Belle rose from her sitting position on Diana’s bed.
“Quick! Come as soon as you can, Madame Le Testhmus said!”
Where is she?
“In the courtyard, where you hung up your clothes to dry. Oh, Belle! She doesn’t look too happy.”
Belle bit her lip and hoped with all her heart that what Cecil had said was wrong, and what she thought it was about was not the truth. Belle hurried after Cecil, casting one last glance at Diana, who looked almost as worried as she did.
Little did she know that this was the last time she’d see Diana.
When she arrived in the courtyard, sure enough, there was Marryanne Le Testhmus, standing by her just-washed dress.
“What is this?” Marryanne Le Testhmus asked, fuming, as soon as they got there.
I washed my clothing without giving you any hassle of organizing a washing day. Belle wrote innocently.
“Hassle of organizing a washing day? Do you know why I ‘hassle to organize a washing day’? It’s so that we can save at least one little bit of water! Just even a drop would be enough for me to receive a grant! Mistresses do have jobs to do, too. They have responsibility. More than a lowly servant will have, anyway. Do you hear me?”
“I’m sick and tired of having to crane my neck over to read your slate. In fact, now I’m wondering why I even employed you in the first place. A sickly, impolite ragamuffin from the streets. You’ve caused me more than enough trouble already! Embarrassing me in front of very respectable dinner guests for one. And without even saying a single word of apology. What do you think they’ll be thinking? That the honorable Marryanne Le Testhmus, who has kept up a considerable reputation until now, is lowering her standards to employ simple little girls off streets? If you could talk, it would be different, but no, you don’t, do you, you mute thing! Off with you, now. I never want to see you again. In fact, I think that you can be out of my employ once and for all!”
Cecil turned pale upon hearing those words. “Madame --”
“Quiet, you servant! Or you shall be out as well!”
Cecil quietened almost instantly at those words; she wanted to help Diana escape too much, and the thought of leaving the house without her was almost too much to bear. Oh yes, the freedom was tempting, but, thinking back on her and Diana’s friendship, she knew what was the right choice to make. She stared at Belle almost pleadingly, begging her to forgive her. Belle’s eyes told her that she did, accompanied with a small little sad smile.
“I’ll get that good-for-nothing stable boy to take you away, so you might not wander back here and influence my servants any longer.”
With that, Marryanne Le Testhmus stormed off, muttering about Belle. As soon as she left, Belle collapsed onto a nearby bench where she and Cecil had played Stuck in the Mud all those months ago.
I’m sorry, Cecil, for failing you.
“You didn’t fail me Belle. No, you did quite the opposite. You gave me courage. If you can go out there into the outside world, then I can.” Cecil smiled warmly at her, then they embraced, holding on tightly, for they knew they might never see each other again.
When they let go, Belle made Cecil promise one last thing: that she never tell Diana that they mightn’t see each other again.
“Oh, but Belle, what else could I do?” Cecil asked hopelessly.
Tell her we’d find each other, and that the world isn’t that large.
“She can’t be that clueless! Even I, who has never been outside before, know that the world is a large place.”
But you see, Diana is a rich girl, who lives in a sheltered environment. Chances are, her great aunt has never told her about the fatalities of life, or even how many beggars starve and die each day. She has never been exposed to that type of thing.
“Must I? I feel as if I am lying to her.”
No. You are not lying. Never in a million years are you lying. I will find you, I promise. I will look for you and trek to wherever you are until I collapse on the ground, and even then, I shall crawl on my fingers to find you.
Another servant, called Mary, came to them. “I was told to fetch Ben. He was to take Belle in a coach to the edges of the city, or as far as he could go.” Mary smirked at Belle. “You mute people deserve what you get.” Cecil ignored her.
“Oh Belle! What has that horrible Marryanne Le Testhmus done!” Cecil cried.
At that moment, Ben the stable boy came, and along with him came a small coach. “Belle, I’m sorry, but I have to take you to the edges of the city. Trust me, though, I will not go any further than that, no matter how hard Madame Le Testhmus persuades me. You’ve been a good friend, Belle, and so I will at least do that much in return.”
Belle said nothing, but instead looked down into her lap. Mrs Anderty came, now, surveying the scene with her piggy little eyes.
“I see that the Mute One has not yet gotten onto the coach.” With that, she strode over to Belle, and hauled her out of her seat and into the carriage. “Go now, Ben! Before she gets out!”
Belle could only stare straight ahead and wallow in the depths of her own despair. Then she remembered with a start: the rendezvous! Where were they to find her once she left?
Ben whipped the horses and they started trotting off.
Belle went to the carriage window, hoping that they weren’t too far yet. They weren’t. She quickly scribbled out a street, and held up the slate, but Cecil wasn’t looking. She was crying, the tears flowing freely down her cheeks. Belle frantically tried to get her attention, banging on anything she could find. But yet, Cecil cried, and was too busy mopping her cheeks with a handkerchief to notice her friend desperately trying to say something to her.
At last, when Cecil looked up, there was too far a distance for Cecil to read the slate, so Belle tried to say something. Belle shaped her mouth and using her last reserves of strength, pushed her lungs and tried to yell out the street at the top of her voice. All that came out was a tiny hoarse sound, too small to hear accurately, then it was gone.
The coach clopped on its way. Belle saw Cecil try to run after her, but Mrs Anderty ran forward and stopped her. They were too far to properly see each other now. Belle turned away and collapsed on the seat. Her energy was gone now, there was not enough left to even sit straight like a proper lady should.
A tear rolled down Belle’s cheeks, followed by more, and more, until she was crying fully.
Oh why oh why did she have to wash her clothes? Why did she have to be so foolish to think that no-one would notice when she hung them up to dry in the courtyard? Why did she have to spend too much time writing, and not just tell Cecil about the rendezvous?
It was impossible. All was lost. Belle wanted to tell Ben to not go too far, for weren’t they friends? But she knew he couldn’t read, so she was helpless against him.
All she could ever hope to do was bang on the window, and try to tell Ben what she meant with her hands.
And so she tried, but, try as she might, she couldn’t get Ben to divert his attention from the road ahead.
“Want me to go astray, do you?” Ben chuckled upon hearing the banging from teh coach behind. “Well, I’m sorry, Belle, but once I go astray, you do too. And then we might crash, meaning I can’t go back to earn my day’s living.”
Belle’s shoulders dropped. Sorry, she wrote impulsively, then remembering Ben couldn’t read.
Then she realized: once she was back on the streets, she would become street urchin Belle once more, for hardly anyone on the streets could read. If they could, they wouldn’t be on the streets, would they? Belle reasoned to herself.
She was saddened by this thought. She’d be back in her old life again, when she had worked so hard to gain a new one. At least on the edge of the city, none of the street urchin’s recognized her. If they did, then she’d cop it.
She remembered their surprised faces when she had first gotten employed, and now, if she came back, they jeer at her, and laugh, for when she had went off in that carriage of hers, she had acted grand and rich, for she had thought that she surely wouldn’t be seeing that lot again.
But she was wrong. Her new and thought to be kind mistress had thrown her out, just like some piece of unwanted garbage, or something irritating that Madame Le Testhmus had summoned the stable boy to get rid of. Before it ruined her reputation, Belle thought, just as Diana had said. It tore her dignity to shreds, having a mute girl in her employ.
The coach stopped by the side of the road. Ben climbed out and opened the door for her.
“Seeing as this might as well be your last encounter with privilege, I’ll treat you as royalty.” Ben cocked his hat, smiling at her. She smiled back, sadly. She was going to prove him wrong, though. This was not going to be her last encounter with privilege. She was going to find Cecil and Diana again, and carry out the plan as they had always planned. So what if there was an unexpected change? Everything was going to work out fine.
“Her Royal Highness Belinda,” Ben said, holding out a hand for Belle to take. She held her chin up high, and took his hand. This was going to be a test, for her to prove herself worthy. This was going to be the last time Ben saw her, and he’d return back to the Testhmus House and tell them all about her glory in being put out of employ.
She glided down the steps of the coach as if it were a grand carriage made out of gold and diamonds, and held herself proudly.
“Entering The Unknown is Her Royal Highness Belinda!” Ben announced. When he had made sure that Belle was safely on the ground, he bid her good-bye and rode away, leaving Belle by herself to enter The Unknown.