GIBRALTAR , Malta, Canada, and India are all capital places for garrison Flirts. They get a clear field in these localities, for the native ladies seldom match them, even when they try. Now, besides the cavalry Flirt already described, there is the infantry Flirt, who offers two or three varieties. First comes the girl who professes to live in the worship of red coats, and will never marry a civilian. Then the girl who is secretly sick of the army, and would like to catch a nabob, a ship-owner, fur-trader, or something solid of that kind. And next we have the young married Flirt, who is wedded to a marching sub, whose professional advancement she must assist by her affability towards his superior officers.
This last type is common to all professions, but in colonial garrisons the young married Flirt has opportunities not afforded her at home. At an Indian station, for instance, she is often the only pretty woman in the place. Other women there are, but ugly. The colonel's wife is fat and fifty; the major's is thin and sour; the adjutant has a young wife who gives herself airs, but is mortally plain, and for that reason affects a rigid propriety of demeanour, and takes up her ground as the inveterate enemy of the Flirt. But the Flirt does not care a pin. She is hospitable to profusion, as Indian cheapness in all things but beverages allows her to be; and if her husband's means do not admit of his purchasing unstinted wine and Allsopp, she makes him run up debts.
One thing is certain: that her guests never lack for anything, and her drawing-room becomes the regular rendezvous of the garrison officers and the Civil Service officials two or three times a week. It is at once a club, a refreshment-room, and something like a casino. The Flirt sings a little, plays a little, and dances a good deal. She is always ready to let the room be cleared for a waltz. She practises Indian dances with scarves, and the dances of the Almées, or rather those plastic contortions which go by Terpsichorean names among the beauties of Eastern seraglios.
The numerous servants that attend upon an Indian household enable a pretty woman to give herself all the graces of a queen.
She is worried by no menial work; everything is done for her; she has only to lie on a sofa and command, whilst obedient Hindoos work the punkahs above her pretty head, or brush flies away from her with bunches of peacocks' feathers. Then England and its fashions being so far away, the Indian station belle can improvise fashions for herself, selecting cuts, colours, and textures which she knows to be best suited to her style of beauty. She comes out in surprising Indian shawls, Chinese silks, light and transparent as muslin, and Japanese satins of heavenly azure blue. At all these experiments in dress - some of them very risquées - the other women exclaim, but by-and-by they pay her the sincerest flattery of imitation; for they see that the men like it, and break out into continual raptures about the Flirt's being irresistibly fascinating, original, and adorable; quite too nice, in fact, to use the jargon à la mode.
A beauty who has been plain Miss Brown at home, living in a small villa at Rochester or Southsea, feels on reaching Indian soil as if she had been promoted to a throne. She can do no ill. From the colonel to the smallest drummer-boy, every soul in the regiment is her slave. She has the band to play outside her bungalow when she gives a dinner. She good-naturedly patronises the sergeants' wives; and if a smart-looking private strikes her fancy she gets him promoted. In the matter of leave-giving, punishments, and petty regimental persecutions, she is supreme arbiter; and if a subaltern happens to offend her, he had best exchange rapidly into another corps, for she has quite power enough to crush him like a beetle. No man can guess the might of a regimental beauty's little finger until he has foolishly put himself in the way of being pressed down by it.
The mere fact that a woman should be a Flirt proves her husband to be a very weak man or a base one. Generally he is a rogue; for there is something in the honourable character even of a weak man which exercises a moral restraint upon his wife, and prevents her from transgressing given bounds. Or if she be irrestrainable, she goes clean over the bounds ostentatiously and defiantly, leaving her weak lord to maunder or fly into vindictive rages like an infuriated sheep, according to his mood at the moment.
But when one sees a young woman cutting frisky capers under the marital eye, one may be sure that her husband is a creature who makes some profit out of the said jinks; and this is truer in the army than elsewhere. The husband of a Regimental Flirt may not fill his brother-officers with respect but the world wags, very prosperously with him for all that. The debts which he contracts get somehow paid; he never wants a good coat for his back, nor a fine-flavoured cigar, nor a five-pound note for pocket-money. Promotion comes to him rather out of the regular way; and if at a pinch he wants a few hundred pounds to better his social status, the sum is opportunely got on easy terms from a relative of his wife's, whose name she does not mention and which he forgets to ask.
By degrees the creature is dragged up by his wife to some post of permanent emolument, where he is in a position to crow over other men, his betters. He generally sets up as an implacable censor of morals. He lays the ban of his respectability upon youngsters who have been guilty of boyish follies, and helps to expel such from the service and from clubs 'for conduct unbecoming officers and gentlemen.' He possibly ends by getting to be a general, a colonial governor, or a bank director So long as his wife remains pretty she is his Providence, and he treats her with proper respect. When she ceases to please he often rewards her for past benefits by beating her, or driving her to drink by a systematic course of verbal unkindness, such as only fellows of his kidney can use towards women. Occasionally, if the Flirt has retained her power of attraction after the bloom of youth has gone, husband and wife remain allies till death parts them. Madame becomes the centre of a social circle of strong religious proclivities, and her husband piously leads in the singing of a hymn after a tea-fight.
The Regimental Flirt who is utterly sick of the army might seem to be an uncommon sort of girl; but just as there are ecclesiastical Flirts who are weary of the Church and its ministers, so there are regimental damsels upon whom an overdose of military life has produced the usual effects of a surfeit. This is especially prone to be the case with the daughters of those poor officers who have to pinch themselves and half-starve their families in order to keep up what they call their dignity. A girl of this class can see no fun in the gold lace that costs so much money, and in the taxing duties which bring in so little pay. Even the music of the regimental band becomes odious to her ears, from a recollection of the heavy subscription which is wrung from her impecunious father to maintain it.
Or again, a girl of innate refinement is cast by ill-luck with a regiment whose officers happen to be a raffish set of snobs and churls pipe-smokers, beer-swillers, courters of barmaids and shop-wenches. The regiment is ordered abroad, and she has an opportunity of taking stock of them all on board the troopship.
There, if anywhere, their social qualities ought to come out; but there is not a man among the number whom she can flirt with. At dinner in the saloon, at the daily parade of the men on the fo'c's'le, in the moonlight evenings on the deck, the disgusted girl espies their clownishness and lack of wit. She compares them with the officers of the other 'reliefs' on board - some of them nice dashing fellows in the cavalry - and with the naval officers of the troopship, all of them perfect gentlemen, of good manners and great gallantry, and she moans to think that her fate has bound her to a regiment of such dolts.
The troopship reaches its destination - say Gibraltar - and the boorish lot sink into the same low habits as at home, becoming more offensive, however, in their conceit at lording it on a foreign soil. Then the refined girl falls to hating these officers, and through them the whole regiment, and by degrees the entire. army. Bringing her sarcastic powers to bear upon the routine of military life, she decides that the whole thing is a ridiculous mummery; she even doubts the valour of the officers she so intensely dislikes, and thinks she would not trust them to fight in time of war. She says these things bitterly enough in their hearing; she repeats them in the hearing of civilians, which is much worse, and thereby draws down scoldings from her father. Perhaps she has a bout of words with the colonel's wife, who affects to be proud of the regiment, and a tiff with the colonel himself, who growls that, if she were his child, he would have her whipped.
There is no limit to the animosity of a girl who has once given out that she hates the service, and makes a point of inculcating her contempt for it on others. The army has so many detractors among the mercantile classes, whom the arrogance of officers displeases, that a girl of this kind now and then weds a wealthy merchant, on the strength of 'the sharp funny things' she has said about 'those oafs in red coats.' Or she marries a parson. Regimental girls are at all times very much inclined to do that; for to them the quiet parsonages or collegiate cloisters, which certain ecclesiastical Flirts find so slow, are elysium. Nothing enchants the Regimental Flirt so much as to be quit of the atmosphere of tobacco-smoke and pipeclay, which so tickles the senses of her clerical sister. Her dream is of vicarages overgrown with honeysuckle and eglantine; her delight is in choral church-services; and her ideal of a hero generally appears in white cravat and an M.B. waistcoat, if not in a cassock of the new Ritualist fashion. If mankind were ruled by a paternal government, the daughters of clergymen would marry officers, and those of officers clergymen, and the world would possibly be happier than it is just at present.
|About Flirts||Flirt's Power||Season Flirt||Example And Precept|
|Plain Sisters||Ecclesiastical Flirt||Home Regimental Flirts||Foreign Regimental Flirt|
|Seaside Flirt||Tourist Flirt||Country-Town-House Flirts||Sentimental Flirt|
|Taken from original text, as written. May contain OCR errors.|