Chapter 3: LeFou’s Story
Pierre LeFou had always been a shy boy, the most timid boy in the village, and had been the brunt of bullies since he was knee-high to a grasshopper. They would harass him at school, throw things at him, and mock him about his mother. Everyone knew she was one of those women who threw herself at a dashing cavalier going off to the wars…LeFou’s father, whom he had never met. And he highly supposed they would never meet, for when his mother had gone to find him, with her belly full up, he had coldly refused to claim the baby as his own.
But he had one friend in those days, a friend he would never have expected to gain, who would serve as his protector when they tripped him up and spit in his face as he tried to walk home from school. He would scare off the bullies, for he was the strongest boy in the village, LeFou’s ultimate opposite. And the weaker adored him for it. Gaston was his hero, his idol, his best and only friend. He had taken LeFou under his wing, possibly because he liked the idea of having a constant admirer around him, reassuring him of his own strength, his own courage.
But regardless of the reason, they grew up together, inseparable in almost all their undertakings, and anywhere Gaston went in the village, LeFou was sure to be close behind, tagging along. People would mock him for it often enough, would throw jabs at Gaston for keeping him around, but Gaston would affectionately if patronizingly dub him his petit frère, and they’d move on together.
When they were older, LeFou had even wanted to go to war with him, but he was notably unathletic and near-sighted, and Gaston had “helped” his friend by making much about it in front of the recruiting sergeant. While the dramatic humiliation was launched with the best of intentions, LeFou could not help but feel somewhat hurt to hear his idol belittle him in such a fashion…even if he knew it was all true. He felt emasculated, devalued…useless. Still, eager to please, he thanked Gaston for the “rescue” all the same, and the war passed uneventfully for him.
Some struggles still came his way. The war taxes hit hard, and his job sewing and selling garments at the local clothing merchant’s shop produced less profits. But he still enjoyed making beautiful clothes for ladies and gentlemen alike. He liked the feel of the fabrics, the rhythm of the needles and thread. But people still mocked him for it. Woman’s work, they said. And it was frivolous, they said, when real men were off fighting the English to prove their prowess. Men scoffed and women shunned him. He wasn’t a real man, they said.
And then his mother died. His relationship with her had always been rather difficult, as she had never let go of the bitterness she carried over his father’s betrayal, and her outlook became even more bleak as the years passed. Nevertheless, she had been all in the way of family that he had ever really had, not knowing his father’s side and being shunned by his mother’s. Without her, who he had supported for so long, he felt more alone than ever.
But the constantly blathering tongues of the village were notably silent on this occasion. They didn’t find it necessary to comment upon the old woman’s demise, certainly not to her strange, simpering son. He was an outsider; why should they take him in, now? Yet there was one ray of hope. The only one to offer condolences had been a little girl whom the Parisian damsel Belle had been teaching to read. Evidently she had also taught her something about compassion, something about loving one another as you would love yourself, written in a book Bell had borrowed from the parish priest.
The little girl had often been seen peering in the window at a pink frilled parasol in the shop. LeFou would see her there, and smile and wink. But on the day she came in the door and told him she was sorry, very sorry for the loss of his mama, he found himself giving her that little parasol from the window, a smile hiding the tears he feared to shed. He knew it would get him in trouble, but he didn’t care. It hurt too much to be alone.
When the wars ended, and Gaston finally returned, LeFou clung to him more desperately than ever. But there was something of a change. While Gaston seemed content to have this loyal disciple at his beck and call, the wars had dented him, altered him. He spent more time in the tavern, girls on his arm and a pint in his hand. He bragged constantly about his conquests, in battle or in bed. And LeFou, always insecure, found himself feeling yet another emotion, primal in its intensity. It unnerved him, but he imagined it was jealousy.
LeFou found himself wondering what was wrong with him, crying late at night, and knowing the world would think him a monster, a beast. They would run him out of town on a rail if they knew. But he could not help himself. He could not bear to think of anyone, man or woman, claiming Gaston in the way he himself wished to claim him with the heart. He wanted someone to love him, someone who could look past his own weaknesses and see the strength of his heart, of his love. He wanted a very particular person he felt he had grown to love. Was that so very evil? So very disgusting?
People said a man wanting another man was one of the sins that cried out to Heaven, that brought down fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorra. He wondered if suicide were a lesser or greater offense. They said it was the same, mortally damning. What did that mean, exactly? That his soul was dead, capable of no truly good thing? Did he not marvel at sunsets and the stars as much as anyone else? That takes soul, to be sure. Did he not know the feelings of passion or pity, love or loss, as strong as others…or perhaps stronger? That took soul. Was he not capable of exercising that golden rule of putting himself in the stead of another, of extending himself past himself? Was that not the definition of soul, confirmed in a little girl’s smile as she tried out her fancy new parasol?
Maybe he was ill, maybe out of order, as they all would say, or maybe he was simply driven by a thing he himself could not fully understand, and a think which no one would be able to fully understand. Perhaps it was presumption for others to think they could manage it without living it. What he did know was that he was not dead inside, that he was not a beast. He was not spoilt goods to cast down a chasm. If he was truly wounded in some way…well, the entire world is wounded in some way. There is no escaping it, nor the individuality of it when the wound becomes personal. But then he had always known some wound or other, mainly in the form of love scorned. Watching Gaston, his only security, drift further from him just added to it. It drained him, isolated him, and made him feel even more unworthy than ever.
He wondered and worried what would happen if Gaston ever found out about his feelings. Surely he would explode in anger and revulsion, and then cut him off without another word. And that, LeFou knew, would shatter his heart beyond repair. He would have lost the only connection he ever really had, all for a fancy that could never be substantiated nor realized in any practical reality. He had to except that reality, but he still would do anything, make any sacrifice, to salvage the friendship. As long as Gaston still kept wanting him along for the ride on his adventures, LeFou was happy. Yes, as long as Gaston was happy, LeFou would be happy…
In an effort to salvage things, LeFou decided to try a reverse approach: help Gaston with his latest and greatest conquest, seeking the hand and affections of the lady Belle. Oh, he knew that Belle was far from being interested in Gaston – she clearly found him to be something of an uneducated lout, too brutish and boorish for her sophisticated tastes. He wondered if she ever bothered to see his good side, for he did have one, LeFou knew that. But sadly his vices all too often blotted out everything else in the eyes of others.
Alright, so the two of them were clearly incompatible. Belle had said it straight to Gaston’s face and LeFou knew it well enough. While Belle was well-read, Gaston was athletically inclined. Initially, LeFou had tried to tell him so. But he also wanted to please his friend, wanted to remain in his good books, his most trusted best confidante who would go to any length to get him what he wanted. So he tried, in various ways, to build up Gaston’s image and encourage him in his pursuit of the lady fair. It seemed as if the war veteran was in earnest, now, and that Belle would not merely be another frolic. He wanted to make her his for keeps. He was done with sowing his wild oats; now he wanted a wife.
But LeFou could not have known that the wooing would end in tragedy, end in disaster, end in a village mob storming the castle of a beast, a musket shot screaming through the dark, and Gaston plunging to his fate at the bottom of the highest tower. But his fate was not that of death. No. Much worse than death, for a man of his mold…
When Gaston awoke from his coma, LeFou cringed as his friend realized he could not move his legs. He thought he was strapped into the bed. It had to be broken to him in the most painful way possible what had truly happened. And then the man of so very much composure had fought against the truth, tried to fight the bed on which he lay, and force himself up on his feet.
“Belle,” he blurted as he fought, and LeFou held him down. “Belle…is this my reward for the night’s work?” And he fought all the harder.
“Gaston, être toujours! Calme-toi!”
Gaston soon wore himself out; he was still grievously injured and unable to rise. He did taste some drugged wine being poured in his mouth, and hear the screaming of the mob outside, shouting that he was a murderer, that he deserved to be hanged. And to his shock, he heard LeFou defend him in the doorway, with a force of voice he never heard in him before.
The hours passed and he remained delirious, ranting and raving, cursing and calming alternately, in a fever, and then when it broke, it broke into sobbing, then hardened into rage, then broke again in guilt, over and over again.
“Belle…I killed her…”
“No, no, you couldn’t have,” LeFou blurted. “You loved her…”
“I wanted her,” he groaned. “She fought…the gun went off…”
“It was an accident,” LeFou tried to soothe him. “You would never hurt anyone you loved on purpose.”
“I am a monster,” Gaston spit out, “a beast.”
“No, you’re not,” his caretaker protested. “No man is a beast…and least of all you, Gaston.”
“A man may become a beast,” the bedridden man whispered. “She…she said so…and it is true…”
LeFou inhaled. “No man is a beast, if there is any love to be had in him. No man is a beast if any love might be hidden in him, or grow in him.”
“I have loved only myself…loved only the mirror’s shine…”
“Not all love knows the same conquest,” LeFou murmured. “Not all love is meant for conquest at all. You have loved in ways you thought little of at the time.”
“I have loved little and killed much.”
“You saved a boy’s life, who would have taken it himself, if not for a single friend,” LeFou confessed quietly.
“Then if I am not a beast, I am a vegetable,” Gaston growled painfully.
“You are a man, mon ami,” LeFou assured. “She knows that now. Nothing may take it from you, though all of the outside be shattered. It is carved out within. That, I think, was what she was trying to tell you, all along. She just needed you…to show that to her.”
It was a long first day and night, long and stifling, as sick rooms will be. And when everyone else had abandoned the most popular man in the village, the least popular man in the village was there to nurse him. He was there, just as a friend should be. And for the first time, Gaston, in the midst of his despair, was glad that he was there. For once, he allowed his ego to bow out, and to silently acknowledge his need for another’s strength.
And LeFou, in the strange twist fate had taken, felt infused with a new strength himself. He didn’t know what nature of power it was; it was both filling and emptying him. He was determined to be there for his friend, no matter what terrors might be drummed up, from within or without, no matter what charges the villagers might bring now that their mood had swung against him, no matter what demons might lurk within his broken body, no matter the heights or the depths. He was there, and it was where he should be.
And he read to him out of the Bible…
“When David had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that he was wearing, and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt.”
And Gaston pondered it all in his heart.
“LeFou,” Gaston said quietly. “Where is Belle now?”
“Laid out in the castle,” came the answer, “alongside the one she loves.”
Gaston reached out his hand to him. “I must rise. I must rise and make my peace.”
“No, you are too weak…”
“But I must…must rise. Will you not help me to rise, mon ami… mon âme et conscience?”
A friend, a heart, a conscience?
Yes, LeFou felt that summed up the meaning of manhood in totality. And that was a part of himself that could not be ignored. He would help him rise, if he had to carry him to the castle across his shoulders. He would help him rise even if crushed by the weight. And in being crushed, LeFou himself would rise.
Avellina Balestri (aka Rosaria Marie) is one of the founding members and the Editor-in-Chief of The Fellowship of the King, a literary magazine with a strong Tolkienite influence (which, by the way, is open to submissions). She reads and writes extensively, and eagerly seeks out the deeper spiritual significance of popular fandoms such as The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, Star Trek, Star Wars, and The Hunger Games. And yes, she does have a soft spot in her heart for classic Disney movies, The Princess Bride, and Merlin 😉 She is also a recording artist, singing traditional folk songs and her own compositions as well as playing the penny whistle and bodhran drum. She draws her inspiration from the Ultimate Love and Source of Creativity, and hopes to share that love and creativity with others.