WE prefer the Flirt with a purpose, who does not waste her powder upon sparrows, but finds a suitable object for every eye-shot. As we have said, there are innocent Flirts and guilty ones, and both can be seen during the London season flourishing in great numbers in all the resorts of festivity. The innocent Flirt, who comes out under a chaperon to hunt for a husband, begins operations bashfully. She is taken to be presented at one of the Drawing-rooms; and if it be a novel delight, it is also a trying one to find herself driving down St. James's-street with bare shoulders in broad day-light. She sports a train three yards long, and a pearl necklace. On descending from their carriage in the palace-yard, she and her chaperon are surrounded by young men in showy uniforms, military, naval, and diplomatic, who bustle to offer their arms and murmur compliments. She is introduced to a youth in blue swallowtail and kerseymere breeches an - attaché - home on leave who begs to act as escort, and pilot her through the crowded rooms, whilst a handsome young giant in the scarlet-and-gold of the dragoons does the same duty for the chaperon.
The press is so great and the scene so imposing that the bashful girl is glad to accept the arm of the sucking-diplomatist, who whispers to her the names of all the great people whom they jostle. Here a past premier with his star and garter; there a duchess and her daughter; there an archbishop and his wife; droves of admirals pushing nieces before them; and troops of generals doing their best for flocks of damsels who were the belles of garrison-towns. What a sight for a girl who has but just left the schoolroom, and who, not a year before, received her last whipping from a martinet governess!
The ceremony of curtsying to the Sovereign or the Princess cheek-by-jowl with the greatest personages in the land endows a girl with an assurance which never forsakes her afterwards. She perceives that the great are not so very formidable after all, and that good looks can hold their own even at Court. From the circle of princes and ministers grouped around the Throne, more than one admiring glance falls on her; and the Royal page who gathers up her train and chucks it over her arm as she retires from Royalty's presence does this more civilly than to titled dowagers with diamonds in their hair. Trust a girl, even a country-bred one, for noticing how many other girls, prettier than herself, there may be at one of these Drawing-rooms. The polite attache, who joins her again after she has issued from the throne-room, mutters something nice about the grace with which she bears herself. He thinks her dress lovely, its train unique, and so forth.
The girl smiles; she only believes half these compliments (for she has had a first experience of flattery from country cousins at home), and yet she notices that guardsmen make way respectfully to let her pass; that grizzled veterans, whose breasts are covered with medals, nudge each other at her approach; and that sundry old ladies, with mortally plain daughters, eye her with that stony stare which, when it is levelled by woman at woman, is as good as purest incense. So, although her Majesty provides not so much as a cup of tea for the refreshment of her loyal subjects, who tire themselves in standing for hours in her saloons and other hours on the staircase waiting for their carriages, our incipient Flirt does not mind the fatigue. Her hair has got rumpled; her dress, disarranged in the crush, has lost half a yard of trimming; and one of her satin shoes is slipping off; but the attaché sticks close to her, saying pleasant things, and the dragoon behind adds his word of testimony to the effect which her charms have produced. So this is to her a day of nectar-drinking. She has been presented at Court; she has had a success; and for that moment at least the world seems to be lying at her feet like a ball.
In a few days more she is in the very midst of the eddy of fashionable life. She returns from balls at six in the morning, and does not leave her bed till midday.
She has no sooner breakfasted than she must put on her habit for a ride in Rotten Row, where she wondrously soon gets to know the faces of the habitués, many of whom bow to her, whilst others wheel their nags round and canter by her side, asking her to promise them waltzes for the next dance at Lady A.'s or the Duchess of B.'s. At two she is home again, and dressing for an afternoon outing. One day there is a flower-show at the Botanical Gardens; on another a fancy bazaar; on another some pigeon-shooting at Hurlingham. On Sundays there is the Zoo, varied by an occasional drive to Richmond, or a dinner at the Trafalgar at Greenwich.
At all these places the Flirt finds opportunities for airing her attractions, and practising those wiles which a girl learns as quickly as a kitten learns to frisk. She is noted for a beauty; her chaperon commends her for a sweet temper, enlarges on her talent as a pianist, and hints at 'expectations.'
Matrimonial candidates are not wanting, and it become the Flirt's care to select the fittest. If she be a clever girl, she does this without offending anybody, and keeps the whole squad of her suitors still expectant up to the last moment, when, having booked an eligible offer, she can safely relapse into the chaste reserve of brides-elect.
The talent which some maidens show in thus playing off rival admirers against one another is something to see. If the heart does not get foolishly caught in the snares of some 'detrimental,' the mind remains free to work out the problem of how to secure wealth and social position without too much self-sacrifice. A girl who may not be intent on marrying for love is yet anxious that her husband shall be kind; and the secret of so many oddly-matched weddings between brides in their teens and grizzly men past middle age is, that a girl often discovers that she has more chance of being tenderly treated by an old man than by a young one. Anyhow, she watches very keenly to see if the wooers who flit around her show signs of temper, stinginess, or jealousy.
She would not have much chance of enlightening herself on these points if her flirtations were confined to the morning rides or afternoon recreations above mentioned; but Ascot and Goodwood, the Eton and Harrow Match at Lord's, the parties fines at the Orleans Club, and the cotillons at balls enable her to study men for hours at a time, and to take her mental notes as to character. A man may conceal his defects during the afternoon; but it is rare when he does not let something of them peep out in the course of a day's excitement about horse-racing, or during a long cotillon, when he is made to go through figures in which he is converted into a laughing-stock, and must show how he can stand banter.
During Ascot week, for instance, the chaperon possibly hires a lodge near the course, goes to witness the four days' racing, and gives little dinners every evening to pleasant acquaintances whom she has met in the Grand Stand. Some of these inveigle the Flirt into betting. It used to be the custom for girls to bet gloves (when they did bet), but this has grown tame, and a girl now wagers hard money, or 'discretions' -- which mean jewellery or a private settlement of a long milliner's bill. However, a Flirt would do well to be careful about indulging in this form of dissipation, for men do not really like a betting-girl. Many a smart miss has thrown a good matrimonial chance away by unguardedly taking a bet which had been offered to prove her. Again, 'discretions' are awkward things, for, if a girl loses, the gallant gamester is apt to demand a settlement in the shape of a kiss, and to snatch it in a quiet corner, if voluntary payment be refused.
The Ascot week, however, is sure to bring instructive lessons. It is then that the Flirt sees how ill the sportive young baronet bears his losses on the turf, while the middle-aged merchant, who has, perhaps, lost three times as much, remains as serene as ever. The one stands revealed as a cantankerous cub, the other as a man of nerve and good taste. Race succeeds race, and the differences become more accentuated. In the evening, at dinner, the baronet is absent-minded and sour, talks of the villany of book-makers, and swears that his favourite was 'roped;' the merchant overflows with anecdote, and proves that his appetite has not been impaired a jot.
The next day, at luncheon, on the top of a drag which has been tooled down from London by some noble member of the Four-in-hand Club, the young baronet drinks too much champagne, and his hand trembles as he holds up his field-glass to watch the start in a race on which he has risked a pot of money; the elderly merchant meanwhile devotes himself to the Flirt, and shows by his light chatting that he has an eye for something beyond the pecuniary aspects of a race. He points out the beauties of the course, the multicoloured line of jockeys breaking up for a preliminary canter, the picturesque effect of the mass of carriages thronging near the stand. Nor does he forget to make an appointment to meet his fair companion again at Goodwood, nor to mutter a few words about the attractions of his own country estate, which he has just begun to plant with trees. There is no flattery like that of paying assiduous attention to a woman in despite of surrounding excitements; and at this game elderly men much excel young ones.
But the young ones come to the front again in ballrooms, and especially in cotillons. Of late years it has become the fashion to give calico-balls for the encouragement of native industry; so our Flirt is sure to appear once or more in the course of the season at one of these charitable hops, tricked out in some cheap stuff at fivepence a yard. A white calico dress looped with bunches of scarlet tape, a red rose in her hair, and another at her girdle this is her costume, and she contrives to create as much effect in it as if it had come from Worth's, in Paris. Your true Flirt always likes dancing, and seems never to tire. Her card is filled lip within a few minutes of her entry into the ballroom, with the exception of the one or two dances which she reserves in petto for favourites; and she gaily trips through every valse and quadrille.
Middle-aged admirers are fain to play the wall-flower, and look on glumly during these untiring performances, which indicate a strength of muscle and a dashing disposition of mind not to be competed with by any man who has reached his fortieth year. The most prudent fogeys do not attempt to join in the dancing, sensibly recognising that those who take part in cotillons are apt to make exhibitions of themselves.
A portly quadragenarian trotting over a polished floor with a grotesque pasteboard head on his shoulders, or a bunch of canvas carrots in his mouth (for the humours of these cotillon figures are various), has often forced a Flirt to stuff her handkerchief between her lips. However, there is a cotillon figure where the ladies invite the gentlemen to dance; and here the Flirt may soothe an elderly lover's feelings by preferring him before younger men; or, again, she may gladden him by selecting his youngest and best-looking rival as the butt for all her malice, forcing him to sport the ass's head or the carrots, to gallop round the room on all-fours, and so forth. This can be done with the greater safety, as a young man is never displeased at being made to cut antics in cotillons.
|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.|