The day of her engagement ball was only the second time Belle had required the help of another person to dress.
While Madame de Garderobe had insisted on supervising Belle as she put on her yellow gown that fateful night in June, Plumette had declared herself in charge of engagement preparations come July.
“She must be à la mode!” Madame de Garderobe reminded Plumette the first time she whisked Belle away to plan her hair and wardrobe.
“Oui, madame!” Plumette sang, waving a hand airily as she ushered Belle into the library. When she shut the door and caught sight of Belle’s face, she laughed and said, “Don’t you worry, mademoiselle. Madame de Garderobe has followed fashion religiously since she was Cadenza’s youngest student. Soon you will be une princesse. It is you who sets the fashion now.”
“I’m really not sure that’s necessary,” Belle said, following as Plumette made her way to a shelf on the second level and started pulling out volumes bound with paper and string. “What are those?”
“Some older sketches and fashion plates. And the newest fashions from Versailles. I wrote and had them sent as soon as I regained the use of my hands.” The corner of her mouth dimpled in a smile that told Belle she was quite pleased with herself. “To save monsieur le prince from having to admit he’s still rather enamored with fashion.”
Belle blinked. “I’m sorry, I’m still stuck on the fact that you knew exactly where to find something in this library.” Adam’s peculiar filing system was a source of minor frustration and endless teasing. She expected this would not change after they married.
Plumette laughed. “Who do you think dusts in here? I know it all by heart now. Oh, it was so much work over the years to keep this place clean. The master hadn’t been in here for ages until you arrived.”
“I didn’t realize.”
“Yes, well, you are here now, that is what is most important.” Plumette seated herself at one of the library tables and nodded for Belle to join her. “And you are going to be beautiful at your engagement ball, that is what is next important. Not,” she added as she opened the newest volume, “that you are not already lovely.”
Belle ducked her head, not knowing what to say.
“If you’ll forgive me, mademoiselle…”
“Belle. Please call me Belle.”
“If it’s not too bold of me to ask—Belle—did you know many girls your own age in Villeneuve.”
“Did you have friends?”
It was a question that gave Belle pause. Of course she had friends. She had every character in the ten books Père Robert let her borrow. She had her father.
Plumette caught her eye. “Friends of a feminine persuasion. To walk and talk and share secrets with.”
Belle shook her head. “None of the girls I knew wanted to talk about the things I did. And Villeneuve is tiny. No one has secrets there.”
Plumette pursed her lips and gave a prim little “Hm. Their loss, I suppose. Mademoiselle Belle—” She caught Belle glaring at her and glared right back. “It’s a compromise. I know you are madly in love with monsieur le prince and you have your father and Mrs. Potts has taken you under her wing, but if you decide…”
“If I decide I’d like a friend of the feminine persuasion.”
Belle moved her chair closer to Plumette and leaned to look at the fashion plates she held open. “I’ve decided I’d like that very much.”
Three weeks later, Belle was seated at her vanity, dressed in a lovely floral creation Plumette had dreamed up.
“A summer engagement requires roses!” she had insisted, and though Madame de Garderobe had complained that the silhouette was hardly in style, Plumette keenly respected Belle’s desire to be able to move through a doorway without turning sideways.
“I’m so pleased with the way those sleeves turned out,” Plumette said as she tucked white flowers into Belle’s pinned up braids.
“And the skirt moves so beautifully.”
“Mais bien sûr! What is the point of dancing if not to show off a pretty dress? There!” she declared triumphantly, securing the final flower. “You shouldn’t have to worry about anything falling loose during the gavotte.”
“I should think not. I think I have more pins in my hair today than I’ve seen in my entire life before this.”
“I believe your life before this also involved considerably fewer gavottes.”
“That is unfortunately true.”
Plumette surveyed her handiwork one last time, a bright smile spreading across her face. “Will there be anything else?”
“No, I think that will be—” Belle’s gaze flickered upward, and she caught sight of Plumette’s face in the mirror. Not for the first time, she found herself curious about the dusting of gold Plumette so often applied to the corner of her eyes and the swell of her cheeks. “Actually. I did have one question. How do you…” She touched the side of her face to indicate where Plumette’s skin shimmered.
“How do I do my makeup?”
Plumette shook her head in amazement. “There were really no other girls in Villeneuve?”
“Oh, there were other girls,” Belle said, pleating the fabric of her skirt between her fingers. “And they wore makeup. But I didn’t understand them, and they didn’t want anything to do with me.”
Plumette took Belle by the shoulders and gently turned her away from the mirror. When Belle met her gaze, she said, “They are idiots for not wanting to know you. And you are the one who saved us all and is going to marry a prince. So. Put your shoes on.” Belle slid her feet into dancing shoes embroidered to match her dress. “Stand up. Spin.”
As Belle twirled slowly for her lady’s maid, she thought about the life she’d spent wearing country clothes. She still loved their practicality, the freedom they gave her, but there was something about a new dancing dress, she’d learned in her time at the castle. Forget about being a future princesse—she felt like the Queen of France.
“C’est parfait,” Plumette pronounced. “And fear not—I shall teach you all of my tricks later, if you like, but not when there’s guests arriving downstairs.”
“I should like that.”
“Off you go, then.”
Hours later, Belle found herself being pulled by her fiancé into an alcove off the ballroom.
“How are you doing?” Adam asked, bending to touch his forehead to hers.
“I’ve danced every dance and my feet positively ache. I’m not sure I’ve ever been happier.”
“You’ve come a long way from stepping on your father’s toes.”
“That’s exactly what he said during the last dance.”
Adam slid a hand around Belle’s waist and held her close. “I think I was too stunned to say it when I first saw you—you look magnificent.”
“Thank you. Madame de Garderobe has come around to the dress, I think, but she said I need rouge.”
“Nonsense. If you want, I suppose, but I hardly think you need it.” He swept a thumb lightly up her cheekbone, then down her jaw. “Well…perhaps the lips could use some color, but you don’t need rouge for that.” He tilted her face toward his and their mouths met, gently at first, then firmer, exploring, and Belle felt her hands float up to rest on Adam’s shoulders, gripping them harder as he sucked her lower lip between his teeth. When they both came up for air, Adam rubbed his thumb across Belle’s lips, which she was sure were red and swollen. “Much better.”
They smiled at each other, too happy for words, before Belle said, “You know, I’ve read so much about alcoves off of ballrooms and I’ve always wondered what they were for.”
“Exactly this purpose.”
A week later, Plumette bustled into Belle’s room before dinner bearing a tray full of pots, jars, and brushes, which she set on Belle’s vanity with a flourish and a triumphant “Voilà!”
Belle eyed the tray warily. “This all looks very complicated.”
“Lucky for you,” said Plumette as she picked up a brush and tapped the end against her chin, “you are working with an expert. Now.” She put a finger under Belle’s chin and turned her face first to one side, then the other. “Pale is fashionable, and you’ve spent quite a bit of time in the sun. Rice powder would hide that, if you wanted.”
“You don’t powder your face,” Belle remarked.
Plumette’s mouth quirked up in a half-smile. “Indeed not. And you know why?”
“Because privileging skin tones is absurd?”
Plumette tapped Belle’s nose with the tip of the brush. “Exactement. It is the one form of fashion Madame de Garderobe and I agree upon. That and wigs.” Belle wrinkled her nose. “Not for you, ma petite, I know.”
“You pull it off so well,” Belle said. “I know I never could.”
“What is more important is that you do not want to. That is the first rule, for me, of la mode. Never order a dress you won’t want to wear, and never follow a fashion that doesn’t make you feel beautiful. Now. I’m also guessing you dislike patches?”
“Was it that obvious?”
“Well, you have a good complexion anyway. Most people use patches to hide their pockmarks, and you don’t have those.”
Belle glanced away from Plumette’s face. “No,” she said quietly. “I don’t.”
There was a rustle of skirts as Plumette knelt down beside Belle’s seat. “I lost both my parents to plague when I was seven. That’s when I came here. The master’s mother died only a few months later.”
Belle reached for Plumette’s hand and gave it a squeeze.
“There was something I liked,” Plumette continued, “about being in a house that was, for the most part, as sad as I was. I liked feeling understood.” Belle pressed her lips together and nodded. Plumette clicked her tongue and reached out to brush a tear from the other girl’s cheek. “Now, there. It’s what it is.”
Plumette, Belle knew, could be quite direct, but in delicate situations she had a roundabout manner that Belle appreciated. She didn’t pretend it was alright that her parents were gone, that Belle’s mother was gone, that they both knew too well what it was like to be lonely and sad. She just acknowledged that it was.
“So,” said Plumette, standing, “no powder, no patches. I think a bit of rouge on the lips wouldn’t go astray, but what I’m most interested in are the eyes.” She folded her arms and leaned back for a moment, considering. “Yes, definitely the eyes. Eye makeup is usually only found on the stage—you see why Madame de Garderobe loves it, then, and she taught me everything I know.”
“She can be quite…dramatic.”
Plumette let out a peal of laughter. “That’s one word for it. Don’t worry, I know just what to do with you. Simple yet elegant, that’s exactly what you need. You do trust me?” Belle nodded. “Excellent. Close your eyes and stay still for me.”
Belle did as she was told and heard the sound of Plumette unscrewing the cap from a jar. “Will you tell me more of your life after you came here?” she asked. She knew so much, by comparison, about the other members of the staff—Mrs. Potts and her family, Cogsworth and his difficult wife, Garderobe and Cadenza and their romance of operatic proportions. Plumette, much as she was becoming a friend, had remained a bit of a mystery.
“Mrs. Potts took care of me, as she does” Plumette said as Belle felt the swipe of a brush across her eyelid, “and Cogsworth kept promoting me as I grew. Lumière started as a footman when he was fourteen and he quickly became a favorite—with everyone. I was twelve when he arrived and knew immediately he was for me, of course,” Belle could hear the smile in her voice, then felt the brush against her other eye, “although it took a few years for him to realize. But he was always so protective. Kept me well out of the way of the master’s father.”
“He was a difficult man. So was monsieur le prince, when he was younger, of course, but he left the girls of the house alone. This brings back some memories, I must say. I helped with his toilette for every fête—and there were a lot of fêtes, back then.” Belle felt a stream of cool air against her eyelids as Plumette blew gently to dry whatever she’d just painted on. There was a clink of earthware against silver as she returned the first pot to the tray and picked up another. “Oh, how I used to paint his face for those. Blues and blacks and golds, and rouge, and rice powder, pouf pouf.”
“Really?” Belle said as she felt another brush sweep away from her eyelids and tap down her cheekbones.
“Mais oui. I do not miss the man he was then, but à la mode, if I may say, he was a work of art. Very dramatic art.”
“Dramatic?” Belle said drily as Plumette moved to her other eye. “Adam? I can hardly imagine.”
Plumette giggled and gave the brush a final tap against Belle’s cheek. “Eh, bien. Open. Mirror.”
Belle turned to look at her reflection and stilled. Plumette had drawn a thin line of black just above her eyelashes, winging gently out past her lids, then swiped gold dust above it, along the same curves, and dabbed the excess at the top of her cheekbones. Paired with the turquoise dress she’d donned for dinner, it made her look so…sophisticated. She positively glowed.
Simple yet elegant. Plumette was a genius, and Belle told her so.
“Finally, someone who recognizes,” she said with a smile. “The smallest bit of rouge for the lips, and we will be finished.” Plumette dabbed on the rouge with a delicate brush and stepped back, admiring her work.
“Oh, ma princesse,” she said, ignoring the fact that Belle technically didn’t hold that title yet, “you shall outshine them all.”