18. The After
Four days later two people rode down the lane to the Germond family home. They were a bit of an odd sight, both wearing far outdated clothing (Marianna had insisted that at least one of her beloved gowns was going back with her), and the man riding a rather inferior animal they had bartered for at the first village they came to. Their saddlebags bulged with all sorts of strange items, including a small harp strapped to one side and bouncing comically against the horse's haunch. But they were still, it must be admitted, a very handsome couple.
Once again the house discharged its remarkable load of human souls into the front yard. "Mary's back, Mary's back," her younger brothers shouted, dancing around. There was perhaps less surprise this time, but no less interest, as they all surveyed the pale, handsome man who stood so quietly by his horse while she greeted them all. "Everyone," she announced, with a mischievous twinkle in her eye, "I would like you to meet David. We're going to be married."
Great was the clamor that arose then! For David, so long used to silence and solitude, it was overwhelming at first, but as he looked around the ring of smiling, laughing, jesting faces, the realization came to him that he had, at last, found a family.
A hush fell over the group as her father, called quickly by messenger, rode up. He climbed off his horse, and took Marianna in his arms. "Thanks be to heaven that you're home again, daughter," he said.
She took him by the hand, and led him over to where her love stood. "Father, I want you to meet someone—although really, you've met him before. This is David de Vigny."
Her father extended his hand uncertainly, and David grasped it. "I hope you will forgive me for all the sorrow that I've caused to you and your family, sir," he said in a low voice. Mr. Germond started, and stared. "I don't quite look the same as I did the last time you saw me," David explained.
The man shook his heard, unable to believe what the familiar voice was telling him. "It can't be," he said. Marianna grasped his arm.
"It is, Papa," she whispered. "It's him—it really is."
He turned his bewildered eyes on her. "But—how?"
"He was under a curse, Papa, remember? That's what made him what he was—or seemed. Underneath it, he was always a man." She turned her shining gaze back to the man she loved. "Underneath it, he was always David."
Mr. Germond looked from him, to her, and back to him, and then swallowed hard. "Well, you've better come inside," he said.
Once again the family circle gathered to hear the fantastic tale. Once again Mrs. Germond shook her sensible head at it, and then dismissed everything but what were, to her, the salient points: Her daughter had come home, and brought a young man with her. She had a wedding to plan.
The two of them were married soon in her parent's home, with her family around her. Marianna wore an ivory satin dress modeled after ones she used to wear, with roses at her breast, and silver lace over her hair. Around her neck glimmered the green of her favorite emerald necklace. David looked at her adoringly. The young ladies present sighed sentimentally over the tall, handsome stranger, while the local lads wondered why they hadn't taken more of an interest in Mary Germond while she was available. After the ceremony, one long-time friend of the family came bustling up. "Your parents told me you went to spend time with your cousins up north. If I'd known they had such men up north, I'd have gone there a long time ago myself." She laughed a tinkling laugh, and Marianna smiled politely. "Tell me, dear," she continued, "where exactly did you find him?"
"Behind a wall in an enchanted house," replied Marianna promptly.
The woman shook her head. "Such a tease," she admonished her, and bustled away to tackle the groom. Across the room, David's bemused eyes found hers, and she smiled reassuringly at him. He smiled back, and they shared a look full of promises to come.
Mr. Germond did, as Marianna had predicted, give David a job in his business. The young man had much to catch up on in the way of modern developments, but he learned quickly, and it wasn't long before his breeding, education, and innate charm were proving themselves a great asset to the merchant. He applied himself to this first real profession he'd ever had, wanting to prove his worth, and soon found that deep satisfaction that all true men take in successful work. He and Marianna made their home in a pretty little house near by to her parents, where brothers and sisters were constantly dropping by. They grew roses in their garden, and their door was always open, and no one was ever turned away who came asking help. When in time children swelled their number, they moved to a larger house, but always remained near her family.
As they had hoped, the memories of the bad years continued to fade for David, like the terrors of a nightmare fade, and in time almost passed away completely. He continued to play his harp all the years of his life, but, although he was skillful, his music never again had quite that same haunting quality that it had before. Marianna and he talked about it, and decided that that too must have been a part of the enchantment.
As for the house, they went back to it—all of them went back to it, the whole clan. Marianna and David could always find it. At first, the family wandered around in amazement, staring at the walls and the furniture and the flowers, but then Mrs. Germond's cleanly soul began to protest, and she rolled up her sleeves and began to scrub. It was, of course, a very large house, but with half-a-dozen energetic women working away on it, it soon lost its unkempt aspect and began to shine. In time even many of the fabrics and drapes were replaced. Some of the young men took a look at the outside walls, and set skillfully to repairing the worst of them. Alanna, Marianna's younger sister, who loved flowers almost more than life itself, took an unspeakable joy in working in the gardens. They were much too large to be easily tamed, of course, but she industriously weeded and pruned all the areas that needed it most, and by the time the men carted in a load of lawnmowers and mowed down the deep grass, the place began to look almost civilized again. And for many, many summers to come the Germond and de Vigny children and grandchildren ran and played and laughed in its halls and lawns, and in that way they banished the shadows of the past, and brought love and peace to all that had waited so long for them.
I truly believe that of all the classic fairytales, the Beauty and the Beast is the most truly romantic, perhaps the only truly romantic. Most fairytales depict a love-at-first-sight sort of thing, and one has to struggle to create a real relationship between the characters that goes beyond "hey, she's beautiful," and "wow, he rescued me." The original versions of many fairytales were very adult and very shocking, as compared with the sanitized children's versions we read now. In the Sleeping Beauty, for instance, the prince actually rapes the princess while she's sleeping, and she gives birth to twins. One of the babies sucks on her finger and sucks out the splinter from the poisoned spindle, and that's how she wakes up. In Rapunzel, our heroine (who doesn't strike one as terribly bright) gets thrown out of the tower when she asks the witch why her waist is expanding.
This is to say nothing of the violent fairytales, where people get boiled alive, cut off other people's heads by shutting chest lids on them (and then boil them for supper), are crushed by millstones, stand frozen on loaves of bread until spider webs grow over them, and (in the case of Cinderella's sisters), cut off parts of their own feet so that they can wear a tiny shoe.
In the midst of all this, the Beauty and the Beast stands out for having a hero and a heroine who spend time together, who have long conversations and are kind to each other. Although the lady is beautiful, the hero must woo her gradually. He treats her with respect and sacrificially allows her to leave, breaking his heart and nearly dying, because he doesn't want her to be unhappy. The heroine learns to love someone who is ugly on the outside but beautiful on the inside. The whole story is about their relationship, and what could be more romantic than that?
Thanks for reading and please leave me a comment if you enjoyed it.