THE mental anatomy of a flirt will always be an interesting studyp at least to men, and it is for men, we take it, that Miss Annie
Thomas writes. She does not hate women like" Ouida," or despise them like Florence llarryat, but she treats them in a curiously realistic way, wiping off this little bit of rouge, and explaining.
the falsity of that frisette, and lifting up that little corner of petti- coat to show how completely the blue stocking is down at heel,
which women will never cordially appreciate. Played Out, being an anatomical treatise on flirts, is therefore sure of an audience, and we cannot deny that it deserves one. Miss Thomas, by the steady practice of vivisection, has added to her own scientific
knowledge, and can therefore add to ours, and she has taken un- usual pains to add. There are three usual modes of accounting for a fiirt,—that she is a plotter intriguing for offers ; that she is swayed by a passion for admiration, which renders her reckless of all but immediate gratification ; and that she is a fool, who does not perceive how false she really is, and Miss Thomas has avoided them all. She has gone deeper into social analysis, and her typical flirt, Kate Lethbridge, though a consummate coquette, with incon- stancy in her very bones, and coquetry in her soul as well as her
eyes, is as little of a fool as is possible for a woman who, with all the ends of her life perpetually in her grasp, misses them all ; as
little of a mere seeker for admiration as a girl thirsting for appre- ciation can be, and as little of a plotter as any woman ever is who understands and plays the social game without very strict atten- tion to the rules. Very pretty, very clever, and very good,
in her own way, i.e., self-sacrificing, affectionate, and truthful, Kate Lethbridge is nevertheless an arrant flirt, a woman incon-
stant to the last degree, who cannot help appreciating every man she meets above a certain calibre, cannot help showing she appre- ciates, cannot help enjoying the sympathy and the admiration, or it may be the love, which she excites ; who will speak of love
to any man who courts her merely to crowd her life with in- cident, who steps over the narrow line of lea convenances
out of a wish for more experiences ; who is a flirt, in fact, from a certain mental richness and crave for richness which can never be exhausted or satisfied. There have been great authors in the world—Coleridge was one—to whom the choice of subject for the exercise of their powers was a permanent embarrassment, not because of the paucity of those subjects, but of their multitude, the infinite variety of topics upon any one of which they could expend themselves with delight and benefit to the world. That, according to Miss Thomas, is the feeling of the highest kind of flirt, an inconstancy which results not from feeble- ness of will or poverty of affection, but from an abounding wealth of appreciation, an affection which warms to every object in turn, an absorbing capacity for sympathy with the most various kinds of men.
Kate Lethbridge, the educated and graceful daughter of a farmer-squire, first falls in love with a pupil of her father, Roydon Fleming, a London man, civil servant, and email writer, with greater power than his writings, whom she worships because he is the first man of real intellect who has ever crossed her path :—
" What girl is capable of much severity in the matter of gauging the remarks that are the best she has heard ? She did not set him down as a god-gifted genius ; and, considering all things, some credit must be given her for her power of reserving judgment ; but she did find him infinitely more engrossing than the parochial-minded yeomen, and other middle-class men, who never migrated, of the neighbourhood. It was the quality of managing his words with a due regard to both metre and meaning together, with a certain half-expressed carelessness as to whether people were pleased with him or not, which first attracted the girl's attention to Roy Fleming. There was a latent love of all that was intellectual in Miss Lethbridge, a love that she was unconscious of herself as yet, for nothing had come before her to call it forth. From the bottom of her soul she adored brilliancy. She adored brilliancy ; and anything approaching to verbal brilliancy was such a new thing • Rood Out. By Annie Thomas. London : Chapman and Hall.
to her, that what wonder if she accepted much of Roy Fleming's society talk, much of his happy, tricky, ear-catching phraseology, as pearls of great price? At times there was a vague unrest in the girl's soul—a sense of desiring Gad knows what—a moody, hopeless longing for a something, which she could not even grasp, to name and seek—and that 'something' was more satisfying mental sustenance than had fallen to her share But as thought grew with her growth, the feeling that there was more to be got out of life than she was getting, or ever likely to get, grew too, and she hungered for un- known realms of thought before she had ever heard of them. She craved, with a strong craving that would have frightened her father and mother, who had never suffered from it themselves, for companion- ship with those who had interests and ideas above the &fly ones, which remained precisely where they were when she first began to be cogni- zant of them. The books she got were so very few—and so common- Place—that they failed to please her. What wonder that she was dis- posed to take Roy Fleming's well regulated lamp for a regular sun, and to put him on a pedestal, from which it would surely give one of them pain to displace him ?"
Kate really loves this man with her whole heart, but he unfortunately being poor, leaves her a little too free, so that when a really great literary light comes in her way she feels at liberty to admire that also. This is Maurice Byrne, one of those persons whom author- esses weaker than Miss Thomas are so fond of drawing, a splendid atheist, who believes nothing and does everything, witches women and never talks of his conquests, breaks-in horses and speaks with feminine softness, has no scruples in pursuit of his prey, yet keeps rigidly within certain self-made laws, a being, in fact, who may exist, but who seems much more like a cross between a real person and one of Guy Livingstone's imaginary heroes. He grows better as the story goes on, more natural and less wondrous, but this is how he first appears to Kate Lethbridge ; and she can- not help worshipping him, cannot keep down her pride in his attention, cannot resist, the great temptation to get more out of her life by getting this man into its circle, nor, consequently, the smaller temptation to dress herself well for his eyes, and take little rides with him, and "subject herself to be spoken about, through an uncontrollable desire to hear smooth words in soft tones, and win much consideration from" her momentary idol. There was a touch of vanity in Kate Lethbridge, even, one per- ceives, of the lower vanity, that which is born not of self-appre- ciation, but of envy for others, the wish to depress rivals as well as to exalt oneself. And then comes Clarence Lyster, eldest son and Royal equerry, "happy Prince with joyful eyes," and curly golden hair, and with him also she incontinently falls in "love," that is, into a habit of admiring sympathy.
"This handsome, sparkling, flattering young fellow, with a habit of lounging devotionally, and of speaking in a subdued tone, and of letting his lashes droop as he spoke, was a new type to Kate, and Kate had such a marvellous capacity for the pleasure of novelty. For every-day life, and for a permanence, she recognized the superiority and preferred the companionship of Hoyden Fleming. Maurice Byrne interested her more deeply with his strange mixture of quiet and power. But the holiday portion of her nature—the lighter, mere pleasure-loving part of her, sympathized with this bright favourite of fortune, who was the most perfect type of a curled darling whom she had over seen. He embodied that description of the 'happy Prince with joyful oyes, and lighter-footed than the fox,' which she had often revelled in,—ac- knowledging to herself that it would be no bad fate to be wakened from a dreamless sleep by just such a one, and to have the option given her of following him through all the world.'" Kate Lethbridge means no harm with any of these men, does not want to entrap them, still less to marry them, but their admiration excites her as music does, she is as sympathetic to them as to genius in poetry, luxuriates in their pleasant ways, and soft looks, and sweet words, as she would in a wood fire, or a pretty room, or a striking scene, hums pleasure to each like a contented cat, and of course comes to grief at last. Your genuine flirt, even of the highest kind, always does. There is a grain of selfishness in all true affection, a trace of distrust in all love—else why is it so near jealousy ?—and a shade of forwardness in every flirt, and the jealousy and the forwardness react upon each other. Every worshipper is in some sort a lover to the born flirt, and she cannot stand on the minute proprieties, or respect the network of social biensiances, invisible as spider's threads, strong as the threads Maimuna wove, as the indifferent can. Kate cannot resist the temptation to bid Maurice Byrne farewell at the railway station, steps into the carriage for a short final chat, and, the train starting, is carried away to London ; terribly compromised by the forgetful- ness of a moment. Maurice Byrne offers to marry her on arrival, but she will not be married out of pity ; her father dies of her imaginary shame, dies ruined ; Roydon cannot reknit his broken trustfulness, though he tries hard ; and Kate Lethbridge, as a governess in a vulgar London family, feels and confesses that she is"played out." Hard measure, male readers will affirm, but Miss Thomas, woman-like, amidst her clever pleading for her heroine betrays some faint dislike of her, gives the impression that if she
met Kate Lethbridge in the flesh she would analyze, and coax, and fool her to the top of her bent, and then rap her smartly, not without a little viciousness in the pat. Perhaps she is right. There is something of treachery in a flirt, even of this kind, something of cold-heartedness, something even of immodesty, and it is good she should suffer ; but still this particular specimen is so pleasant, has been so pleasantly described, is so full of kindliness, and nice- ness, and capacity for loving, that the reader half regrets her sentence, half wishes the author had led her through the fire into a pleasanter land. The rest of the story is the biography of Mrs. Paherton, ele'e Nellie Collins, a sketch of country life bitten in with aquafortis. It is a powerful but unpleasant account of a vulgar woman, vain, bitter, talkative, and aspiring, who marries the rich son of a gin distiller, and tries in vain to fight her way into the society of her county. The penalties she endures, and the lies she tells, and the miseries she inflicts in pursuit of her mean object are admirably recounted, so admirably that somebody must be smarting by this time under a sense of being found out ; but other authors could have drawn her. We are not sure that others could have drawn Kate Lethbridge, could have limned every turn of her head and emotion of her heart with the patient, loving, acid accuracy dis- played in the three volumes of Played Oat. Mrs. Petherton, with her contempt for her husband and reverence for rank, and indif- ference to truth, and contemptuous love for her sisters, and snaky viragoism, would alone make a good story; and she is very inferior, both in conception and execution, to the affectionate, truthful, daring little high-caste flirt, Kate Lethbridge.