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victorian-cook1In the following excerpt, Octave Uzanne introduces us to the upper echelon of the Parisian female servants, namely the lady’s maid, the cook and the children’s nurse:

The lady’s maid, who must not be confounded with the soubrette previously noticed, is very often of the same native place as the mistress, sometimes her foster-sister. She is generally from sixteen to thirty-five years old. She dresses her mistress, does her mending, irons small articles, rummages in the drawers on pretext of tidying, reads forgotten letters, annexes any knickknacks lying about, takes advantage of any passing generosity of her mistress in order to get possession of hats and dresses more or less worse for wear.

She is usually plain and prudish, goes to Mass on Sundays, attends her Easter duties, and below stairs gives herself airs of superiority over the other servants. In domestic quarrels she takes Madame’s part against Monsieur, not from any affection, but partly through a sense of esprit de corps, and partly that in a sense she regards Monsieur from Madame’s point of view, i.e. as a husband. An entirely platonic feeling, let us hasten to say, as she carefully keeps aloof from Monsieur’s endearments, more out of prudence than from principle. She desires to keep her place. Her wage amounts to from forty to seventy francs a month. When she returns to her province at thirty-five, she is able to bestow on some obscure clerk her somewhat faded charms, and her equivocal savings; these she can invest in a small business in groceries, fruit, drapery or dressmaking, and so the world is richer for another bourgeoise.

The cook is a middle-aged woman of from thirty-five to forty-five years of age, sometimes married either to the coachman or the chauffeur, if her employers’ means permit them to keep horses or motor-cars; or perhaps to some clerk or policeman who lives elsewhere, and whom she visits on one day in the week, generally on Sunday. She is a tall, stout, imposing person, with a face like a full moon, and very proud of her culinary skill. She is extremely clean, and she will not allow any interference from her mistress. “I won’t have any meddling in my sauces,” she says. A spoilt dish reduces her to despair; she revenges herself on her scapegoat – the poor scullery maid.

She has no hesitation in keeping back some tidbits for her husband. Anything that is left over she sells. She accepts her commission from the tradespeople, and is very indignant if her mistress presumes to assist at the marketings. Frequently she has been known, in such circumstances, to give notice in a burst of righteous indignation.

She is very sentimental, reads assiduously the novelettes in the Petit Journal, and is passionately interested in accounts of kidnapped children or adultery in fashionable quarters. She hums sentimental songs while she trusses a fowl or stirs a sauce. She is a regular Mrs. Malaprop, and mangles hopelessly all the terms in her menus. She is quite absorbed by a desire to make money, and keeps at a distance all the men who may be attracted by her formidable personality. Her wages amount to from fifty to eighty francs per month. The dream of her life is to retire with her husband to the provinces, and keep a small inn.

The children’s nurse is generally German or English. This post is the highest in the profession. The nurse is held in a certain respect, as she is treated somewhat like a governess. Even if she only comes from the provinces, she receives a certain amount of deference; she lives mostly with her employers, and therefore knows how to behave, though this does not prevent her from using the most startling language when the children are not there. She is often pretty, and her ambition is to struggle for precedence with the lady’s maid. If her mistress allows her to wear a hat she is in the seventh heaven of bliss.

She is bored by the children, and often tries to terrorise them, telling them tales of giants and ghosts. It is amusing to see her, in the public gardens, displaying the greatest affection for her little charges, joining in their games, that is, if Madame is present, but cross, haughty, and ready with slaps if she is alone with the “little brats”. Her favourite occupation is to make eyes at the passers-by. As she is generally pretty, she is made much of in the house. She has charming manners, and boasts to the other servants of the fancy Monsieur has for her. She reads quantities of novels, and the most extraordinary adventures appear to her quite reasonable. She dreams of being loved for herself alone, and of eloping, as in the romantic tales at sixty centimes. Perhaps she left some fair Wilhelm in her native country, to whom she writes ardent letters.

The children’s nurses provide a large contingent for the reserve belonging to the great army of Parisian sirens, and many of them are found in the beer-houses (*) of the Latin Quarter. Consumed by a love of luxury and proud of their looks, they can earn as wages of an average thirty-five to fifty francs, which is spent immediately in finery. Nursemaids are an exception to the rest of their class, they are extravagant and hardly save anything.

Related post:

(*) Drink and Prostitution: The Belle Epoque Hooters

femme de menageOf the old Parisian servant types we have met the soubrette and the nourrice, both of whom are described with some condescension in Octave Uzanne’s book “The Modern Parisienne”. While he may be mocking the two, he has nothing but respect and sympathy for the hard-working femme de ménage:

The femme de ménage (charwoman) is at “six sous per hour” a godsend to the bachelor. She has come from some little provincial town with her husband, who works in a factory in the suburbs, or she is the wife of a cab driver or of a porter at the Bonmarché or the Louvre magazines. Her life is a hard one. After she is swallowed in the whirlpool of Paris, she can rarely return to the country. She dies exhausted by hard work, worn-out by poverty and child-bearing. Sometimes, when the children are self-supporting, she can go out to service.

She is generally from thirty to fifty-five years of age. In the morning at about seven o’clock—as soon as her husband has left for his work and her children for school—she goes to her “Monsieur”, carrying his milk, his morning rolls and other provisions, calling for his newspapers and letters from the concierge, with whom she exchanges gossip. Being good at heart, as are all the working people who do not come too much in contact with the bourgeoisie, she is interested in her Monsieur’s welfare, although she allows herself a bit of gossip with the concierge on the terrible “creatures” who come to see him. She is attentive to his wants, sees that his breakfast is good, and that his boots shine like mirrors. She is amiable and willing, and he would have no occasion for finding fault if she had not, unfortunately, a mania for tidying away all his things into places where he can never find them.

If Monsieur is a painter, a journalist, or an author, she has the greatest respect for his work. She considers his manuscripts and books, his canvasses and engravings, as things to be treated with boundless veneration. She is immensely proud to serve an “artist”. Sometimes she will venture to ask him to write a letter for her. She will consult him about her family affairs, especially on any legal question, for the law terrifies her beyond measure.

When she returns home she has to see to her children’s dinner, to wash their clothes, to mend for the entire family. In the evening she must cook supper for her husband, who frequently comes home drunk, having spent all his wages, and turns to beating her. She endures everything passively, and she must go on enduring as long as her strength lasts. She is honest, tender, and devoted and all this for twenty or forty sous per day. She is typical of the working woman.

“The femme de ménage,” says a physiologist of 1840, “belongs exclusively to Paris. In the provinces she loses all her distinctive character.” It is from Paris alone, the Paris of resources and deceptions, that the femme de ménage springs. She is the servant of those who cannot afford any other, and who are not poor enough to dispense with one altogether. It is service at a discount, a bastard kind of servitude which sells itself by retail, which submits to the pains of slavery without any of its advantages, which suffers a change of master, humour and work at every moment of the day. She is, in fact, a poor woman who is hired either by the hour or the job just as one hires a cab. The femme de ménage is the most enslaved of all servants. However, this cruel dependence on every one and no one in particular is still independence in her eyes.

Related posts:

Feared and Despised: The Parisian concierge

Parisians in 1842: The middle class

French film on the subject (2004)

French film on the subject (2004)

Back to Octave Uzanne’s book The Modern Parisienne published at the beginning of the 20th century. His is the view of a man of his time, often questionable by today’s standards, but thoroughly enjoyable nevertheless.

The greater part of the servants in Paris, as we have said, come from the provinces. They are almost entirely drawn from the peasant class, but let no one imagine that for this reason they are humble and devoted to their masters. The devoted servant adoring the children, sharing the sorrows of the family, offering her little savings in case of need, in short, the female Caleb, has no existence except in romances. These melodramatic creatures, who brought tears to the eyes of our grandmothers are not of our day. At the time of the revolution, servants were still content to be considered dependents. Today [1912] they regard themselves as office-holders; they have their union and have instituted at the Sale Wagram a ball named the Gens de Maison [The House People].

Their object in coming to Paris is to make money, save it, and buy a small property in their native country. With this end in view they hoard rigidly, in a hard narrow spirit, with no consideration except for the future. Formerly they tried their hands at lotteries, today they invest in savings bank with assuredly more chance of success.

This [female] servant class has a hierarchy of many degrees. The nursery governess is at the top of the list, then the lady’s maid struggles for the second place with the high-class cook; lower in the scale is the children’s nurse, the general servant, and the femme de ménage (the chairwoman). There is also a privileged personage, flattered, despised, and envied by the  other sycophants – the person who sells her sturdy child’s milk to the bourgeoise’s weakly infant; I mean the wet-nurse.

The nourrice (wet nurse) is merely a kind of milch cow, always stout and fresh looking. She comes from the country, often after a lapse of virtue, and is engaged haphazard from a registry office by bourgeoises who cannot or will not nurse their own children. She is extraordinarily passive and feeds the infant mechanically. It hardly interests her and she would leave it to cry or neglect to wash it unless supervised. Of a very rudimentary intelligence, she only demands plenty of good food and drink. But as she is dominated by sensuality, she cannot keep away from men, and would very quickly fall again if great care were not taken.

I knew of a nourrice who was married, and whose husband served his time in a regiment in Paris. He came to see his wife whenever possible, and it was almost absurd to see the constant supervision by the mistress of the house. The two unfortunate creatures could only look at each other. They dared not even kiss, for Madame was always there, like a gendarme, to keep their virtue intact.

When the infant is weaned, the nurse sometimes stays with the family as the children’s nurse. But, as she dislikes Paris, she more often returns to the country where her former misadventure is repeated. Her business in life is, in truth, the only one she is fitted for. Idle, greedy, enervated by her relatively luxurious life in Paris, she is unfitted for work in the fields.  The other servants despise her. Their self-respect makes them contemptuous of a woman who sells her life in that fashion. But they are jealous of her, because she does nothing and is well-fed. The nourrice receives from 80 to 120 francs a month(*). Beside her wages, she is dressed by Madame in a striking and expensive costume. Her caps with the enormous ribbon trimmings often cost as much as her mistress’ hats.

(*) Up to four times the maid-of-all-work’s wages.

Related post:

Parisian Foundlings

soubretteOf all the domestic employees in Paris, only a small percentage was the natives of the city. Parisians had always been naturally free-spirited and insubordinate. Employers seeking servants knew this and preferred to hire applicants from the provinces. These proved to be more dependable, obedient and steady.

Whether they come from Auvergne or Poitou, from La Vendée or Gascony, from Provence or even from Flanders, the servants of Paris scarcely ever lose the tone of their native places, the accent of their provinces, or the traces of their origin,” wrote Octave Uzanne in his book The Modern Parisienne (1912). Long working hours, little opportunity to socialize and the sense of being a miniscule clog in the crushing machinery of a metropolis forced the provincials to seek each other for moral support, to hang together, and to preserve their native culture. Of all the newcomers to Paris, servants were the least amenable to change their ways. Native Parisians, on the other hand—and pretty girls especially— sought to climb the social ladder.

The following excerpt from The Modern Parisienne , introduces us to la soubrette, the shrewd lady’s maid, so typical to Paris that no light comedy could do without one:

[A Parisian girl] will take a situation as maid, especially with the demi-monde, in the hope that through one of these ladies or her gentlemen friends she will make her fortune. She reflects that her mistress’s origin, probably Belleville or some other poor quarter, is no better than her own, and that she is certainly not any prettier or more charming. This hope is frequently realized, particularly if the maid is pretty and treats the guests with discretion. In any case, this kind of situation is only a stepping-stone, and very often the girl who begins her career as a maid in the chic quartiers may be seen subsequently figuring as a star at the Moulin Rouge, as a singer in a fifth-rate café or (the last resource of old age) the proprietress of some shady house at Batignolles or near the École Millitaire.

She has learnt from her mistress the great game of getting the most possible out of Monsieur, and she plays it with remarkable success – within the limits of the law. But in the first instance she is more of a soubrette than a maid-servant, the pretty smart girl who always has an answer for the Fantins and Scapins of the servants’ hall. She has the advantage over them of the natural duplicity of her sex, and the unassailable position of being in all her mistress’s secrets. She is her agent in trickery; she knows all her mysteries, her deceptions, her debts, her intrigues, her dressmaker’s bills. Nothing is hidden from her. She is on the watch, observes everything, and succeeds in accumulating sufficient materials to make her position absolutely secure. She is coquettish, scrupulously clean, scented, affects a superior accent, and seasons her conversation with a spice of racy slang. She is very sentimental, and loves, above all, the feuilletons in the papers. If she is not as successful as she hopes with her mistress, she tries her hand on some old bachelor, and becomes his confidential housekeeper.

Related posts:

Quiet Demoiselles and Proud Servants

Parisians in 1842: The working class

The Good News

etrennes

In France, Christmas is called Noël. Noël means la bonne nouvelle or “the good news”. Of the visible signs of Christmas in the 19th century Paris, the Christmas tree was not a common sight, but no home was without a crèche, the Nativity scene.
On Christmas Eve, children left their shoes by the fireplace to be filled with gifts from Pere Noel. Adults received no gifts until the New Year’s Étrennes.

The Christmas log is now symbolized by “la bûche de Noël”, the unavoidable festive dessert

The Christmas log is now symbolized by “la bûche de Noël”, the unavoidable festive dessert

Evergreens, such as ivy and mistletoe, decorated the mantel piece and the dinner table readied for Le Réveillon, the after Midnight Mass feast. That’s right: the French have to wait until after midnight to celebrate Christmas with food. What food and how much of it (lots!) is described in The Réveillon: Christmas the French Way.

A Joyeux Noël to all!

 The Milliner on the Champs Elysées by Jean Beraud

The Milliner on the Champs Elysées by Jean Beraud

In this fifth  and last part of the series, Octave Uzanne explores the hidden side of the Parisian sex industry. The text was published in 1912. This post is longer than usual, but then the clandestine prostitution possessed more secrets and inventions than the open sex trade.

The clandestine prostitution of Paris is the most interesting branch of the subject for it is the most ingenious, the most fertile in resource, the cleverest in passing off what it has to sell, the most expert in creating an atmosphere of illusion.

As its name indicates, this province of vice is a thing apart. It is a mysterious trade, which depends for its success on histrionic capacity and on a tangle of tricks and intrigues which would be impossible to unravel completely. Clandestine prostitution, like the spider, weaves its web in the shadows. It has its spies, its brokers, its beaters whose business it is to drive the game into the toils. Its methods are rarely direct, and whatever mode of action be chosen it very rarely comes into the light of day, and uses extraordinary and marvellously combined subterfuges to conceal its operations. Labyrinths are constructed the windings of which can never be known to the police. A mise en scène is chosen which prevents the most subtle observer from guessing the kind of play on which the curtain is soon to rise.

In Paris, a clandestine prostitution is everywhere. It surrounds a man in all his acts and avocations. It presents itself in hotels, in restaurants, in shops, in omnibus shelters, at the Louvre and the Luxembourg, where it appears armed with a Baedeker, ready to guide the foreigner. In certain circles—aye, even in the official ones—it shows itself discretely, almost impenetrably disguised. It insinuates itself into your pockets in the form of circulars, visiting cards, and unusual and curious invitations. In the newspapers you find it in advertisements on the fourth page where it well understands the use of such euphemisms as “massage”, the “removal of superfluous hair”, “dyeing”, “manicure”, or “private lessons in gymnastics”.

It enters your house on the various pretexts of charity, literature, art, or applications for employment. It is to be seen at photographers’, in places where ladies show themselves in tights, in reading rooms and libraries, and in bars. It is familiar with every subtlety and knows the use of every kind of mask. It reveals itself slowly and does not give itself away till the ground has been made secure and the right moments has come.

The triumph of this form of prostitution is assured at the beginning of this century, when secret and selfish pleasure, the love of comfort, the search for poignant and abnormal pleasures are so much in favour with the blasé beings of our generation. The ordinary prostitute has no attraction for that section of the public which hates to vulgarize its pleasures by indulging in debauchery too flagrant or too commonplace. They want something possessing character and originality. An orgy to suit their fancy must be scented, subtle, and graceful; their gallantries must be veiled and dissimulated under the outward appearance of correctness and propriety. To such people clandestine prostitution offers just the right flavour of perversity, for it provides just every sort of feminine corruption.

Let us attempt a summary sketch of the various ingenious disguises, tricks, feints, and pretences to which the clandestine prostitute of Paris resorts, whether the scene of her operation be the streets or other public places, a shop, a theatre, a hotel, or a house of rendezvous.

Out of doors, clandestine prostitution is rampant. Many do not see it even when it is at their elbows, for one’s power of observation must be sharpened by long residence in Paris and by an innate curiosity in these matters before one can be certain, so deceptive are the appearances which this culpable trade assumes. The rake of long standing, the impenitent libertine, the corsair of the pavement – all those who love the streets of Paris for the sake of the women they meet there, the amateurs of fresh faces and alluring curves, are never deceived, for daily exercise in the chase keeps every sense alert. They divine everywhere the discreet invitation, the mere insinuation of an advance, and it is rarely indeed that they are mistaken.

“Believe me,” said one of them to us, “that out of a hundred young women whom you will meet unchaperoned in the course of a stroll along the boulevards you may be certain that, however respectable they look, more than a third are adventuresses. I’m not speaking of obvious harlots. I take merely those whose bearing is modest, whose manner is virtuous, and whose composure is all but middle-class.”

“Come,” he continued, “let us observe. You see that young girl tripping along with a roll of music under her arm. You think she is an artist, or perhaps some young lady who has been having a music lesson. Follow her for a little, using the approved method and taking care not to frighten so wary a bird. Accost her at the psychological moment in some passage, square or blind alley towards which the sly minx will have led you on. A hospitable room will soon receive you, and you will not be long in discovering what are the lessons given and received by the subtle lady who looks as if she came from the Conservatoire.

“Again, look at that pretty creature in deep mourning. How elegant she is and shapely in her black gown. Her pale charming face is delightfully framed by the crape of her English widow’s cap, and the air of sadness on those features which were surely meant for dimpling smiles inspires the spectator with sincere sentiments of pity. Hasten, then, to console her. Your sympathy will not go unrewarded. Follow on the track of the bereaved. She belongs to the department which ‘does mournings’ for a special class of client.

“Behold this adorable girl passing in the company of that respectable lady. Is she not a pupil at some girls’ school? She is as fresh and charming as a half-opened rosebud. You are in ecstasies at such a delightful spectacle of youth and innocence, and think of the happy marriage the dear child is sure to make. Simple soul! I look more closely at the venerable chaperon and exchange with her an imperceptible smile. A few minutes later pass ahead of the pair, and when you come to the first corner turn and confront the matron saluting her as you would a friend. Compliment her on her daughter’s charms, and propose calling on her. If you care for such things you will find the girl as complaisant as she is already calculating and depraved.”

Mothers who sell their daughters as soon as they reach thirteen or fourteen are unfortunately only too common, and their bearing as they walk the streets does not escape those who understand these things. There are also sham waiting-maids, sham workgirls, sham sick-nurses, and even sham Sisters of Charity, whose business, when they are not working on their own account, is to canvass out of doors or from house to house for the numerous clandestine salons of the capital.

A favourite scene of operations is a railway station—the Gare de l’Ouest for choice—where there are such crowds of women that one is tempted to suppose that it received its name of Saint-Lazare because it’s the favorite issue for prostitutes coming from the sanitary prison of the same name. Their game at such stations is, of course, the foreigner and the provincial – the Englishman arriving from Dieppe, and the suburban man of business who, when he comes to Paris, is often not unwilling to indulge himself with a little diversion.

Many of these pseudo-travellers provide themselves with a railway rug or a travelling-bag and dress themselves in the tailor-made English fashion. In that case they do not merely haunt the vestibules, the waiting-rooms, or the neighbouring cafés, but actually travel from Paris to Saint-Germain, or take the Nord-West via Argenteuil, Enghien, and Saint-Denis – an itinerary which appears to suit their particular line of business. Some do the Paris-Versailles route, where there are plenty of foreigners. They all travel first class, and inspect the train carefully, choosing if possible a compartment in which there is a man alone.

Others of the clandestine sort frequent picture shows, courses of lectures or the reading rooms at the Bon Marché or the Magasins du Louvre. There they are on the look-out for serious-minded clients, and consequently they themselves affect an interest in the fine arts, in literature, and intellectual things generally. They are often the most intelligent and interesting of their profession, and have quite a gift for conversation.

Some frequent only the large hotels, where with the connivance of porters, valets, grooms or upper servants, they get to know the names of new arrivals, find out their financial position, and lay siege in form to the victims of their choice. Then they have recourse to letters—and what clever letters!—or to visits in the character of canvassers for shirt-makers, jewellers, or tobacconists. Some even go the length of taking a room in the same hostelry if the coveted person is important enough to make it worthwhile.

Clandestine prostitution is sometimes carried on by means of circulars or through newspapers, thanks to the “agony column”. It is a method which is coming more and more into fashion. The woman of the agony column is usually well-educated, original, and witty writer, and in the columns she produces phrases such as these: “Eve is bored. Write to her, X. Y., office of this paper”’ Or again: “A chilly swallow wants a nest. Who will give her one?” She gets answers, stupid, amusing, impertinent, arrogant or timid by turns, which, if she has any penetration, will show her clearly enough what is the moral and social position of her correspondent. It is therefore an excellent method for courtesans, who are using it more every day and competing with the respectable women who amuse themselves in this way.

Theatres which speculate upon the curiosity of the public by producing what are known as “pièces à femmes” are also hotbeds of clandestine prostitution. Whether they play fairy pieces for the delight of children, or revues which are crowded with characters who must appear in tights, every minx who is vain of her figure rushes to offer her services. Such women know very well that they will have a favourable opportunity of exhibiting themselves and of showing that if they have no talent they have, at any rate, an attractive pair of legs. At the stage door connoisseurs, escorts, suitors, and lovers mix in groups with the merely curious, awaiting the exit of the charmers. They glare at each other like china dogs, and they are content to wait for hours with angelic patience, often in evening dress, at these back entrances, which are horrible places, dirty, damp and malodorous.

We must now track the clandestine prostitute into less accessible retreats where chance must serve us in lieu of observation – the shops, flats, and salons of all kinds in which women carry on a trade in their own bodies without solicitation and consequently without scandal. First of all we must speak of the shops which sell perfumery, gloves, artificial flowers, collars, ties, shirts, photographs, engravings, and even new books. The exterior has no special feature, except perhaps that there is very little in the window, and that what there is allows you to see between the half-drawn curtains into an elegant but sparsely furnished shop, with a counter in the middle, covered with little articles, at which a woman sits and simpers, gracefully turning her head towards the street as soon as she feels that she is observed. If the customer accepts her invitation to enter, the curtains are discretely drawn, and the conversation which follows very soon clears up the situation. Usually there are two women in these “shops” – one of ripe age and notable embonpoint, the other a slim, girlish creature with her hair in plaits. They have a joint stock, and share the profits scrupulously every night. Their business hours are approximately from midday to midnight.

In the purlieu of the Rue Montorgueil, of the Boulevard Bonne-Nouvelle and the Boulevard du Château-d’Eau there are to be found establishments of a different character. These are the sham milliners, dressmakers, and jewellers established on the first floor of houses of ill-fame. On the doors are such inscriptions as “Mme. Jeanne, fleuriste”, “Mlle. Alexandrine, modes”, “Fiorina, artiste”, or, again , “Pauline, plumes métalliques”. It would require the pen of Biartial, a Suetonius, or a Juvenal of the present day to describe the putrescent immoralities of these dens of iniquity where the most unmentionable vices of the ancients are practiced.

Other posts of interest:

Saint Lazare: Women in prison

Mark Twain and the Cancan

Again, let’s thank Octave Uzanne for his insightful book The Modern Parisienne published in 1912 :

If we are to believe the adroit matrons, the distinguished old ladies, the venerable grandmothers who preside over the destinies of certain houses of recreation which are famous in the gayer circles of the capital, which evolve about the boulevards or the elegant quarters near the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile, every woman in Paris has her price. These ladies have at their disposal a floating staff which can be mobilised at any moment; they produce albums of photographs faithfully rendering the features, the smiles, and the attitudes of the actress, the fair unknown, or the disguised lady of the middle-class, for benefit of clients who have a well-lined purse. But beside all this, these agreeable and well-bred procuresses, whose gestures are as unctuous as their tongues are smooth, will tell you that—given a little patience—they are ready to bring to the arms of the sighing swain any woman whom he may happen to think particularly desirable.

They have an organization, they declare, which can “bring to reason” any woman in Paris whose fortune does not place her beyond the reach of temptation of certain character. They have, in fact, a troop of female agents or canvassers who have a prodigious address in these matters. They start out on the quest at an early hour and begin visiting the large shops, where they mark down the prettiest saleswomen or the most modest and attractive of the customers who appear to their experienced eyes to possess the necessary qualities. Then they visit and consult with their various accomplices – ladies ’ maids, fortune-tellers, perfumers, and hairdressers. From them their learn all necessary particulars about their intended victims. They dress with great elegance, and in the afternoon they frequent the grands couturiers, scrape acquaintance with the customers, and thus discover all about the jolies madames who are deeply in debt. All this they note down in the register of the exploitable part of Tout Paris. In the evening they go to the theatres, see the fair performers, and find out from their dressers all about the financial crises which oppress these charming creatures.

Once a catastrophe becomes inevitable, they advance to the attack with all the artifices of rhetoric. They promise a golden future if only the lady will be sensible and nice about it and respond, just a little, to the passion of an elegant gentleman who will be waiting on such and such day at such and such hour in a house to be indicated. The deepest secrecy and the most absolute discretion are assured.

Some of the procuresses give parties in their own houses, where “little ladies” assemble in full strength to meet foreigners of fashion, American millionaires, or provincial gentlemen in comfortable circumstances. At such gatherings there are tremendous bouts of baccarat. Roulette and other games are constant features and while the habitués are absorbed in play, the hostess is busy making her introductions in the more secluded part of the rooms, where she regulates the terms of her bargain with the sagacity and seriousness of a notary. She arranges marriages for fixed periods of three, six, or nine months, with power to renew at will, and duly charges her commission on the price. There are numerous agencies in Paris for left-handed unions of this kind, and anything you want can be provided according to the sum you are able to pay.

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