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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Grisettes
By Alfred de Musset (1810–1857)
 
From ‘Mimi Pinson,’ in ‘Selections from the Prose and Poetry of Alfred de Musset’

MADEMOISELLE PINSON was not exactly what one calls a pretty woman. There is a wide difference between a pretty woman and a pretty grisette. If a pretty woman, acknowledged and pronounced to be so by Parisian verdict, were to take it into her head to put on a little cap, a chintz dress, and a black-silk apron, she must needs look like a pretty grisette. But if a grisette were to dress herself up in a bonnet, a velvet cloak, and a dress from Worth’s, she would by no means necessarily be a pretty woman; on the contrary, it is probable that she would look like a clothes-peg, and no blame to her. The difference lies in the circumstances of these two creatures, and chiefly in the little bit of buckram covered with some sort of stuff and called a bonnet, which women think fit to tie over their ears, a little like the blinkers of a horse; it is to be observed, however, that blinkers prevent horses from looking about, and that the bit of buckram prevents nothing of the sort.  1
  Be this as it may, a little cap requires a turned-up nose, which in its turn demands a well-shaped mouth with good teeth, and a round face for the frame. A round face requires sparkling eyes, which are best as black as possible, with eyebrows to match. The hair ad libitum, for the eyes settle everything else. Such a combination is evidently far from being beautiful, strictly speaking. It is what is called irregularly pretty, the classic face of the grisette; which might possibly be ugly in the bits of buckram, but which is charming in a cap, and prettier than beauty itself. Such was Mademoiselle Pinson.  2
  Marcel had taken it into his head that Eugene should pay his court to this damsel; wherefore, I cannot tell, unless because he himself was the adorer of Mademoiselle Zelia, Mademoiselle Pinson’s most intimate friend. It struck him as being a natural and convenient arrangement; he wished to settle matters to suit himself, and make love in a friendly way, as it were. Such plans are not uncommon, and succeed quite often; for ever since the world began, opportunity has been found the strongest of all temptations. Who can tell the real source of our joys and griefs, our attachments and quarrels, our happiness and misery?—a door of communication, a back staircase, an entry, a broken pane.  3
  Some characters, however, draw back from these games of chance. They choose to conquer their enjoyments, not to win them as at a lottery; and are not moved to fall in love because they find themselves next to a pretty woman in a public conveyance. Eugene was one of these, and Marcel knew it; therefore he had long nursed a project, simple enough in itself, but which he thought most ingenious, and infallibly sure to overcome his friend’s resistance. He had resolved to give a supper, and decided that his own birthday was the fittest occasion for it. He ordered two dozen bottles of beer, a large joint of cold veal with salad, an enormous plum-cake, and a bottle of champagne. He first invited two of his fellow-students, then announced to Mademoiselle Zelia that there was to be a frolic at his rooms that evening, and she must bring Mademoiselle Pinson. They were quite sure to be there. Marcel was considered one of the fine gentlemen of the Latin Quarter,—one of those whose invitations are not to be declined; and seven o’clock had but just finished striking when the two grisettes knocked at his door. Mademoiselle Zelia was arrayed in a short dress, gray gaiter-boots, and a cap with flowers; Mademoiselle Pinson more quietly attired in a black gown which she always wore, and which they used to say gave her a little Spanish air, of which she was very proud. Both, as you may suppose, were in entire ignorance of their host’s designs.  4
  Marcel had too much tact to invite Eugene in advance: he was too sure of a refusal. It was not until the girls had taken their places and the first glass had been emptied, that he excused himself for a few minutes to go and look for another guest, and then turned his steps towards Eugene’s lodgings. He found him at work as usual, surrounded by his books. After some passing remarks he began to reproach him gently with studying so hard, and never giving himself any relaxation; and at length he proposed a walk. Eugene, who was in fact rather weary, having studied the whole day, assented: the two young men went out together, and after a few turns in the walks of the Luxembourg it was not difficult for Marcel to induce his friend to go home with him.  5
  The two grisettes, finding themselves left alone and probably tired of waiting, had begun by making themselves at home; they had taken off their bonnets and shawls, and were humming a quadrille and dancing, not forgetting to do honor to the repast from time to time, by way of testing its quality. Their eyes were already sparkling and their cheeks flushed, as Eugene bowed to them with a mixture of surprise and shyness, and they stopped short, in high spirits and a little out of breath. Owing to his secluded habits, they hardly knew him by sight, and immediately scrutinized him from head to foot with the undaunted curiosity which is the prerogative of their class; they then resumed their song and dance as if nothing had happened. The new-comer, a little disconcerted, fell back a few steps,—meditating a retreat, perhaps; but Marcel, having double-locked the door, threw the key noisily on the table.  6
  “Nobody here yet?” he exclaimed. “Where are our friends? But no matter, we have captured the savage. Ladies, let me present the most virtuous youth in France and Navarre, who has long been very anxious for the honor of your acquaintance, and who is an especial admirer of Mademoiselle Pinson.”  7
  The quadrille stopped again; Mademoiselle Pinson made a little bow and put on her cap.  8
  “Eugene,” cried Marcel, “this is my birthday, and these two ladies are good enough to celebrate it with us. I brought you here almost by force, it is true; but I hope you will stay of your own accord if we beg you. It is now almost eight o’clock: we have time to smoke a pipe while waiting for an appetite.”  9
  As he spoke he looked towards Mademoiselle Pinson, who instantly understood him, and bowing a second time, said to Eugene in a sweet voice:—  10
  “Yes, sir, do stay; we beg of you.”  11
  At this moment the two students whom Marcel had invited knocked at the door. Eugene saw that he could not retreat with a good grace; so resigning himself, he took his seat with the rest.  12
 
  THE SUPPER was long and lively. The gentlemen began by filling the room with smoke, and then drank in proportion, to refresh themselves. The ladies did the talking, and regaled the company with remarks, more or less pointed, about their various friends and acquaintances, and adventures more or less credible, picked up in the back shops. If the stories were not very probable, they were at least very marvelous. Two lawyers’ clerks, so they said, had made twenty thousand francs by speculating in Spanish funds, and had devoured it in six weeks with two girls from a glove shop. The son of one of the richest bankers in Paris had offered an opera-box and a country-seat to a well-known sempstress, who had refused them, preferring to take care of her parents and remain true to a salesman at the Deux-Magots. A certain person whom they could not name, and whose rank forced him to wrap himself in the deepest mystery, had come incognito to visit a girl who embroiders, in the Passage du Pont Neuf; and she had been immediately seized by order of the police, put into a post-chaise at midnight with a pocket-book full of bank-notes, and dispatched to the United States; etc., etc.  13
  “That’s enough,” interposed Marcel. “We have heard that sort of thing before. Zelia is romancing; and as to Mademoiselle Mimi, which is Mademoiselle Pinson’s name among friends, her information is incorrect. Your lawyers’ clerks got nothing but a sprain, in clearing a gutter; your banker proffered an orange; and your embroidery girl, so far from being in the United States, is to be seen every day from twelve to four o’clock, at the alms-house, where she has taken lodgings on account of the rise in provisions.”  14
  Eugene was sitting near Mademoiselle Pinson; he thought that she turned pale at these last words, which were carelessly uttered. But almost at the same instant she rose, lighted a cigarette, and said in a deliberate manner:—  15
  “It is your turn to be silent now! I claim the floor. Since my lord Marcel does not believe fables, I will tell you a true story, et quorum magna pars fui.”  16
  “You understand Latin?” said Eugene.  17
  “As you hear,” replied Mademoiselle Pinson. “I learned this sentence of my uncle, who served under the great Napoleon, and never omitted it before telling us about a battle. If you do not know the meaning, I will tell you for nothing. It means: ‘I give you my word of honor.’ You must know that last week I went with two of my friends, Blanchette and Rougette, to the Odéon Theatre—”  18
  “Wait till I cut the cake,” said Marcel.  19
  “Cut, but listen,” replied Mademoiselle Pinson. “Well, I went with Blanchette and Rougette to see a tragedy. Rougette, as you know, has lately lost her grandmother, who left her four hundred francs. We took a box: three students were near us in the pit; these young fellows accosted us, and asked us to supper, on the pretext that we were alone.”  20
  “Without preamble?” inquired Marcel. “Upon my word it was very civil. And you declined, I suppose?”  21
  “No, sir,” replied Mademoiselle Pinson, “we accepted; and at the first entr’acte, without waiting for the end of the play, we repaired to Viot’s.”  22
  “With your cavaliers?”  23
  “With our cavaliers. The waiter began, of course, by saying that there was nothing left; but we were not to be balked by such a trifle. We ordered them to go into the city and fetch whatever was needed. Rougette took the pen and ordered a regular wedding supper: prawns, a sweet omelette, fritters, mussels, whipped eggs,—everything that is to be found in saucepans. Our young friends’ faces grew rather long, it must be confessed—”  24
  “By Jove! so I should think,” said Marcel.  25
  “We paid no attention to that. When the supper came we began to play the fine lady. We found nothing good; everything disgusted us; we scarcely tasted a dish before we sent it away and asked for something else. ‘Waiter, take that away; it is not eatable: where did you buy that horrible trash?’ Our unknown friends wished to eat, but they had no chance. In short, we supped like Sancho; and our anger carried us so far as to break some of the crockery.”  26
  “Pretty behavior! And who was to pay?”  27
  “That was the very question the three strangers asked each other. From what they said in a low tone, we gathered that one of them had six francs, the next infinitely less, and the third had nothing but his watch, which he generously pulled out of his pocket. In this state the three unfortunates presented themselves at the counter, in hopes of effecting some compromise. What do you think they were told?”  28
  “That they must go to the lock-up, and you would be kept as security, I suppose,” said Marcel.  29
  “You are wrong,” replied Mademoiselle Pinson. “Before going up-stairs, Rougette had been on the alert, and everything was paid in advance. Fancy the effect of Viot’s response,—‘Everything is settled, gentlemen.’ Our stranger friends looked at us as three cats never looked at three kings, with a touching stupefaction mingled with emotion. However, we pretended to take no notice of it, but went down-stairs and called for a coach. ‘My dear marchioness,’ said Rougette to me, ‘we must see these gentlemen home.’ ‘Certainly, my dear countess,’ I answered. Our poor admirers did not know what to say. You may guess if they were sheepish! They declined our politeness, they would not be taken home, they refused to give their address—no wonder! They were convinced that we were women of rank, and they lived heaven knows where!”  30
  Marcel’s friends, the two students, who up to this time had done nothing but smoke and drink in silence, seemed far from pleased with this story. They changed color: perhaps they knew as much as Mademoiselle Pinson of the unlucky supper, for they gave her an uneasy glance as Marcel said, laughing:—  31
  “Name your incognitos, Mademoiselle Pinson: there can be no harm, as it happened last week.”  32
  “No indeed!” returned the grisette. “One may hoax a man, but ruin his career—never!”  33
  “You are right,” observed Eugene. “And you show more discretion than you are aware of, perhaps. Of all the young men in the various colleges, there is hardly one who cannot look back to some folly or some fault, and yet thence emerges daily all that is most respected and respectable in France: physicians, magistrates—”  34
  “Yes,” responded Marcel, “that is true. There are budding peers of France who dine at Flicoteaux’s and have not always wherewithal to pay the bill. But,” he broke off with a wink, “haven’t you seen anything more of your friends?”  35
  “What do you take us for!” answered Mademoiselle Pinson, with a serious and almost offended air. “Don’t you know Blanchette and Rougette, and do you suppose that I—”  36
  “Well, well, don’t be angry,” said Marcel. “But after all, this is a pretty adventure. Three harebrained girls, who probably had nothing to pay for their next day’s dinner with, throwing money out of the window for the fun of mystifying three poor devils who couldn’t help themselves.”  37
  “Why did they ask us to supper?” retorted Mademoiselle Pinson.  38
 
 
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