French Perspectives - Mimi Up To Date
( Originally Published 1916 )
ONE evening in the late spring I was sitting on the bench of the raised stern platform of a river-boat that was steaming in the sunset light down the Seine. Before us the Trocadéro rose purple against the yellow sky, with a glorified pictorial effect that its ugliness can never claim in the day-light; on the opposite shore the Eiffel Tower lifted its black mechanical traceries into the pale upper blue. Behind us the old gray bridges and towers of the past were shining out of the dim evening haze. The guard went about the decks, jingling his bag of small brass tickets and ex-changing them for the sous of the passengers. The boat slid every few minutes, with a bang, to a landing-place by a bridge, discharged one little jostling crowd, took on another, and then spurted quickly off again.
The three who had chosen the stern with me got on at the bridge of la Concorde. The two young girls, I gathered from their talk and the unmistakable "air" of their perfectly simple clothes, were apprentices at one of the great dress-makers' on the rue de la Paix. They had been followed to their bench by a dapper young man — boy, I should call him but for the look of weary decadence that the Parisian face assumes, long before twenty, when its lines are cast in certain places. He had small, sharp eyes, well-oiled black hair, and cheaply smart clothes that smelled of musk. He was on his way to Issy-les-Moulineaux, where the aeroplanes race, and seemed to be a clerk of some sort who went the rounds of the dressmakers with samples. When I began to observe the group, he was telling the elder girl that he had seen her "in the stock-room" that morning.
"You were getting a yard of mauve crêpe," he said. "Did n't you see me? I noticed your blouse immediately. Chic, that!"
His ferret eyes stared her in the face over his jaunty little cane, and passed appraisingly from the buff blouse over her whole person.
At this, the younger girl, who could not have been more than sixteen and was shy and softly innocent, gave her friend a quick, troubled glance. The friend was a year or two older, and had a small, seductive face that might one day grow hard. She listened to the compliment with the ironic little smiling manner of one who knows her world, and threw a reassuring look to her companion. "I can take care of myself. Listen, and you'll soon learn how to manage them," she seemed to say.
"You think so, Monsieur? Do you really like it?" she encouraged very prettily.
"Yes, parbleu/ What do you call that model — the `Madeleine,' isn't it?"
He spoke as one possessed of all the secrets of the sanctuary. She quickly brought him low.
"The `Madeleine' ! Pray, who would wear a three months' old model? This is our latest; one of Mme. Jeanne's." She knew that he knew that she had made the blouse herself, out of a remnant from a bargain counter. But she also savored his appreciation of the chic that was hers by inheritance and acquisition — a chic that no Anglo-Saxon customer of her establishment could ever buy.
"It suits your coquette type," the young man began again, pulling the waxed ends of his mustache and fixing his eyes on hers. "Women should always dress for their type."
"Monsieur knows a great deal about women."
"I should be glad to know more about you, Mlle. Marie."
"Ah, I don't take up with the first comer, not I.
Having fairly caught her fish, she turned her slim back and entered upon an impassioned discussion of "skirts" with her blushing friend. The young man, touched at last, edged nearer.
"Mademoiselle!" His tone was humble, and she turned her head slightly.
"You're ravishing! Won't you — consider me?"
"Thank you for nothing, Monsieur. We're very happy as we are; are n't we, Marguerite?"
"But," anxiously, "you have n't already a petit amoureux ? "
"Naturally!" — with bravado.
"You don't want to change ?" he asked, low and eagerly. "Think of it." He was really in earnest now.
"Thanks. The present one suits me very well. I'm quite content as I am. Is n't that so, Marguerite?"
She got up, nodded with a semblance of insolent carelessness, and, taking Marguerite's arm, walked to the gangplank. The boat stopped at Passy, and they hurried off. I looked back and saw them making their way quickly along the quai toward a row of poor white houses, where they doubtless lived honestly and frugally in an attic room together.- But how long could it last? I saw my question reflected in the young man's face. He, too, was following the girls with his eyes, and, like the bird of prey he was, noting the direction they had taken. He chewed the end of his cigarette, tapped his cane on the floor, and gave an occasional half-angry, half-admiring exclamation:-
" Humph I satisfied! satisfied! There's a cheeky one for you!" he muttered to himself, screwing up his white eyelids and puffing smoke from his lips. But his small black eyes gleamed.
When the boat drew in to the next station, he was in the line of stragglers who handed in their brass tickets and stepped ashore, and I saw him turn back toward Passy, regardless of the aeroplanes. His furtive air suggested that, first of all, he was going to find out .the truth about that imaginary little lover of hers.
It is from scenes like this that the stranger condudes — and not entirely without reason — that the young Paris working-girl of today is the direct descendant of Mimi Pinson, of whom Alfred de Musset drew so immortal a portrait: Mimi of the charmed fingers, light-headed, light-hearted, living from hand to mouth; Mimi of the round face, the turn-up nose, and the sparkling black eyes, who plied her needle all day for small recompense, but was not averse to making merry at night with bohemian students: —
Mimi Pinson est une blonde,
Art and literature have liked to perpetuate the tradition. What is Charpentier's "Louise" but a modern version of the same young woman? Louise wears a hat, to be sure, instead of a little white cap, but in other respects times have n't changed much since 184o, we say to ourselves, as we see her in her giddy dressmaker's shop, and at last, rebelling against the parental onion soup, carried away on a wave of intoxication to seek joy of life with artists in Montmartre.
When one visits, as I did last year, the establishments of the great dressmakers and the milliners in the neighborhood of the rue de la Paix, a Mimi-Louise seems the inevitable flower of the artificial soil in which she grows. This world of the métiers de luxe — the gilt-edged trades, one might call them, which minister only to luxurious tastes and large bank-accounts — is a world apart; a world, moreover, of striking contrasts. On one side of a door all is splendid glitter and a suave, extravagant ease that sounds in the smooth voices of the saleswomen, in the rustle and trail of the frocks displayed by the mannequins, in the chink of the bottomless pockets of the millionaires. On the other side of the door, dingy back stairs, bare corridors, crowded confused workrooms, an atmosphere tense with effort and frenzied haste. The forewoman from a raised platform drives the needles forward with quick, sharp gestures and watchful eyes. "A little more care with that cuff, Marguerite." "You're slow, Alphonsine; hurry up a bit there, my little girl!" She knows to a sou what every girl is worth and how far she may be goaded. The only standard common to both sides of the door is that of the Parisian secret, the cachet Parisien. Its form changes, subtly or fantastically, from week to week; its value never changes but to increase. The girl of the cleverest fingers, however, thinks herself lucky if her métier de luxe gives her three or four, or at most five, francs a day.
Yet from these very workrooms and from those of the region to the eastward of " the center" — the region of wholesale houses, of flower and feather shops, which, in proportion as it stretches out towards the suburbs, declines in standards of workmanship and wages — from these countless ateliers, as I discovered, trudge home at night to their humble rooms, not only the light-headed grisettes, but girls whose hearts are burning with an ardor for social regeneration as keen as that felt by any Russian Jewess or any English factory hand; and gentle souls of another stamp, who live out their days in the glow of a sort of romance that no petit amoureux has ever known how to kindle.
At the Café du Sillon from Justine and Henriette, at the Bourse du Travail from Mlle. Marcelle, and from a milliner called Marie-Constance, I learned something about the life and outlook of the " serious " Paris working-girl.
Marie-Constance illustrated for me just how hard it is for a girl of fastidious taste to exist alone on five francs a day. She considered it impossible, indeed; that is why she trimmed hats in the evening on her own account.
Our first meeting occurred, characteristically, after ten o'clock, one October night. Hearing a timid knock at my door, I looked out, and found her standing in the corridor, where the lights were turned low. I could see nothing at first but an enormous scooping hat-brim. It was as if the hat's owner, with a kind of inverted ostrich instinct, sought to hide away under its smart roll her beseeching dark eyes, her shabbily modest figure, and the bulging yellow-paper bags with which she was laden.
"Ah, pardon. Mademoiselle was retiring?" She seemed all ready, timidly and silently, to vanish into the gloom, and I almost put a hand on her arm to hold her back. She was the modiste whom my friend Mme. Bury had sent. "But if it were too late for Mademoiselle?" Her voice was as frail and thinly sweet as her little face.
As she came in and sat down in a tired heap on the couch to open her bags, I said that if lateness were in question she was the person to be considered. She hastened eagerly to explain away her obvious weariness. There was no resisting the radiant appeal of those soft dark eyes.
"It was her busiest season, that was it," for she was trimmer at a milliner's who "created"
the models for the rue de la Paix. Having worked through the summer on the winter's models, they were now beginning "on the spring." It was just a little fatiguing to think in straw in October. Every night her forewoman said, as she bade them good-night, "Ideas, ideas, young ladies!" One really had to lie awake, for one could n't let the other trimmers get ahead of one. And then there were her private patrons for evening work — ladies like Mademoiselle's charming friend, Mme. Bury. "And if Mademoiselle would say what sort of hat she wanted?"
That was our first meeting, but the slim, black drooping figure, with the big, modish hat, the paper bags, that had odd protuberances to fit a feather or a bow, and the Bazin novel — she always read on the "Métro," she told me, and Bazin was her favorite novelist — was soon a familiar presence in the house, and to be seen gliding through the court and up the stairs in the early morning, at noon, or in the late evening. She worked in the atelier from nine until seven, and therefore must visit her own ladies in the scraps of time that remained. Yet she would come again and again for a single hat. The difficulty was to make her spare herself at all. Her artist's soul was no respecter of her bodily needs; hers was a real cult of service and of perfection.
Even the concierge, suspicious of everybody, and, above all, unfriendly toward those late-comers or late-goers who forced her to pull the door-rope from the bed where she was always comfortably snoring after ten o'clock — even Mme. Lise referred to her affectionately as "that nimble, silent little fairy." "Your little fairy of a modiste is waiting for you," she would call to me from her lodge as I went up the stairs.
Léonie, the chambermaid, too, — Léonie was a woman of the South, and in general conscious, in the presence of these Parisians, of her thick waist and her clumsy fingers, — found pretty ways of describing her: "She's so dainty, Mademoiselle, like some little flower." This native, flower-like refinement, which in the Paris working-girl is so often touched with corruption, was in Marie tempered with nothing more urbane than an exquisitely courteous formality which seemed to deny herself the right to a personal existence.
If she were very late, for example, she was "heartbroken to keep Mademoiselle up; but I was at Mme. Bury's, on the boulevard Saint-Germain. I waited, indeed, from eight to ten, but she was dining, and I could n't dream of disturbing her — a lady so distinguished in all her person, and so kind." On rainy nights, when she came in dripping, without an umbrella, her fears were all for my carpet: "I? Why, my big hat makes my umbrella — a little creature like me!" And, though her long journeys from one end of Paris to the other were made without a morsel of food, I could not induce her to take so much as a glass of milk. Patrons were patrons, and, if American ladies did not know what was suitable (I was made to feel), no customer of hers should ever see her milliner eat.
"I have told Mademoiselle," she said, bending a bow over my eye, "that I always make my little dinner when I get to my room. An omelet, or something like that. It suits me perfectly, this arrangement. I am never hungry till midnight. After my dinner I am refreshed; I dash off my customers' hats in no time. I need little sleep, and I assure Mademoiselle that I am never late or tired at the atelier. M. Louis winks at my copying his models, just because I am so prompt at nine o'clock, and come with courage in my heart and imagination in my fingers."
M. Louis was a thoroughly satisfactory employer. At Louis's what you needed was affair of a special sort; the flair to foresee through the mists of autumn the forms and colors that would take shape on worldly heads in the spring, and in the spring and summer to forget the green leaves and "think," in turn, "in velvet." The best, the most intoxicating materials, were at your disposal: old lace, silky plumes and flowers. Marie's love of beauty and elegance here found their re-ward, it was clear, and every fibre in her being responded to the subtleties of tone and texture in which she worked.
There was no dull season at Louis's, either. That was another advantage, for most milliners had only half a year's work. And if, like all steady work, hers did not pay well, there were her own ladies besides, many of them as charming to make hats for as those one saw at the "five o'clocks."
"The `five o'clocks'?" I asked.
"Ah, did n't Mademoiselle know? Twice a month we trimmers go with our première, a most elegant person, to make a round of the tea-rooms where society assembles. We go — wearing hats that M. Louis lends us, of course — to observe, to get our ideas stimulated."
If Marie lacked anything, it was not ideas. She conceived them and carried them to their logical conclusion with a doctrinaire rigidity that could not have been surpassed at the Sorbonne. I shall never forget the horror with which she discovered that I was wearing a straw hat in October — "Straw at this season!" — she almost gave me up on the spot; or her scornful appraisement of some old hats for which I had a liking. One was pure camelote (ready-made), the other was simply not worn. I might take it from her that in the right places it never had been. I was not, however, to get the whole savor of her blend of the doctrinaire and the romantic until the evening when she brought me my "small hat."
"Mlle. Marie! Is that what you call a small hat?"
The peaked Gothic extinguisher with curving sweet-pea sides that she had proudly taken from the dejected bag made me gasp. Marie's sensitive little face stiffened with a sudden authority, and her voice rang out hard and clear.
"But yes, Mademoiselle. Of course it is a small hat. As I explained, there are only two kinds of hats this year — the large and the small. This is the best model of the petit chapeau, the greatest success of our house this season."
I wondered, weakly, whether it could not be modified a little to suit a New England nose.
"Mademoiselle may mock all she likes, but I cannot suppose she really wants a modification," said Marie-Constance, very distantly. And I realized that she was thinking to herself that it would be far more fitting to change a mere nose than to make a poor compromise with perfection.
As I continued to look doubtfully in the mirror, I became conscious at last of the small shadow face reflected behind my own. The pale image, all sharpened and wan, that stared there, indomitably, at the creation of its night vigils gave me a sudden pang. It was inconceivable that so frail and dainty a creature should be leading this hard, this implacable life. I could not help asking her why she had chosen to be a milliner.
"But it's a beautiful trade, Mademoiselle — an artist's calling!" she cried, sparkling and revived again, and heart and soul for her work, as every Frenchwoman is. "And then, you see, I could not live at home, in the provinces."
Little by little her story came out. Her mother was a widow, the principal of a primary school. Her elder sister was a real "intellectual" who had taken scholarly honors and taught in a girls lycée. Marie was not of the intellectual type, and her mother had expected to marry her off at seven-teen to an adoring cousin. He was a good sort, her cousin Henry, rich enough, and — oh, well, very likely he had all the virtues. It was a tragic situation, because her mother had a disease of the heart, and might die of the least overexcitement.
"My presence excited her, this poor maman, when I refused to marry. So I just had to come away," she ended, as if it were the simplest thing in the world.
"Ah, Mademoiselle, I could n't marry a man for whom I had only respect. I could n't. Il me faut une ame sceur, I must have a twin soul," she added, very shyly, but with a sort of touching tenderness in her voice and eyes.
Remembering the Bazin novels, I reluctantly suggested that true affinities were n't too easy to find in real life.
"Ah, yes, Mademoiselle, I think — one finds them" — she hesitated, and then, taking a sudden resolution: "You won't laugh, like my Parisian comrades? Say what you will, romance is truth! Well, then, I have found one. He is an intellectual, too, just graduated from the École Normale, and now he has his military service to do before he can get his professorship. So, though I am twenty-seven, I must live my little hard-working life for a long time yet."
"Twenty-seven? But you look nearer seven-teen ! " I exclaimed.
"Mademoiselle flatters me," answered Marie, resuming her workaday formality again, as she began to gather up her sewing-materials. "I look my full age; nobody knows it better than I. But, mon Dieu, one must have courage. See what a beautiful hat I've given you, Mademoiselle! You will have many compliments for it in America. Good-evening, Mademoiselle."
She vanished through the door, and I was left to reconcile myself to an unmodified Gothic hat.
That was the only time she spoke directly of her love affair, and I felt, in her shy manner, with an increased confidence, an appeal to me not to reopen a sacred subject. She could not afford to stop to think of love, poor girl, as the season advanced and the search for ideas became more frenzied. All sorts of ideas were needed: those that should crown the heads of the newly rich automobile people — "`the New York type,' we call it," explained Marie; then there was the elusive, the delicately decorative, to be expressed for ladies who cared for details of elegance; and the stiff tailor-made type, and much besides.
One Sunday morning, just before I left Paris, she came to bring her bill. It was absurdly small. I could not persuade her to take one extra sou. She accepted eagerly, however, some tattered novels. The bundle was heavy, and, as I was driving in her direction, I induced her to break the conventions as she understood them and go with me in my cab to the quais. When we separated, I happened to say that I was lunching with the family of one of her beloved novelists — one of those who believed in " romance." Her quiver of excitement was instantly suppressed. She merely murmured, "Merci, Mademoiselle, thank you for everything," and flitted silently away.' But a few minutes later, from the salon window that opened to the river, I had a last glimpse of her. She was standing on the Pont-Neuf, staring at the house, and screened from observation, as she supposed, by the moving stream of carriages and wayfarers that flowed past her over the bridge. But I could see how, from under her hat-brim, and weighed down with her humble bags and her novels, she was absorbing, drinking in, as it were, every detail of that old façade. "To think in straw in October" had its painful moments; still, "say what you would, romance was truth" for Marie-Constance.
It was a very different sort of truth that the Bourse du Travail insisted on: here misery was truth, low wages were truth, and the greatest truth of all was that nobody had the right to lead a life that left out of account the difficulties of his fellows. Marie's shrinking fastidiousness, which took offense when she met so much as a group of working-girls walking arm in arm through the streets in their blouses, would have shriveled up, indeed, in this hardy, grim atmosphere where pink posters announce the latest strike, and the echo of voices declaiming resounds through the ugly passages. Any girl who goes to the Bourse du Travail — the headquarters furnished by the French Government to the labor unions, and fronting suggestively the place de la République, that old battle-ground of the social revolution — must hold impersonal ideas higher than romance.
Mlle. Marcelle, whom one found on Monday evenings in the tiny headquarters of the women flower-makers' union, was no friend to the men. She refused to have anything to do with the syndicat mixte of her trade, on the ground that women were not yet sufficiently emancipated to hold their own in a mixed union. She was a plump little person, with a sleek round head and no angles: such a Frenchwoman as Degas liked to paint, in a tight-fitting black dress, looking out at the world with competence and self-satisfaction. You might have mistaken her for a home-worker — one of those women whose years revolve within the narrow confines of one small house-hold, one small, perfect bit of work. Mlle. Marcelle, though she had not chosen to marry, had shown herself a mother at heart by adopting a child. She had extended her love of good work and good housekeeping to the dirty corners of her trade — one family, after all, when seen "in the large," as she said; and, though she obviously mistrusted almost every one but herself, she had a firm and matter-of-fact faith in the Socialist State.
She was suspicious, for example, of "the intellectuals": the women of the thinking classes, who in France, as elsewhere, are beginning to be preoccupied with social problems. If she was gracious to me, it was, I believe, because I came from a land where the torch of liberty is supposed to be held aloft.
"Oh, yes," she assured me, "I know how they talk, these ladies. We have a comrade of the Typists' Union who is employed at the Ministère du Travail. She gives us reports. They go in, these ladies, to the Director, and they say to him, — Mlle. Marcelle pinched her lips and spoke in a mincing voice, — "Dear Monsieur, help us to raise up this poor working-girl, who can never, without our help, lift herself above her troubles.'" Mlle. Marcelle's mouth tightened into a small, hard circle. "Ah, I tell you, I want no help except what the State owes me and what my comrades can give."
She would not accept help from " these ladies," for fear of patronage, even when the cooperative flower-making shop into which she had put her whole heart, and the savings of ten incredibly economical years, was in difficulties. It was to the dignified corridors and the high-ceiled rooms of the Labor Office, in its archbishop's palace on the rue de Varenne, that she had gone, before launching her undertaking, to ask for a subsidy. That the subsidy was accorded did not surprise Mlle. Marcelle; it was a matter of course that the State should help the workers. And when her cooperative venture seemed on the point of failure, she wrote to a well-known Socialist editor and Deputy.
"Of course I got no answer from him," she said, "in spite of his promises in his newspaper, just because I'm not a voter. Perfectly natural! Why, even my concierge, a woman altogether limited, would be interested in social questions if she had a vote. `The day I can vote, Mademoiselle,' she says to me, `that day I will join a union.' "
Because she herself believed so firmly in the ideals of socialism and the power of women to stand on their own feet, the failure of the Cooperative Shop had been the bitterest experience of Mlle. Marcelle's thirty-eight years. The twenty years of her fleuriste's existence had been consecrated to this plan. She had worked in every sort of factory, in every grade of flowers, that she might learn all the details of her trade in their largest industrial bearing. The cult of her profession was strong in Mlle. Marcelle, too, and she raged against the increased use of machinery, and all the dismal results of commercialized standards. For years, after her working-day, she had taught an evening class in order to train young girls in the traditional secrets of flower-making. The union had been another of her efforts, and at last to the "Cooperative" she had given her very life's blood. And, after all, because of jealousies, dis-agreements, impatiences on the part of the comrades, the experiment had flamed into ashes.
Mlle. Marcelle had then swallowed her dis-appointment and gone back to work in an atelier like anybody else. She was no dreamer, but one of those obstinately practical people whose courage is inexhaustible. When I went to see her in her own room, I realized that her propagandist spirit had now found a new center and dear hope; she was arming her little girl to do in the future the great deeds that she herself, in a blind age, had not been able to achieve. The child was an orphan whom nobody had wanted. Mlle. Marcelle had not hesitated to adopt her on an income of five francs a day — she earned a little less in the dull season, she said, a little more in the good season. Marie-Constance thought it impossible for one person to exist alone on five francs in Paris. Mlle. Marcelle's stoic virtues and her economic genius were such that she and the child were able with this sum to live very pleasantly in a clean, airy room in the center of the wholesale district,
She sometimes worked at home there, for a while, so that little Juliette might see, very young, what beautiful flowers were like. Apprentices had not half a chance now in the métier, she said.
"If I can make this little girl, first of all, an excellent fleuriste, and then send her out to spread the propaganda among her comrades, I shall perhaps do as much for my kind and my trade as if my Cooperative had succeeded," she said, looking fondly at Juliette, who was at that moment eating a large bowl of strawberries. "Do not put your elbow on the table, my child," she interrupted. I had found them at lunch; and Juliette's piquant face, the face of a potential Mimi Pinson, had registered a vivid interest in our conversation.
"Listen, Maman," she now broke in, mischievously. "I need a new hair-ribbon for Sunday."
"Good Heavens," whispered Mlle. Marcelle, as she followed me to the door, "suppose she should turn out a little coquette, like the others!"
"A coquette, like the rest of them" how often I heard that phrase! The men at the Bourse were always telling one, with a grin, that the Paris working-girl cared more for her mirror than for progress. Justine said that she would have been "as light-headed as the rest" but for the Sillon.
The Sillon was a Catholic organization, later condemned by the Pope for its preoccupation with social reform, and the atmosphere at the little restaurant behind Saint-Sulpice was quite unlike that of the Bourse. There the spirit of one class, asking for revenge on all the others, had seemed to dominate. The minute you went into this funny little place, where the napkins of the habitués were in numbered pigeonholes by the door, and the sanded floor was as clean as the bare tables, you felt, on the other hand, in the presence of the actual fact of fraternity. The men and women who haunted the Café du Sillon appeared to hold their ideals in common, though some of them worked with their hands and others with their heads.
It was an art critic who introduced me to Justine. Remembering how the joyous consecration of her bearing struck me that night when she pushed open the low door, and crossed the room, smiling, to sit beside us, I realize that my first impression of her was the true one. Her eyes were very blue, and had the inspired, mystic look of those who, from some desert land, spy on a dim horizon a sail of blessed hope. Though the depth of human misery had been revealed to her, she seemed to have had, at the same time, a vision of redemption. She was extraordinarily pretty, and wore her old clothes and her rusty black taffeta hat with the same inborn ease that gave her manner its charm. She made one at home in the café very much as if she were a great lady doing the honors of her own table.
Justine was as deeply concerned as Mlle. Mar-celle with the theory of socialism, the pains of the toilers, and the necessity of organization as a protective armor for women, but in a less practical, ,a more exalted way. She lived with girl students and read Marx far into the night. The Sillon had persuaded her that she was a creature with a mission, and she felt this all the more because of the discouragement that she met everywhere else. Her family told her that she was a fool for her pains; her comrades laughed, and, of course, employers were ill-disposed, if they heard of her propaganda.
"My good fortune," she explained, "is in looking pretty and vain like the others. And then I am as nice as can be to everybody; they all adore me! — the ladies of the firm, too. I help the girls with their little blouses while we wait for our work, and gradually I get my influence."
Justine's talk of the ateliers — she, too, was a fleuriste — and the sense that she seemed to have of her own phenomenal courage brought out very strikingly the defenseless position of the girl who works in an atelier in Paris. Every one knows the assurance of the woman of the small tradesman class, who is not only her husband's partner at the café desk or behind the counter, but usually the better man of the two. The women who follow the rougher sorts of trades, the market gardeners, the street venders of vegetables, and the rest, certainly fear no human being, not even a police officer. The home workers, for their part, though their obscurity makes them fair game for the exploiting contractor, are intrenched behind the respectable ramparts of their home. But girls like Justine, whose hours and working conditions are carefully protected by law, walk, nevertheless, in terror of their forewoman or their patron, and — is it because custom has decreed that the unmarried have no influence in France? — dare not lift their voices in protest. Very few of them are organized in labor unions.
"Think of it!" said Justine, leaning across the table; "two months ago I was working in a shop; the piece rates declined so that we did not make two francs a day. Fifteen of us left together, but I was the only one who had the courage to say, when the patronne asked why, `Because I do not earn my living here, Madame.' I spoke very politely, you maybe sure, but how furious she was!" Justine shivered. If she ever did succeed in persuading the girls to ask for better pay, she was always ill afterwards, from terror and excitement.
Mme. Marcelle did not dream of concealing her trade-union sympathies, and maintained that they had never injured her professionally. A good worker, she said, was always welcome. Justine was haunted by the fear that her strong-mindedness would lower her earning capacity. She was a first-rate fleuriste, but she had never been able to support herself entirely, without some assistance from her parents. She respected Mlle. Marcelle, though she disliked her violent feminism — men should be treated as friends, not as enemies — and shrank from the anti-Christian spirit that prevailed at the Bourse. For all that, one felt in her, as in the other working-girls, a distrust of all authority — a hatred, on principle, of the patron. Justine and her friend Henriette, the feather-worker, had never permitted themselves, I am sure, a sneaking liking for an employer. Theirs were the sentiments of the papillons, those small oblong stickers, with any-thing but a butterfly significance, that one finds on the backs of benches in the industrial parts of Paris. "The heart of a patron is a strong box," they read, and, "The thinner the workman, the fatter the employer." Justine even suspected the factory inspectress.
"I should like to get hold of that woman," said Henriette. Henriette's mother, who had been forewoman in a feather shop, was now dying of consumption, and she herself was evidently al-ready under the influence of the disease. "I'd say some things to her. She comes in smiling, well dressed. She says: `Good-morning, young ladies. Are the windows opened here? Au revoir, mesdemoiselles.' Why does n't she pitch into the patron in our presence if she really means business?"
power machinery; and since Paris has few great factories or mills — since it is a town of so-called "small commerce," of innumerable small handiwork industries — inspection becomes a delicate matter.
"One is born sceptical in Paris," pleaded Justine, when I taxed her with injustice.
Where the patron or some other authority was not concerned she was, nevertheless, anything but sceptical. She would jump up from the most absorbing of her industrial discussions and run to speak a word of friendly gossip or sympathy with the people who went in and out of the café, and never forgot, I noticed, to bring a newspaper to the waitress. This hard-featured, middle-aged person, it seemed, lived for the continued novel at the bottom of the page, and in the intervals of passing dishes retired to a corner with the smudgy sheet glued to her near-sighted eyes.
" Well, Mademoiselle, what has happened to her now?" Justine would ask with an air of intense interest, when Louise set down her plate of purée.
"Ah, Mademoiselle, just fancy! she is beginning to doubt whether he really loves her!"
"Little fool!" Justine's happy laugh reminded one — even though she herself never read any-thing less serious than Marx — of that inevitable Mimi, in whose heart bloomed "the white rose of gayety."
I wish that those who believe only in the Mimis of the river-boats might once look through the low door behind Saint-Sulpice, where Justine, with a consecrated hope shining in her blue eyes, leans across the table to expound the future to an adoring group of enthusiasts. I wish they might see Mlle. Marcelle, in her more matter-of-fact way, teaching her adopted Juliette to be a good fleuriste and stuffing her with strawberries and propaganda; I wish they knew Marie-Constance, who thinks boldly in straw and conceals romance under her hat-brim.