Monsieur, Madame, and Bebe

Author: Gustave Droz

Chapter VII an Embassy Ball

"Don’t say that it is not pretty," added my aunt, brushing the firedog with the tip of her tiny boot. "It lends an especial charm to the look, I must acknowledge. A cloud of powder is most becoming, a touch of rouge has a charming effect, and even that blue shadow that they spread, I don’t know how, under the eye. What coquettes some women are! Did you notice Anna’s eyes at Madame de Sieurac’s last Thursday? Is it allowable? Frankly, can you understand how any one can dare?"

"Well, aunt, I did not object to those eyes, and between ourselves they had a softness."

"I do not deny that, they had a softness."

"And at the same time such a strange brilliancy beneath that half shadow, an expression of such delicious languor."

"Yes, certainly, but, after all, it is making an exhibition of one’s self. But for that—it is very pretty sometimes—I have seen in the Bois charming creatures under their red, their black, and their blue, for they put on blue too, God forgive me!"

"Yes, aunt, Polish blue; it is put on with a stump; it is for the veins."

With interest: "They imitate veins! It is shocking, upon my word. But you seem to know all about it?"

"Oh, I have played so often in private theatricals; I have even quite a collection of little pots of color, hare’s-feet stumps, pencils, et cetera."

"Ah! you have, you rascal! Are you going to the fancy ball at the Embassy to-morrow?"

"Yes, aunt; and you, are you going in character?"

"One must, since every one else will. They say the effect will be splendid." After a silence: "I shall wear powder; do you think it will suit me?"

"Better than any one, my dear aunt; you will look adorable, I feel certain."

"We shall see, you little courtier."

She rose, gave me her hand to kiss with an air of exquisite grace, and seemed about to withdraw, then, seemingly changing her mind:

"Since you are going to the Embassy to-morrow, Ernest, call for me; I will give you a seat in the carriage. You can give me your opinion on my costume, and then," she broke into a laugh, and taking me by the hand, added in my ear: "Bring your little pots and come early. This is between ourselves." She put her finger to her lip as a signal for discretion. "Till tomorrow, then."

The following evening my aunt’s bedroom presented a spectacle of most wild disorder.

Her maid and the dressmaker, with haggard eyes, for they had been up all night, were both on their knees, rummaging amidst the bows of satin, and feverishly sticking in pins.

"How late you are," said my aunt to me. "Do you know that it is eleven o’clock? and we have," she continued, showing her white teeth, "a great many things to do yet. The horses have been put to this last hour. I am sure they will take cold in that icy courtyard." As she spoke she stretched out her foot, shod with a red-heeled slipper, glittering with gold embroidery. Her plump foot seemed to overflow the side of the shoe a trifle, and through the openwork of her bright silk stocking the rosy skin of her ankle showed at intervals.

"What do you think of me, Monsieur Artist?"

"But, Countess, my dear aunt, I mean, I—I am dazzled by this July sun, the brightest of all the year, you know. You are adorable, adorable—and your hair!"

"Is it not well arranged? Silvani did it; he has not his equal, that man. The diamonds in the hair go splendidly, and then this lofty style of head-dressing gives a majestic turn to the neck. I do not know whether you are aware that I have always been a coquette as regards my neck; it is my only bit of vanity. Have you brought your little colorpots?"

"Yes, aunt, I have the whole apparatus, and if you will sit down—"

"I am frightfully pale-just a little, Ernest; you know what I told you," and she turned her head, presenting her right eye to me. I can still see that eye.

I do not know what strange perfume, foreign to aunts in general, rose from her garments.

"You understand, my dear boy, that it is only an occasion like the present, and the necessities of a historical costume, that make me consent to paint like this."

"My dear little aunt, if you move, my hand will shake." And, indeed, in touching her long lashes, my hand trembled.

"Ah! yes, in the corner, a little—you are right, it gives a softness, a vagueness, a—it is very funny, that little pot of blue. How ugly it must be! How things lead on one to another! Once one’s hair is powdered, one must have a little pearl powder on one’s face in order not to look as yellow as an orange; and one’s cheeks once whitened, one can’t—you are tickling me with your brush—one can’t remain like a miller, so a touch of rouge is inevitable. And then—see how wicked it is—if, after all that, one does not enlarge the eyes a bit, they look as if they had been bored with a gimlet, don’t they? It is like this that one goes on little by little, till one comes to the gallows."

My aunt began to laugh freely, as she studied her face.

"Ah! that is very effective what you have just done—well under the eye, that’s it. What animation it gives to the look! How clever those creatures are, how well they know everything that becomes one! It is shameful, for with them it is a trick, nothing more. Oh! you may put on a little more of that blue of yours, I see what it does now. It has a very good effect. How you are arching the eyebrows. Don’t you think it is a little too black? You know I should not like to look as if—you are right, though. Where did you learn all that? You might earn a deal of money, do you know, if you set up a practice."

"Well, aunt, are you satisfied?"

My aunt held her hand-glass at a distance, brought it near, held it away again, smiled, and, leaning back in her chair, said: "It must be acknowledged that it is charming, this. What do your friends call it?"

"Make-up, aunt."

"It is vexatious that it has not another name, for really I shall have recourse to it for the evening—from time to time. It is certain that it is attractive. Haven’t you a little box for the lips?"

"Here it is."

"Ah! in a bottle, it is liquid."

"It is a kind of vinegar, as you see. Don’t move, aunt. Put out your lips as if you wished to kiss me. You don’t by chance want to?"

"Yes, and you deserve it. You will teach me your little accomplishments, will you not?"

"Willingly, aunt."

"Your vinegar is miraculous! what brightness it gives to the lips, and how white one’s teeth look. It is true my teeth were always—"

"Another of your bits of vanity."

"It is done, then. Thank you." She smiled at me mincingly, for the vinegar stung her lips a little.

With her moistened finger she took a patch which she placed with charming coquetry under her eye, and another which she placed near the corner of her mouth, and then, radiant and adorable, exclaimed: "Hide away your little color-pots; I hear your uncle coming for me. Clasp my bracelets for me. Midnight! O my poor horses!"

At that moment my uncle entered in silk shorts and a domino.

"I hope I do not intrude," said he, gayly, on seeing me.

"What nonsense!" said my aunt, turning toward him. "Ernest is going to the Embassy, like ourselves, and I have offered him a seat in the carriage."

At the aspect of my aunt, my uncle, dazzled, held out his gloved hand to her, saying, "You are enchanting this evening, my dear." Then, with a sly smile, "Your complexion has a fine brightness, and your eyes have a wonderful brilliancy."

"Oh, it is the fire they have been making up—it is stifling here. But you, my dear, you look splendid; I have never seen your beard so black."

"It is because I am so pale—I am frozen. Jean forgot to look after my fire at all, and it went out. Are you ready?"

My aunt smiled in turn as she took up her fan.


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Chicago: Gustave Droz, "Chapter VII an Embassy Ball," Monsieur, Madame, and Bebe, ed. Burton, Isabel, Lady, 1831-1896 and trans. Hogarth, C. J. in Monsieur, Madame, and Bebe Original Sources, accessed August 8, 2022,

MLA: Droz, Gustave. "Chapter VII an Embassy Ball." Monsieur, Madame, and Bebe, edited by Burton, Isabel, Lady, 1831-1896, and translated by Hogarth, C. J., in Monsieur, Madame, and Bebe, Original Sources. 8 Aug. 2022.

Harvard: Droz, G, 'Chapter VII an Embassy Ball' in Monsieur, Madame, and Bebe, ed. and trans. . cited in , Monsieur, Madame, and Bebe. Original Sources, retrieved 8 August 2022, from