The first scene of the play is set in Cathérine Hübscher's laundry in the Rue Sainte-Anne, Paris, on 10 August 1792. Cathérine, who always speaks her mind, is known as "Madame Sans-Gêne" of which an approximate English translation is "Madame Without-Embarrassment". She is engaged to Sergeant Lefebvre, a member of the Revolutionary forces. She rescues a young Austrian nobleman, Count Neipperg, from the pursuing militia. Lefebvre has the chance to betray Neipperg's hidden presence, but respects Cathérine's desire to protect him. Once the hue and cry has died down they help him escape.