25 September 2008

from Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, chapter six, 3.13pm-3.44pm (Winifred Watson)

Miss Dubarry stood up abruptly. She circled Miss Pettigrew, eyes intent, expression concentrated. Miss Pettigrew sat petrified. Miss Dubarry frowned. She held her chin between thumb and forefinger. She shook her head. Suddenly she barked,

'You shouldn't wear those muddy browns. They're not your colour.'

'Oh!' Miss Pettigrew jumped.

'Certainly not. Where's your taste? Where's your artistic discrimination?'

'I haven't any,' said Miss Pettigrew meekly.

'And your make-up's wrong.'

'Make-up!' gasped Miss Pettigrew.


'Me?' said Miss Pettigrew faintly.


'I haven't any.'

'No make-up,' said Miss Dubarry shocked. 'Why? It's indecent, walking around naked.'

Miss Pettigrew stared at her blankly. Her mind was whirling: her thoughts chaotic. A mental upheaval rendered her dizzy. Yes, why? All these years and she had never had the wicked thrill of powdering her nose. Others had experienced that joy. Never she. And all because she lacked courage. All because she had never thought for herself. Powder, thundered her father the curate, the road to damnation. Lipstick, whispered her mother, the first step on the downward path. Rouge, fulminated her father, the harlot's enticement. Eyebrow pencil, breathed her mother, no lady ...!

Miss Pettigrew's thoughts ran wildly, chaotically, riotously. A sin to make the best of the worst? She sat up. Her eyes began to shine. All her feminine faculties intent on the important, earnest, serious, mighty task of improving on God's handiwork. Then she remembered. She sat back. Her face clouded.

'Oh!' said Miss Pettigrew in a flat voice. 'My dear ... at my age. With my complexion.'

'It's a beautiful complexion.'

'Beautiful?' said Miss Pettigrew incredulously.

'Not a mark, not a spot, not a blemish. Colour! Who wants natural colour? It's always wrong. A perfect background. No base to prepare. No handicaps to overcome. Blonde, brunette, pink and white, tanned, creamy pallor. Anything you like.'

Miss Dubarry leaned forward intent. She tipped Miss Pettigrew's face this way: she tipped it that way. She patted the skin. She felt the texture of her hair.

'Hmn! A good cleansing cream. A strong astringent to tone up the muscles. Eyebrows definitely darkened. Can't make up my mind about the hair yet. Nut-brown, I think. Complexion needs colour. Definitely colour. Brings out the blue of the eyes. Whole face needs a course of treatment. Shockingly neglected.'

She stopped abruptly and looked apologetic.

'Oh dear! You must excuse me. Here I am, forgetting myself again. I'm in the trade, you see, and I can't help taking a professional interest.'

'Don't mind me,' breathed Miss Pettigrew. 'Please don't mind me. I love it. No one's ever taken an interest in my face before.'

'Obviously not,' said Miss Dubarry sternly. 'Not even yourself.'

'I've never had any time,' apologized Miss Pettigrew.

'Nonsense. You've had time to wash, haven't you? You've time to get a bath. You've time to cut your nails. A woman's first duty is to her face. I'm surprised at you.'

'Ah well!' sighed Miss Pettigrew hopelessly. 'I'm long past the age now ...'

'No woman,' said Miss Dubarry grimly, 'is ever past the age. The more years that pass the more reason for care. You should be old enough to know better.'

'I've never had any money.'

'Ah!' said Miss Dubarry with understanding. 'That's different. You wouldn't believe the amount it costs even me to keep my face fixed, and I'm in the trade and that means nearly ninety-nine per cent off.'

She found her handbag and opened it.

'Here's my card. You bring that any time you like and you shall have the best of everything. Any friend of Delysia's is a friend of mine. If I'm at liberty I'll do you myself. If not, I'll get you the best left.'

'How wonderful,' gasped Miss Pettigrew. She took the card with trembling fingers.

'Edythe Dubarry,' she read, thrilled.

'It's well seen you're no Londoner,' said Miss Dubarry. 'That name stands for something. It's the best beauty parlour in London, though it is my own.'

Miss Pettigrew's face began to shine.

'Tell me,' she begged, 'is it true? Is it really true? I mean, can these places improve your looks?'

Miss Dubarry sat down. She hesitated. She hitched her chair closer.

'Look at me.'

Miss Pettigrew looked. Miss Dubarry gave a friendly chuckle.

'I like you. There's something about you ... well! What do you think of me?'

'Oh dear!' said Miss Pettigrew, much embarrassed. 'What have I to say to that?'

'Just what you like. I don't mind. But the truth.'

'Well,' said Miss Pettigrew, taking the plunge, 'I think you have very ... very startling looks.'

Miss Dubarry looked immensely pleased.

'There you are then.'

Miss Pettigrew warmed to her task. If Miss Dubarry could be frank, so could she.

'You're not exactly beautiful, like Miss LaFosse, but you catch the eye. When you come into a room, every one will notice you.'

'There,' said Miss Dubarry proudly. 'What did I tell you?'

'What?' asked Miss Pettigrew.

'What I've been telling you.'

'What's that?'

'You and I,' said Miss Dubarry, 'are exactly alike.'

'Oh ... how can you say it!' said Miss Pettigrew unbelievingly.

'You don't look like the kind of woman to give away secrets,' said Miss Dubarry recklessly.

'I'm not,' said Miss Pettigrew.

'And when I see such a perfect lay figure as you, I can't help spreading the glad tidings.'

'No?' said Miss Pettigrew, bewildered.

Miss Dubarry leaned closer.

'My hair,' stated Miss Dubarry, 'is mouse coloured ... like yours.'

'No!' gasped Miss Pettigrew. 'Not really.'

'A fact. I thought black suited me better.'


'My eyebrows,' continued Miss Dubarry, 'and eyelashes are sandy-coloured. I have plucked my eyebrows and pencilled in new ones. My eyelashes, as well as being such a damnable shade, are short. I have had new ones fixed. Black, long and curly.'

'Marvellous,' whispered Miss Pettigrew, at last realizing the reason for Miss Dubarry's surprising eyes.

'I have the insipid, indeterminate complexion that goes with that stupid colouring. I thought a creamy pallor a great deal more interesting.'

'Absolutely,' breathed Miss Pettigrew.

'My nose was a difficulty. You score over me there. But McCormick is a marvellous surgeon. He gave me a new one.'

'No,' gasped Miss Pettigrew.

'My teeth were the greatest trouble,' confessed Miss Dubarry. 'They weren't spaced evenly. Fifty pounds that cost me. But it was worth it.'

Miss Pettigrew leaned back.

'It's unbelievable,' she said faintly, 'quite unbelievable.'

'I forgot the ears,' said Miss Dubarry. 'They stood out too much, but, as I say, McCormicks's a marvellous surgeon. He soon put that right.'

'It can't be possible.' Miss Pettigrew was almost beyond words. 'I mean, you're not you.'

'Just a little care,' said Miss Dubarry. 'It does wonders.'

'Miracles,' articulated Miss Pettigrew, 'miracles; I'll never believe a woman again when I see her.'

'Why!' said Miss Dubarry. 'Would you have us all go naked and unashamed? Must we take off the powder with the petticoat, and discard the eyeblack with the brassiere? Must we renounce beauty and revert to the crudities of nature?'

'All but Miss LaFosse,' continued Miss Pettigrew faintly but loyally. 'I saw her straight ... out ... of ... the ... bath.'

'Oh, Delysia!' said Miss Dubarry. 'She's different. She was blessed at birth.'

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