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But come we now to the male flirts. The male flirt is pretty equally distributed through various ranks in the social scale, but the higher atmospheres are best suited for his complete development. He is of course a squire of dames, but his object is to single a few from the herd roaming through his ordinary hunting-grounds. He does not car to meet his match, nor does his match care to meet him. The precious pair soon discover that they might as well drop their foils when they can neither hit nor disarm each other. Our man flirt, however, does not want for recreation.
The country supplies him at the start of every season. It is his agreeable, selfimposed duty to attach himself to a young girl as much as possible, and imply that he is madly fond of her. The elegant fellow does it with his tongue in his cheek all the time. He never commits himself, to use a favourite phrase. That is, he has never the courage of his intention when his intention is bad, and he is equally brave when his inclinations are good. If women only knew the utter worthlessness of some of the nincompoops they occasionally favour ! I have seen a male flirt—his soft brains rendered softer by the heat of wine-pull out your tender, and indeed harmless, note, Miss Laura, for the criticism of a circle of mean snobs, of his own quality, in a club smoking-room. The pleasant dandies are bartering confidences and testimonials you perceive, and are so far honest as to keep back nothing. Well, these fellows are vulgar exceptions if you will, but let me warn ladies addicted even to “harmless flirtations," against trusting MS. with a common “yours sincerely” to the end of it, to male friends. This advice augurs badly for my male acquaintances, does it? Not at all, miss, I assure you. I have known the most honourable man in the world thoughtlessly leave an ordinary note of thanks for the loan of a book on his shelf, and a miserable sequel to follow. And this is a trap of the male flirt's. To establish an intimacy with just a whiff of impropriety about it, is what he desires of all things. What a grand triumph it is for him to win a girl's heart,--to see the love for him growing in her face day by day, to baulk it now, to challenge its symptoms again, to discover its shrinking sensitiveness, to subject it to sudden chills, warmth, and fickle returns, until the pure feeling has died, and lies cold as a corpse and heavy as a stone at the soul's gate of the woman for the rest of her life. A noble success and victory this, is it not? And even without risk-for the male flirt never goes beyond the convenances ; never, if one may be permitted, attempts absolute seduction. No, he is a much superior artist ; and his prosperity carries its own reward with
Women like him the better for his cruelty.
To return to the breach of promise cases. The male flirt is now and again brought to book in court. The mean blackguard is shown up in true colours. He is shaken and tost until his figure is as loose and ragged as that of a scarecrow. He is by the publishing of the trial hung out in the open fields as a warning and a caution, as a scarecrow ; but, Lord bless you, if not married before, he is a grcater favourite than ever. Until women have amongst themselves settled that jilting a woman is a cowardly thing which unfits the perpetrator for decent intercourse, the male flirt will always find employment for his talents. That women do not regard the matter in this light, is evident. But the male flirt does not always escape. He is never kicked in these degenerate times, but I have known hiin either to catch a tartar, to bring a dove home with him, and find it casting its plumage, altering its beak, assuming claws, and turning out a fierce fowl to peck; or fate nds him by lopping off his acquaintances, and leaving him utterly friendless and desolate in his old age. He is not difficult to please then, and perhaps exalts a cook to his table, who soon takes the whip-hand of the dotard, and stands guarding his door like a harpy, against the approach of those who retain the slightest commiseration for his state.
Real love is yet to be found. Paste or Bristol diamonds are constantly offering themselves, yet the brilliant is to be got for searching. But it is an evil day for those who find it and cast it away again in mistake. Between the pages of this essay I took a stroll in Kensington Gardens -a favourite lounge of mine-and, I there saw the following piece of melodrame. A girl with a pale, thoughtful face, sat under a tree, in which the wind was soughing and struggling like an imprisoned spirit. She sat waiting there, waiting with glances very wistful towards the broad walk. In a minute or two a young man approaches; there is no greeting between the pair, but the woman stands up, and both step slowly down to the water. They speak not a word for a while, but as they near the pond the young fellow whispers something; the girl shakes her head, and then hands her companion a packet. He gives her another in exchange. Is there anything more to be done? With a sudden wild gesture which contrasts painfully with her previous faltering manner, the girl pulls a trinket from her neck and flings it glittering in the sun. It drops with a light splash in the pool. Quick as thought the lad-for he is not much more, breaks a souvenir from his watch-chain, and with a very affected laugh, sends it after the trinket. Then both walk off in different directions. Twice or thrice they look round (but as fate would have it never catch each other in the act). Well, I say to myself,
here is the end of a little romance which might have ended otherwise than in this cruel fashion ; and so I light a cigar, and muse over many might-have-beens. Hallo! what's this? As I live, our young gentleman stealing cautiously back to the water-side! After looking carefully round he pulis off his shoes and stockings, and is carefully raking and fishing in the mud, for what?--for what? Oh, foolish Curly-locks! He appears to have been successful, the treacherous dog! for he comes on shore and wends his way in my direction. He blushes at being detected, but he does more. His whole countenance brightens up, and he makes a rush behind a tree, close to where I am seated, and lo! there are the two idiots revealed; mademoiselle having-the little puss-been watching the movements of monsieur-tears on her handsome cheeks, I dare say—all the time. And, sir essayist, what is your moral, and what has this to do with the Nemesis of flirtation? Why should I tell you? Suppose Curly-locks had the strength of mind to keep his resolution (whatever it was) to leave his gewgaws in the duckweeds, and his lady to keep guard for nothing? Would they not have been punished for the sweet pleasures of their former trysts, and, for aught I know, saved the torture of a genuine interment of love of which this ceremony was only a mock funeral ?
WILL HE ESCAPE?
BOOK THE SECOND.
RHILE the Beauty sings, we look across the country
to his pleasant home, through the glasses of that little cabinet, where are enshrined the two gentle female
hearts. Their eyes would pierce, if they could, all the plantations, the hills, and mountains, and towns that lay between them and their darling. As it was, they filled up many an hour speculating as to what the Beauty was busy with, how he was amusing himself. They had a full and accurate list of the company, as they thought, and they knew there could be no danger. He was sure to be good friends with that old Lady Seaman. The Woods were fussy, but safe people. The Mariner girls “ would not look at him." They were very happy together, and could enjoy themselves, for, to say the truth, the Beauty was rather a heavy strain and responsibility. They were not alone, for that good fellow, young Hardman, was over with them morning, noon, and night. He, too, had a great deal off his mind; for he had got leave from his colonel, and had returned as soon as The Towers was free. His honest good will, his open devotion to Livy, increasing every hour, made him a welcome visitor, and before long, Mrs. Talbot saw what was coming, just as the careless lounger, standing by the water's edge, sees two blocks of wood slowly, but surely, drifting together. Livy was human, was a girl,-a tender, impulsive girl,—though there seemed to be an impression that she was bound by a vow of almost conventual celibacy. Mrs. Talbot soon saw with a sigh that her inclination to the young man could not now be checked without much suffering and misery to both. There was also her enmity to that house; but that had gone into the past. The woman had been routed. She was, besides, a widow, and had bitterly atoned for any offences in
that way. So she could justly tolerate, if not afford to look back with pity and contempt. Livy herself knowing towards what a forbidden country she was straying, yet to her so delightful and attractive, kept her eyes turned away as she walked on. It was so new and pleasant, if she but dared. But her vocation seemed to lead her in another direction. How noble, how generous, how “off-hand" and manly he was, so tender and delicate, and yet so bold and generous. He had that natural simplicity, so charming in a man, which to some has the air of egotism, from personal experiences told; but which, indeed, only arises from a wish to please. Now that he was relieved from the Upas tree at home, that dreadful tree whose branches were of “Brummagem ” metal, and kept the bright sunlight from falling, he seemed as happy as a child. He was full of plans for their entertainment, and it was he who suggested that special journey to London, when all the shops of the Mechi exploitation were to be ransacked to choose a dressing-case for the Beauty-a surprise for him on his return. There were to be new ivory brushes; the others had, indeed, served their full time, veterans that might go into hospital. It was properly Mrs. Talbot's office to receive such an offering; but transactions with the Beauty of this description generally took the shape of some trifle to her, to be compensated for by something of ten times its worth to him. The giving a present to her amounted, in fact, to the giving one to him. They had some delightful days in London, engaged in these exploring parties, and at last a small “ chest was selected, stored with costly vessels for holding all sorts of scented and greasy things, with the Beauty's crest and monogram peering out of an ambuscade at every corner. The cost of this sumptuous present was defrayed out of certain little savings put by for many years, but which were not half so valuable as the anticipated delight and surprise of their Beauty.
During these days the young man has been growing more and more sensible of the sweet nature of Livy-more drawn to her every hour. Mrs. Talbot had seen and seen again, and one night, when the Beauty had been gone but three or four days-her old fashionable heart seemed to soften—the memory of the dear child's devotion anil unwearied labours in her cause came back on her, and it seemed to her it might now be time for all this to end; so when she had sent Livy away on some pretence she led the young man on to speak of his attachment, which he did with a delighted openness, enlarging on his prospects and difficulties.
My father will, of course, never agree to it; he wishes me to buy—that is his own word-some young girl who belongs to some