Patrick MacGill.

Flirts and flirts : or a season at Ryde; in three volumes (Volume 1) online

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weighed as nothing in comparison. At
last her husband carried her off, and after
that the change of air plan having been
tried once, and having failed, he exchanged
into another regiment, and he and his wife
left Malta for Portsmouth.

It was but flying from Scylla to take
refuge with a yet more dangerous Cha-
rybdis, for there was Major O'Connor, the
old lover, who had jilted her so cruelly,
and so doing had left an ineffaceable im-
pression on Mrs. Courteney's heart. He
had been accepted by a young lady with
money in those days, but his engagement
had only lasted a short time, for it came

Flirts and Flirts, ' 79

to grief, as soon as settlements were dis-
cussed, and the young lady's guardians
interfered. Now wlien Mrs. Courteney
came to Portsmouth, lie soon returned to
his old allegiance; he never spoke of his
old engagement, nor she of her marriage,
but they showed themselves -about to-
gether, and acted very much as if it was
two years ago, and they were still engaged
to each other, and often he would seem to
forget, and call her by the maiden name
by which he had first known her, and
Mrs. Courteney would not reprove him.
She did not wish to be cut, poor foohsh
beauty, she could not bear that people
should fight shy of her, as they had been
doing all her life. It was the knowledge
that they did so, that made her lip curl,
and gave that hard defiant expression to
her face. She would far rather have been
a respectable and respected member of
society, if it had come naturally to her;
but it never had come naturally to her,
and now as she looked at that little white-

80 Flirts and Flirts.

winged boat, another longing came over
lier, besides the longing to " flee away and
be at rest," perhaps in conjunction with
it, a longing to be in that little boat alone
with Major O'Connor, and go far away
over the water with him, and him only,
and never again see any other human
creature more. It was a vague, undefined
longing which she would indignantly have
denied, had anyone charged her with it,
for she never thought that the world had
had any justification for the way in which
it had treated her, yet she felt it all the
same. Then she saw her husband coming
down the road in the clear moonlight, and
withdrawing hastily from the window, she
threw herself upon the sofa, appearing
buried in a novel, when he came in.

" My dear," he said, in his nervous
fussy manner, ''I've just been talking to
Hughes about that plan of yours of going
over to Goodwood. I don't think it will
do — I don't really;" then as his wife did
not look up from her novel, he went on

Flirts and Flirts. 81

still more nervously : " you see Hughes
is rather a foolish fellow, and you, my
dear, you arn't very wise sometimes, and
I don't think you have considered — "

''No, I am sure I haven't. I don't know
what you mean by my plan. I have no
plan about going to Goodwood — certainly
not with Captain Hughes. He's the
greatest simpleton I ever came across, so
you may set your mind at ease about
him !" and then she seemed to read again
more diligently than ever.

" Oh, indeed, my dear, thank you. But
I never thought of such a thing. So you
never did mean to go with Hughes ; well
I'm very glad, not that I've any objection
to your going with him of course, but — "

" You seemed to have just now," she
interrupted in angry contemptuous tones,
not raising her eyes from her book, and
going on reading, as if she were not lis-
tening to him.

" But, my dear, he talked of your going
over without me. Without me ! now you

VOL. 1. G

82 Flirts and Flirts.

know, my dear Ada, that wouldn't be
quite tlie thing — not quite the thing, you
know. In fact, I shall have to be on
duty that day, I find I can't get off, and
so don't you think you had better give up
Goodwood altogether — just for this year.
It wouldn't be such a great sacrifice,
would it ? You see I could take you over
any other day myself, only not the Cup

" So that's what you wanted to say, is
it?" said his wife, now laying down her
novel, and looking coolly into his face with
her large magnificent eyes. " Well then,
I tell you, I am going to Goodwood, and
on the Cup day too, and I don't in the
least require your protection ; for Major
O'Connor has promised to make up a
party, and to look after me, and he's quite
an old friend, you know, so you can't have
any objections to make against him; but
in case you wish to amuse yourself in that
way, just do so to the tables and chairs,
if you please, for I don't wish to be kept

Flirts and Flirts. . 83

awake all night by your nonsense, and I
am going to bed now. I liave quite made
up mj mind as to what I mean to do,"
and with a stately step she swept out of
the room.

She did not always behave so contempt-
uously to her husband, though ever since
he had first gone into a frantic fit of jea-
lousy about her, all respect for him had
disappeared ; but to-night she felt as if
that letter she had written, was a great
thing she had done for him ; it was too
much that then he should come in and
plague her with absurd suspicions about
Captain Hughes. It had cost her nothing
to write her letter, she did not care in the
least whether Count Manfredi followed her
to England, or did not ; but in writing a
few peremptory lines forbidding his doing
so, she felt as if she had done her husband
a great favour, far more than he deserved,
and so she thouorht she had the more risfht
to treat him, as she pleased, afterwards.
So she swept out of the room, leaving him

G 2

84 Flirts mid Flirts,

to meditate on her last words. " I liave
quite made up my mind as to wliat I mean
to do," and yet just before slie liad said
she liad no plan about going to Goodwood
at all; here was enough matter at once
to inflame a suspicious man. It is need-
less to tell all the foolish wild thoughts
that came into his head : he was a miser-
able man, all the more miserable that he
loved his wife still. His one terrible dread
was, that she would leave him ; he knew
that she despised him, did not care for
him, and he was for ever fancying that she
did care for some other man, but if she
left him, he felt as if he could not bear
it, he must blow his brains out. He
wondered what she had been doing that
evening while he was dining at mess, and
he hunted about the room to find any
traces of occupation. Major O'Connor had
not been at mess that night ; had he been
spending the evening with her — the
thought was madness. She could not
have been reading that novel all the even-

Flirts and Flirts. 85

ing, slie had. got such a little .way in it,
so he hunted about, and at last he opened
the desk, and there he found the freshly
written letter to the Count Manfredi lying
just at the top, where she had in the end
decided on leaving it. It was torn open
in an instant, but then he hesitated to
read it. He poured himself out a glass
of gin and water, but he could not bring
himself to do so. It was no sense of
honour, no feeling that he ought not to
pry into his wife's secrets that prevented
him. It was only want of courage to face
the evil he believed in ; he dared not read
the assurances of love for the Count Man-
fredi, that he fancied to be written there ;
so he drank glass after glass of gin and
water, and yet he could not read the
letter. In the end he burnt it.

Mrs. Courteney found him asleep, when
she came downstairs the next morning,
his head fallen forward on his arms upon
the table, the gin bottle nearly empty
beside him. It was not the first time she

86 Flirts and Flirts.

had found him thus. She was accustomed
to the sort of thing, and it did not shock
her, as it would have, had she had a dif-
ferent bringing up; but it certainly did
not tend to make her respect her husband.
He had been a perfectly sober man before
his marriage ; I wonder, did it ever occur
to her to think whether that had had any
effect on the change in his character.

Later on in the morning, when she found
the letter gone from her desk, her lip only
curled, she was not surprised, she had
always suspected her husband of prying
into her secrets, though she had never
been sure of it before. She did not care
to charge him with it, nor did she even
trouble herself to think whether he would
have read the letter, or what he would
have done with it; but just closed the
desk again, and went on with the day's
duties, as if she had noticed nothing, and
neither she nor her husband spoke of any
but the most indifferent subjects during
the rest of that day. But Mrs. Courteney

Flirts and Flirts. 87

wrote no second letter to the Count, and
she thought to herself, that now he would
come to England. Well, it did not matter
to her ; it did not matter to her at all, one
wav or another.



It was a dull dreary day witli a dis-
agreeable east wind blowing, when the
elderly Miss Mordaunt asked lier niece to
go down with her to the pier ; she asked
her as if she were conferring a favour upon
her, and Sybil looked pleased as if she
thought it such ; but, nevertheless, her
expression was more depressed than usual,
and Sybil generally looked sorrowful, as
she slowly got out her hat and jacket,
alone in her own little room. She liked
being on the pier very much ; going there
was, as she often told herself, almost the
only pleasure she had ; but Miss Mordaunt
both disliked the pier for herself, and dis-

* FUrts and Flirts. 89

approved of it for her niece, as a silly
frivolous place, where young ladies went
to show their ankles, and be stared at, and
make men fall in love with them, if they
could, and where men went — She had
never quite to her own satisfaction solved
why the men did go there ; but anyhow
she disapproved of it for young ladies, and
would not hear of her niece going there
more than twice a week at the outside.
So it was provoking to Sybil, that she
should be taken there this particular day
— the Cup day at Goodwood — when there
was sure to be no one there.

" For though the air is very nice and
fresh, and it is very pleasant to have shelter
close at hand, in case it rains, and a dry
place to walk on, still one does go a great
deal for the people," thought poor Sybil.
" But it is always the way with everything
Aunt Joan does ; I suppose she does mean
to give me pleasure, but she always just
manages to fail. Of course it is very kind,
but it is just like her to propose going to

90 Flirts and Flirts.

the pier to-day. I don't a bit care for
going, wlien I know Kathleen won't be

Sybil's was a very truthful nature, and
had she said this to anyone else, I think
she must have blushed ; but, just thinking
it to herself, she thought it all as Gospel
truth, which only shows how very little
people understand their own hearts, even
those who, hke Sybil Mordaunt, try to
" know themselves." It was decidedly
chilly on the pier, and Miss Mordaunt
rather regretted her proposition when
they got there.

'' I think I had better sit down here,
my dear," said she, seizing on a vacant
seat in that little bit of shelter alongside
the reading-room, which people generally
throng into during a shower.

«« We get quite enough air here, T am
sure, and you won't mind standing a little
while. I dare say some of these people
will move presently, and it would be so
cold outside."

Flirts and Flirts. 91

"Yes," replied Sybil, meekly. "It is
very cold. I dare say some one will move

There was hardly anything she disliked
more than standing, for she inherited her
father's and mother's delicacy, and that
tired her far more than walking, as her
aunt very well knew, so she looked a little
longingly at the empty benches outside.
There were very few people sitting down
there, though the wind made walking
rather a matter of difficulty; but people
get hardened to that at Ryde, and Miss
Smith peacocked up and down with her
yellow hair fluttering, and her usual smile
of self-satisfaction, sublimely indifferent to
the extent of white stocking she was
displaying, and one tall handsome Miss
Vivyen showed herself up and down with
a seedy-looking man, apparently in diffi-
culties about his hat, quite as much at her
ease as her sister, who sat flirting witli a
handsome rather elderly man on the bench
opposite to Sybil and her aunt.

92 Flirts and Flirts,

*' What bad style those girls are," said
Miss Mordaunt, '' tliey really arn't res-
pectable, smiling into one man's face after
another in that way, and always alone
about the pier, too ! Why can't they at
least keep together ? it really is disgrace-
ful. Who is that man Grace Yivyen has
got with her to-day ? not much air about
him, certainly. I shouldn't be so proud
of him if I were she, walking up and down
with him all alone, as if he were her

" I don't know who that is," said Sybil.
'' That's Colonel Beauchamp with Miss
Yivyen. He's been married twice already,
and people say he's looking out for another
wife now. Oh ! what a pretty girl that is !"

" Pretty, do you call her ! I should be
sorry to see you looking so affected, Sybil.
Why, is she going to kiss that man, I
wonder, that she puts her face so near
him ; pursing up her mouth, too, and smil-
ing ! dear me, it does make me angry to
see girls go on in such a way. There, now

Flirts and Flirts, 93

those horrid people have moved, we'd
better go to their seats. Now you can sit
down, my dear; oh this is much better, we
can see everything. There are the Gor-
dons ; I never was on the pier yet without
seeing them — a bad bringing up for those
girls, I should say — and there's that hand-
some father of theirs. What can brinsf
him down to the pier every day, I can't

Sybil blushed and her face brightened,
as Colonel Gordon passed by with his
lordly air, signifying by a good deal of
dumb show his desire to approach her, but
for seeing she was so well protected, for
Miss Mordaunt and he were not friends at
all, and then she said warmly :

" Oh, they like fresh air and I'm sure
the pier has done them no harm, aunt,
nothing could be simpler or nicer than the
girls, or than Mrs. Gordon either, and she
is so kind, and the Colonel — Oh, Mr.
Beaumont, not at Goodwood ! why how is

94 Flirts and Flirts.

"Well, I'm sure I don't know," said
Sandy, '' but you see when a fellow hasn't
got much loose cash, it's best to keep out
of the way of temptation. I'm sure you'll
agree with me, Miss Mordaunt, you don't
approve of races either, do you?"

"No, indeed," said the aunt, while
Sybil gave him a reproachful look.

But Sandy seemed inclined to be
naughty, and went on, " I mean to turn
over a new leaf now. After that sermon
last Sunday, I couldn't think of going to
races, or touching cards, or entering a
ball-room. But do you think carpet
dances are equally forbidden ? Now I
should like to hear your opinion, Miss
Mordaunt." But while the spinster was
preparing to favour him with her views,
there came up Mrs. Yillars, one of her par-
ticular friends, so Sandy escaped for that
time, a great deal more than he deserved,
too, and slipped into a seat at Sybil's un-
occupied side with a laughing inquiry as
to whether he might take refuge there.

Flirts and Flirts, 95

" For I don't know what I liave to expect,
wlien your aunt's at leisure."

" I am shocked at you," said Sybil, but
she did not look very much shocked never-
theless. They had been a good deal
thrown together of late, these two, and
their intimacy had progressed very much
since that first day, when Sandy had tried
to get up a flirtation with Sybil, and failed
so signally. He had not tried flirting with
her much since, but he had talked a good
deal to her, and been favoured with more
than one glance from her expressive eyes,
but he was casehardened against any such
glances from dark eyes, blue ones might
have had a different effect. Now he said
with one of his comical looks :

'^ Don't scold this child, he's been such
a good child all day. It really couldn't
last any longer. Nature hke murder will
out at last, and I wasn't made to be good."

'' I'm sorry for that," said Sybil with a
tinge of seriousness. " But what have
you been doing so good all day, and why

96 Flirts and. Flirts,

haven't you gone to Goodwood ? I thought
you were sure to be there."

" So did I," said Sandy, in the most
whimsically pathetic of tones. '' But you
see last night there was rather a row at
Clarence Villa ; I don't mind telling you,
because you know all Kathleen's secrets,
of course. I believe you young ladies are
never happy till you have poured out every
thing into the sympathizing bosom of a
friend, are you? and so, you know, my
aunt was going on as she does sometimes,
and declaring it wasn't proper for Kath-
leen to go with the Zieris, and all that
sort of thing ; and, you see, I guessed
what it was, and that she didn't like to be
left behind alone, so I settled I would
spend the day with her, and we'd have a
lark together on our own account, and I've
been doing the dutiful till now, when she
has gone out driving with Lady Long.
Thank goodness I hadn't got to do that
too, for that would have just about finished

Flirts and Flirts. 97

" But how good of you ! liow much
obliged Kathleen must be to you."

" Well, I don't know about that," and
Sandy twirled his short cane rather
vigorously. '' The truth is I don't care
much about Goodwood, and she knows
that, I dare say. Besides I've been to
nearly everything else this year, the
Derby, Ascot, Crewkerne, and all the lot
of them ; really I think I'm rather tired of
the sort of thing. It would have been
awfully jolly if I could have driven Kath-
leen over in Jumper's dog-cart as I wished,
but she only laughed at me when I pro-
posed it. But didn't you want to go —
wouldn't slie let you ?" asked he, glancing
at her aunt as he spoke.

" No, but I should never have wished
to go anyhow. Races arn't at all in my

'' Arn't they, why not ? I'm sure you're
not really slow. You'd like it very much
if you went."

'' Oh, I don't know. I'm afraid I am


98 Flirts and Flirts.

ratlier slow," and Sybil smiled a little
sadly ; for Sandy had often said in lier
hearing how much he preferred fast people
to slow, " and you know I don't do any-
thing of that kind."

" No, you hardly ever come on the pier,
or do anything like other people. How
do you amuse yourself all day?"

" I don't think I do amuse myself."

'' But what do you do then ? You must
do something you know. Come now con-
fess to me, you're all for confessions, arn't
you — are you a ministering angel among
the poor all the days I don't see you ?
Or are you going in for the ' blue,'
reading Hebrew and learning all the
Ologies ?"

" Oh, a litfcle of both, please let me do a
little of both," said Sybil laughing.

" No, now not really. Well I always
knew you were awfully good, and now I
suppose you are awfully clever as well.
By Jove, I'm quite frightened of you.
Do you really read Hebrew ?"

Flirts and Flirts, 99

" No, really I don't, nor am I a ' minis-
terino^ ano^el' either."

^ But you said just now — "

" No, indeed, I was only joking.

" Anyhow you won't tell ine what you
do. Well I suppose it is very rude of me
to ask. Of course I have no right to,
only somehow we've seen so much of each
other lately, I forget sometimes we are
not very old friends. You must forgive
me if I'm too free and easy. It's my way
I'm afraid, I know I ought to mend it,
but somehow directly I care about a per-
son I forget I ought to be on my good
behaviour — awfully stupid, isn't it?"

" No, indeed," said Sybil in a slightly
tremulous voice, '' and you are always on
your good behaviour, as you call it, I
should say. I don't at all think you are
free and easy, but it is so difficult for me
to say what I do. There are some poor
people I go and see, and I teach in the
school most days, and then there's Miss
Morgan, I go to read to her, or write

100 Flirts and Flirts,

letters for her, or do whatever she wants,
and I read a 2:ood deal. But I've nothino^
regular to do besides that, except church
of course. There's service every day.
But this only takes up a little time, and it
is so difficult to say what I do during the
rest of the day."

'' By Jove, I should be very sorry to do
all that though. Fancy church, too, every
day. Does your aunt make you go ?"

" No, she doesn't go herself. But why
will you always talk of my aunt in that
way ? I assure you she means to be very
kind to me."

" Does she," said Sandy, rather doubt-
fully, then after a moment's reflection.
'' But do you mean to be a Sister of Charity
by and by, or what's the use of all this ?
I am sure you can't do it for pleasure."

'* No, not for pleasure," and Sybil
looked sad again, and rather weary. " I
suppose I do it because I think it right,
but then there's nothing else for me to do,
and I must do something, as you say."

Flirts and Flirts. 101

Sandy did not quite see the force of this
last speech, thinking Sybil must have
about as much choice of occupations as
other young ladies, whose time did not
seem to be equally well occupied ; but he
was quite satisfied to remain in his original
opinion, that Sybil Mordaunt was an
awfully good little creature, so he changed
the subject and went back to the Ologies
which were rather haunting him.

" But arn't you really blue at all ?
Kathleen told me you were so tremen-
dously clever."

'' Do you think I seem blue ?" asked
Sybil, rather anxiously.

'' No, indeed — that is — yes ; I think you
do a little. You see you are always so
grave, and perhaps that makes you seem
so," said he, very anxious to explain away
his awful accusation.

Sybil smiled sadly. "Yes, you see I
have had a very different life to — to Kath-
leen now for instance. I was not always
so grave though. But it is hard to be — "

102 Flirts and Flirts.

slie stopped abruptly, and then began again
with sudden vehemence, ''And oh, it is
horrid being poor ! I should like to be rich."

" So should I," said Sandy, '' T should
think so, rather. But after all it isn't
being rich makes a fellow happy. By
Jove, Miss Mordaunt, though you wouldn't
believe it perhaps, I think I'm the hap-
piest fellow in the regiment, and I'm the
poorest too. It isn't money after all that
one wauts most."

" No, it isn't money," said Sybil drearily.
She realised then for the first time what
that was which she had felt such a want
of lately, and what too had so brightened
bits of her life during the last few days,
making the rest of it all the drearier by
the contrast, and meanwhile Sandy went
on with his own chain of thoughts, till at
last he exclaimed :

" But I suppose money must have some-
thing to do with some people's happiness,
or why is it every one seems to think
Kathleen must marrv a rich man ?"

Flirts and Flirts. 103

" Do tliey ?" and Sybil looked up witli
a perfectly calm face, and put away lier
own thoughts which had not been about

'•'Yes, at least every one I've heard
speak about it, and you can't fancy her
happy married to a poor man yourself,
now can you ?"

"No, I don't think I can; but it's be-
cause I can't fancy her poor at all. I could
just as soon think of her as poor and
happy, as poor and unhappy, couldn't
you ?"

'' Yes, by Jove. How well you put
that ; I never should have thought of that
for myself. But now you say it, I really
believe you are quite right, only I don't
understand vs^hy it is."

" Nor do I ; but somehow I think she
would always seem rich. She has such a
grand generous nature, so very different
to other people. They all seem so mean
and petty in comparison."

"Oh, no, I don't think that," cried

104 Flirts and Flirts.

Sandy with some warmtli. " No, there I
can't agree with you, though I love her
better than any one else in the world." He
spoke bluntly, thinking Sybil must know
it well enough, and so having no shame
in confessing it to her. "But that does
not make me think worse of other people,"
and he laid a slight stress on the word
' other ;' and his honest blue eyes tried
very hard to look into Sybil Mordaunt's,
but hers were steadily gazing on the
ground, and only the flush on her usually
pale cheek showed that she understood
what he intended she should.

Oh, Sandy Beaumont, did you really
think it kind to pay so much attention to
this pale sad-looking girl, because no one
else paid her any, and the only girl you

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