The library had grown into a state of disarray ever since the old librarian very suddenly and unexpectedly (to the Prince, at least) quit. It was becoming increasingly difficult for Prince Adam to find anything. He didn’t understand the convoluted system the old librarian had used and he could never find the same book twice. For someone who devoured books as often as he did, this was a great source of irritation for Prince Adam.
“I can’t stand it any longer!” Prince Adam roared as he paced back and forth irritably in front of the fire. “My library-the most extensive private library in all of France-is nothing more than a joke! It’s no longer a source of pride for me. It’s a blemish on my castle and on myself!”
Cogsworth nodded and bowed his head. “Of course, your highness. I can understand the frustration-”
“Do you?” Adam whirled and glared down at his head of household. “Do you really understand? You’re supposed to be the head of my household. I want this problem fixed. Find me a new librarian.”
“Of course, sir,” said Cogsworth. “Any requirements for the job?”
“No idiots,” Prince Adam snapped almost immediately. “I deal with enough of those already. The entire library needs to be organized in a way that will make it easier to find what is needed. And nobody is to go and retrieve a book without the librarian present. They will have full control over the library. So long as it is kept up to my standards.”
Cogsworth bowed and promised it would be taken care of.
Belle was glad to have Chip as a distraction on the way to the castle. Despite living only a short distance from the castle for the past seven years, she had never seen the place. But there had been wild stories about that place, its contents, and its inhabitants. Particularly, the Prince.
Belle and her father had been surprised when the Potts family had come to call on them one afternoon. Most people in the village considered Belle and her father odd, and steered clear of their house: Mr. Potts and Gaston being the only exceptions but only the former had ever been allowed to cross the threshold.
Mr. Potts swept off his hat and proudly introduced his wife and son. Belle and Maurice had not seen mother or son very often. Mrs. Potts worked in the castle and Chip spent most of his time trailing after her.
“This is the girl I was telling you about, mistress,” said Mr. Potts. Belle frowned, but she was curious. Mr. Potts was nice enough, but even he thought it was odd how much she liked to read. As they all sat down for tea in Belle and Maurice’s modest home, Mrs. Potts explained.
“There’s been an opening at the castle,” said Mrs. Potts. “It’s good work, good pay, and if what Mr. Potts has told me is true, I think you’d be a fine fit for a librarian.”
Mr. Potts agreed to drive her out to the castle with Mrs. Potts and Chip. Belle sat in the back of the modest little carriage and chatted with the young boy.
“You’ll love the castle,” Chip was telling her. “It’s HUGE! And the staff is really nice!”
“What about the prince?” Belle asked. “What’s he like?”
Chip immediately clammed up and refused to meet her eyes. Not for the first time, Belle was beginning to feel apprehensive about this job. Mrs. Potts turned to look at them and shook her head.
“Oh, don’t you worry. Chip’s just shy around the master, is all,” Mrs. Potts assured her. Mr. Potts cleared his throat. Belle saw the Missus narrow her eyes at her husband for a moment before turning back to Belle.
“If Cogsworth likes you and you get the job, you won’t even meet the master for some time. He’s gone away and won’t be back for weeks.”
Belle thought carefully about what she was to say next. “I’ve heard…rumors…” Just because her nose was often stuck in a book, didn’t mean she wasn’t listening. Villagers talked. They seldom did little else.
“The master is not as terrible as people say or as he appears. He’s going to seem off-putting at first but somewhere, deep in his soul, there’s a real Prince Charming. Just remember that he is all bark and no bite. But from what Mr. Potts has told me and from what I’ve observed, I suspect you’ll be able to give as good as you get, should the master start his barking.”
The gates to the castle grounds swung open and Belle finally got her first good glimpse of the castle. It was…grand, spectacular, wonderful, enchanting. A thousand adjectives ran through Belle’s head and none were good enough to describe it. The whole place seemed alive. Dotted throughout the massive gardens were workers trimming hedges and working on the numerous fountains. She saw movement in the windows as the people inside went about their work. Belle breathed in deep. Oh, the flowers smelled wonderful!
“Normally, we would go around to the servant’s entrance,” Mr. Potts explained over his shoulder. “But the master’s not here today, so we can bend the rules a little.” Chip laughed.
“Cogsworth’s gonna be mad,” he warned his father teasingly.
“If he is, I’ll take care of him,”said Mrs. Potts. Finally, something clicked in Belle’s head that should have clicked long ago.
“Cogsworth?” Belle echoed. “Any relation to-?” If there was, she would not be getting this job. Clothilde Cogsworth hated her for no other fact than she was a girl that could read.
Mr. Potts and Chip shuddered. “Yes,” answered Mr. Potts. He knew exactly who Belle was speaking of. “They’re married.”
Damn! thought Belle. She had been looking forward to seeing the library, too. Belle had been given no other description of the library than that it was huge (Chip’s favorite word, it seemed.) Her disappointment must have showed on her face.
“Don’t you worry,” said Mrs. Potts. “Cogsworth and his wife disagree on everything. If she doesn’t like you, then that’s all the more reason for Cogsworth to want to hire you.”
Two people were awaiting their arrival at the front doors of the castle. Belle was beginning to suspect that the dress code of the castle was “dress to impress.” The woman was dressed in all white from head to toe. The man next to her was so bright in his gold ensemble, Belle found herself squinting. Both smiled amiably at her and the man came forward to help her down from the carriage.
“Bonjour, mademoiselle,” he greeted. He swept into a bow. Belle smiled and curtsied back to him. “Pleased to make your acquaintance. I am Lumiere and this is Plumette, mon amour,” Lumiere looked admiringly at his companion. Plumette curtsied to Belle.
“I am the head housemaid here,” said Plumette. Belle looked behind her at the massive castle looming overhead.
“That seems like quite an undertaking,” Belle remarked, a little breathlessly. Plumette and Lumiere laughed. Belle thanked Mr. Potts for the ride. He would stick around until after her interview was over and give her a ride back to the village. She left him to be with his wife and child and followed Lumiere and Plumette into the castle. She watched Plumette loop her arm through Lumiere’s. They seldom took their eyes off of each other. It was like something out of one of Belle’s stories. Belle smiled.
It was hard to take in her surroundings and listen to what Lumiere and Plumette were saying at the same time. The castle was breathtaking inside and out. But the inside was deathly quiet and still. Belle felt as if she had stumbled across a slumbering beast. They passed a set of double doors that were boarded up with weathered planks of wood. Lumiere noticed where Belle’s eyes had gone.
“The ballroom,” Lumiere said, shaking his head sadly. “It is a shame. We have not had a party here in years. Not even a cake for the master’s birthday.”
Belle had heard stories in the village about what the parties used to be like. Like a dream, said one. Excessive and decadent, said another. One rumor she had heard still made her blush to think about it and there would be no books in a village priest’s modest collection that could explain what she had overheard.
They ushered her through the kitchens and through the narrow hallways of the servant’s quarters. Lumiere knocked twice before opening the door.
“Mademoiselle Belle,” introduced Lumiere. Belle was pushed inside the room by Plumette and she found herself face to face with the poor man that married Clothilde Cogsworth.
Cogsworth was also decked head to toe in gold-colored clothing, but he did not shine nearly as brightly as Cogsworth. Belle spied a pocket watch tucked away into the pocket of his waistcoat. He seemed to exude an air of importance. Clearly, he was one of the higher-ranking staff and he ran this castle like a captain ran his ship.
Plumette and Lumiere left them alone. Cogsworth was gracious enough to offer her a cup of tea.
The interview went better than Belle could have hoped for. Either because she was the best candidate for the job or because they couldn’t find another person willing to undertake the job. Belle suspected the latter. She was confident that she could do the job well, but based on the pay offered her and the rumors she had heard of the prince’s behavior…
A dog came running into the office, interrupting Belle and Cogsworth. Even the dog was dressed to the nines in a little embroidered coat and ribbons in its tail. A woman appeared in the doorway moments later in a sea of skirts, ruffles, and bows.
“May I present Madame de Garderobe,” said Cogsworth. “She is the court singer here and has only recently returned from a tour of Italy with her husband Maestro Cadenza. Madame, this is Belle.”
Madame de Garderobe gasped happily at the sight of Belle. “Finally!” she cried breathlessly. “A woman! You have brought someone for me to dress!” The woman seized Belle’s face in her hands and began studying her closely. “Pretty eyes, proud face, perfect canvas! Yes, yes! I will make something for you worthy of a princess!”
“She’s not a princess, she’s the librarian,” Cogsworth corrected. Madame de Garderobe brushed him off.
“I will still be making her dresses,” she insisted. Belle hoped that whatever dress the singer made for her was a bit less…well, just less. Her brain caught up to what Cogsworth said and she turned back to the older man.
“I-you’re giving me the job?” Belle asked breathlessly. Cogsworth looked at her with a twinkle in his eye.
“Would you like to see the library?”
Belle had been expecting a large room. Maybe something larger than her house. She had expected a larger collection than Père Robert possessed. She was not expecting what was behind the doors Cogsworth led her through. Belle’s heart hammered in her chest. She turned in circles, trying to take everything in. Finally she had an appropriate word to describe something in this castle. Wonderful. The library was wonderful.
“Are you alright, mademoiselle?” Lumiere and Plumette were watching her from the door with Madame de Garderobe. Cogsworth was waiting patiently for her opinion. Belle covered her mouth with her hands and laughed incredulously. She had never seen so many books in her entire life and now she was in charge of this whole collection.
Belle was more than alright. She was thrilled.
She returned to the castle several days later, this time with a small trunk of her belongings and a plan for the library in mind. Cogsworth was right about the library being disorganized. In her quick inspection of the library the other day, Belle had found a book badly in need of rebinding she suspected there was more. Some of the shelves needed some repairs as well. It would be a behemoth of a project but she was ready to do it. She was ready to do it. Perhaps this wasn’t quite what she had in mind for her adventure in the Great Wide Somewhere, but it was still something new and exciting all the same. Her love of books was no longer something to be scoffed at.
However, it would seem that some things never changed.
“A girl for a librarian?” scoffed one of the maids. Giselle, Belle recalled. She didn’t think she and Giselle would get along. “What do girls need to read for? Men don’t like it when the women are too smart.”
“Well, you must have to beat the men away from dusk to dawn,” Plumette said between sips of her tea. Belle was going to get along with Plumette just fine.
She had arrived at the castle just in time for lunch. After her first bite, Belle almost declared that she would work here for no pay if it meant she could have this food all the time. Besides the sour-faced and side-burned Giselle, Belle got along perfectly well with the rest of the staff. Plumette showed her to her room in the quarters meant for the unmarried female staff.
“And you don’t have to share with Giselle,” Plumette added. A single bed, a wash basin, a night stand, and her trunk resting at the foot of the bed made up this modest room. Yes, it would do nicely.
Belle had a full day of work ahead of her. She suspected Cogsworth would not be entirely happy when he learned what all of her plans for the library entailed, but Belle was sure it would all be worth it in the end. Although she was curious about the castle’s owner, Belle was a little glad to know she had some time to mentally prepare herself with the man some of the villagers ominously referred to as The Beast.