Chapter 2- Tea and Memories
"Are we gonna live happily ever after, Mama?"
Mrs. Potts embraced her little blond-headed son, Chip, as they watched Belle and Adam waltzing in a celebratory dance around the ballroom, circled by the crowd of newly-human servants. One newcomer stood at her side, the girl's father. He had just arrived here from his village, after recovering from a terrible week of ordeal and illness.
She gave him a polite smile as he stepped a little closer to the pair of them.
"Her mother is smiling down from heaven today, that is all I can say," he muttered to no one in particular, his voice croaking from emotion.
"Tis true, I believe it in all my heart," Mrs. Potts replied in agreement. Maurice looked at her, a little startled and embarrassed to say that private thought out loud. He then realized that the woman's voice sounded familiar from the time he had first stumbled into the castle.
"I...I've met you before, haven't I?"
"Monsieur, don't you remember? My mama was the teapot!" Chip exclaimed, giving Maurice a chipped-tooth grin.
"Oh, yes! How can I forget, Madame? Do...uh, can...you still make tea?" he asked her a little tentatively. He had certainly remembered the friendly, talking teapot. Never in his life had he dealt with the experience of speaking to a lady who he had first met as a kitchen tool. She had bright blue eyes which crinkled at the corners, and pretty lips. He guessed her to be roughly late fifties to sixty, just as he was. She nodded and smiled.
"I most certainly can," she answered him. "Come to the dining hall in the morning, I will have a pot brewing and croissants freshly made."
That night, Maurice went to sleep in one of the many rooms in the East Wing, feeling like a welcome guest. He felt safe and accepted here. His little girl had fallen in love with a prince who had been that monstrous Beast, the butler had been a candle holder, the majordomo a clock, and this pleasing lady he had reacquainted with had been a teapot. Yet all was perfectly happy and normal, and no one was worried about being dragged to any sort of insane asylum.
As he slept that night, he had one of his rare but cherished dreams of meeting with his late wife, Helene, again. He was walking along the busy streets of Troyes, where he had lived and studied in school in his youth, and where he had met and married Helene, the daughter of a doctor. Belle had been born in Troyes, in their little cramped roominghouse in the city, not far from the Cathedral.
In Maurice's dream, he was still in his sparse sitting room in their old home, and then he went downstairs, out into the streets, and towards the entrance of the Cathedral. As he walked along, a figure of a lady in a rose-pink dress and white bonnet approached him. As they came near each other, the lady lifted back the floppy, ruffled brim of her bonnet, and it would always be Helene, just as she looked when he had first met her, in the long-gone world of their youth. He was always amazed of how much she resembled Belle in the present; the same shape of face, although her hair was a much fairer shade of brown, almost golden, and her eyes a lighter shade of hazel. She smiled warmly at him after lifting her bonnet, and asked, "Are you happy, mon chere?"
"I am happy, but I still miss you," Maurice replied.
"You must not dwell on me so. You must live on, and create your own joy for yourself. Do what you love doing the most," she said quietly, her voice like a long-forgotten song.
Then, she lowered her bonnet over her face, and turned and ran away, as if she had so many things to do in her afterlife. Maurice called out to her, he wanted to tell her that her daughter was in a castle, she was going to marry a prince, but Helene had already left before he could tell her the story.
And then he woke up.
That morning, after checking the castle's firewood supply for the stoves and fireplaces, and realizing that this place would be in definite need of his patent-model Wood-Chopper, Maurice found Mrs. Potts in the dining hall. Groups of happy servants were bustling about, some taking tea breaks in the various tables. He felt out of place as he walked toward her table, but a group of maids waved at him and greeted him cheerily.
"Good morning Monsieur! You're Belle's papa! Sit down and be our guest!" one of the young women called to him.
"Good morning," said Mrs. Potts. "Do sit down, and have a spot of tea, as you are certainly honored. Cream and sugar?"
"Yes, thank you," he replied, as she poured him a cup and stirred in cream and sugar. "Why am I such an honored guest, may I ask?"
"You must remember last autumn, when you arrived. If it were not for you coming here, and your daughter following soon after to find you, we would still be in a dreadfully sad predicament, I'm afraid. We consider you our hero, as much as we consider dear Belle our heroine." Mrs. Potts gave him the same warm smile as she had given him the previous day. "I am Mrs. Potts. I don't believe I got your name, Monsieur."
"Maurice DeFleur." he answered politely. He stirred his tea, and took a drink. "This tea is delicious. I have never tried anything like it before."
"It is Earl Grey's. The best from England, my homeland."
"I have never met anyone from England before. What brought you to France?"
"My late husband and I came here for a chance to raise Chip in peace and quiet in this remote French palace, we had heard of it from an old relative, and felt the need to leave dirty, noisy London behind. We were very happy, for the most part. Chip was our adopted grandson. Our daughter died shortly after giving birth to him, so I felt the need to go away, start anew. But soon after we began serving here, my husband...died in the epidemic of 1757. I...I'm sorry, I mustn't be telling you my whole life story, now." She lowered her eyes pensively, and took a sip of her tea.
Maurice's eyes widened. "It's all right. I don't mind hearing of it at all. I am terribly sorry about your husband, and your daughter," he told her reassuringly. "Did- did you say the epidemic of 1757?"
"Yes. It was when tuberculosis swept through the castle. Adam's parents died, and a few of the servants, including my husband Nicholas."
Maurice felt a chilling shock pierce through his heart. The sad memories came back front and center, and he felt tears sting his eyes. Helene. It was the same year. The same cruel epidemic, and he thanked the heavens that little Belle had been spared.
"Is something troubling you, Mssr. DeFleur?"
"I- my wife. My wife died when disease swept through Troyes in 1757- the same year. It was when Belle was just about to turn seven. We never had a chance to...have any other children."
"I am so sorry," she said quietly. "She would be so proud of Belle now."
Mrs. Potts stretched out her hand and patted Maurice's gently. It was a chaste gesture, full of compassion, but just the touch of a lady's hand on his, the first time in thirteen years- caused his heart to flutter with giddy happiness. Stop it, he thought. Stop being a crazy old fool!
He tried to steer the subject away from the past and its grief.
"Hey, I notice the castle needs a lot of firewood for things to keep running every day. I think you would like my invention. A wood-chopping machine."
"A wood chopping machine? You are an inventor? Just like the honorable Mr. Franklin from the American colonies, or the great Leonardo?" Her face brightened with an admiring smile.
"Well, not as great as them, but I, well...I try. I wanted to enter the wood chopper in a fair, but I didn't quite make it." He laughed out loud.
"And why didn't you enter it in the fair, may I ask?"
"I got lost, and ran into a crazy enchanted castle with a Beast instead. Which made me the luckiest man in the world."
At this, Mrs. Potts couldn't help but giggle girlishly. There was something about this man that- even though he was nothing like Nicholas in any way- he was just so...cute.
Maurice beamed, and continued, his confidence lifting. "I'm also lucky because if I had made it to the inventors' fair, I would never have been served by such a charming teapot." He grinned, and held his teacup to her in a gesture of salutation.
One of the maids happened to walk past, carrying a tray of croissants.
"Yvette, could you offer my friend here a croissant? He needs to try the best that our kitchen can cook up." Mrs. Potts' cheeks had turned a rosy hue.
Yvette set the tray before them, and Maurice took one and tasted it. It was buttery and flaky, even better than the ones made by Andre back in the village.
"These are wonderful! Whose recipe is it?"
"It is my recipe. I really hoped you would like them."
"I do! I really do, Madame...Mrs. Potts. Can..." he began to stutter a bit- "c-can I ask you what your given name is, if I am not too forward?"
"It's Emmeline. My relatives back in England sometimes called me Emmie." Her face felt as warm as the cup in her hand.
"It is a great pleasure to spend this morning with you, Emmeline."
"And you as well, Maurice. I do hope we have tea together again."
Their eyes met with shy smiles, and both felt as if they were, like Belle, twenty years old again.