THE 'garrison hack,' as she is more humorously than respectfully called, has been the heroine of a hundred novels; and she is a type true to every country that boasts an army save - Turkey, perhaps, where women are kept locked up.
The British army differs from others, however, in being largely officered with- rich men, and so the daughters of its colonels and majors have finer opportunities than their sisters in other lands.
In France, officers are so notoriously poor that a War-Office regulation obliges a lieutenant to sign a declaration on his word of honour that the young lady whom he wishes to marry has a dower of at least 1,000l. The dower for captains is 1,600l, and so on; and yet it seems that numerous French officers marry on no more than the regulation dower, and contrive to rub along somehow not unpleasantly. In England, marriage is often a saving to an officer, inasmuch as it withdraws him from mess. If a linesman have 500l. a year of his own besides his pay, he will generally find it cheaper to set up a house with a sensible little woman than to run up bills for expensive dinners, and squander his substance in cards, bets, and billiards. But needs must that a man should be in the infantry to find marriage a paying business; for the sensible little woman who weds a cavalry officer thinks herself bound to keep up a certain state, and she will ride, because her husband does.
Two chargers for the captain, a hack for the little woman, a pony-carriage, grooms, and all the rest of it, mean 1,500l. at once, putting things at the lowest figure; so if a hussar or dragoon cannot command that much, matrimony in his case is the preliminary to sending in his papers.
This being so, there is a marked difference between the cavalry and the infantry Flirt. The former stands several pegs above the latter, and is altogether a gayer, bolder, and faster strategist. She has to manœuvre among richer men - some very rich - and she seldom pitches her ambition, to begin with, on anything lower than a landed estate and a town house. Her tone may be more or less loud - that depends on the regiment with which she is connected - but she knows that the cavalry never go in for cheapness or humdrum amusements, and she mostly forces her own tastes somewhat in order to keep pace with the jolly companions from whose midst she hopes a husband will some day slip out.
Here it is worth remarking that girls seldom in their hearts enjoy fastness. That proverb about every woman being at heart a rake may be more or less true, but it means in any case that women like a little quiet rakiness indoors - not the boisterous recreations of the other sex. A girl often schools herself to an apparent passion for hard riding, stout, underdone meats, furious waltzing, lawn-tennis, and even shooting pheasants; but the pangless way in which she surrenders these pastimes after marriage proves how little she inwardly cared for them. Civilisation cannot obliterate nature nor wholly transform woman, who is a stay-at-home bird, into a scourer of hedgerows and fields. But girls take, by the instinct of vanity and of sexual attraction, to the occupations which are likely to bring them most into contact with men; and if they think that fastness pleases the males who surround them, they assume it so long as it serves their purpose.
In this they sometimes overshoot their mark. A fast man does not desire a fast wife; and officers, who may be thoughtless fellows in other respects, frequently calculate how far their incomes would stretch in the hands of a lively girl who looks upon coins as play- things for the game of ducks and drakes. There is no example of a colonel's daughter failing to obtain a husband if she be nice-looking, sweet-tempered, and modest. The very stillness of her life, contrasting with the riot in the midst of which 'plungers' breathe, is an allurement to wedded blessedness. How often, when racked by a headache consequent on mixed liquoring, a beardless officer curses the dull round of debauchery in which he revolves, like an ass turning a hydrant! He thinks it a beastly thing that he should get fuddled night after night; he recognises the vanity of 'Nap' and loo; he wonders how he can be such a dolt as to lay impossible wagers with Brown and Smith, and to back himself with the cue against 'Canon' Robinson. If out of the fumes of his late-hour drmkings there rises the face of the colonel's jolly little lass - a girl with no nonsense about her, straight and true as steel - the reflective sub is apt to grow maudlin. Inscrutable Fate ofttimes uses a headache to open the understanding of the plunger, and a night's debauch ushers in a morning of virtuous resolutions, ending in a proposal towards luncheon-time.
When at mess plungers speak civilly of a girl, or when they avoid mentioning her name at table, and only communicate their impressions about her in laudatory terms, whispered in the smoking-room or in private corners, then one may be sure that the girl is no talker of slang or taker of five-barred gates. She may be an arrant Flirt nevertheless, for her gentle modesty may be all make believe; but she will never be a garrison hack. Plungers are seldom deep enough to see through feminine hypocrisy, and accept a quiet girl's virtues at their apparent worth; but the term of 'hack' is labelled at once on the girl who is free with her smiles, even when she may be in reality much staider of purpose than a more demure minx.
The garrison hack is a girl who has no mother, or whose mother is a weak and foolish person. She becomes fast through ignorance; and grows faster and faster because she mistakes the encouragement of her father's officers for genuine admiration. Her father may not know much about the management of girls, and lets her act as she pleases, without seeing any harm in it. He, too, mistakes the girl's popularity for a reputation of the proper sort. He is proud to hear men extol his 'Jenny's' prowess in the saddle; he boasts that he taught her early to like horses, and blurts out - good easy man - that he has no notion of a girl being a milksop. Maybe he frowns somewhat the first time he catches a word of downright stable lingo upon Jenny's lips; but when the novelty of the thing has worn off he pays no further heed, and gets an impression that girls always talked so and always will. After a while he grows so blind to his nice daughter's goings-on, that he is indignantly astonished and huffed when some elderly aunt or other matronly friend in petticoats thinks it her duty to hint that dear Jenny's conduct might give rise to misconstruction. 'Stuff and nonsense,' says he. 'I'd like to see the man who'd - misconstruct I'd have his ears off!'
A garrison hack's father has never a suspicion of the lengths to which she goes. What he sees is a trifle beside the reality, and what this reality is not a soul knows but the girl herself.
She is a Flirt who has thrown off the reserve of her sex, and a subtle deterioration of her moral sense eventually blunts her perception of right and wrong. It is not enough that she should hunt, dance with twenty different partners at every ball, and encourage men to tell her queer messroom anecdotes, at which she giggles; besides all this, she tipples champagne till her cheeks turn quite pink and her eyes glisten; she lets her fingers be squeezed by her partners, and only makes a pretence of anger when some bold one kisses her in a corner. Where is the harm in kissing? She is not such a prude as to make a fuss about trifles. She thinks she can well defend herself, and so she does; until one day, her heart getting entangled within the wiles of an unusually good fellow, and champagne aiding, maybe, to throw her off her guard, her defences fail her at the wrong moment.
Then consternation follows, and for a week she sobs in private, dreaming of suicide and all sorts of other unfashionable things, including elopement with the seductive aggressor, and love in a cottage for ever afterwards.
But the aggressor always happens to be deep in his tradesmen's books, and unable to afford so much as the luxury of an elopement. He explains this very softly, and consoles the frail one, advising her not to redden her eyes like that, lest other fellows should notice it. Then philosophy ensues. The experienced maiden reflects that hidden faults are no faults, and that her aggressor is an honourable fellow who can keep a secret. He does keep it; and so do others subsequently, one after another, so fast as the careless Flirt treats them to fragments of her love. It is a maxim in such cases that what has been done once may be done again - that one may as well be hanged (if hanged at all) for twenty black sheep as for one white lamb: and the garrison hack's final consolation is that 'they all do it!'
It may seem to the innocent reader that a startling charge is conveyed in the foregoing paragraph; but it would be a much more startling thing if a girl could adopt the manners of wild boys, mix with them, drink with them, and retain her purity through it all. As well suppose that a full-blown rose could be tossed from hand to hand without losing some of its leaves. Novelists are bound to portray garrison hacks as virgins without spot, but garrison officers know that they are but flesh and blood, which are fragile things. A well-broken hack, however, does not come to lasting grief because she has had a fall or two: this again is one of your novelist's wilful delusions. She takes heart, on the contrary, struggles on, and is never so near to marriage as when her reputation for fastness is so well established that no one can find anything to say against her that has not been said before. A reaction then sets in, and a new set of officers coming to join the regiment, she has the advantage of playing upon chivalrous and unprejudiced young minds, who refuse to believe all that is whispered about 'so jolly a girl.' The newly-joined sub is often an unwary being, and the practised Flirt has little difficulty in alluring him to some pass where the paternal colonel is made to intervene, asking him if his intentions are honourable. There is always hope for a garrison Flirt so long as her father retains active command. Luck only begins to desert her when, papa being put upon half-pay, she retires to some watering-place, and falls into the ranks of commonplace Flirts who, towards the period between five-and-twenty and thirty, fire their arrows at large against all mankind.
There is an old saw as to the kind of men who make the best husbands. It is equally applicable to women. The garrison hack always makes a good wife: tolerant, companionable, and an excellent adviser in difficulties. She has sown her wild-oats, but her husband is none the wiser, for they were sown in the dark.
|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.|