Chapter 1


“Belle, where are you going?” Belle’s father asked her as she ran out the door.


“Nowhere, Papa. I will be back later,” Bella replied.


“If you aren’t going anywhere, then how will you be back later?” Belle’s father said wrinkling his nose as he pushed his spectacles up against his face.


It was too late for Belle to hear him. She was gone. With a basket full of food she had spent the morning preparing, she was already in the middle of the town square and headed towards the field that surrounded her hamlet.


Belle had been looking forward to this all week. Trudeau had told her that he would have something special for her when he arrived back. Belle was sure what that meant. He was going to ask her to marry him.


Belle had dreamed about marrying Trudeau ever since they were both thirteen years old. It was only a few months earlier that Belle had entered marrying age. Belle was excited to begin her new life with her love.


It took Belle thirty minutes to get to the stream. It was where he had said he would meet her. It was their special spot. It was the first place they had ever been alone together. It was the first place they had ever kissed. Belle’s young body tingled imagining what other firsts they would have there. And exiting the waist-high wheat field, she entered the clearing excitedly looking around for her love.


“Belle?” Her young suitor called out.


Belle whipped around seeing the love of her life. He was incredibly handsome. Dressed in his finest clothes, his curly blonde hair hung below his collar and his hairless masculine face topped what could only be described as a perfect physique.


Belle felt her sex tingle just looking at him. There was so much about him that made her feel like a woman. She couldn’t wait to be his wife so that he could hug her in the way that married people did. It was all that she wanted in life and her heart pounded thinking that her new life could begin today.


With her basket still hanging on her forearm, she ran to her love and gave him a kiss. With his pink lips on hers, she felt a wave of heat rush through her. She was helpless to it. She never wanted to remove her lips. If he hadn’t pulled away, she was never going to let go.


“Oh, Belle, I’ve missed you so much,” Trudeau said breathlessly.


“And I’ve missed you. Promise me you won’t go away for as long as that again.”


“You know I can’t promise you that, Belle. And I never want to lie to you.”


Belle stepped forward throwing her arms around him. She could hear his heart thumping in his chest. It made her weak in the knees. “I know you can’t, but I wish you could.”


“I wish I could too. Someday I won’t just be an assistant to a traveling merchant, though. I will be a merchant myself. Once I am, I’ll be able to travel when I want and stay-at-home when I want. When I can, I’ll spend all day and night with you.”


It was the suggestion that he would spend all night with her that made Belle’s heart race. She felt lightheaded. Seeing her unsteadiness, Trudeau reached for her and caught her as she started to sway.


“Are you all right, Belle?” He asked unsure of what was going on.


Staring into his sky-blue eyes, she felt embarrassed. She collected herself.


“Yes. I must be tired from the walk over.” Belle knew that wasn’t the case. She could do the walk in her sleep. But she had to tell him something. She couldn’t just tell him how in love with him she was. At least, not yet. “Perhaps if we sit down and had a little something to eat.”


Trudeau looked at Belle nervously. “Yes, let’s do that.”


Already standing at their favorite spot by the stream, Belle puts down her basket and retrieved a blanket. Trudeau helped her spread it out. With it outlining a square in between them, they took off their shoes and stepped on.


Sitting shoulder to shoulder, Belle laid out the contents of her basket in front of them. Belle had packed a wonderful lunch. There was bread, cheese, and grapes.


“I also brought this,” she said nervously showing him a bottle of wine. “I don’t know if you wanted any.”


“Sure,” he said insecure in his answer. Certainly, he had drunk wine before, but it hadn’t been very often. The truth be told, this would only be his second full glass. Still, that would be more than Belle. Although Belle’s father had bottles of wine in their home and would occasionally drink a glass with dinner, she hadn’t even had a sip.


Belle, however, wanted to be an adult. She wanted to marry Trudeau. And if Trudeau was going to be the person she was going to spend the rest of her life with, she wanted her first glass to be with him.


Retrieving two glasses, Belle next attempted to open the wine. She had seen her father do it but replicating his actions was harder than she had expected.


“Here, allow me,” Trudeau requested.


“No, I have it,” she said unwilling to give up her struggle. “It’s just a matter of…,” She thought as she spoke. “It’s a matter of applying the right amount of force.”


With her tongue between her teeth and sticking out of the side of her mouth, the cork exited the bottle with a pop. “I did it,” Belle said delightedly.


“You did,” Trudeau said taking joy in her success


“What should we drink to?” Belle asked filling the two glasses.


“How about, to us?”


Belle smiled. “Yes.”


The two clinked glasses, looked each other in the eye as it was custom, and took a sip. Belle wasn’t quite as ready for it as Trudeau was. The wine was a lot bitterer than she had expected. She coughed.


“Are you all right, Belle?”


“I’m fine,” she said again embarrassed. “It’s good,” she added not sure whether it was good or not. Trudeau saw her deception and laughed.


“You don’t have to drink it if you don’t like it.”


“No, I like it,” she said taking and even larger gulp.


Trudeau smiled staring at her. This was one of the things that he liked so much about Belle. Her spirit was unstoppable. She had more life in her than any other girl in their hamlet. He truly wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. And that was why he did what he did next.


“Belle?” He said as she drank half of her glass. “There’s something I want to ask you.”


Hearing those words, Belle froze. Was he about to ask what she thought he was? Her heart pounded and tears welled in her eyes.


“Yes, Trudeau?”


“You know I love you, don’t you, Belle?”


Belle’s hand shook realizing what was going on. She quickly set aside her glass and took Trudeau’s hands in her own. “I know you do. And I love you too.” It was the first time she had said it to him. She wasn’t sure why she had waited so long.


“You do?”


“Of course I do. I’ve loved you from the moment we met when we were kids.”


“I fell in love with you from the moment I saw you, too,” Trudeau told her feeling as though his heart was going to explode. “And that’s why…”


Trudeau slipped his hand from her grip and shifted onto one knee in front of her. Again taking her delicate hand into his, he could feel it shaking. She was so dainty and beautiful that he could hardly contain himself.


“Belle, I’m about to ask you something and if you say yes, it will make me the happiest boy that there has ever been.”


Belle could barely breathe from anticipation. “What is it, Trudeau. Just ask me.”




“Yes, Trudeau?” She asked, her heart thundering.


“Will you marry me?”


It was as if all of the air was sucked from her body. She felt as though she would burst with bliss. The world around her immediately seemed brighter. Staring into her love’s eyes, the moment seemed to stretch out into forever.


“Yes,” she finally said. “I will marry you. Yes!” She said beginning to cry.


At once, Trudeau was overcome with relief and joy. Belle’s hand in marriage was the only thing he had wanted since the moment they met. Everything he had done from that moment on was something he thought would win him her hand in marriage.


Now, here he was engaged to the most beautiful girl in the world. He felt like his life was complete. He leaned forward and kissed his soon-to-be wife. His manhood sprung to life as their lips touched.


Kissing her soon-to-be husband, Belle could barely contain herself. She was happier than she had ever been. Even while kissing him she was thinking about how she could further show him how much she loved him. She considered telling him all of her secrets but then realized that she had no secrets to tell.


What she could do, however, came to her in a flash. She didn’t know where the thought had come from, but for some reason, in that moment her crazy idea didn’t seem so crazy.


The one way that she could be even closer to her soon-to-be husband would be to show him the side of her that she had never shown to anybody. Modesty was something often preached in her small village and she had learned the lesson as well as anyone. But now Trudeau was going to be her husband. What better way to show him how much she loved him then to show him all of herself?


She couldn’t believe that she was considering this. What had come over her? Certainly, she had had dreams about doing adult things with the boy she had loved for so long. What girl wouldn’t have? But was she really going to give him this gift now instead of after their wedding?


Something within Belle screamed telling her that she should. As their kiss lingered and Belle’s body heated up to the boiling point, she made her first adult decision. She would.


Belle pushed away from her love continuing to stare him in the eyes. “I want to do something with you,” Belle told him.


“Anything, my love,” he replied.


Belle trembled as she moved further away from him. She couldn’t believe that she was doing it. She had expected to be a lot more afraid than she was. She wasn’t afraid at all, though. If anything, she would have described herself as excited.


Sitting more than an arm’s length from him, her shaking hands moved towards the buttons at her back. Watching Trudeau’s eyes, she saw them widen. She wanted him to be excited and he was. Even as she undressed, she could barely wait to be closer to him. Her young body seemed to yearn for his. And when she leaned forward revealing her undergarments, Trudeau’s face became beet red.


Mustering every ounce of courage within her, Belle stood up. Her legs wobbled. Her young body shook. Not done yet, she again reached behind her body. Working her camisole’s buttons between her fingers, she undid them one by one.


After that, her mood changed. Whereas before she was nervous, now she couldn’t wait to get her undergarments off. She wanted her love to see her as she truly was. When her camisole fell to the ground revealing her rounded breasts and erect nipples, her breath hitched.


Not stopping there, she next released the buttons on her bloomers. They fell to the ground. Her young body now stood before her soon-to-be husband begging to be touched. She stood there for what seemed to be forever and then stepped off of the blanket and headed towards the stream.


The chili water was familiar to her. This was where she would come to bath. But, not only that, this was where she would return in her dreams.


In her dreams, Trudeau would be walking by the stream stumbling upon her bathing. It was then that he would reveal his own naked body and enter the stream after her. Sometimes it was then that they would hug. It was that hug that she wanted most now.


“Come and join me,” Belle said bubbling with anticipation.


Trudeau, who was as flushed as Belle had ever seen him, didn’t say a word. Simply getting up, he slowly unbuttoned his shirt allowing it to fall to the ground. Belle had never seen his naked chest before. His muscles rippled like a man’s but his chest wasn’t hairy like one. Belle decided that he was as beautiful as the statues in the books she had read. She couldn’t imagine anyone better looking.


As Belle’s eyes followed his hands to his waist, she saw something unexpected. There was something bulging in his trousers. She had often heard the other girls joke about something like this, but for the life of her, she couldn’t figure out what they were talking about. This must’ve been it.


Belle again trembled knowing that she would be able to fill in the gaps in her dreams. Although Belle had dreamed about him naked and them hugging, everything below his waist always appeared as a blur. As he dropped his trousers and then his undergarment, she couldn’t believe what she saw.


Was that what a boy looked like naked? She asked herself. She would never have guessed. His horn was both scary and exhilarating. Her naked chest rose and fell considering what a boy was supposed to do with it when hugging a girl.


Belle was sure that Trudeau could hear her thundering heartbeat from where he stood. She felt an unexplainable yearning within her. She needed to be as close to her love that she could. When his broad feet stepped off of the blanket towards her, she was sure that she could burst into tears from anticipation.


Trudeau entered the gently moving stream parking himself more than an arm’s length in front of her. With the water catching him to his bellybutton, he stared at his love unsure of what he should do next. He desperately wanted to go to her and touch her but would she allow it? She was the most wonderful girl in the world, he only wanted to make her happy. So if she wanted him to stand there, as much as it made him ache, he would do it.


Belle wanted to do more than just look at him, though. She burned with the desire to touch him. Not sure if he would want her to, she slowly shifted forward. As she did, he did as well. And once they both saw each other moving to the other, their movements became faster eventually wrapping their naked bodies together meeting with their lips.


Belle couldn’t explain the feeling she got pressing her young breasts against his manly chest. It was exhilarating. Even more than that was the feeling of his stiff manhood pushing against her belly. She could feel the flesh between her legs twitch at the sensation. She wanted so badly for Trudeau to touch her down there. But it was not with his fingers that she wanted it. It was with his manhood.


Needing to be closer to him, she wrapped her arms around his neck and climbed up his body. Kissing him harder, she felt every sensation as the tip of his horn traveled down her body. Subtly spreading her legs, it sprung out grazing her swollen flesh. The sensation made her convulse. It was a better feeling than she had had in her life. It took her a moment to recover from it but when she did, she knew she needed more.


Almost feral from his touch, she loosened her grip from around his neck. It lowered her onto him. The tip of his horn slid across her flesh and then stopped. It had halted on her hole. This was where her pleasure was greatest.


She lowered herself causing herself pain. It wasn’t something that she wanted to avoid, though. It was a pain that somehow felt good. She asked for more of this pain as she lowered herself further. And when the pushing became almost too much, she felt a prick followed by the feeling of being filled by him.


Belle wasn’t sure what was going on but she liked it. The boy she loved was actually inside of her. There was no way that she could get closer to him than this. She was willing to stay like this forever.


That didn’t seem to be Trudeau’s plan, though. He pulled his hips back as if trying to pull himself out. Belle stood disappointed by his retraction and then was equally elated when her love’s manhood reversed its retreat and penetrated her again.


The feeling of this was beyond anything imaginable. At once, the sensation paralyzed her and set her mind free. Feeling Trudeau’s wonderful manhood pushing and pulling against her inside, her mind tumbled into depths it had never gone before. Her body tingled all over and the inside of her tightened with a new type of pain that felt good. The whole thing was becoming too much for her but she didn’t want him to stop.


As the rumbling built inside of her, Belle was feeling the impulse to scream. It felt so good that she wanted the world to know. She felt out of control. It was like she was tumbling towards the depths of pleasure. She couldn’t think of anything but what would happen next.


When Belle couldn’t contain it anymore, she latched her legs around her fiancé’s body and let out a piercing shriek. A wave of pleasure washed over her like warm honey. She was in ecstasy. Her moment was only interrupted when Trudeau let out a bellow of his own. He had enjoyed what they had done as much as she had.


It was quickly after that that Trudeau mercifully stopped his gentle thrusting. Belle just wanted to hold him and be as close to him as she could be. He seemed to be fine with that and she could have stayed in his embrace forever. A rustling within the brush next to the stream interrupted the two, though. Trudeau was the first to look around, but Belle soon released her love and turned as well.


“What was it?” Belle asked slowly losing the courage she had felt only moments ago.


“I don’t know. It could have been an animal,” Trudeau whispered.


“Do you think we should get out just in case?” Belle suggested.


“Maybe we should.”


Belle released Trudeau. To her surprise, his manhood was no longer inside of her. She hadn’t felt him take it out. And as she glanced at him as he left the stream, she was surprised to find that his horn was no longer as stiff as it once was.


The whole thing amazed Belle. She couldn’t wait to become his wife and be with him all day and all night. The pleasure she had just experienced with him was the greatest of her young life. She didn’t regret anything she had done with her fiancé and thought only of when she could do it again.


Once the two got dressed, they returned to the blanket and each other’s arms. They lay together and talked for what had to have been hours. When the bread and cheese were long gone and Belle had had all of the wine that she could handle, they decided to call it a day.


“Tomorrow I have to leave with Mr. Lafleur on a business trip. He has found a new territory that he would like us to explore. I will be gone a week but when I come back, I will have a ring. With it, I will ask your father for your hand in marriage. And, as soon as he gives his permission, I want to marry you, Belle. Is that okay with you?” Trudeau asked vulnerably.


“I would like that very much,” Belle said staring into Trudeau’s light eyes. “But why wait for the ring? If you ask my father tonight, he will say yes. I know he will. He loves you as much as I do. He already thinks of you as his son.”


“And I love him like the father I never had. We will be the greatest family together. But I want you both to have this moment. I want you to have a ring and I want it to be official.”


“Rings are what the people do in the city. They aren’t us, Trudeau. You don’t have to worry about that with my father.”


“But I want to do this. I want something that will show the whole world just how much I love you. I want something that tells them that you belong to me and that I belong to you.”


Belle stared at her loving fiancé. A ring wasn’t important to her but she could see that it was important to him.


“Then go with Mr. Lafleur. I will count down the moments until you’re back. And when you are, I will be the happiest girl in the world knowing that I will have the most caring and thoughtful husband ever.”


Belle kissed her fiancé’s lips again and then collected her things and headed home. On the walk back, she considered what she had done with her fiancé. Feeling him inside of her truly was the greatest sensation of her life. She felt giddy thinking about it. She thought about the smell of him and the way he felt in her arms. She felt like singing as she considered how lucky she was to have a man like Trudeau in her life.


“Belle?” Her father asked as she reentered their home. “Where have you been?”


“With Trudeau, Papa. He is simply the most wonderful man that I have ever met. I want him to be my husband, Papa.”


“And I’m sure he will ask you. You just have to be patient, my darling. Trudeau is a good man. He will make you a good husband. And as wonderful as you are, I am sure that you will make him a good wife,” her father said with a smile and a hug.


When Belle woke up the next morning, she was still on a high. Getting dressed, she knew she had errands to run. She was running low on flour and her father needed mulberries to make paint for his cuckoo clocks. Her father was the finest clockmaker outside of Paris. It was a wonder that he chose to live so far from his best customers. But ever since Belle’s mother had died, her father claimed that a hamlet like theirs would be the only place that wouldn’t drown him in the memory of his lost love.


As much as Belle thought that city life would better agree with her, she was fine with living the country life as long as it made her father happy. As nice as everyone was, it was a little tough on Belle, though. The idea of girls reading was a foreign concept to her neighbors. Belle couldn’t understand why. How could any of them believe that the only place for a girl was in the kitchen or in service to a man? That wasn’t how Belle was raised and she thanked her father every day that she wasn’t.


“Good morning, Mrs. Oakes. Good morning, Mrs. Embers,” Belle said passing her two neighbors as she headed to the shop. “What a glorious morning, isn’t it?” Belle didn’t think much about how her smile wasn’t returned. She often thought about how grumpy many of the women in her village were.


Belle entered the shop and spotted Mr. and Mrs. Cannon. “Good morning, Mr. Cannon. Good morning, Mrs. Cannon. Isn’t it just a wonderful day?”


“Why yes, Belle. It is,” Mr. Cannon replied.


“For some of us God fearing folks, it is. I can’t imagine how wonderful it could be for your type,” Mrs. Cannon said sternly stepping between Belle and her husband.


“Mrs. Cannon!” Belle said shocked. “Why would you say such a thing? It is a wonderful day for all of God’s creatures.”


“No, Belle. For sinners, God has no mercy,” Mrs. Cannon added.


Her husband turned to her shocked. “Mrs. Cannon? Why would you say such a thing to a wonderful girl like Belle?”


“Mr. Cannon, this girl is a sinner and a harlot. This girl is not the type of person that we want in our shop. We are God-fearing people and the shop is in our home.”


“Mrs. Cannon?” Her husband asked again. “How could you say that about Belle? We have known her since she was a baby. She has always been a good girl.”


“Mr. Cannon, a bad apple always eventually shows its worm.”


Belle looked at the two flabbergasted. She had no idea what Mrs. Cannon was talking about. “Why are you saying this, Mrs. Cannon? I demand you apologize to me.”


“I will not. God sees all things. He knows what you did at the stream yesterday and so does everyone else in this town.”


Belle went white with shock. How could anyone other than Trudeau know that? He would never have told anyone, so how could Mrs. Cannon now know?


“Whatever I did or didn’t do, I’m sure is none of your concern. But I can assure you that whatever I might have done was between me, my God, and my fiancé,” Belle said confidently.


“Your fiancé?” Mrs. Cannon said allowing her narrow birdlike face to express surprise. “Since when has Trudeau become your fiancé?”


“Since yesterday when he proposed to me.”


“And I suppose that he knows that he is your fiancé?” She asked doubtfully.


“Of course he does. He was the one who asked me,” Belle said defiantly.


“Well, until you present your fiancé to us, you will have to buy your supplies elsewhere. Mr. Cannon and I won’t allow a sinner such as yourself into our business or our home.”


“But I need the flour to make bread for dinner. I have been buying flour from your shop ever since I was a little girl.”


“And as you have proven yesterday, you are not a little girl anymore. But the question remains, are you now a respectable woman of God?”


Belle was flustered. She was not expecting to tell anyone about her good news and least of all under the threat of a woman like Mrs. Cannon. But if she knew about what she had done with Trudeau, others had to as well.


Mrs. Cannon had said that the entire town knew. Could that be true? Could her most intimate moment now be gossip for the idle minded women of the hamlet? If so, how had they found out?


Belle left the shop feeling her confidence waver. Looking around, everything now looked gray. She hadn’t noticed it before but now she could see that everyone was staring at her. The whole town had stopped to gawk at her and many of them leaned to each other and whispered.


A hollowness developed in her chest. Panicking about what everyone knew, she couldn’t breathe. They all knew what she had done with Trudeau and they were all judging her for it. Unsure of what to do, she yelled at them.


“Trudeau is now my fiancé. We got engaged. He left with Mr. Lafleur this morning to get a ring. He is going to be my husband. It is a wonderful thing,” she insisted convincing no one.


It was then that Belle heard her name shouted from a carriage headed into town. “Belle!” The voice screamed grabbing everyone’s attention. “Belle, you must come!”


Belle looked past the disapproving faces surprised at what she saw. It was Mr. Lafleur. What was he doing here? Trudeau had told her that the two were headed on a weeklong trip. Trudeau had insisted on going with him so that he could buy a ring.


“Mr. Lafleur?” Belle said running past the scornful townspeople to Mr. Lafleur’s approaching carriage.


“He is calling for you, Belle. You need to see him.”


“Who?” Belle begged terrified to admit who it was.


“It’s Trudeau. We were on the path through the Dark Forest when wolves attacked. The young man saved my life but now I fear that he won’t make it. He’s calling for you, Belle. I’m afraid he will not survive.”


At once, everything that was good and happy in Belle’s life drained out of her. She ran to the back of the carriage praying that none of it was true. It wasn’t a mistake, though. The bloody man who lay dying on the bed of Mr. Lafleur’s carriage was her love, Trudeau. She was stunned and devastated looking at him, but as his chest raised struggling for breath, Belle climbed onto the carriage and threw her arms around her dying love.


“Trudeau, please don’t leave me. I love you so much. You can’t go,” she said as the tears rolled down her cheeks.


“I love you too, Belle. I wasn’t able to get you your ring.”


“I don’t care about the ring,” Belle said her chest beginning to heave in devastation. “All I care about is you. Stay with me. Please! I beg you! I won’t be able to live without you!”


Trudeau did everything he could to reach out and take hold of Bell’s hand. He couldn’t. And as he tried, his chest fell expelling his last breath. As Trudeau stared at the only girl he would ever love, the spark disappeared from his eyes. Trudeau died.


“No!” Belle yelled trying to beckon her love back to her. “No, Trudeau. Come back to me! I can’t live without you,” she screamed. “I can’t live here without you!”


As if her soul had been ripped from her heart, Belle threw herself on top of her love and bawled endlessly. She cried until her eyes burned and her throat grew raw. Her bellows echoed off the buildings and reverberated through the town.


No one approached her until her father arrived. He pulled Belle off of her lost love and cradled her in his arms. She was inconsolable but her father promised to hold her tight until the day that she could again breathe easy.



Chapter 2


Belle laid casually at the edge of the stream reading a book. Since Trudeau’s death, books and baking had become her passions. Both were a problem. The only source of new books was at the church, a place she was told that she was no longer welcome until she showed remorse for her sin.


Also, the flour needed for baking could only be found at Mrs. Cannon’s supplies store, a place she was told that she was no longer welcome until – well, there was no until with that one. Mrs. Cannon had simply declared her a derelict and had refused to again sell anything to her.


That didn’t mean that Belle couldn’t get access to both books and flour, though. Bell’s father would return and pick up books as Belle needed it, and he would pick up all the ingredients from around town. That included the ingredients for Belle’s baking delights.


All of the baking did have an effect on Belle, though. She was no longer the dainty girl that had loved and lost Trudeau. She was significantly rounder now. And when the town’s women spoke of her, they described her new look as that of a girl who was no longer looking for a husband.


Books and baking weren’t Bell’s only interests, however. After Trudeau’s death, Belle barely left the house. It was then that she truly got fascinated by the gears and springs of her father’s clocks. Before then she had never considered how useful all of those little mechanisms were for solving problems.


For example, who needed to stir a cake’s ingredients by hand? To mix it thoroughly, Belle would have to take a tight grip of the bowl, firmly grip the wooden spatula and then really grind the ingredients together. With a series of different sized gears precisely placed in a box, however, Belle figured out that she could use a handle to mix the ingredients twice as fast while exerting half the effort.


This wasn’t the only improvement to her daily chores that she discovered. Washing clothes occupied hours of her time three times a week. However, using the weights of a cuckoo clock, she found that she could redirect its potential energy to gently turn wooden paddles in a bucket full of water. Cleaning their clothes would take a little longer than by hand, but in the meantime, Belle found that she could use her mechanical mixer to make a cake or just sit back and read a book.


Fishing at the stream was also one of those activities that she found could be made easier with a few gears and springs. Anchoring a fishing pole into a box, Belle attached a line to a lever and a spring. When the fish bit taking the bait, it would flip a lever, release a spring, and hook the fish with the expertise of fishermen. And all of this was as she casually laid back reading a book.


Belle was deep into the final chapter of her book when her fishing box triggered with yet another catch. “Darn it, Catherine, you will have to wait. But I am sure that you will tame Petruchio yet.”


Belle placed her book aside and turned her attention to her fishing box. Peering into the clear stream she saw that she did indeed have a fish on her line. Cranking the handle on the side of the box, the fish lifted into the air. Knowing that she now had more than enough fish for dinner, she unhooked the fish, dropped it in her basket with the others, packed up her fishing box, and prepared to leave. It was then that she heard rustling in the bushes.


Belle popped up and stared at the spaces between the tree trunks. Ever since Trudeau’s tragic death, she had become intensely afraid of wolves. “Is there someone there?” She asked feeling prickly heat on her chest and neck. “If there’s someone there, you better reveal yourself,” she demanded preparing to turn her fishing box into a projectile weapon.


“It’s only me, Belle,” a boy’s voice said from within the trees.


Belle scanned the woods in search of him. “Martin?” She asked, her muscles relaxing.


“Yes, it’s me,” the boy said stepping out from behind a tree. He was holding a bouquet of wildflowers.


“Martin, what are you doing here?”


“I came to bring you these,” the boy said approaching her.


Belle looked at the flowers perturbed. “And why would you be bringing me these?” She asked making no effort to retrieve them.


Martin blushed a little. “Because I like you, Belle.”


“Martin, you are just a boy. I am much too old for you.”


“I’m not a boy,” he said defensively. “I’m fifteen now.”


“Oh, fifteen,” she said pretending to be impressed. “Pardon me. You are practically a man.”


This made Martin feel good. Pushing out his chest, he held the flowers higher. “That’s right. I’m almost a man. And I would like to marry you, Belle.”


“You would like to marry me?” Belle asked amused. “Is that what you want?”


“Yes, it is.”


“Okay then. Tell me, why have you never brought me flowers while I was in town? Why do you only bring them to me out here?”


Martin’s confidence wavered. “Because I don’t think my parents would approve of me courting you.”


“They wouldn’t?” Belle asked unsurprised. “And why is that, Martin? Is it because I am much too old for a young man like you?”


Martin began to shrink. “I don’t think so,” he admitted shyly.


“Then could it be because of a certain rumor that has been going around town concerning the private activities between me and my now deceased fiancé?” Belle asked knowingly.


Martin said nothing confirming everything for Belle. “That’s what I thought.” Moving to finish packing her gear, Martin desperately cut in front of her.


“But, Belle, I love you,” Martin proclaimed holding the flowers tightly to his chest.


Belle had always tried to be nice to Martin, but here, on the anniversary of Trudeau’s death, she had had enough. “You love me, Martin? You are saying that you love me?”


“I do,” the boy insisted.


“Then let me inform you of something. Apparently, all of the boys in the village love me, as well as some of the men. But they never tell me when anyone else is around. No, they would never do that. They won’t even admit to anyone that they talk to me.


“I am every boy’s shameful fantasy. I am the harlot. I’m the girl who could give her innocence away to a boy she wasn’t married to. And all of you think that if I’ve had done it once, maybe I might do it again. Well, let me tell you something, Martin.”


Belle stepped towards the boy, snatch the flowers from his hand, and forcefully threw it back at him. “You can take your flowers and backward ideas and shove them up your arse,” she said flustered.


Martin stared at Belle shocked that he had heard a woman utter such a phrase. Certainly, he knew that she was right. That was what the other boys were saying about her. But he never expected a woman to ever say it so directly.


“Belle, I think it’s true what they say about you,” he said attempting to regain his pride.


“Oh yeah, Martin? And what is that?”


“They say you’re trash. They say that you would do it with any boy who brings you flowers and talks to you in the right way. I know that you’ve done it with my friends. Why not do it with me too. I’m just as good as them. I can even give you something if you do,” the boy said holding out his father’s pocket watch.


Belle was exasperated. How could boys be saying something so untrue about her? “I don’t want your father’s trinkets,” Belle said disgusted. “And the things that your friends are saying aren’t true.”


“Are you saying that they are all lying?” Martin asked doubtfully.


“Yes, Martin. They’re lying.”


Martin thought for a second. “I don’t believe you,” he said defiantly.


Upset, Belle took a second and pulled herself together. She wasn’t going to change his mind by yelling at him.


“Okay, tell me something, Martin. When you leave here and go talk to your friends, what will you tell them about what happened? Will you admit to them that nothing happened and will you relate the conversation that we are having now? Or will you feel the pressure to lie and say that I had done to you what they claimed I had done with them?”


Martin’s mouth slowly dropped open as he considered it. She was right. He couldn’t admit to his friends that nothing had happened between them considering she had turned the rest of them into men.


“Well, if you just did with me what you did with the other boys, I wouldn’t have to lie about anything,” Martin insisted.


“I am doing with you what I did with the other boys. Martin, nothing happened between them and me!” Feeling herself lose control, she gathered herself once again. “Martin, I’ve known you ever since you were a baby. I have always liked you. You were a good boy. It’s time for you to be a good man.


“You know me. I have always treated you fairly. I have even defended you when the other boys were picking on you. It’s time for you to defend me now.”


Martin looked at Belle shyly. “But if you just did with me what you did with the other boys, I wouldn’t have to lie.”


Belle looked back at the boy she had once thought of as a friend. “Then I guess you are going to have to lie.” With that, she again collected her things and walked away.


“Is it because you think you’re too good for me?” The boy asked as Belle left him. “Because you’re not. Everybody says you’re trash. Even my dad says it. Why would you be with the other boys and not with me? Huh? Do you think you’re too good for me? Huh, Belle? Do you?”


Belle continued her march off with her head held high. She didn’t want him to see how much he had gotten to her. He had. She was devastated and the tears that streamed down her face said it all. Her heart ached thinking about what the entire town thought of her. It was almost too much for her to bare.


As she approached the outskirts of her hamlet, Belle managed to pull herself together. She was not going to give anyone the satisfaction of knowing how much their mistreatment had got to her. She had to remain strong. She had done nothing wrong expressing her love for Trudeau and she wasn’t about to let any of the closed-minded villagers make her feel like she had.


Stepping onto the cobblestone of the inner square, Belle held her head high and marched towards her home. In the corner of her eye, she saw Mrs. Batton and Mrs. Elise. Mr. Sessions, the village priest, was headed back to the church and Mr. Piccoli the miller was making his weekly visit to town.


The one person that Belle saw that she truly wished he hadn’t was Captain Bernard. Belle attempted to shift directions and scuttle out of there when Captain Bernard spotted her and rushed over.


“Belle, stop there,” Captain Bernard said in a tone gruffer than he intended.


Belle froze and tensed unsure about what direction the conversation would go. As he approached, Belle was cautious to say the right thing. “Can I help you, Captain Bernard?”


“I’ve told you, Belle, call me Bernard.”


“Are you not a Captain in the King’s army?” Belle asked unwaveringly.


“I am, Belle. You know that.”


“Then I shall call you by the rank that you have no doubt earned.”


“I have earned that rank, but I am trying to earn an even higher rank with you. Haven’t I yet made that clear, Belle?”


“You have. And haven’t I made clear my response?” Belle asked finally exhausted.


“You have. But I wouldn’t have made it to the rank of Captain if I folded the minute I met a little resistance, now would I?” He said with a smile.


“Is there a reason you have stopped me, Captain Bernard? Because if there is not, I would sooner be on my way.”


“Must everything be about official business with you, Belle? Couldn’t anything be about two friends talking?”


“For that to happen, one would first need two friends,” she said much more harshly than she had intended.


Hurt, Captain Bernard straightened up. Tucking his arms behind his back he relented. “Very well. If you must make this official, then I will concede. What have you got there, Belle?”


“Well, this is my fishing box which I use to catch fish. And this is a basket of fish.”


“You caught a fish?” Captain Bernard asked surprised. “From where? The stream closest out of town?”


“It is the only stream nearby. Are you planning on taxing me for catching some of the King’s fish?”


“Oh no, nothing like that. It’s just that I have tried many times to catch fish in that stream. I’ve never had any luck.”


“Yes, it’s hard. But I have found that with a little ingenuity and a little patience, you can accomplish a lot.”


Captain Bernard smiled. “You never cease to amaze me, Belle. You will be my wife yet.”


“Wife?” Belle asked genuinely surprised. “Do you see a girl like me as the wife of a Captain? Especially a Captain who has a nickname like The Animal?”


“You know about that?” Captain Bernard asked startled.


“A Captain so vicious that he has been known to tear apart the enemy, sometimes with his bare hands,” Belle recited.


“Well, you can’t always believe what you hear,” he explained.


Bella took a step forward. “And neither can you. Now, if there is nothing else, I would like to return to my father. He is expecting me to make dinner,” she said lifting her basket.


“Of course, Belle. Until we meet again,” he said giving her a slight bow.


Belle walked off without acknowledging him further. When she was far enough that she was sure he wouldn’t stop her again, she thought about what he had said. Did he want to make her his wife? If young Martin and his father had heard the rumors spread about her, then certainly The Captain would’ve heard it as well. Why, then, would he speak about marrying her?


Was he just taunting her? Was he as cruel as his reputation made him out to be? Did he believe that she was as easy to fool as the rumors said? Did Captain Bernard, like Martin, think that simply dangling some carrot would get Belle to be intimate with them? Or, even worse, did the Captain incorrectly assume that this was how Trudeau had convinced Belle to lay with him before marriage?


Approaching the handful of stairs that led up to their home, Belle set aside thoughts of the Captain deciding that none of it mattered. There was no way that Belle would become anyone’s wife much less the wife of a man so vicious.


The love of Bell’s life was buried. She didn’t expect to find another man as wonderful as the one she had lost. So, as long as she had her father, she didn’t need anyone else.


Belle opened the door to their quaint home and looked around for the man she loved. “Papa?” She asked not immediately seeing him.


“I’m over here, Belle,” he said from the far corner of the room. He was hidden behind a pile of trinkets.


“There you are. You will be glad to know that I caught a few fish. We will be having fish for dinner,” she said with a smile.


Belle rested down her fishing box and placed her basket next to the stove. With her arms free, she immediately checked the flour pot. It was nearly empty. “Papa, you forgot to pick up more supplies.”


“Oh, darn it, you’re right. I swear I would forget my head if it wasn’t attached my body. I will pick them up tomorrow. Will you forgive me?”


Belle smiled. “Of course, Papa.”


“You know, I knew that adding that alteration to your fishing box would make all of the difference in the world.”


“You were right, Papa. You are always right about such thing. You are the smartest man I know.”


“And you are the smartest person I have ever met,” he said lovingly. “The only person I knew who even came close was…”


“My mother?” Belle asked longingly.


“Right. Your mother,” he replied saddened.