Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts
“Dorothy? Come help me, won’t you?” Grace Boisvert beckoned to her younger sister from the bathroom doorway. She wore an old brown flannel wrapper, and her long, freshly-washed hair dripped down her back. “And stop making all that noise or you’ll wake Grand-mère.”
“Nothing wakes Grand-mère when she’s napping after lunch. Not even me.” Dorothy paused in her headlong gallop down the upstairs hall, brown braids flying—she’d been re-reading Black Beauty for the seventeenth time—and looked bright-eyed at Grace. “What do you want help with? And why don’t you want Grand-mère to know what you’re doing?”
Why couldn’t she have had a less perceptive little sister? Fortunately she’d learned from experience the best way to handle Dorothy: she put a finger over her pursed lips and raised an eyebrow.
It worked every time; Dorothy tiptoed to her. “What is it?” she whispered.
Grace gently closed the door behind them. “I need to do my hair.”
Dorothy perched on the mahogany lid of the toilet. “So why are you doing it while Grand-mère’s asleep?”
“Because I want to try something different.” Grace paused, but it was too late to reconsider. All she could do was hope Dorothy would be interested enough that she wouldn’t tattle. It would be a shame if she did, because this purchase had cost three weeks’ pocket money. She pulled a small, paper-wrapped parcel from one of the deep pockets of her robe.
“Ooh—what is it?” Dorothy craned to see it.
“I got it in town at Jordan Marsh.” Grace unwrapped the parcel to reveal a bottle with an elaborate gilded label.
“‘Mademoiselle’s Secret. For the hair. Used by Famous Parisian Beauties since 1854,’” Dorothy read aloud. “‘The Most Natural Tints Beyond Those Provided by Mother Nature.’” She looked up at Grace. “Why wouldn’t Grand-mère like it? It’s French, isn’t it?”
Grace set the bottle on the marble counter by the sink and picked up her brush. “Yes, but it’s not how she does it. I’m tired of her black walnut hull and coffee bean stuff. It smells funny and stains horribly if you get it on your skin. I want to try something modern.”
“1854 isn’t exactly modern, you know.” Dorothy hopped up, took the bottle, pried the stopper from it, and sniffed. “But it does smell better.”
“Anything smells better.” Grace leaned toward the mirror, peering at her hairline. An eighth of an inch of rich green showed there. She should have done her hair days ago, but guests at lunch three days running had meant disruption to Grand-mère’s nap schedule. “All right,” she said briskly. “Hand me that pail, won’t you?”
Dorothy complied. “When do you think my hair will start to turn green?”
“When it’s ready. Don’t be in a hurry to grow up. It’s a rotten chore, having to dye it all the time. Not to mention wearing corsets and putting up with visits from the red-haired lady every month.” Grace set the pail under the hot water tap in the sink and turned it on, then consulted the bottle of Mademoiselle’s Secret—in “honeyed chestnut”, which she’d chosen in honor of the enormous chestnut tree outside her bedroom window that sang her to sleep every night. “It says one cup per gallon of water—goodness, that’ll be most of the bottle!—and to soak the hair until the desired shade is obtained—”
“What are you supposed to do? Stand on your head in the bucket?” Dorothy collapsed on the floor, snorting giggles.
“Hush!” Grace prodded her with one slippered foot. “Now, let’s see…if we put the pail on the toilet lid, I can sort of bend over it, and you can make sure all my hair is in it and pour the stuff over the back of my head so it gets down to the roots.” Then, because Dorothy was starting to look mutinous, she added, “And I’ll help you do the same when it’s your turn.”
“No you won’t. By the time it’s my turn, you’ll probably be off getting married or something.” Dorothy glowered up at her.
Grace stopped reading the label and looked down at her sister. “Yes, I will. Even if I’m married I’ll come and help you. You know I always keep my promises. Now, let’s see how this works.”
Without another word, Dorothy watched while she mixed the dye and helped her get all her hair into the pail, then carefully poured the liquid over the back of her head where it wasn’t fully immersed.
“What are you using to pour it?” The lapels of Grace’s wrapper had flopped down over her chin and ears, making it difficult to both see and hear. At least if Dorothy got any dye on her brown robe, no one would notice.
“Your tooth glass,” Dorothy said cheerfully. “I hope it won’t stain it. If it does, you can bury it in the trash dump and tell Mum you broke it.”
Grace closed her eyes. You’re the one who asked her to help, Miss Clever Boots.
“At least you don’t have to do what Grand-mère did and rub your forearms with lemons to bleach out the green hair there,” Dorothy continued. “I asked her why she just didn’t shave ‘em, but she said that wouldn’t be ladylike. I don’t see how rubbing ‘em with a lemon is, though.”
“Neither do I.” Maybe she should be a blonde instead, and sit in the sun with lemon in her hair. But she’d always dyed her hair brown, and becoming blonde would be far too noticeable. “I wish I knew how long I need to stand like thi—”
“Did I hear the doorbell?” Dorothy paused in mid-pour.
“No, it’s just the ringing in my ears,” Grace muttered. Standing bent over the toilet with her hair in a bucket was starting to make her dizzy.
“I’ll go check.”
Grace heard the clink! of the glass being set on the marble counter and the creak the lower door hinge always made when opening. “Dorothy, get back here!” she called, loudly as she dared. “Rose will answer the door!”
But it was too late. Dorothy was down the hall, shrieking, “Who is it, Rose?” over the banister down to the front hall. So much for Grand-mère’s nap…and her French dye. Grace gathered up her hair and tried to squeeze as much liquid as possible from it, then wiped her hands on her brown robe before the dye could stain them.
Dorothy came thundering back down the hall and flung the bathroom door wide open. “Grace! It’s Alice!”
“Alice?” Grace found a towel and wrapped it around her head, flipping it back as she stood up. “You’re telling tales again, aren’t you? Just like you did that time when you said Dick Aspinwall was at the door asking to take me skating.”
“I’m not!” Dorothy had the grace to look sheepish. “She’s really here!”
“She wasn’t supposed to get here till the day after tomorrow!”
“She said she wanted to surprise you. Come on! She’s dying to see you!”
Grace looked hard at her sister. She appeared sincere…well, the only way she’d find out was to at least peek over the banister. “Mrs. Lee isn’t here too, is she?” She hastily tipped the pail of dye down the toilet. Dared she flush it? No; Alice—if she were actually here—would hear it and tease her.
“No, just Alice. Come on!” Dorothy was practically dancing a jig. “She don’t care if you’re wearing your old wrapper. She told me so.”
“Never mind—I’m coming up,” an amused voice called from the stairs. “Where are you?”
“In here!” Dorothy danced back out into the hall, gesticulating. Grace grabbed the bottle of hair dye and plunged it into her pocket. The last thing she needed was Alice demanding to know why she was dyeing her hair—as close as they were, there were some things that had to be kept secret…like the fact that Alice’s best friend was a dryad.