THERE is a girl who, living in a remote country place, goes to the seaside for one month in the year. Of course, during that month of comparative bliss she flirts. But all through the rest of the year she does no flirting even by letter. So, albeit to her seaside acquaintance she may seem a Flirt, yet it is obvious that flirting is only her recreation, not her business. She is no more a flirt than a man who occasionally pops at a sparrow is a sportsman.
The true Seaside Flirt lives by the sea. The half-season is her harvest-time, when there are a few visitors to notice her, but not enough to eclipse her. In the full season there are balls, races, concerts; in the half-season there is - flirting. A ride upon the sands, even on the backs of ill-saddled donkeys, may easily be turned into an imaginary ride for life. A shrimping excursion, besides offering chances for a display of neat ankles, brings about solitary wanderings, two by two, among the rocks. A sail in a small boat in rough weather affords opportunities for the exhibition of nerve and nautical knowledge combined; while a fishing-party by torchlight leads to so many nice things in the way of huddlings together under one tarpaulin, little screams when the boat rocks, delighted exclamations and joint action when the fish is speared or netted, that the mere mention of it will set any acute girl blushing.
Should the place be a port, the landing of foreign cattle may be construed into danger, and may be made the occasion of a gallant rescue; or an injudicious attempt to swim at bathing-time will perhaps challenge the bravery of the other sex. Here it may be remarked that the foreign custom, which puts men into bathing-costume as well as women, has its advantages, if only this one of allowing the rescuer of a fair swimmer to carry his lovely burden on to the beach in sight of an applauding crowd, which cannot well be done arrayed as Englishmen are at present when they bathe.
There is no little circumstance which a clever girl will not convert into a chance for flirting. The well-timed loss of a purse or a dog in the place where our lone damsel is a stranger, a dispute with a fly-driver, the loss of a hat in a high wind, a sudden sousing from a too boisterous wave, or the dropping of a handkerchief over the pier-railings, are all little difficulties that may be turned to account. 'So silly of me - so good of you: really I ought to have some one always by my side to take care of me.' 'Lucky some one!' 'Oh, you're joking; but really I am ashamed to have given you so much trouble.'
The paradise of a Flirt, though, is a yacht. No horrid billiard-room to take up the time of the interesting man; no need to run away from cigar-smoke in the exhilarating fresh air. Frequent meals, and gay; frequent nips of liqueurs, or mulled wines, to keep the cold out, and prescribed as indispensable to health; and then the privilege of appearing to lose one's balance, and needing the prop of a stalwart arm. No visible impropriety either if the proprietor of the stalwart arm does hug a little in conveying the fair and unsteady one to a seat. Add to this that Etiquette, which would be shocked at seeing Miss Jill and Mr. Jack walking up and down an hotel corridor for an hour at midnight, can look on unmoved at a moonlight promenade on the deck of a yacht, even when it extends pretty far into the small hours. Life is a chain of inconsistencies.
The one-month-a-year Flirt has a keen eye for the names on the visitors' list of the seaside town to which she resorts. The odds are that she discovers on it some man she knows - her brother's friend, or the son of papa's friend - anyhow, one with whom she has flirted before, and whom she describes as 'the only man who can wrap my scarf comfortably round me on this bitterly cold beach.' This paragon she ferrets out and catechises as to what he has done since they last met. She is sure he has been flirting, and lectures him about it, saying it is high time he settled down soberly, as she herself thinks of doing. Thereupon she walks her truant off to see some dear, interesting, gossiping old sailor. If he did not go with her, she might not find the man: does he mind being seen so often walking with her?
When a young friend is engaged to be married, the Flirt eagerly becomes her chaperon, knowing that her male acquaintances will rally round her more quickly while she is protecting the fair flower. And when the Flirt is again alone, she keeps very close to some old gentleman friend in a Bath-chair, sometimes carrying on a flirtation with him, for want of better material, sometimes using him as a convenient escort.
Our friend, thanks to an iron constitution, which the month of ozone-breathing develops finely, does more execution in the day-time than in the evenings. She is not quite enough informed about ants, sciences, or London tattle to shine in conversation, nor sufficiently accomplished to dazzle by her music and dancing. Her circumstances do not enable her to compete in dress with ladies and nymphs of the 'great world;' but her powers of sustaining a fatiguing walk, row, or ride; her ready flow of small talk, and quick sympathy, make her a delightful companion wherever the proportion of gentlemen to ladies is about three to one. It is only when temporary helplessness looks pretty that she assumes it; one of her favourite sayings in merry company being, 'Wherever there's fun going, I'm your man.'
Poor girl! she does not get quite as much fun as would be good for her; for when her month at the seaside or on board a yacht is gone - and how fearfully quick it goes! - she feels in a sad way while packing up her boxes to return home. One more year's pleasure past, and another twelvemonth's dulness to come. It is only a cynic who would grudge this interesting occasional Flirt the amount of enjoyment she can squeeze out of her four weeks' annual trifling with the strong sex.
There is another sort of Seaside Flirt, who is found more often on foreign coasts, and in the smaller towns thereof, than at Brighton or Scarborough. She is the daughter of somebody under a cloud.
Her father or perhaps her brother has gone to the dogs. She finds it pleasanter not to live in England. She has no taste for purposeless travelling, and soon establishes herself in some quiet watering place, such as Fécamp, Tréport, or St. Valéry, She has sense enough to conquer her first impulse towards utter seclusion, and to select a place not too lonely; possibly she would go so far as to select Dieppe; but not Boulogne, which has too bad a name. She has given her address to a few friends, and some few more may find her out. But she is aware that a large number of her summer friends will never ask for her again, and she is resigned.
This girl has perhaps not been a Flirt in England. Staid old country ladies had been her valued friends; gentlemen had respected her highly; some had been intimate with her, but she had not cared for flirting, nor encouraged it. Flirting is tame between old family friends, and it was among these that she lived.
But coming without introduction and alone with her mother to a new place, the desolate English girl has new habits to contract and new schemes to form. Her acquaintance now is among the ephemeral passers-by. Men are struck Math her beauty, and with her air"of melancholy, which she tries in vain to throw off. They cannot get at her history, which, of course, heightens the interest in her. They find her infinitely more agreeable than the empty-headed milliners' lay figures which they are accustomed to meet at such places; and if by chance some portion of her story leaks out, the pity of the men silences the tongues of the women who would rail against her. So, by degrees, after one man has innocently asked her home-address, that he may have the pleasure of renewing his acquaintance with her, and another has told her that he prolongs his stay in the place solely on her account, and a third has owned that a neighbouring seaside town has more attractions in the way of scenery, but not (with a bow) such company as one meets here, the fair exile insensibly yields to the temptations of flattery, and, finding that every one expects her to flirt, turns and drifts with the stream.
It is virtually a question of flirt or sink. She fears that by avoiding company she would confess to the intense shame she feels at the disgrace that has fallen on her family. She also recognises that, having no longer a chance of getting married through family influence, she must secure an establishment, if she can, by her own sole charms and accomplishments. She sits and works at some piece of tapestry, as the French ladies do in the local assembly-rooms, while the band plays of an afternoon; she attends Sunday services at the British Consulate; she is always superlatively neat in dress; and she remarks that she can play the most difficult pieces of music at sight. She is very assiduous at cultivating her French; it may some day be the only language she will have the opportunity of speaking. Yet she does not like France, and would not settle there for worlds, so she thinks. 'Oh, those Frenchmen! such figures!' she owns, laughing, to an English adorer, and the pair quiz the Gaul in company.
'Why, Marquis! you are looking younger than ever.' 'Yes, truly, it's an old habit of mine. I'm Conservative.
The adorer is young, and has a tawny moustache. He speaks low, and looks into her eyes whilst addressing her. He seems to know nothing of her history, and alludes to a pleasant country hall and park which he will inherit when his uncle dies. For the present he has only an allowance of 500l a year; but he knows a friend who married upon that and got on famously, because his wife loved him and made a little money go a long way. Does she know how to husband money? 'Let me look at that ring on your finger,' breaks off the adorer suddenly, and adds that it reminds him of one which his mother used to wear. The ring is held out, and the little hand with it. Adorer inspects both, and gives a squeeze. 'Oh !' exclaims the fair exile, pink and agitated; but a peddler, offering polished pebbles for sale, interrupts this idyl on the beach, and the proposal which was starting to the adorer's lips is adjourned till the morrow.
Alas! before next day somebody has been at work saying something, and the adorer has vanished. He has not even gone through the formality of forging an excuse for his departure, and saying good-bye. He has decamped, as though he had had a narrow escape of a great danger. Exula does not cry, but sets her lips, and perceives that there is a gulf thenceforth between her and the land of her birth. She makes sure it was that odious Mrs. Black, with the ugly daughters, who circulated her story. Mrs. Black cuts her next time they meet on the parade; young Black, with the eye-glass, remains faithful to her, but has the impudence to wink as he accosts her. Young Brown, too, a fellow with orange whiskers and a good heart, tells her that the women are abusing her like pitch, but that he doesn't care. She packs Black and Brown about their business. No more English company for her. She is too sensitive to brook slights, and too proud to accept sympathy; she will not stoop either to the degradation of going to mix with other prescripts at Boulogne, where none would dare cast the stone at her. She and her mother change their residence, and repair to a town wholly French, where they commence the process of entirely denationalising themselves.
Exula changes her religion. She and her mother go to mass, and make friends with the parish priest, who comes sometimes to dinner. They have French servants; read French newspapers; and give up corresponding with England. Their piety gets talked of in the town, and the priest gives out that they are fervent Catholics who have left their Protestant country because they could not practise their religion in peace there. Every Frenchman knows that religious persecutions are still rife in Queen Victoria's dominions.
By dint of prudence, propriety, and paying their way regularly by dint also of the unsuspecting priest's good offices the two Englishwomen collect a little coterie of French friends round them. The girl is too pretty not to excite attention. She accepts invitations to thés. She consents to show off at the piano, and sings some English ballads which become the rage.
Her French improves apace, and she can understand the compliments of red-trousered officers, as well as bandy chit-chat with young rentiers. However, marriage is a business in France, and before any Frenchman commits himself to an offer, inquiries are made through the priest as to the amount of dot which the 'belle Miss' possesses. The intimation that she is living on an allowance which may or may not be continued after her marriage thins off a number of candidates. Not but that several young men of twenty-five and thirty would be content to marry her without dower did their papas and mammas permit it, but their papas and mammas will not, and according to French law they have power to prohibit.
There remain some men past forty.
The English girl touches them wonderfully by her enthusiasm about France. There never were such men as Frenchmen. So much politer than the men of other countries - so much wittier, braver, and more companionable. The literature of France is delightful, so are its climate, wines, theatres, cities, boulevards, and the dresses of its ladies. The English girl says she is dying to learn how to dress like French-women, who have a je ne sais quoi impossible for foreigners to catch. The gallant Gaul assures her that she has quite seized that je ne sais quoi, and completed it with a touch of English grace and piquancy. The time comes when the exiled girl sees that one at feast among the middle-aged wooers who say these things sincerely feels them. He is fat and bald, but he has £600. a year, which looks bigger because he calls it 15,000 francs of income. He evidently thinks it a fine competency too, for it enables him to live in greater comfort than an Englishman with twice the money. He has a country house which he styles a château, a garden which he terms a park; he is mayor of his village, and a knight of the Legion of Honour.
Such partis are not to be caught every day, remarks the priest the day before the man of forty's maternal uncle comes to pop the question in his nephew's name, for Frenchmen think it bad taste to go through this formality in person. One may be sure that the maternal uncle lays great stress on the fact that his nephew asks for no dot; such disinterestedness seems to him to savour of mediæval chivalry. He says that the notary will draw up a contract in which mademoiselle will have a suitable portion settled on her. Mademoiselle's mother thereon accepts, and mademoiselle herself fixes a day when she and her ripe betrothed shall be introduced to all their friends assembled for the signature of the abovesaid contract as an affianced couple. After all, this is a better ending than many other exiles can pretend to. The English girl who in her own country should marry a fat man of forty, of dubious lineage, and having but 600l. per annum, would not be thought to be doing well for herself; but circumstances and lands alter cases.
|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.|