Once upon a time
The housemistress was a handsome woman inher early
forties with an immaculate apron and hair of woollen steel.
Her arms were crossed over her chest. Belle was reminded
instantly of her mother.
“I’m sorry. I had far to travel.” And further still to go.
The entrance hall was a cavernous room of unflinching
extravagance and honest simplicity. Golden candle sticks sat
on a crude wooden table; a chandelier sparkling with
diamonds hovered over a cracked cobblestone floor; the
aroma of pungent, sweet flowers seeped from a morbid
bouquet of the dead white daisies in an expensive crystal
vase. Water dripped from the ceiling. In the half-light of the
flickering candles, it looked like the castle was bleeding.
“You have sisters,” the woman said. “You know the rules. We
break fast at six. The day is spent baking and spinning and
learning. We expect all girls to be sleeping by nine.”
The woman’s voice was like an unending bombardment of
criticisms. Even when she was just explaining the day, it
sounded as though she was judging Belle: her appearance,
her stance, her vocabulary. Belle looked up at the ceiling with