Mado had spent the day shopping with her mother and sisters on the Champs-Élysées. They bought new gowns to wear to the ball being held that evening, which was to be Mado's first. Her gown was of eggshell colored duchess satin adorned with little beads, painted to look like pearls. The gorgeous creation lay on her bed in the suit at the Ritz Carlton her family had rented for the week.
After shopping, Catharine had come up with idea of joining a tour group to explore the Paris Catacombs. Mado had never seen the catacombs before and the idea seemed both gruesome and fascinating. Their entrance was near the ancient church of the Holy Innocents, and was known as the Mouth of Hell. Before them was an inscription which read "Arréte! C'est Ici L'Empire de la More." It was dark and drafty underneath the streets of Paris; the rocks which made up the walls of these underground tunnels dripped with perspiration. The bones from long overcrowded cemeteries were arranged on the walls of the tunnels, a frightening spectacle which made several of the ladies in the group feel faint.
Their tour guide, who held up a candle to lead the way, warned that these catacombs were a common haunt of thieves, who found the shadows an ideal place to hide and await unsuspecting victims. The image of robbers hiding in the darkness and pouncing upon her at any moment both terrified and thrilled Mado.
A black line painted on the ceiling marked the path through the catacombs. Mado feared that at any moment she would get lost and fall into the clutches of some nefarious character. She clutched the large, sharp, pin which held her hat in place, ready to pull it out and use it to defend her virtue.
Luckily, or perhaps unfortunately, the excursion passed with relative uneventfulness. A couple of gentlemen had their wallets snatched by unseen pickpockets, but that was all. Papa called them a cab after the tour, which took them to Notre Dame.
The huge cathedral was filled with visitors admiring the stone architecture and stain glass and speaking in hushed tones. Mado lit a votive candle and said a prayer, asking for success at the ball that night.
Mimi had just read Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame and wanted to climb up to the parapets and look at the gargoyles. It was about four hundred steps to the top; Mado was so worn out after the climb that she could not enjoy the view. Her heart raced and pounded against her ribs; her lungs felt shriveled up and her corset creaked as she struggled to breath.
"If you would only exercise more, Madeleine," Maman told her, "You wouldn't tire out so easily."
They returned back to the hotels after visiting Notre Dame to get ready for the ball. A bath was drawn for Mado; sea salt mixed with bicarbonate of soda and chopped up rosemary was dissolved in the boiling water. A shampoo made from soap flakes, egg yolks, and olive oil was used to wash her hair and was rinsed out with lemon juice to bring out the golden highlights in her blond hair. When she stepped out of this bath, she rubbed beeswax, almond oil, and rose oil into her skin to soften it. She washed her face with orange blossom oil, rosewater, sugar, and egg whites.
Marcelline, Maman's maid, arranged her hair in a style reminiscent of Gibson's beauties. A little rice powder and cochineal rouge was used to enhance her complexion. Drops of belladonna were put in her eyes to give them a dreamy look.
"Remember, if a young man asks you to dance, you must be grateful for the honor," Maman lectured as Marcelline helped Mado into her new ball gown, "Say you would be delighted and accept his offer."
"I will, Maman," Mado answered.
Maman looked her over and seemed pleased.
"You will do quite well, my dear."
This show of approval from her mother felt like the most lavish praise.
Her first ball lived up to everyone of Mado's hopes. Though she sat every second or third dance, she was never without a partner when she wanted one. Each of her partners was more handsome and charming than the last. While, they waltzed, polkaed, and galloped, Mado made small talk with them.
"Have you been to the opera?" they would ask.
"I saw Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice last thursday night," she replied.
"Did you dine at the Ritz?"
"We had dinner there before coming here."
"What did you think of that new Matisse exhibition?"
"It is too noisy and crowded when I visited it. I wasn't able to enjoy the paintings."
"Were you able to make it to the top of the Eiffel Tower?"
"No, I didn't make it past the first floor; I couldn't manage all those steps."
The dancing finished up with the Fledermaus Quadrille. Mado return home, exhausted but perfectly happy. Mimi, who resented being the only one left at home, demanded to know everything and Mado eagerly complied, showing the menu for the dinner, the program of music, and her dance card which she had saved to put in her scrapbook.
"I cannot wait until my first ball," Mimi said.
"You'll have to wait," Mado responded, "If I had to wait, so do you."
YOU ARE READING
Chateau AubreyHistorical Fiction
James Beaumont and Madeleine d'Aubrey were born into two vastly different worlds: him, the gritty streets of turn of the century New York; her, the aristocratic splendor of Belle Époque France. When they meet and fall in love at her family home of C...