What a puzzle
He found his father-in-law in the sitting room that overlooked the rose garden and the fountain, where the western wall was only a thousand panes of polished glass. The sun was setting and the room was filled with the rich, amber sunlight of a late summer evening and the paler flickers from the hearth where drift-wood burned. Belle preferred the strangely shaped, salt-rimed wood to the traditional oak and pine for the unusual dancing color of the flames, the unpredictable shower of silver sparks, the fineness of the ash left in the hearth. Maurice was smoking a pipe and the smoke curled like twilight coming into the room, scenting the room with its sweetness.
“Maurice, I need to talk to you,” Adam began, running his hand through his hair half-distracted, marveling a little at how human it felt.
“I wondered how long it would take for you to figure it out,” Maurice said, puffing a little on the pipe, then setting it aside. “Frankly, I’m rather impressed with how quickly you have understood. I have perhaps underestimated you,” he said calmly, with an appraising amusement Adam had never been subjected to before. The older man made a small gesture of encouragement.
“It’s Belle. She’s…” Adam trailed off, searching himself for the correct word, the right collection of words that would explain it.
“She’s terrifying,” her father said plainly. “She’s always been this way, you know. Imagine how it was for me, I could hardly speak of it, of her, to anyone else. And such a little girl, no one would have believed me.”
“I thought she just liked to read. I thought she was very bright, self-taught– I thought,” Adam said. Maurice interrupted.
“You thought you could keep up with her. That it would be easy to do so, no?”
“I found her reading Vitruvius and Taccola, di Giorgio in the library. I didn’t know I owned the books, but I do. We do. I hardly knew who they were but she explained. I thought she would be reading Marlowe or Sidney or Marie de France, getting drunk on poetry, but she is designing a new mill and a bridge for Villeneuve now!” Adam exclaimed.
“When she was four, she built herself an abacus from the clock-work gears she found in my workshop. She learned German from the Belgian woman who made the best rolls in town when we were in Bergues, Latin from the priest,” Maurice paused. “I always wished there was an academy for her to attend, a tutor I could hire but there was no school which would take her, no teacher I could afford. Even to buy her a book was beyond me.”
“Does she love me only for my library?” Adam asked, aware he sounded overly dramatic, the echo of the self he had been before Belle, before the Beast, when he had been the prince and never gainsaid by anyone. Maurice just laughed.
“Of course not, you young fool. She is my daughter, but I’m not blind—anyone can see how she looks at you. But you must see her, understand her, if you want to make her happy—and it may not be easy. She’s not an easy woman, Belle, even if she might seem that way,” Maurice said.
“Go on,” Adam said. He had not yet learned enough humility to ask for the guidance he needed but if it was being offered, as Maurice was doing…
“She read all the time because as odd as it was, the
villagers could understand it. There have been women who loved God’s word
before and this is France, we have had our troubadours, our lays, our Heloise
to Abelard. They could not understand a woman who was an engineer, who could
rebuild their crumbling bridge, their windmills, re-design a city to resist the
plague. To be fair, I’m not sure where she might go that the people would know
what to make of her. But you, you have been several selves already, have been
transformed and taught, however bluntly, by Madame Agathe, to see within and to
accept. You might be the making of her,” Maurice said, pausing. “And I should like
to see it. Her mother was much the same and I only painted her. Don’t do that.”
“I haven’t the skill or the inclination,” Adam replied, considering what a lovely model Belle would make, except that the static representation could never capture her essential quality of action, her mind, her eye, her hand all vital and primed to observe and change what was around her.
“Devote your talents to other endeavors, then. Buy her more books, yes, but also a surveyor’s kit, some broken clocks, a quantity of charcoal and paper, and if there is an opportunity for you to consult an architect, invite the man to dinner,” Maurice said. “You’re lucky,” he added. “You may invite whatever guests will please her and not worry that she will prepare the meal. She has many gifts, but cooking bores her. The kitchen doesn’t take such inattention lightly.”
“No, I gather from Mrs. Potts it does not. Have you any other wisdom to impart?” Adam answered.
“Nothing you cannot divine for yourself. You are intelligent enough, even if you are not her equal. Don’t let her know it and don’t forget it. Now, what vintage will we share tonight? A Burgundy? I thought I smelled some capon…”