Modern Fairy Tales Ch. 08byrachlou©
This story contains no sex. I apologise for this omission, but my characters flatly refused to partake in carnal activities for the purposes of entertainment. You may prefer to back click at this point if all you are seeking is sexual gratification.
If not, please read on!
* * *
Once Upon a Time there was a man who lived all alone in a crumbling house, with only his bitterness for company...
Just as Maurice raised his hand to knock a second time on the thick oak door, a gruff voice yelled, "Come in!"
Straightening his tie, the old man collected his wits about him and nervously entered.
The room was shrouded in shadow and Maurice blinked rapidly as his eyes struggled to adjust to the murky gloom. It felt like a funeral parlour and the old man couldn't help but wonder when sunlight had last been allowed in; somehow he felt certain it hadn't been for a very long time.
"Is my car ready yet?" the tall man barked from his desk, not even glancing up at his guest as he scribbled away in a notebook.
"Err, no, Mr De'Ville..." Maurice coughed and shuffled on the spot like a prisoner awaiting sentencing for a heinous crime. He knew that his client was not going to react very well to the unfortunate news that his prized sports car had been damaged in an accident.
"Why the hell not? It's been over a week now!" Mr De'Ville snapped angrily, raising his head for the first time.
"Yes, Mr De'Ville, but...err...we had a few problems yesterday..." Maurice felt damp patches bloom beneath his worn suit as the man's harsh glare bore into him mercilessly.
"God damn it!" Mr De'Ville threw his fountain pen across the room and Maurice ducked instinctively, narrowly avoiding being blinded. "What exactly have I been paying you for all these weeks? Tell me what has gone wrong this time?"
"My senior mechanic took the car out for a test drive and well, he had an accident." Maurice took a couple of steps backwards as Mr De'Ville's face began to turn a dangerous shade of puce. "The car sustained some damage and unfortunately it's a write off."
Maurice lowered his gaze to the dusty wooden floor, utterly unable to look Mr De'Ville in the eye. The man's reputation was known for miles around. He was ruthless and anyone who crossed him usually didn't last long.
He hadn't always been like that, remembered Maurice fleetingly, but since the tragic accident, he had changed beyond measure. The soft, kind gentleman from years ago had metamorphosed into a twisted, bitter and perpetually angry tyrant; one whom people went out of their way to avoid at all costs.
Even his loyal housekeeper had eventually given up on him. She had left a year ago, claiming ill health as an excuse. Maurice had heard the gossip though. He knew Nelly Montana had finally given up on Mr De'Ville. She had tried to help, but his all-consuming grief had poisoned him and he continued to blame the whole world for his loss.
"You IMBECILE!" Mr De'Ville screamed in fury. "That car was worth a fortune!" He picked up a glass paperweight and flung it with some force at the far wall.
Maurice winced at the sound of splintering glass as it shattered into a million fragments.
"I'm so sorry, sir," Maurice tried to say, but Mr De'Ville was beyond listening. He ranted about how Maurice was going to pay for his stupidity and Maurice's heart sank even lower than he thought possible. His garage business had been struggling for a while now, but after this, he knew that he would be ruined. Mr De'Ville would make damned sure of it.
When he finally gathered his courage and looked at Mr De'Ville again, much to his surprise, the hateful man was now staring at him speculatively whilst tapping a pencil on his leather jotter. Somehow this change of attitude was infinitely worse than the raging tantrum of a few minutes ago.
"You have a daughter, do you not?"
"Ye..ye..yes," stuttered Maurice as fear gripped his insides in an unrelenting vice.
"I need a housekeeper," Mr De'Ville mused almost to himself. He briefly ran a finger across the bookshelf that lurked behind his untidy desk and examined the thick layer of dust that appeared on his fingertip. "In fact, it's long over due."
Maurice didn't dare say anything for fear of further reprisals - he just wanted to go home before this unhinged lunatic lost his temper again. He cursed his weakness as the painful stomach spasms turned his bowels to water.
"What's her name again?"
"Bella, sir," Maurice whispered in a small voice.
"SPEAK UP, MAN!" Mr De'Ville yelled angrily.
"I said, her name is Bella," Maurice repeated with a little more assertiveness. What on earth could this foul creature want with his sweet Bella?
"Since you have no way of repaying the huge debt you now owe me, your daughter can become my unpaid housekeeper until I no longer require her services and your debt has been laid to rest," stated Mr De'Ville calmly, an evil smile twisting his monstrous features even further.
His tone made it quite clear that he was not about to take 'no' for an answer and Maurice's heart fell a thousand miles. How can I send my poor, innocent, Bella to live with this beast of a man, he thought helplessly. But there seemed no way out of the terrible predicament.
"I'll expect her first thing tomorrow morning," Mr De'Ville added.
Maurice didn't know what to say. What COULD he say? If he didn't agree with the man, Mr De'Ville would ruin him like he had other tradesmen in the area.
"She'll be here," he said in a dead voice. It was as if the sun had died and left the world in perpetual darkness.
"Leave me now," Mr De'Ville commanded arrogantly. He picked up his notepad and proceeded to ignore Maurice as if he had in fact already left. Still shaking like a sapling in a gale, Maurice backed out of the room and tried to think of a way out of this infernal mess he had found himself in. But it was no use; the prison door had slammed shut and the key had been snatched from him.
Now all he had to do was break the news to Bella...
* * *
"It's okay, Daddy," Belle smiled sadly. "I know you didn't have any choice."
"But, my poor girl, I can't force you to go!"
"Honestly, Daddy, I'll be fine -- I don't mind cleaning and I'm sure he won't hurt me."
Maurice stared into his precious daughters soft brown eyes and wondered, not for the first time, how she could never see any wrong in the world. Bella was like a sparkling sunbeam that broke through the black clouds on a dark and stormy day. She lit up his world with her melodic laughter and sweet nature.
Oh how he would miss her.
* * *
There was a piece of paper pinned to the door when Bella arrived at eight o'clock the following morning. She silently watched the taxi drive away before unpinning the note and reading it.
Let yourself in via the kitchen. I'll be back soon.
Bella frowned. It seemed odd that Mr De'Ville would leave his house unlocked, but then she guessed that with his reputation, he didn't have much to fear. With a shrug she picked up her small bag and walked down the gravel path that led around the side of the house.
Thick ivy and rambling roses grew unkempt up the yellow stone of the old house. Belle knew from listening to idle chatter in the village that Mr De'Ville's house had once been the finest in the county.
But not any more; now it was sadly neglected and badly in need of maintenance. It wasn't as if he had no money -- it was simply that he didn't care enough to spend his money on the house. From what little Bella had seen thus far, he was obviously happy living in squalor.
Or not happy, thought Bella.
Bella wandered through what had been, once upon a time, a rose garden. Now though, the bushes were overgrown, woody clumps. An occasional delicate flower unfurled its velvety petals in the warm sunshine, but they were few and far between; the majority were choked amongst bindweed and thistles. It made Bella want to cry. She loved gardening. Seeing the sad state of this place made her hands itch with a desire to restore its natural beauty once again.
With a sigh, she turned back towards the house to search for the kitchen door. Eventually she found it - well hidden behind a stack of empty beer crates. It appeared that Mr De'Ville kept the local off-licence in business at least. She shoved the crates to the side of the rotting doorframe and gingerly twisted the door knob, uncertain of what she might find inside the house.
The dark room she found herself in was vast with a high ceiling and a cavernous range fireplace. The storage units were not too old fashioned, but everything was covered in a thick layer of grime and dust. Cobwebs lurked in every nook and crevice and Bella shuddered at the thought of the monstrous spiders that no doubt lived amongst them. But she was going to have to quell her phobia -- she couldn't afford to incur the wrath of Mr De'Ville and risk her father being punished any more.
Bella left the kitchen door ajar to allow some fresh air into the stale smelling room. She walked around the large pine table and entered a small hallway that appeared to lead into the rest of the sprawling house.
Each room that she walked past was dark and dusty. Not a chink of light passed through the heavy drapes and thick blinds. It was like the man had been entombed in his own house. Furniture was covered in sheets and cloths and there were few ornaments visible.
The only room on the ground floor that showed signs of being lived in appeared to be Mr De'Ville's study. Bella hesitantly entered the gloomy room lit only by a small lamp on the huge mahogany desk. She felt the crunch of broken glass beneath her feet and wondered what had been smashed. Judging by the large number of empty spirits bottles lying about, probably one of those, she thought with a sigh.
Upstairs was much the same. Many rooms were closed off, their windows blacked out with dusty drapes. Not one of them appeared fit for human habitation and Bella wondered where she was expected to sleep while she stayed here.
Eventually she came across what had to be Mr De'Ville's bedroom. It was the only room with a bed that looked as if somebody had slept in it recently. Trying not to feel like she was prying, Bella stepped inside and peered around the room. Clothes littered the floor while books and magazines were tossed on every available surface.
There was a small photograph beside the bed and Bella picked it up curiously. It was faded and the glass was cracked, but she could just about make out a smiling couple staring into the lens of the camera.
The man was tall, dark haired and very handsome. He looks so happy, thought Bella. His face was crinkled as he laughed. The woman beside him was looking up and smiling back, her long, pale blonde hair gleaming in the sunlight.
It was a snapshot of a happier time. Whilst Bella had never met Mr De'Ville, she guessed it was a picture of the man with his dead wife; it couldn't possibly be anyone else. They had clearly been very much in love.
The sound of a cane tip tapping on the floor attracted her attention and she turned around.
Standing in the bedroom doorway was a huge, brute of a man, his long hair unkempt and his face hidden behind a thick shaggy beard. "Stay out of here," he growled menacingly and Bella almost dropped the photograph frame in her fright.
"I'm...I'm...sorry," she tried to say, but the words got stuck in her throat.
"OUT!" the man yelled.
Bella grabbed her bag and shot past him in blind terror.
* * *
Nathaniel De'Ville waited until Bella was out of sight, then he picked up the photo frame and stared at it for the millionth time. It was no use; it didn't matter how many times he looked at the faded print of his beloved wife, she was never coming back to him. He gave the glass a quick rub with his sleeve and replaced the frame back on his table.
The girl must be Maurice's daughter, he thought as he walked slowly down the landing, towards the staircase. When he first saw her, before she became aware of his presence, he had for one aching moment thought that his beloved Rebecca had returned to him.
But then the girl had turned around to face him and his hopes had been cruelly dashed. Rebecca was gone - he knew that in his heart of hearts - but he missed her so much. It didn't matter how much whiskey he consumed, still his heart ached like a piece of it had been cut out.
When he entered the kitchen, the girl was standing beside the back door, poised to flee.
"What's your name, girl?" Nathan said gruffly, leaning on his wooden cane.
"Bella," she replied, her eyes bright with unshed tears.
"I presume you've had a good look around now," he said, "so I won't need to give you the guided tour."
She nodded silently and he felt a tiny glimmer of something unexpected deep within his icy heart before a bleak image from Rebecca's funeral wiped the warmth from his body and he winced with renewed pain.
"Follow me and I'll show you where your room is," he growled, turning away from Bella abruptly.
* * *
Bella followed the man without question. She was too scared to leave even though every bone in her body willed her to do so. Eventually, after traversing long, endless corridors that meandered through vast wings of the old house, Bella found herself staring into an attic room, high in the eaves.
Unlike the rooms she had glanced in on the lower floors, this window wasn't shrouded in fabric and so the sunlight streamed through unfettered. An old iron bedstead stood in the corner and there was a sink and a few sticks of furniture.
It wasn't the nicest room she had ever seen, but it was a whole heap better than she could have hoped for.
"There's bed linen in a cupboard downstairs," Mr De'Ville said. "You'll find everything you need if you look."
Bella turned to face him, her fear receding now that her host had regained his temper.
"Thank you, Mr De'Ville," she said shyly.
He looked at her strangely for a moment and Bella wondered what he was thinking behind those sad eyes of his.
He shook his head and blinked. "I'll be in my office for the rest of the day," he muttered as he backed away from her.
Long after he had disappeared down the staircase, Bella stood in the light attic room, thinking about him. Despite her initial fright, he really didn't seem so scary now. He just seemed lost.
* * *
Nathaniel sat at his desk, trying to concentrate on his books, but no matter how hard he stared at the columns of tiny figures, it was impossible. The sweet sound of Bella's singing had somehow managed to find a way through the thick oak door of his study and penetrate right into his brain.
Eventually he gave up all pretence of work and merely sat in his leather chair, listening. She had the most exquisite voice. It was like a siren song from myths and legends, the kind that lured ships onto rocks, causing sailors to drown.
Nathaniel slammed his fist on the desk and grumbled with irritation. It was no use; he couldn't stand it anymore. Unwillingly, he left his office and followed the Bella's voice as it drifted out of the kitchen. As he drew closer his nose detected the scent of baking and his stomach began to growl hungrily.
When he walked into the kitchen, he was amazed to see Bella dancing around with a mop, singing along to a pop tune playing on an old radio that he hadn't seen for years. Her long blonde hair shimmered in the sunlight that blazed through sparkling windows and her lean brown legs flexed as she moved.
She didn't notice him straight away, but when her eye finally caught his presence she stopped instantly and dropped the mop with a clatter.
"You're disturbing me," Nathaniel scowled bad-temperedly. "That damn racket is making my head hurt."
"Would you like a painkiller?" Bella asked sweetly.
Nathaniel could almost swear she was laughing at him and for an instant he was reminded of another woman who used to love to tease him mercilessly.
"No," he snapped. The image of Rebecca faded and he rubbed his temple where a vein throbbed painfully. "Just keep the racket down so I can do some damn work in peace."
He noticed the girl's sad expression and it made him angry. He didn't need her pity! He didn't need anyone. With a growl he slammed the door shut behind him as he stomped out. The music faded when he reached his study and he sighed.
Damn the girl, he thought crossly. I should never have made her come here.
Pouring himself a hefty slug of whiskey from the bottle that resided in his drawer, he drank the strong liquid down in one fiery gulp. It burned his throat and a warm glow soothed his temper as it settled in his empty stomach. He refilled the glass and stared into the amber liquid.
He knew he was never going to find the meaning of life at the bottom of a glass, but at least it numbed the pain. Draining the second glass, he leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. The more he drank, the less he remembered. It was infinitely better that way.
* * *
The sun was low in the sky by the time Bella dished up some food on two plates. The cake she had baked stood on the scrubbed table, iced and ready to slice. The rest of the kitchen was tidy but for a few pots left to wash.
Bella smiled happily. She had worked like a demon over the last two weeks. Not a cobweb or speck of dust remained in the main rooms and although she had plenty of rooms left to clean upstairs, she was making great progress.
The larder and fridge were now full of food. When she had first examined them, she had been shocked. A hard lump of cheese had sat in solitary splendour in the fridge and the larder was virtually empty too.
* * *
"You have no food," she had tentatively told Nathaniel when she finally located him in his study.
"Well buy some!" he had yelled crossly.
Bella had refused to be intimidated by his foul temper. "I have no money," she pointed out in a reasonable voice.
Nathaniel raked his hand through his unruly hair and closed his eyes. She wondered fleetingly what he would look like with a haircut and a shave. Then he opened his eyes again and caught her staring and she blushed. Thankfully the room was so gloomy that he probably couldn't see her pink glowing cheeks.
"I have an account at the village store," he said impatiently. "Order anything you need and charge it. They'll deliver. Now go away and leave me alone!"
* * *
Bella eyed the cake as she placed Nathaniel's plate on a tray. Making a decision, she quickly cut a thick wedge and added it to the tray, along with a glass of milk. He probably wouldn't eat most of it, but at least he couldn't accuse her of not doing her job.
There wasn't a murmur from the study when she reached the closed door. Gingerly she placed the tray on the floor and knocked softly. There was still no sound, so she carefully opened the heavy door and peeked in.
Nathaniel was asleep. His head rested on the desk and an empty whisky bottle lay on its side nearby. The room reeked of alcohol and Bella longed to open the tall window and let some fresh air in, but she knew it was more than her life was worth. He hated the light; he said it gave him a headache.
With a sigh, she picked up the tray and placed it on the side table, near enough so that he would notice it when he awoke again. She just wished he would eat properly. He was a big man, but beneath the old, shapeless clothes he wore day in and day out, he was painfully gaunt and thin.
Nathaniel's eyes flickered in sleep. He moaned slightly as Bella stood over him and she wondered what he was dreaming about. Somehow she suspected they weren't happy dreams. But her own dinner was cooling in the kitchen, so she left him to his dreams and shut the door behind her quietly.