“You look beautiful, bella.” the chest of drawers exclaimed in joy as she studied the young woman in front of her. It hadn’t been hard to make Belle beautiful, she had that special something about her. The Madame had sung for many a people in her life, but seldom had she set her eyes upon someone with such natural beauty as the village girl had. Her eyes were warm and full of expression, laced with thick, dark lashes, and framed by bushy eyebrows, often furrowed as she tried to make sense of the world she had now adopted as her own. Her cheeks, dusted with freckles, flushed a peachy pink at the compliment.
“Now tell me, how does it feel?”
“Like air, Madame. I’ve never worn anything like it,” the girl said gratefully.
“Bueno. It is charmeuse silk, one of the finest materials known to man, so that means it’s doing its job. Now let’s see if it floats like air too. Give me a spin.”
Belle did as asked and twirled, the yellow fabric floating in the air like magic. She couldn’t help but smile as she looked down at her skirts, as they glittered prettily in the glow from the candlelight. If the Madame could smile at the sight she would, but that wretched curse had taken that joy from her, as it had her husband.
“Perfetto!” she laughed joyfully. “Tell me, do you like it?”
“Like it?” Belle laughed and adjusted her skirts. “It’s beautiful. Really. Thank you.”
“Nonsense! I’d make you a thousand dresses if I could. This castle has been brought back to life, thanks to you.”
It was true. Before the girl had come she’d felt as though she’d been stuck in a graveyard full with living corpses. She hadn’t had the feeling of joy in years. It had been so dark and gloomy up in this bedchamber, all alone, her husband downstairs where she could not reach him. She was too heavy. She remembered the first time the footstool dog had come visiting her, tassel between his legs. Her heart had broke to see her precious puppy had been affected by that wretched curse too. The fact that she couldn’t scoop him up in her arms and kiss him to make it all alright made it even worse.
She looked over at her precious dog Froufrou who was running around Belle, jumping up and down excitedly. Garderobe pulled herself together.
“Now, we only need a few touch ups. But, we’ll need someone a bit more, let’s say, mobile.” she tutted. “Froufrou!” she called out. The dog stopped and looked at her, head tilted to the side. “Fetch Plumette for mama. I need her help!”
He scampered off, running out of the room and away to the West Wing where Plumette was helping the Prince get ready.
For what felt like centuries, the Madame felt like her entire life had become a living hell. But then, when Belle arrived, a newfound hope had spread around the castle. A girl! The day she’d heard the news of her arrival had been the first day in however many years that she’d finally felt hopeful. She owed the girl her life, for giving back meaning to hers. She had a purpose now.
Still, she had gotten to know her, and loved her like a daughter. After all, they spent hours talking every day since she was stuck in the girl’s bedroom. Belle needed this, she knew, to cheer her up after she’d found out the truth about her mother.
“Ah, you shine like a stella, my dear. Like a real principessa!”
“Thank you, Madame. But, really, I am not-”
“A princess, I know, I know,” she interrupted before Belle could finish her sentence. “You are just a farm girl from the nearby village, mother-less, friend-less, nothing special. My dear, you do not have to make yourself small.”
Belle sat down on her bed, a bit silent, as if the air had been sucked out of her.
Garderobe studied her tentatively. A pang of shame hit her, as she wondered if she’d been too harsh on the girl.
Though she and the maestro would never be able to have children they had always dreamt of having one. She felt as if it had been her calling in life, to be a mother. Apart from singing, of course. She carried this overwhelming maternal instinct in her that she didn’t know what to do with. She felt it overflow as she looked at the worried young woman.
“Child, what is it? Is something wrong?”
“Oh, it’s nothing.”
“Forgive me, I spoke out of turn-”
“No, really, Madame. Don’t worry about-” she broke her off and tried to ensure her that nothing was the matter.
“But, bella, listen to me,” Garderobe looked sadly upon the beautiful girl she’d gotten to know. So different, so out of place. She held her head high and tried to keep the voices out, but sometimes the voices get to you. She didn’t feel as though she was worthy of this. “A princess does not have to be rich or noble, she simply has to be good-hearted and strong. That you are. You chose to help the master, to bring him home to us.”
Belle blushed again at the mention of the prince. “Well, I couldn’t just leave him…” Belle trailed off.
Garderobe knew she was trying to shut her feelings out, for whatever reason, but the truth was right there in front of them. They’d fallen in love, or at least were about to. They were minutes away from the curse breaking, she was minutes away from being able to kiss and embrace her beloved husband.
“In my life, cara, I have met many of noble name. Trust me, it is not all that matters”, she scoffed.
The girl sat quiet for a moment, adjusting her skirts, smoothing out her fabric like butter on bread. Then the door swung open, and Plumette fluttered inside.
“Bonsoir, mesdames,” She stopped mid-air, stunned by the view of the self-proclaimed ‘normal village girl’.
“Oh, mon dieu! I have never set eyes upon something so beautiful in my life,” she turned to the wardrobe. “Madame, you are truly wonderful. This dress is magique!”
“Grazie, my friend. She does not need much, but I thought you might have something to add.”
“Oui, not much. Perhaps a little rouge on her cheeks, and a bit of a golden shimmer. What do you think, Belle?”
Belle nodded and got up and sat down in front of the vanity. Garderobe stood by and watched proudly as Plumette dipped her feathers in a gilded box with pink powder.
“Close your eyes for me, cherie,” Belle did as asked and Plumette flew up to dust the powder over her cheeks. “Pouf-pouf!” she giggled at her catch-phrase. Belle did not. Her mind was elsewhere, miles away, in a little cottage in a village where her father would be struggling to cook dinner for himself, or sitting alone at the dinner table, looking over to her empty chair.
“What was it like, your life, before the curse?” Belle asked, trying to distract herself from her overwhelming feelings of guilt.
The Madame laughed as the memories came back to her. “Oh, bella. You should’ve been there. The maestro and I travelled all over Europe, singing and playing for the different courts. The King in Versailles grew particularly fond of us, or at least our music. You should’ve heard the crowds as they cheered. It’s the most wonderful feeling.”
“Where did you grow up?” Belle asked tentatively.
“Italy, my dear,” she said with a warm feeling in her heart. They hadn’t been home in almost 20 years. It felt like a crime. Still, the thought of their home gave her joy. “We had a house in Venice, just by the Grand Canal.”
Plumette continued her work, moving on to the gold powder. “Tell her about when you got engaged, madame.”
“Oh!” she exclaimed, clapping her hands together. “Si, si. A wonderful night. My dear Cadenza took me on a gondola trip through our city. We drank wine, ate bread and cheese and grapes. From time to time we’d pull open the drapes and catch a look at the city as we rowed past. Then he asked me to marry him. Of course, I said yes.”
“Oh, it was! That same night I sang in the Venetian opera house, with my whole heart I felt overwhelming joy.”
“Et voilá!” Plumette exclaimed and hovered to Belle’s side so she could look at her reflection.
“It’s beautiful, Plumette,” she said as she carefully studied the minimal changes to her face. “Thank you.”
“Yes. Grazie per l’aiuto, sei un angelo.”
The feather duster did what was the closest she could come to a bow, but alas, she was an ivory feather duster and could not move much.
“Are you ready for tonight, mademoiselle?” She quickly changed the subject before the other two could notice how troubled she was by her own immobility.
“I think so,” said Belle, her hands in her lap as she played with them. Now, the wardrobe had had just about enough. She didn’t like that Belle wasn’t being honest and telling them the truth.
“Now, you must tell me,” insisted Garderobe. “What is the matter?”
“No, really. It’s nothing,” she brushed it off.
“Nonsense! Are we not all friends? Why are you lying to us?”
“Oui, you look sad, mademoiselle Belle. Are you worried?” Plumette chipped in.
“I guess…” she began. “I keep thinking of my father, all alone at home.”
“We’ve talked about this, my dear. It is not your responsibility to care for your father. That is his job.”
“But it is! I’m just worried about him. He’s already had a rough time in the village, and losing my mother, and now he’s lost me. And he’s all alone, and I’m here, dressing up in beautiful dresses and dancing with princes. It feels like betrayal.”
“Does he not want you to be happy?” the Madame asked, determined to find out if Belle’s father was not fit for the job. She would not let her hurt like the master had.
“No! He does, it’s just-”
“Well, then, what appears to be the problem?” She might’ve seemed a bit angry, but Garderobe had gotten to know Belle enough to know that it was her doubts about herself, and not her father, that she was speaking of.
Belle sighed, a sign of giving up. She looked lost. “It’s like I’m fraternising with the enemy.”
“The enemy?” Plumette gasped and flew backwards, away from Belle’s side.
“No! Not like that!” Belle quickly corrected herself. “Not you. You’ve all been so kind to me, like a second family. But Adam…” Plumette raised a thinly painted gold eyebrow. “He’s different. He hurt my father.”
“Mon dieu. Be careful with your words, Belle cher. The master is a part of this family too.”
“Yes, I know. He’s kind, and warm, and smart, and funny. But I keep thinking of what my father might say.” She fell silent. She hated the feeling. She loved being here, and loved everyone in the castle, but sometimes it felt like she had abandoned her old life.
“Did Lumiere ever tell of the first time he met my father?” Plumette spoke up, and Belle looked up at her. Her brown eyes were watery from the tears that were threatening to fall, filled with shame. She shook her head. No.
“You see, I’m not like you. My skin is…” she hesitated, afraid that Belle might not be as accepting of her in her true form than as a feather duster. “It’s not light, like yours, or the Prince, or Lumiére.” Belle seemed unfazed at the reveal, which gave her courage to continue her story. “I was born a slave. My mother had been a slave, and my father was a slave, working day and night on the fields. I was given as a gift to the master’s mother, la princesse, as her chambermaid. I helped her with her clothing, taking care of the young prince. I was 15. I became her confidante. She grew to trust me.
She was a kind woman. Though she disliked having slaves, she insisted on keeping me. So she freed me, and offered to pay for my services instead. I was glad to stay with her. She’d become like a mother to me, like the mother who’d died when I was young. Sadly, she died in less than a year. Some illness. I was heartbroken, as were everyone. It was like the joy had been taken out of the castle. But, in my sorrow, I found comfort in Lumiére. We fell in love. He gave my life a meaning that I was not aware was missing. He did not see my skin, or the fact that I was a slave. That did not matter to him. He saw me, he loved me.
Lumiére made me laugh in those troubled times, when Adam’s father ruled us with an iron fist. He raised the taxes in the villages, and gave us not much more money than what we could live on. He thought we were his property. I’ve never met such a terrifying man in my life. Such evil. We couldn’t stop him. We didn’t dare to try, even when he hurt the prince.”
Plumette and Garderobe fell silent. The truth was like a dark cloud, hanging over them. They knew why they too were cursed, and it haunted them. They could’ve stopped him, could’ve stopped it all from happening. But they had been too afraid to speak up.
Belle sat entranced in her story. She felt as if she were there with them, felt the terror in their hearts as she spoke. Though she and Maurice had not had much in life, she’d been lucky in having a father that loved her. Plumette continued.
“When he died, and Adam became le prince de Villeneuve, the castle went into morning. We were given a day off to mourn the late prince, so Lumiére and I thought to visit my father for his blessing of our marriage. I hadn’t been in the village in years, it was so strange to see it again, to walk through those streets to the house were my father’s owner lived.
He was happy to see me, of course, and overjoyed to hear that I was free. What he didn’t appreciate was my fiancé of choice. My father had only ever met light-skinned people who hurt us. He hated them. He was outraged, he threatened Lumiére with all kinds of things. Of course, I was terrified. I think Lumiére was worried I might call off our engagement,” she giggled at the memory, using her wing to cover her mouth as she laughed. “But, non. I stood my ground. I couldn’t stop myself from loving him if I tried.”
Belle sighed, her breathing heavy. Her eyes were full of emotion. It was a beautiful story.
“Sometimes, when the world seems too dark to handle, when I feel as if this horrible curse will never be broken and I will never hold him again, he’s the only one who can make me happy. He brings light to my life, and not because he is a candelabra.” Belle smiled. “What is life without love, mon cher? And who are we if we try to stop ourselves from loving?”
“Si. That is all we want for you, bella,” said Madame de Garderobe from her corner.
A tear trickled down Belle’s cheek, but she smiled still. Plumette flew as close as she could and pressed herself to her side, ivory against human skin. Her wing fluttered against Belle’s neck.
“Oh,” said Garderobe, heartbroken that she could not do the same. “If I had hands I would hug you, mia cara Belle.”
Belle gave her a sad smile. The truth was heartbreaking, but these moments of love and joy made everything worthwhile.
“I’m ready.” she said with an unsteady voice.
“Bueno. Now wipe those tears. You have a dance to get to.”