The Inventor's Daughter?
The Inventor's Daughter
Lazy, worthless runt.
His father's words still echoed in seventeen-year-old LeFou's mind as he trudged along the forest path, collecting firewood. They were not the worst names he had been called in his life; in fact they were comparatively kinder than the usual. It was a relief that half the men of the village were gone hunting or that really would have been a generous insult. No, the words really weren't all that hurtful. However any time an insult is spoken by one's father, it makes the pain run twice as deep.
"I'm not that worthless," LeFou muttered to himself, bending down to scoop up a sturdy stick. LeFou knew that he wasn't as great as the other boys in the village. He had always been short and rather round, with a large nose and uneven smile. Hunting and fighting had never been his strong points, and he had failed miserably at every useful trade that he had tried to learn. It wasn't that he was stupid, he was just a bit slow and his brain didn't always work as fast as the other boy's did.
The village boys enjoyed pointing this out at every opportunity they could, continually teasing him and fighting with him, knowing that they would win. They jeered at him, giving him dozens of cruel names on his every fault, which were a great many. Then after being bullied by the other boys he would go home where his father, tired and angry, would torment him as well in some form or another. If he wasn't being ridiculed, he was being ignored.
LeFou had slowly learned to brush off the abuse but it always left him feeling lonely. There was no one in the village who would really side with him. Everyone knew just as well as he did that he was generally despised. If only there were someone who would give him a chance. If only he had a friend…
With a sigh, LeFou started back toward the village with his armful of wood. He knew that it wouldn't be enough to make his father happy, but his little arms wouldn't hold any more. He could barely see over what he was carrying now. He was just passing the abandoned cottage that stood across the bridge from town when something caught his eye. There was smoke coming from its chimney. Someone was living there!
So distracted by this bizarre sight, LeFou forgot to watch his step and his foot caught in a root that grew out onto the bridge. With a startled yell he tumbled forward and his armful of wood scattered out ahead of him, half of it falling into the brook. "Oh mon deiu," he cursed in panic, trying to scrabble up to collect the pieces but his foot was still tangled and he fell again, hitting his head against the bridge rail.
"Are you alright?"
The concerned voice made LeFou look up and for a moment he thought he must have hit his head rather hard. Kneeling over him was a beautiful girl, likely no more than a year younger than him, and she was looking at him with such kindness that he felt sure she was an angel. LeFou could only stare at her, too stunned to speak.
The angel put a hand on his arm lightly and her touch was soft and warm. "Are you alright?"
LeFou shook himself back to reality and struggled to find his voice again. "Am I dead?" LeFou asked and he put a hand over the throbbing part of his head, checking for some fatal wound. There was a large bump but nothing that should have killed him. The angel girl was examining him in concern that bordered on fear and shook her head. "Gee, I thought you was an angel come to take me to heaven."
The moment the words had left his lips LeFou felt embarrassment flooding into him and the colour rose in his face. The angel smiled sweetly, but her own cheeks had turned rosy. "My name is Belle," she said. "My father and I just moved into that cottage."
"My name's LeFou," he said timidly. He attempted to sit up straighter but his foot was still entangled in the spidery root. He hastily tried to free it but his stubby fingers were shaking and he had a hard time getting any grip. Suddenly there were slim, tapered fingers beside his own and his foot slipped out of the knot.
"Merci," LeFou said, his cheeks still burning. He glanced around at the scattered firewood and had to bite back a sigh. He would be returning home with only half of the measly load he'd had before. His father would be furious.
"Do you need help collecting that?" Belle asked, following his gaze. Then without waiting for his answer she stood and began gathering the wood. LeFou hurried to join her. When they had once again stacked all the branches at the end of the bridge, Belle eyed it with a frown. "That's not a lot," she said.
"Well a lot of it's gone down the river," LeFou said, humiliated that he could carry so little. "Father'll pro'ly send me back out again to fetch more." He lifted a hand to tug at the fringe dropping into his eyes and Belle gasped. "Huh?"
"Your arm's hurt," she said and when LeFou twisted his arm he saw a narrow scratch on his forearm. "Here, let me tend that." Belle took his hand and pulled him down to the river bank. LeFou was so startled by the feel of her hand in his that he complied without thought as she knelt and dragged him down as well. She drew a handkerchief from her apron and dipped it in the water before touching it to his arm. The cold brought LeFou back and he flinched away from it. Belle grabbed his hand and pulled his arm toward her again, giving him a pointed look as she pressed the cloth to the wound again.
When she'd finished she squeezed most of the water from the kerchief and then tied it around his arm in a makeshift bandage. "Merci," he said yet again, touching the soft cloth with his fingertips thoughtfully.
"Why are you not on the hunt with the other men?" Belle asked, wide brown eyes full of curiosity. "Papa said all the boys in the village were on the hunt."
"I'm no good at it," LeFou muttered. He examined Belle, the beautiful young girl who treated him so kindly, and suddenly everything came rushing out of him. She listened attentively as he told her how he was teased and ridiculed by everyone for being short and fat and slow. He told her how his father despised him because his mother had died in childbirth and had never been able to give him a son to be proud of. And he told her how more than anything in the world he just wanted to be accepted by the other boys.
By the time he ran out of words, Belle was sitting at his side, her hands on his forearm comfortingly. They were quiet for a long time as Belle eyed him with a thoughtful look in her eyes. "LeFou, have you read many stories?"
LeFou's face wrinkled in confusion. "No, I never learned," he admitted.
Belle looked shock at this but she quickly regained her composure. "Well in all the stories, the main character is always a bit of an outcast and nobody is very nice to him. But then he does something very brave and saves everyone and he becomes a hero." She smiled gently at him. "That's you, LeFou. They might be mean to you now, but in the end you'll be the hero with the happily ever after."
LeFou stammered another thanks, but the gratitude in his eyes was so much more profound. "You're the nicest person I know," he finished.
Looking pleased, Belle stood up. "Let's do something about that woodpile," she said. She led him around to the back of the cottage and began pulling thick branches from the wood store against the wall.
"No, I can't do that," LeFou said quickly. "That's your wood. I'll get me some more tomorrow."
"Don't worry about it," Belle said, thrusting the branches into his arms. "Papa is going to build a machine to chop wood soon so we will have plenty. Besides, maybe if you bring home a lot of wood then your papa will be impressed." Although LeFou was intrigued by this idea he continued to argue with Belle, but she would hear nothing of it.
"Gee you're stubborn," he remarked with amusement when his arms were once more full of wood and she finally deemed herself satisfied. "You sure this is okay?"
"If you're that worried about it we can find a way for you to pay me back," Belle answered.
"How?" LeFou asked, eager to repay her for her kindness.
Belle thought about it and then smiled. "You can come over sometimes and let me read to you," she said. "I used to read to Papa but he is so busy with his inventions that I can't anymore. Let me read to you instead." LeFou agreed instantly and, both of them smiling, they returned to the bridge.
LeFou's smile faded when he spotted the other pile of wood waiting for him, since his arms were already full. Belle followed his gaze and frowned in thought. "I know," she said abruptly. "Your belt!"
"Take off your belt," she instructed. "You can wrap it around all the wood and carry it like they carry schoolbooks." LeFou did as she said and he could easily carry all of the wood and still see where he was going. After thanking Belle several more times, LeFou hurried home. Just as he was piling the last of the wood behind his house his father came home from his shop. His father could only stare in wonder as LeFou smiled at him and went into the house. That was the first night that LeFou's father had no harsh words for his son before retiring for the night.
It was three days before LeFou found time to return to Belle's cottage. While his father was at the tavern he snuck off to see her. When he crossed the bridge he noticed that the tangled roots that had grabbed his foot were gone and the dirt looked freshly churned. He knew instantly that it was Belle's doing.
He found Belle laying on her stomach on a grassy hill behind her cottage, an open book on the ground before her. When she saw him she smiled and waved him over.
"I'm so glad you came today," she said and he laid down beside her. "This is the perfect story to read to you. It's one of those hero stories I told you about." Then without further delay she flipped back to the first page and began reading aloud. LeFou, despite never having made it through the first page of any book himself, found himself completely drawn in. She read until the sun touched the horizon and then they parted ways for the evening.
The secret reading sessions continued whenever LeFou could get away from home. Every few days he would meet her on the grassy hill and she would read to him until nearly sundown, when he would leave to beat his father home. On the steady diet of heroic faerie tales she fed him, LeFou gradually built up an inner hopeful confidence. He was no less clumsy or bumbling, but the insults began to roll off him without affect. His sense of humor grew and it was much more often that his buck-toothed smile was seen. The changes in him were unnoticed by himself but to the rest of the village they were remarkable and no one could find a cause behind them.
Winter brought a temporary hiatus to their meetings, neither of them wanting to find a different place to continue. That grassy hill was their special place to be away from the gossipy villagers and to be themselves. Having their little secret gave the boring provincial life an excitement and mystery and intrigue that they were both thirsting for. To hold their reading sessions anywhere else would break the magic.
The times they passed each other in town they would smile and acknowledge each other as long as Belle was not already preoccupied with a book, but they never spoke except to exchange a pleasant hello. Not only did they consider their reading session a secret but their friendship as well. Neither of them felt the need to expose their secret friendship to the villagers who would only taint it with their gossip and rumors. This way they kept their perfect world to themselves and the rest of the world was oblivious to their hidden happiness.
It was nearing the end of winter when one evening Lefou's father brought him along to the tavern. Lefou was eager and excited, having never been allowed to accompany his father before, and he was enthusiastically impatient about finally being able to join the other men in the typical drinking and listening to thrilling hunt stories. While his father wandered off to join a group of his usual drinking buddies Lefou sat down at a table near where the other boys of around his age were gathered. At the center of the group was the tavern owner's twenty-one-year-old son, Gaston. The young Gaston was the envy of every man in town including many far older than him. His hunting skills were renowned and he was exceedingly popular because of it. At the moment he was reciting an animated recreation of one of his most remarkable hunts in which he'd taken down a full-grown bear at the age of only twelve years.
"It rose up on its back legs, roaring to shake the trees and its claws gleaming in the light," Gaston recounted, stretching himself up to his own considerable height and mimicking the bear. "With it standing over me I knew if I made a mistake, well, I'd be done for. So I grabbed my rifle and – bang! – shot the brute right there." He paused to point at the underside of his chin where it connected to his neck. "The bullet went straight through its head. Killed it with only one shot."
There were murmurs of awe from the surrounding boys but Lefou's was the loudest. "Gee, you must be the greatest hunter in the whole world," he said, so caught up in the story and the pleasant hum the mug of ale had left in his mind that he had forgotten he wasn't really part of the group. Not to mention that all of them had been among the cruelest to him with Gaston at their head. When he realized what he'd done he quickly clamped his mouth shut and looked down at the table.
"Why yes, I am," Gaston replied proudly. The other boys snickered and moments later they returned to their stories, forgetting entirely about Lefou and his outburst. Not long after Lefou grew tired and started for home, hoping to put the awkward night behind him. He had hardly gone two steps beyond the door when a booming voice called for him to stop. To his surprise, he turned to see Gaston approach him.
"It's Lefou, isn't it?" the hunter asked. He barreled on, only giving time for Lefou to nod hastily. "You know, I've been looking for someone to come along on my hunting trips and help me out a bit. Carry bags and retrieve birds, things like that. I think you might be just the right sorta guy."
"Me?" Lefou spluttered, flabbergasted. This was it, his chance to belong. He would be a part of the group and finally fit in with the other boys. And being a companion of the greatest hunter in the world was certainly something to make his father proud of him. "Well yeah, okay."
"Perfect," Gaston said and then he steered Lefou back into the tavern where he was brought to the table with the other boys. After a mug of beer was pressed into his hand Lefou settled down, a little confused but happy at the night's strange turn of events. He listened along with the others while Gaston retold tale after exciting tale, and whenever he threw in an eager compliment the hunter swelled proudly and grinned. Lefou had never felt so appreciated in his life.
The rest of the winter passed in about the same fashion. Lefou spent his days following Gaston and helping him with whatever he could, and then his evenings were spent in the tavern where he listened to the hunter's stories and applauded his bravery and strength and talent. The other boys, seeing that Lefou was under Gaston's protection now, stopped teasing him as often and even his father insulted him less. Lefou was ecstatic. The only way things could be better were if he could resume his reading sessions with Belle.
When spring finally came Lefou found it impossible to make time for her. Between the numerous hunting trips he now joined in on and the long evenings at Gaston's side in the tavern he was too busy. It wasn't until several weeks into the warm weather that he managed to escape. Gaston had gone on a private hunting trip with his father and had informed Lefou he wouldn't be needed. Although he was a little putout at being brushed aside, he rushed to Belle's cottage midafternoon and was delighted to find her sitting on the hill with a book, just the way he remembered her.
"Lefou, you're back!" she cried when she spotted him. Lefou grinned madly and ran up to join her. "It's been so long, how are you? Before we start reading, tell me what has happened to you this winter."
"Belle, it's great," Lefou said and then launched into the story of becoming Gaston's companion. He poured over every glorious way that things had improved in his life. And most of all he confessed to her how his dream of being accepted by the other boys had finally come true.
"Oh Lefou, this is so wonderful," Belle said and she threw her arms around him, pulling him into a hug. "I am so glad you are happy." Lefou's chest fluttered as he hugged her back, realizing just how much he had missed being close to her. She was the greatest person he'd ever known and he knew that she understood his dreams and worries better than anyone could. She never judged him like the other villagers and she was the dearest friend he could ever ask for. And most of all, he knew that he was undeniably in love with her.
"Well, let's get started on a story, shall we?" she asked when she finally released him and within minutes the pair of them had fallen back into their usual pattern. She read to him until sundown and then they parted ways, Lefou feeling lighter than he had even on the first night he'd been accepted into the group. With Gaston gone on his hunting trip Lefou was free to return the following afternoon, and the day after that, and the next day as well. By the end of the fourth evening Lefou had made a decision. He was going to ask Belle to marry him.
The thought felt strange and frightening to Lefou when he first considered it. He had never been a romantic person mostly because he had never fit in with the villagers enough to associate with the girls. Even now he felt awkward and shy when he spoke to them and they usually laughed off his comments. However Belle always listened to him as attentively as he listened to Gaston, seeming to drink in his words and never laughing at him. She had been his first friend, the first one to be kind to him although he was not like the other boys. They had both been outcasts who found comfort in each other and he knew if there was any woman in the world who could love him it would be her.
He had already raised enough money working for Gaston to buy a small house. His earnings could support them, he was sure. Belle would not demand a lot of him, those things did not matter to her. Now all he needed was to raise money for a ring.
The day after he had made his decision, Gaston returned from his hunting trip. Lefou was unable to see Belle again as he spent night after night in the tavern listening to Gaston's new hunt stories. An entire month passed in which Lefou saw Belle only when she was in the village. Occasionally the men would talk badly about her, saying how it was wrong of her to read and how she was unusual and peculiar. Lefou never defended her, afraid of jeopardizing his position among them, but inwardly he cringed. One day he would be brave enough to stop them.
By the end of the following month Lefou had raised enough money for the ring. He found himself in an exceptionally great mood that morning as he went to join Gaston. The hunter did not notice but Lefou didn't care. They were walking down the main road when Gaston suddenly lifted his rifle. Looking up expectantly, Lefou saw a formation of geese cutting through the sky overhead. The rifle fired and as a bird spiraled downward Lefou hurried to catch it. He missed but hastily scooped the bird out of the dirt and tucked it into the sack before Gaston would notice.
As Gaston rounded the corner Lefou smiled at him enthusiastically. "Wow, you didn't miss a shot Gaston. You're the greatest hunter in the whole world," he cried and heard the typical self-assured response. "No beast alive stands a chance against you. And no girl for that matter," he added, nudging the hunter with an elbow.
"It's true, Lefou," Gaston said, scooping up the little companion a little roughly but Lefou's good mood dulled the discomfort. Nothing was going to beat him down today, not even being thrown around like a ragdoll or being pinned in a stranglehold in the hunter's thick arm. "And I've got my sights set on that one."
Lefou followed the direction of Gaston's rifle gesture and felt the bottom of his stomach drop out. "The inventor's daughter?" This could not be happening. Not today, not when he was going to ask her himself. Impossible.
"She's the one, the lucky girl I'm going to marry," Gaston said with a large amount of bravado.
"But she's – " Lefou started as he was dropped to the ground again.
"The most beautiful girl in town," Gaston overrode him.
"I know, but – " Lefou tried to plead frantically but his sentence spiraled off when he felt the butt of the rifle dropped onto his head. Before he could pick up the argument again the hunter grabbed the collar of his jacket and lifted him bodily from the ground.
"And that makes her the best," Gaston said, raising his voice dangerously. "And don't I deserve the best?"
"Well of course, I mean you do, but I – " For the third time in a row Lefou found himself being overridden by the hunter as Gaston launched on, ignoring his shorter companion entirely. Lefou was terror-stricken. He knew that Belle would never agree to marry Gaston, that was not his fear. She was far too smart and he had heard her more than once comment on how much she loathed the hunter, although she had stopped this when Lefou had started working for him. However if the great hunter had set his sights on her then she was out of Lefou's reach forever. He could never try to succeed in a place where Gaston had failed. The hunter would toss him away and he would be spurned by nearly the entire population of the village for defying the great Gaston, town hero. He might win Belle but he would no longer have any means to support her and he couldn't, in right conscience, marry her without being able to provide for her in some way. Of course now he thought about it, he wasn't even sure that she would have agreed to marry him either…
Feeling utterly crushed, Lefou followed silently as the hunter continued in his way. He had lost Gaston in the crowd but finally caught up to him again near the bridge that led to Belle's cottage. The hunter had confronted her and although he was sure the hunter couldn't tell, Lefou could see that she was thoroughly annoyed with him. With a quick excuse of getting home, Belle made to leave.
This was it, the moment when he would sever his hopes with Belle. Hopefully in the process he would damage Gaston's hopes with her as well. "That crazy old loon?" he said with and exaggerated amount of show. "He needs all the help he can get." As the hunter burst into laughter he saw the hurt and indignation on Belle's face.
"Don't talk about my father that way!" she snapped heatedly and Lefou felt his chest tighten at the pain in her eyes. She must feel so betrayed to hear her friend make a comment like that. It cut him like a knife.
"Yeah, don't talk about her father that way!" Lefou was too slow to dodge the swing that Gaston aimed at him and with a heavy groan he fell, missing the remainder of the conversation. Not that it mattered to him anymore. That chapter of his life had closed.
His life had changed so dramatically since he had met Belle. Over the long year he had grown so much. When they had met he had been a terrified, future-less coward. Nothing in his life seemed to go the right way and it had driven him to the breaking point. Then she had appeared in his life like an angel and had saved him. She had given him confidence and strength, believing in him like no other person ever had. He recalled her words, the words she had spoken to him that very first day.
Well in all the stories, the main character is always a bit of an outcast and nobody is very nice to him. But then he does something very brave and saves everyone and he becomes a hero. That's you, LeFou. They might be mean to you now, but in the end you'll be the hero with the happily ever after.
You'll be the hero. Everything wonderful in his life was caving in on him but those words filled him with a sense of purpose. He would become that person somehow. He would do something brave and save someone, just like the people she had read to him about. And he would do it for her, for his Belle. She had given him so much, he'd do it to repay her. He would be her hero.
A fairy tale hero for the inventor's daughter.