"You did WHAT?" Adam bellowed. It was a little over a week after the celebration for the end of the curse and he had finally screwed up his courage to write to his father, only to find that Cogsworth had already done so. "Without even ASKING me?" Adam picked up a nearby chair in rage, ready to hurl it across the room but took a breath, set it down, and sat in it instead. He put his head in his hands, his rage sliding backwards into fear and confusion.
"I-I'm sorry, Master," Cogsworth stammered. "I only t-thought to inform him of y-your well being."
"You should have told me," he muttered as he stared at the floor between his knees.
"I have a reply." At Cogsworth's words, Adam's head snapped up in surprise and saw the portly man holding up a letter. He took it, resisting the urge to snatch it from Cogsworth, and held it suspiciously in his hands. It was still sealed with wax indicating that it had not yet been read.
"Would you like me to read it?" Cogsworth suggested, obviously seeing Adam's hesitation.
"No." Adam took a breath and carefully unfolded the letter. As he skimmed over the words written on the page, his heart began to pound first with anticipation, then with anger, and finally with terror. He crumpled the letter in his hands, wishing he could forget the words he read only to smooth the page out and read it again.
"What does it say?" Cogsworth pressed.
"My father is dead," he said flatly. "My uncle has taken over since apparently my father had told everyone I had died as a child. No wonder I hadn't heard from anyone after he left." Adam thought he should be feeling something at this news, sorrow, rage . . . anything. But instead he only felt numb.
"I'm so sorry, Master," Cogsworth said and Adam could tell that he was sincere.
"It doesn't matter. My uncle is on his way to see if what you wrote to him is true and that I'm alive. I suppose we'll have to come up with some story to tell him." Adam crumpled the letter once again, balling it in his hands. "I wonder what he thought all the food and clothing was for, then," he said and laughed without cheer at the image of his uncle's face when he received requests for women's gowns.
"I'll see that a room is prepared for him," Cogsworth said with a bow and left, but Adam hardly noticed.
His father had told everyone he was dead? Had he really wanted to forget Adam so badly as to fake his own son's death? But now his father was dead, truly dead, and Adam felt no remorse at that news.
Deciding to think about that later, he focused his attention instead on the imminent arrival of his uncle. Adam had not seen Gustave since he was about Chip's age, but he could vaguely recall fond memories of the man. Would Gustave recognize Adam? And what if he did; would Gustave give Adam back his rightful inheritance, or simply shun his nephew? If he chose the latter, Adam would have nowhere to go; he would lose everything. But neither did he want his uncle to have to give up his station.
He shook his head in confusion and decided to go see Belle, the letter still crumpled in his fist. When no one answered when he knocked at Belle's bedroom door, he went immediately to the library hoping she was there as she so often was.
As he opened the doors to the library, he spotted Belle in the cushioned window seat surrounded by several children whom she was apparently reading to. Careful not to disturb her enraptured audience, Adam took a seat nearby and waited till she was finished. Belle smiled at him when she noticed him walk in but did not pause in her reading.
Adam sat back and listened to the story, something about a lad who climbed a giant beanstalk to get to an ogre's treasure in the sky. He was amused by the way Belle read the story to the children, changing her tone of voice to make the events of the story sound more dramatic. Some of the children even shrieked when the lad was hastily chopping down the beanstalk before the ogre could attack him.
"Another!" they cried when Belle closed the book of fairy tales she had been reading from.
"Maybe later," Belle said. "I think the Master has something to talk to me about. Why don't you go play and I'll read you another later on."
"I'm going to be Jack!" Chip declared, jumping up and miming swordplay. "I'm going to slay the ogre and take his magic flute."
"It was a harp," one of the girls corrected.
Chip merely shrugged and stated that he would take both, then he declared that the girl was the ogre and chased her out of the library, surrounded by the other laughing and shrieking children.
"Noisy little things, aren't they?" Adam said as their playful cries echoed down the hallway.
"They're just excited," Belle replied with a broad smile. "I just hope they don't get in anyone's way while they're playing."
"They'll be fine," he insisted, not particularly caring if they stirred up the place a bit.
"You look worried about something," she said, her expression dropping into one of concern for him. Recalling why he sought her out in the first place, he lifted his hand and revealed the crumpled letter he still held.
"What's this?" she asked and took the paper from him. He didn't answer, allowing her to read and find out for herself. As she smoothed out the letter, Adam returned to his seat in the armchair and watched Belle's face as she silently read. Almost immediately, her brow furrowed in confusion and her eyes flew across the page faster.
"I—" she started, but quickly glanced back at the page again. "I'm sorry about your father."
"I'm not," he responded without thinking. Adam paused in horror at what he had just said. "Belle, I'm not sorry. What's wrong with me? I should feel something, shouldn't I?" It frightened him to know that he felt no sorrow at the knowledge of his father's death. He had no ambition of returning to the horrible, hard-hearted person he once was, but did his lack of emotion at this major event mean there was no hope for him?
Belle knelt on the ground by his chair and placed a hand on his knee. She was looking at him with such sincere sympathy Adam was stunned for a moment. "What your father did to you was awful, Adam," she began. "He should not have left you like that. And to isolate you as he had by saying you were dead was horrible. From what you told me, you two never had a very good relationship with each other and you hadn't seen him in over ten years. He wasn't a large enough part of your life to justify a strong reaction to this, I don't think. Everyone reacts differently to this sort of news, anyway. Nothing is wrong with you, Adam."
"How can you be so sure?" Belle always knew just what to say to ease his mind, but was what she said true?
"You have a good heart, Adam. You have to trust that what you feel is right, even if it isn't what you think you're supposed to be feeling." Adam placed his head in his hands for a moment, letting Belle's words sink in.
"What about the other part," he said after a moment, rubbing his face and returning his attention back to Belle. "About my uncle coming here."
"I'm not sure I understand that part," she confessed, glancing back at the letter in her hand. "To me it brings up more questions than it answers. He's coming here to see if you're still alive, but what does that mean for you? Aren't you supposed to inherit the land from your father? But then what would happen to your uncle? I wonder what he thought he was sending all that food and clothing for. And why hasn't he ever come to the castle?"
Adam felt his forehead wrinkle in confusion as Belle rattled off her questions. Belle had a point: why hadn't anyone come to the castle before? Perhaps his father had said something about it before he died, but what?
"I don't know," he said, still deep in thought. "I'm confused about that myself, but I'm more worried about what I'm going to tell him about where I was for the past ten years."
"I wonder. . .I wonder if you shouldn't just tell him the truth," Belle said hesitantly.
"What?" How could she suggest such a thing? If anything would guarantee the loss of his position and his home, it would be the telling of such an unbelievable story. His uncle would think Adam had gone mad, which would be a brilliant excuse for why his father said Adam was dead: to hide his insane son from the world. "No one would believe such a ridiculous story," was all he said but his voice was harsh to his own ears.
"I did. I knew this castle was enchanted from my first night here," she retaliated.
"Because you saw it. Talking clocks and candlesticks are easier to believe when you're the one having the conversation with them!"
"So show him proof. Surely you still have the mirror and the wilted rose." That gave Adam pause. The rose still stood under the bell jar, floating as it had for ten years only now it had grown whole again and showed no further sign of magic. It was now only a reminder of what had been. He still had the mirror too, of course, but he had not tried to see if it still held its enchantment.
It didn't matter either way; he couldn't tell his uncle what really happened to him. "No," he grunted. "I still have them, but I will not tell my uncle the truth." Belle looked shocked at his words which only deepened Adam's anger. Why didn't she understand?
"Fine," she said and Adam watched her face set into the same intimidating expression she wore whenever they disagreed: stubbornness. "I think it's a mistake, but you have to choose." Belle stood and, to Adam's surprise, began to make her way out of the library. "You may have broken the spell," she said just before she left. "But you're still letting it control your life."
Belle left without another word, leaving Adam sitting stunned in his chair.
She strode quickly through the castle, hardly aware of where she was going, her mind still on the argument she and Adam just had. Why wouldn't he tell his uncle about the enchantment? A lie would only get found out and perhaps make things between Adam and his remaining family worse. Besides, why shouldn't Adam's uncle believe the truth, especially once he saw the rose and heard the servants' confirm the story?
To deny that it happened required a very large lie, more complex than the simple traveling story they sent with the servants who left the castle. Adam's uncle would doubtless ask many questions, making the lie harder and harder to stick to until it would finally unravel, leaving Adam worse off than he was before. And to deny such an enchantment would be to deny all that Adam had accomplished during that time, at least from Belle's point of view.
Besides, how would Adam explain Belle's presence without the enchantment? A simple peasant girl had no right to live in a castle, let alone fall in love with the Prince. Though she knew it wasn't his intention, but by denying the enchantment it felt a bit like Adam was denying her. The very thought made her queasy and she decided what she needed was fresh air.
She felt herself relax the moment she stepped outside, breathing in the soft spring air that seemed almost to embrace her. As she began walking down the cobbled path the spring air became heavy with the scent of freshly turned earth. It was a comforting smell that reminded her of life and growing things, so she followed it hoping to find its source. She turned the corner of the castle and found a man in a straw hat working at turning the dirt of a large garden bed several yards wide.
"Hello," she greeted him as she drew closer. The man looked up at the sound of her voice and Belle saw the hardened features of a man who had spent a long life outdoors.
"Bonjour, mademoiselle," he replied, not quite smiling but neither did he seem displeased that she had interrupted his work. "Is there something I can help you with?"
"Oh, no thank you. I was just wondering what you were working on."
"Just a flower bed, perhaps for some irises. Just something to fill this corner. The real garden is in the back, you know," he added, jabbing a thumb in the direction of the expansive garden Belle had seen only covered in snow.
"Oh, yes I know. I think this corner deserves some attention too, though." The man nodded: apparently Belle had pleased him by saying that. "Would you like some help?"
The man eyed her curiously. "Aren't you the Master's lady?" he asked.
"Oh sorry, yes. I'm Belle," she introduced herself quickly, remembering her manners.
"Louis," he said with another nod. "But I meant why is the Master's lady wanting to dig about in the dirt with an old man like me?"
"I'm quite a bit more than the Master's lady," she retaliated gently. Louis looked at her skeptically for a moment before motioning to the wheelbarrow in which his tools lay. Belle picked up a second hoe and took a place beside Louis, digging and turning the dirt as she had so many times in her own gardens at the cottage. As she worked, she felt her frustrations at Adam's refusal to admit the truth ebb away. Her focus instead turned on the gentle warmth of the spring sun and the rich smell of the earth, finding peace in the silent company of Louis.
"That was well done," Louis praised a little while later when the ground had been turned to prepare it for planting.
"It feels good to be working in the garden again," she admitted, admiring their simple accomplishment.
"We'll let the dirt sort itself out for a few days then start planting," Louis said, taking the tool from Belle and placing both their tools back in the wheelbarrow.
"We?" Belle was surprised; from the man's silence Belle was afraid he wasn't entirely please with her presence.
"If you like." Louis was a mystery to Belle; he didn't seem very disagreeable, but he never seemed to say much. Determined to figure him out, Belle declared her intentions of coming back to help him plant the flowers. She couldn't be sure, but Belle thought she saw the hint of a smile on Louis' wrinkled face.
Belle went inside as Louis walked the opposite way down the path, intending to go directly to her room to wash the dirt from her hands. She never got that far, though. As she climbed the stairs in the entrance hall, Cogsworth came barreling down to meet her. The poor man always looked as though he were moments away from panic, but as he approached her Belle saw that he was truly distressed.
"Belle, thank goodness!" he puffed breathlessly as he approached her.
"What's wrong?" Belle asked quickly.
"I've done something very wrong," he confessed, dabbing at his sweating forehead with a handkerchief. "I wrote to the Master's father without his permission and received some very disturbing news in reply."
"I know," Belle confessed. "Adam came to talk to me about it, but I'm afraid I didn't do much to help."
"Well either way he's locked himself in the West Wing again. I thought we had gotten passed all that nonsense," he added as if to himself. "Could you help him?"
"Last time I only made it worse," she said, shaking her head at the memory of the argument just a few hours ago. "I don't think I'll be able to help him now. I don't agree with him on this, you see."
"I-I don't understand," Cogsworth said after a long pause. He looked on the verge of a breakdown, so Belle calmly explained all that had happened between herself and Adam after he had presented her with the letter.
"So you see, I'm partly the problem now. I still think it's wrong of him to lie to his uncle as he intends," Belle finished. "I can't console him when I think he's in the wrong."
"I see," Cogsworth said slowly. "There's no chance of you changing your mind?" Belle merely raised her eyebrow at Cogsworth. "No, of course you can't. And between you and I, I quite agree with you. But there is so much to be done before his uncle arrives in just a fortnight. If he insists on hiding away, it won't matter what the story is; his uncle won't be able to confirm that the Master is alive and he'll be denied his rightful inheritance!"
Belle sighed, supposing that Cogsworth was right: this was too important an event for Adam to hide away and refuse to prepare for. "I'll see what I can do," she finally consented. It seemed a bit hopeless, but she had been up against worse when it came to Adam.
Though she promised Cogsworth she would go immediately to the West Wing, she detoured to her room and took the time to wash the dirt from her hands. This act was not so much for the sake of cleanliness, but rather to give her time to think of what on earth she could say to Adam. When had thoroughly scrubbed her fingers twice, she decided she couldn't stall any longer and made her way up to Adam.
She knocked on the massive door to the West Wing, ignored the growling reply of 'Leave me' that came from inside, and pulled the door open.
"I said leave—" Adam started and turned as he was speaking but stopped abruptly. Clearly he had not expected Belle to be there.
Belle took a moment before she spoke, noticing how Adam stood by the small table that still held the bell jar and the mirror. It was clear he had been brooding over the rose and Belle realized how agonizing those ten years of enchantment must have been for him. Who was she to insist he retell such a painful story? But Belle wasn't ready to surrender just yet, so she merely crossed her arms and waited for Adam to say something. Adam said nothing however, only looked at her miserably once then turned back to the rose. This simple, sorrowful action reminded her strongly of her tortured Beast and Belle's stubborn anger waned quickly.
She moved towards Adam's side cautiously, concerned that Adam might revert back to his Beastly temper as well as his sorrow, but she need not have feared. Adam merely stood stooped over the small table, his only acknowledgement of her approach was to turn his head slightly in her direction.
Belle placed a hand on his back and leaned her head on his shoulder, silently joining Adam in gazing at the rose. It was a whole, full blossom again, floating a few inches above the table but no longer glowed as it once had. The enchantment over it was gone, serving only now as a reminder of what had been. Beside her, Adam still had not moved but Belle could feel his pain radiating from him. Belle closed her eyes and tried to imagine all the lonely, angry suffering Adam must have endured for those ten years. Her heart broke at the thought and yet she felt that her imagination had not even come close to the full scale of it.
"I still think you should tell your uncle the truth," Belle began gently. "But perhaps we can come up with a different story." Adam said nothing, so Belle moved to peer at his face directed down at the edge of the table and his eyes closed. "Adam?" She placed a hand delicately on his cheek to gently suggest that he draw his head up. He responded to her touch and Belle's heart ached at the grief she saw in his eyes. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said such things to you."
Adam still did not speak, but moved to wrap his arm around Belle's shoulders and drew her close to him. She responded to the embrace willingly, wrapping her arms around him firmly as if by doing so she could keep his wounded heart from shattering.