"Puffs, Powders, Patches, Bibles, Billet-Doux."
– The Rape Of The Lock
'Billet-Doux' is a phrase born in the squalid masquerade of the 17th century: a time of pretty falsehoods and flattering hypocrisies. Ballrooms reeked. The wealthy were protected and cosseted, yet could die from the complications of a pin prick. Women dressed for society and were abused for domesticity.
Yet from this swirl of powder and sweat came the 'sweet note'. Originally, 'billette' referred to a sealed document; serious, formal, its parchment coils wound tight with a dollop of hot wax and a buried initial. The Latin world 'dulcis' sweetened many languages: Spanish (dulce), Italian (dulce) and Franch (doux). Then – no one knows how: can anyone tell the exact moment of conception? – the two words married into a phrase, to mean a private letter, filled with secret words – perfumed and delectable – the 'billet-doux'.
It was the birth of the love letter.
What a serene and decadent way to enjoy another's whispered written words! Scented and perfect, she is wrapped in robes of embroidered muslin and tinted quilts. Her hair enjoys a final breath before being braided, pulled and piled into the strained style of 1909. The tousled locks need battle only a barrette or two – no proper dam to hold back such a gleaming river.
Her supine figure is round and lovely. A light touch to her arm would leave a shallow dimple. Her back, her shoulders aren't sullied by any allusion to a skeleton, except for the slight well dividing her shoulder blades.
The note in her smooth hand has clearly raised a question. The finger pressed against her lips, red like a blush and not a warlike streak; the smoky eyes raised – focused, yet distant; arched, shadowy brows – all indicate a pretty inquiry.
Was the letter brought in with the flowers? Did a suitor tip her maid a few coins to hide the note amidst the white and colored sprays? Is the gentlemen known to her? Or is she wondering where they met – at a ball (will whe have to consult her dance cards?), riding – he might have been one of the men observing the 'seats' of the ladies as they rode by; did their eyes ever meet…did he tip his hat?
Or is she just wondering: do I, or don't I?