A short story by Manelle Oliphant
Text and illustrations © 2017 by Manelle Oliphant
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A Short Story by Manelle Oliphant
Part 2: The Beauty
The morning of the Rose Festival dawned bright. Belle only wished her squeamish insides were as calm as the morning. She missed Bête. She couldn’t count how many times she’d wanted to tell him things only to feel disappointed he wasn’t around. Then yesterday M. Gros had caught her in town. Over the past few months, she’d grown adept at avoiding him at the manor house. Yesterday, she’d let her guard down. He’d told her back rent was due on her father’s cottage. As a servant at the manor house, part of Belle’s wages should have paid the cottage’s rent. Instead, M. Gros insisted all her earnings must go toward her father’s debt. He’d then implied that if Belle considered marrying him, he might save the cottage a few months longer. “While your father still lives at least.”
Belle’s father was getting better, but if M. Gros evicted him, she didn’t know if he would survive. She turned from the view of the sunny day and went to her father’s bedside. “It’s a beautiful day for the festival.”
He reached out, and she took his hand. “Enjoy yourself today. You deserve it.”
“Do you think you’ll be able to come as well? Your cheeks seem rosier this morning.”
“We’ll have to see what the day brings. I am sorry to make you leave work, but I can’t help but be glad to have you home and away from that beast. I’m sorry I ever got you into that mess.”
“Please don’t call him a beast. ” Belle smiled as she thought of Bête. “He’s my friend, and considering all he’s been through with the war and his father dying while he was away.”
Father gave her an inquiring look. “He wallows in self-pity, but you seem fond of him?”
“I am rather. I can’t help hoping that Bête will come to the festival today and perform his duties.”
“There are many more duties he should attend to besides coming to a party.”
Belle thought of M. Gros’ threats. Bête needed to take more interest in the estate. So far she hadn’t been able to help him understand what he could do even with his deformities. If he did take more control of his lands and people, would it be in time to save her father from a pauper’s death? “You’re right of course, but maybe if he came today, it would be a start.”
He nodded at her. “Let’s hope he comes then. Either way, you must enjoy yourself. Don’t worry about me today. I’ll be okay.”
Belle couldn’t help but worry, but she said goodbye and left anyway.
In town, whenever Belle saw a camera she looked straight into it and gave it a look, “Stop moping and get out here,” she hoped it said. Honestly, she didn’t expect him to come, but she also didn’t want to give up.
After a day of feasting and playing games the dancing began. M. Gros claimed her as a partner. He took her arm and led her to the floor before she could refuse.
“Have you had a chance to think about my offer?” he asked as they stepped through the country dance.
Belle cringed. “Offer?”
“Don’t play dumb with me. My offer to marry you and save your father’s cottage.”
“Monsieur, let’s call it what it is, extortion.”
M. Gros’ eyes narrowed, and the next time their hands touched he grabbed her and pulled her into a nearby alley. Belle regretted her bold words as he pulled her into the dark. She struggled to break free as she searched for cameras. There weren’t any in the alley. Even Bête wouldn’t know she needed help.
Once in the shadows M. Gros backed Belle against a wall and held her there. His grip dug into her skin. “It may interest you to know, my spirited girl, I have some of the estate’s guards ready to evict your father if you say no to me tonight.”
She struggled against his grip. “He will have nowhere to go. You don’t have the power. Bête is the master.”
“He is an indifferent master who has given me the power.” He shook her, and her head hit the wall.
He moved in closer. Even with her head turned Belle could smell the stale cider on his breath. His thumb massaged her shoulder then he trailed his fingers down her arm and backed up again. She cringed. Before she could think what to do, she heard a loud roar and M. Gros hung in the air. Bête held him there with his cybernetic arm.
“M. Gros,” Bête said, the sound turned into a growl as it traveled through the manmade voice box, “you are fired. Collect your things and be gone. I better not see you on my land again.” Then he dropped the man. M. Gros grunted with pain as he hit the ground. Bête turned to Belle. “Are you alright?”
Belle looked at the face of the half man half robot she had come to know and nodded. “You’re here.”
Bête reached out with his human hand and wiped away tears Belle hadn’t even realized were there. She wrapped her fingers around his. Bête held his breath.
Belle smiled, “You won’t break just because I’m holding your hand. But if you forget to breathe we’ll have problems.”
Belle smiled, “Much better.” She looked away and bit her lip. “I’ve been worried about Father. I think he’s on the mend, but M. Gros threatened to evict him from the cottage.”
“What? He doesn’t have any grounds. The rent is being paid from your wages.”
“That is what I thought too, but he said otherwise.”
Bête looked around for M. Gros, but he must have slunk away hopefully for good.
He looked down at Belle. “I will look into it. Don’t worry.”
“Thank you. How did you know to come.”
Bête scratched the back of his neck and looked away. “Well I’ve been watching you in the mirror, and when I saw that man pull you into the dark I got um… worried.”
Belle had suspected as much. “And, what are you going to do now? Go back home and hide?”
“Well, I’ve been thinking, and I was wondering, if maybe you could uh… help me?”
“Of course I can.”
Bête looked toward the alley’s opening where he could see the dancing people. “I believe there is a Queen of the Roses to crown, but um… I… there are a lot of people.”
“I will introduce you.”
“And, you won’t leave me alone with them, right?”
“I will stick by your side the whole evening if you wish it.”
She hooked her arm through his, and they walked toward the town’s people.
Manelle Oliphant is the illustrator of over ten books for children and the creator of Tales Fantastic. A series of illustrated short stories available free at She lives in Salt Lake City UT, with her husband. Learn more about Manelle and Her books at
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