."

"That you think so shows no sign of your being a fool," replied Belle, "for never has a fool known himself so well as to think he was one, or had so humble a conceit of his own understanding."

"Eat then, Belle," said the monster, taking a seat opposite her. After she had a few bites, he asked, "How do you find the food?"

"The food is very good, thank you," Belle replied.

"I hope that you thus far have found my palace to be amusing and pleasant, for everything here is yours," the Beast told her, "and I should be very uneasy if you were not happy."

"If you want to know if I was pleased with my room, yes," Belle answered him. "However," she continued, "I think it peculiar you are so obliging, when you consider the circumstances which have drawn me here."

"Yes, yes," said the Beast, "my heart is good, but still I am a monster."

Belle replied, "That remains to be seen. I hardly know you. I will say this, that among mankind I've found there are many who deserved the name 'monster' who have a perfectly normal appearance. There are those who, under a human form, hide a treacherous, corrupt, and ungrateful heart. I find that to be much uglier than your physical appearance."

If I had sense enough," said the Beast, "I would make a fine compliment to thank you, but I am so dull that I can only say I am greatly obliged to you."

The Beast then moved on to other topics. While Belle ate, they discussed nothing so simple as the weather, but compared notes on books that they had both read and enjoyed. They talked about the philosophers Belle had studied, and the sciences and arts. By the time Belle was finished with her meal, she had almost conquered her dread of the monster, but she almost fainted, when after a moment's silence, he said to her, "Belle, will you be my wife?"

Belle took a little while to answer, for she was afraid of making the Beast angry. "No, Beast," she finally said, trembling. The Beast sighed and hissed so frightfully that the whole palace echoed.

"Then, farewell, Belle," the Beast said in a mournful voice, and left the room.

Did this mean she was free to leave, Belle wondered. Did this mean that she wouldn't see the Beast again? Or did it mean she would be killed after all?

That night Belle dreamt she was walking by a brook bordered with trees, lamenting her sad fate, when a man, and with a voice that went straight to her heart, came and said to her, "Belle, you are not so unfortunate as you suppose. Here you will be rewarded for all you have suffered elsewhere. Your every wish shall be gratified. Only try to find me out, no matter how I may be disguised, as I love you, and in making me happy you will find your own happiness."

"How may I make you happy?" Belle asked.

"Stay true to your heart and do not trust too much to your eyes," he answered. "Do not desert me until you have saved me from my misery."

After this, Belle found herself looking in a mirror. "Belle," her reflection spoke, "do not regret all you've left behind you. Only do not let yourself be deceived by appearances. To do so could mean your downfall."

When Belle woke up, she thought the dream over but could make no sense of its riddle.

That day she spent further exploring the palace. One room she found lined with mirrors that stretched from floor to ceiling, covering the walls, which caused her to wonder if the Beast ever looked at his own reflection or if he hated it. In another room she found every musical instrument under the sun and spent some time trying them out. Exploring further, she found the palace's library, and saw there everything she'd ever wanted to read, as well as everything she had read. It seemed to her an entire lifetime would not be enough to even read the names of the books, there were so many.

That evening, she dressed herself in one of the other rich gowns in her armoire, and went down to the dinner table to find it laid out again with many good things to eat. She had just sat down and placed her napkin on her lap when she heard the Beast enter the room behind her.

"Belle," he asked her, "may I watch you sup?"

"If you wish to," Belle replied.

Much the same as the night before, they conversed on books and other interests which they found they shared. The Beast asked her how she had amused herself during the day and Belle told him about the different rooms she'd explored.

"Do you believe you could be happy in this palace?" the Beast asked.

"There is very nearly everything here that I could ever imagine wanting," Belle answered.

"Belle, will you marry me?" the Beast said, Belle having finished with her dinner.

"No, Beast," Belle told him. But she thought, after he'd gone, "It's a pity that anything so good-natured should be so ugly," and she felt some compassion for him.

The next morning, Belle decided to amuse herself in the garden. It was quite large, and as Belle wandered about it she was astonished to find that every place was familiar to her, and soon she came to the brook around which were growing the myrtle trees she had seen in her dream. When she went back to the palace, she found yet another room, this one an aviary full of rare birds. Tame, though exotic, they perched upon Belle's shoulders and hands. "You are so lovely, and I am so lonely," she said. "How I wish this aviary was nearer my room so I could often hear you sing." So saying, she opened a door and found that it led directly into her room, though she had thought it on the other side of the palace. And there were even more birds in a room further on, parrots and cockatoos that could talk, and which greeted Belle by name.

That evening the Beast again sat with Belle as she dined. After listening to Belle's relation of how she had spent the day, he asked, "Were you very pleased with the gardens?"

"They're the loveliest I've ever seen," Belle answered.

"Belle, will you marry me?" the Beast asked, when she'd finished with her dinner.

Belle replying that no she could not, the Beast left her.

The next day Belle explored a room she had not taken particular notice of before as it was empty except for each of its seven windows having a chair placed beneath. Her previous visit to the room, when she had looked out of the windows it seemed that a black curtain prevented her from seeing anything outside. But, this day, when she went into the room and sat down in one of the chairs, instantly the window above the chair lit up, its curtain rolled aside and a delightful pantomime was acted before her with dances, and colored lights, and music, and dialogue which sounded somehow very familiar, as though dreams she couldn't remember were being played out before her. After that she tried the other seven windows in turn, and there was some new and surprising entertainment to be seen from each of them. Enthralled and delighted, forgetting for the moment she was in the palace of the Beast, Belle relaxed, and before long realized there were empty spaces in the dialogue she was expected to fill, and so she participated, making up lines as her turn came to speak with the puppets. Sometimes this completely eased her loneliness, while other times it made her incredibly sad.

Three months passed during which, every evening, the Beast would sit with Belle while she supped and their conversations came to be what she most looked forward to every day. She only wished that every night he would not ask her if she would marry him, for she was growing fond of the Beast and she hated that every evening ended with her hurting him. So, one day Belle said, "Beast, you have said every wish of mine would be gratified here, and I do wish that you would be satisfied with my cherishing you as a friend."

The Beast replied, "If that is your desire, then I will never ask you again if you will marry me. But may I ask you this, that you stay here. That you promise not to desert me."

"I think I could promise that," Belle answered, "if one last time I could be permitted to see my father."

"Is it a wish of yours," Beast asked.

"Yes," Beauty replied. "It is a wish of mine. I promise you, I'll return in a week."

"I fear," the Beast said, "that if I send you to your father, you shall remain with him. You will forget poor Beast, and he will die in grief. But if your wish is to go to your father, then I will see to it you are there tomorrow morning. Only remember your promise to me. I will give you a ring which you need only lay on your table before you go to bed, when you are ready to return."

Belle began to weep, though she couldn't quite say why, and the Beast left.

When Belle woke up the next morning, she found that she was in her bed at the country house, and beside the bed was a chest filled with more gold coins than her family could ever need. Her father gave a cry of joy to see Belle, and her brothers and sisters were astonished as they had never expected her to return from her miserable fate at the Beast's palace. Imagine then how amazed they were when she showed them the gold she had brought with her, for now they could resume their lives in the city and in a manner that would make any of their former friends green with envy. One would think Belle's siblings would have been grateful but it didn't occur to them as I don't think they'd ever experienced a moment's gratitude toward anyone in their lives. There was no end to the questions they asked Belle, and the more she told them about her remarkable life at the palace, the more they begged to know, and the less satisfied they were with the fortune she'd brought them. "How," they wondered, "can we find our way to the lair of this Beast? Why does a Beast live like a prince? We could kill him, make the palace our own, and live like royalty." Belle's sisters and brothers had before been mainly very selfish, but now the thoughts they had could only be described as evil.

When the week was over, Belle's siblings were still trying to find out a way to get to the Beast's palace. Where was the white horse, they wanted to know, that could take its rider there in an instant? If Belle hadn't brought the horse with her this time, how was she to get back to the palace? Belle didn't tell them about the magic ring she had for she sensed that she shouldn't. Every time Belle said it was time for her to return to the palace, her sisters would carry on and tear their hair, exclaiming how could she leave them after a short time when they would likely never see her again. Stay with us just a little while longer, her brothers begged her. They seemed so grieved at the thought of her departure that she didn't have the courage to say goodbye to them. To keep the Golden Rule would have been a difficult thing in her situation, for she could imagine the grief her father would feel when she left and she didn't want to subject him to this, and yet now she could also imagine how grieved the Beast would feel at her not having returned to him yet. Every morning when she got up she would tell herself she must, that night, make her farewells and put the ring on the table and return to the Beast, but every night she thought just one more day wouldn't hurt. "Just one more day," she told herself. "Just one more day."

It was nearly two weeks since she'd been home and Belle once again neglected to put the ring on the table before she went to sleep. She had just closed her eyes when she heard a voice whisper in her ear,

Do not look around!
Neither right nor left,
Straight ahead, and you'll be safe!

Belle started and opened her eyes to find she was no longer in her bed but in a dark room in which terrible creatures, to either side, hissed at her menacingly. She recalled what the voice had said to her, that she should look neither right nor left, and she walked through the room without looking about, as the voice had urged her. Not a single one of the creatures moved. In this manner she went through ten more rooms, and the last one filled with the most unfathomable, terrible creatures of all, their tongues dripping poison, yet she knew that if she turned to face them she would see spirits which resembled people she knew, cajoling her, beseeching her to remain with them, to tell them her secrets.

Belle, steadfast, walked through the room. Reaching the door to the twelfth room, she put her hand upon its knob, and began to turn it. From the other side she heard the Beast. "Belle, Belle," he whispered in a growl so low she could barely hear him. "Belle…"

Belle woke from her dream, her heart pounding. Finally resolute, she went to her father's room. She told him, "Father, in begging me to remain with you, you have wronged me. Already, Beast's voice is so faint I can scarcely hear him. I was warned not to be deceived by appearances, so have been on guard against what my senses tell me as opposed to my heart, but now I wonder about my own reproach of the Beast for his ugliness, if my very name has injured him." "Go. You are no longer our Belle," her father said.

Belle returned to her room, placed her ring upon the table, and laid down to go to sleep. When she woke, she found she was in the palace of the Beast once more. Much to her surprise, summer no longer reigned at the palace; the garden was covered with snow. She whiled away the day, anxious for suppertime to come, when the Beast would come and talk with her, and the hours never seemed so long. When suppertime was near, she put on one of her finest dresses and went to the dining room to await the Beast. The clock struck nine, yet no Beast appeared. Belle searched the palace through for the Beast then went out to search the palace grounds.

In the snow, on the path by the myrtle trees, Belle found the Beast lying as though dead. "Beast!" she cried, and throwing herself upon him, found his heart still beating. Making a cup of her hands, Belle got some water from the brook and, not knowing what else to do, sprinkled it upon the Beast's head. His eyes opened.

"Belle," the Beast murmured, "where have you been? Did you forget your promise to your ugly beast?"

"No," Belle told him. "I didn't forget my promise, but I have behaved thoughtlessly. You knew you shouldn't trust me at my word, and yet you let me go anyway."

"Never mind," the Beast said with a great sigh. "Since I have the happiness of seeing you once more, I die satisfied."

"No, dear Beast," Belle cried, "you must not die. Alas, I thought I had only friendship for you, but the grief I now feel convinces me I cannot live without you."

Even as Belle pronounced these words, she was blinded for a moment by a great flash of colored light. She smelled the scent of flowers and knew once again the garden was in summer. But when she looked for the Beast, he was not there. Instead, at her side was the Prince she had first seen in her dreams when she came to the palace. "Please," she begged the man, "where is my Beast? What have you done with him?"

"Belle, Belle, I am that Beast, who you have released from his prison," the prince assured her.

That night Belle dreamt she saw the princely Beast in the garden by the fountain. "See, your strength, my Belle rose, my Beauty, that I value you beyond anything in the universe," he said, placing his head on her knees that she may pet it. They sat there, like that, a long time, while Belle plaited a beautiful wreath of flowers to drape about his neck.


"All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them; for this is the law and the prophets."
CHRISTIAN {Matthew 7:12}

"Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful."
BUDDHIST {Udana-Varga 5:18}

"Regard your neighbor's gain as your own gain and your neighbor's loss as your own loss."
TAOIST {T'ai Shang Kan Ying P'ien}

"What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. That is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary."
JEWISH {Talmud, Shabbat 31a}

"This is the sum of duty: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you."
BRAHMAN {Mahabharata 5:1517}

"Surely it is the maxim of loving kindness: Do not unto others what you would not have done unto you."
CONFUCIAN {Analects 15:23}

"That nature alone is good which refrains from doing unto another whatsoever is not good for itself."
ZOROASTRIAN {Dadistan-i-dinik 94:5}

"No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself."
ISLAMIC {Sunnah}


Retelling by j. Kearns
© Copyright 1999 j Kearns

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