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OF the many classes of society peculiar to large cities, none is more marked than that of which the grisette forms the greater part. A sort of romance is thrown about them, and yet few ever realize the humdrum life they are wont to lead. Way up in attics, in cramped and gloomy rooms, the grisette opens her eyes at early dawn to look out of the one small window on a forest of chimneys and a waste of roofs, or perhaps on a mass of sombre blocks and lonely warehouses. But her room to a grisette is like a port for a vessel; she leaves it, she comes back to it, but she lives away front it. Every hard-earned dollar is spent in dress and a praiseworthy attempt to make herself comely and fascinating; she emerges from her room as a butterfly from its unpretending chrysalis, and hardly any one could imagine the plump little shop-girl that serves him so deftly ever came down from such garret-like apartments, and trudges her way to the more frequented and busy streets.
I have said their life was a humdrum life at best, but a grisette has many ephemeral pleasures in her petty victories, with the counter as her Rubicon, which has no daring Caesar to cross it; she has smiles for all, and most always a kind word for all, yet her smiles and kind word bring profit only to her employer, and now and then a tear to her own eye. Of course she has her little coterie of friends, and betimes her truelove; but she is loved but little by the first, and soon forgotten by the second. This little woman is a keen judge of character though, and can detect a gentilhomme from an artiste as readily as silk from satin. For the weary cash-boy she reserves her surplus of good-nature, but to the flippant fop she is frigidly civil. She seems never to tire, and lets to-morrow take care of itself in a charmingly reckless way. Why worry about tomorrow? Goodness knows, she has enough to trouble her to-day. Why worry about to-day? It won't last long, and it will be to-morrow ever so soon. She is something of a philosopher too, - a manly failing which few women have, - and if you venture to moralize on life she will tell you it is soon over and too short to waste in building up theories. If you are rash enough to talk about the world, she will say it is a very queer one, and few people get out of it alive. If you talk philosophically, she will call it nonsense; if you talk romance, will listen with impatience; if love, with a sad yet knowing smile, say she has no time to talk, and begin diligently to roll up innumerable yards of ribbon that seem left under her rampart, the counter, for this very purpose. You may rarely take her off her guard, and she seems the same "yesterday, to-day," - but all of a sudden she is gone. You miss her again, - she is dead.
Still in the attic the same little looking-glass answers back the good-morning smile of the grisette, the same window is open for her last good-night to the blinking stars, and the same picture - a print of Washington that looks like a detected eavesdropper - stares out of its ghastly frame. But it is not the same thoughtless little grisette, although at first you might pardonably mistake her for our old friend. She has the same fresh face and piquant way, she measures out yard after yard of the identical shade of crimson as her predecessor; she has her Magenta and Solferino, and now and then an April shower. If I ask her what she has read, she will break out laughing, - which speaks volumes. She never looks older, but every season, like a good standard novel, comes out in a new cover, - each more mysterious and complicated than before. She is there in rain or shine; you half fancy she is locked up at night in the great lonesome store, and never leaves it.
If you see a tear or two, ask no questions; she has a woman's heart, and it may be almost breaking, yet a kind word would ruin her. She does her best, and has her faults; but we are like her in the latter, and often behind her in the former. She is one of a queer element in the city's vast population, and her life passes as a tedious dream; but after the dream she sleeps and wakes.
M. T. E.
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