Her Bathing Suit: 1895



“And is there anything I can do for you, Cynthia?” She hesitated a moment, and then answered: “Yes, there is, Colville, if you don’t mind.”

“My darling, I shall be delighted.”

He tried to speak as if he meant what he said, but it required an effort. Cynthia was not only a dear, good girl, but he was engaged to her. According to the novels, he should have flung himself at her feet when she preferred [sic] her request, and vowed to go through fire and water to accomplish her most trifling wish. But Colville was an ordinary, everyday individual, and the prospect of executing a number of awkward and silly commissions and of lugging a lot of parcels from London to Folkestone didn’t appeal to him. He was compelled to ask the question, however, hoping that Cynthia would give a negative reply. To his disappointment she did precisely the opposite.

“The jewelers?” he suggested, hopefully.

Cynthia shook her head.

“I want you to go to Mme. Rossi in Bond street, you know.”

“Yes, dear,” he muttered, faintly, picturing to himself a box of gigantic and ungainly proportions done up in brown paper.

“There’s a little—”she emphasized the last word, and Colville gave vent to a sigh of relief “parcel for me, dear. Would you like to know what it is? Of course, if we were not engaged, dear, I shouldn’t think of telling you; but now, of course, it doesn’t matter. It’s a new bathing dress—there!”

“How jolly,” said Colville, faintly.

“Something wonderfully original and fetching. Mme. Rossi has designed it especially for me, and there won’t be another like it made this season. Mme. Rossi has promised me that. Won’t all the other girls be jealous?”

“Horribly. But I’m afraid I must be off now. My train goes in three minutes. Good-by!”

* * *

The down express from London was late in starting, and, as usual, a number of people just managed to catch it by the skin of their teeth. Colville was on the point of lighting a cigar, when the door of his compartment was flung open, there was a mingling of masculine and feminine voices, a frou-frou of silk, of lace, a rush and tumble and banging of doors, and a little woman and a dozen bags and parcels fell in a confused heap on the seat opposite him.

“Confound it!” muttered Colville, as he extinguished the match, which he was about to apply to his cigar; “a woman!” He opened his newspaper and scowled.

“I beg your pardon.” whispered a still, small voice, dashed with just the slightest and most chic tinge of French accent, “but can you pleese tell me if zis is ze right train for Volkes-stone-?”

Colville looked up. The little woman had settled herself and her packages and was gazing at him with a smile that showed her white teeth to the best advantage. From the pink lips, Colville’s eyes traveled to the black curls falling over the white forehead, to the piquant hat topping the shapely head, to the little pink ears, and black eyes, and then to the well-fitting, blue-serge frock, the fawn gloves, and brown shoes. Having finished his tour of inspection, he managed to murmur, “Yes,” whereupon the little woman expressed her gratitude and smiled afresh.

The simple inquiry and the equally simple reply thereto broke the ice, and from that moment, as the reporters say, the conversation became general.

“You will come and see me at Volkesstone. eh?” asked the little Frenchwoman, presently.

“Come and see you?” repeated Colville, somewhat taken aback by the invitation. He would like to have done so, certainly, but he was hardly a free agent. He was engaged to Cynthia, he mustn’t forget that. And Cynthia’s Mother, Lady Mango, was an austere puritan of the black-satin dress and crape-bonnet variety. He mustn’t forget that. And he didn’t.

“I should be delighted,” he murmured, —but “—“

“Oh, do not be afraid,” she said, laughing gayly. “I do not mean in private. Oh no! That would be shocking. But in public—”


“Yees. At ze Aquarium. But you must come early, or all ze seats will be taken. Everybody will come to see Mlle. Mimi—“

“What, the Human Mermaid?”

The little woman laughed.

“Look!” she said, unrolling a big sheet of paper, and holding up for his inspection a gorgeous poster, representing a comely young person clad in a curious costume and in a variety of attitudes, gyrating gracefully in a tank of water. Colville did not need to look at the brilliant production twice. The name of Mile. Mimi, the Human Mermaid, was as well known in town aa that of the prime minister. And there was a most excellent reason for this, apart from Mme. Mimi’s posters and advertisements. The Social Purity Regeneration Society, of which a bishop was president, had taken the matter in hand and publicly protested against the performance of the Human Mermaid. It was scandalous, said the S. P.R.S., and the county council was appealed to. Memorials were presented to the home secretary asking him to interdict the performance on the grounds of morality, and a band of curates, carrying banners, waited on the Bishop of London and begged his lordship to use his influence toward suppressing the public scandal. The result of all this excitement was naturally to draw renewed attention to Mile. Mimi and her striking performance, and crowds flocked to the music hall where she was appearing nightly. The dealers in opera-glasses in the neighborhood did a roaring trade, and at the clubs the absorbing question as to what Mile. Mimi’s perfectly fitting costume was composed of was hotly debated.

“Here is my costume,” she said, hugging a brown-paper parcel. “I never let it go out of my sight. It is too precious, and although entrepreneurs offer me ‘undreds of pounds for ze secret, I shake my head and say: ‘Non, non, non!” and the cheery little laugh, like the song of some happy bird, trilled out again.

Of course Colville had seen the show. Who had not? And sitting there, he could scarcely realize that quiet little woman, in the neat serge frock, was the Human Mermaid who had set all London agog and flung the nonconformist conscience off its balance by her daring audacity.

“I shall be delighted to come,” said Colville when he recovered himself, “and—“

The train came to a sudden standstill.

“All out!” yelled the guard, rushing up the platform, adding in explanation: “One of the coaches is broke down.”

The platform of the station where the train had pulled up was crowded with a mob of excursionists, and into the surging mass of dirty humanity Coville plunged, followed by Mile. Mimi. When he had scrambled through the crowd and found a seat, he looked round for his companion. But she had vanished. Before he had time to go in search of her the train was shunted, the damaged coach taken out, and the train brought into the station again. Colville fought his way into a carriage.

* * *

“You went to Mme Rossi, dear?”

“Yes, Cynthia, I did, and and—and–”

“Wasn’t the dress ready?”

“Yes, darling, and I brought it away with me, but well, to cut a long story short, we were all turned out at some confounded wayside station; there was an awful crowd of beastly excursionists, and dash it all. Cynthia, if you must have the truth, when I got to Folkestone I found that I had lost the parcel. Now, don’t get excited, there’s a dear, good girl. It can’t be far off and I’ve been down to the station five times already, and I mean to keep on going until I find it.”

“What a horrid nuisance; I must have it tomorrow. I’ve told all the girls about it, and I dare not show myself without it.”

“You shall have it tomorrow, dear, if I sit up all night and go to the station every ten minutes.”

* * *

“Yes, sir, there was a parcel found in one of the carriages of the 4:30 train from Charing Cross. It hadn’t got a label on, and so we opened it. What did your parcel contain?”

“A lady’s bathing dress.”

“Well, I suppose that’s what this is. Me and my mates couldn’t quite make it out,” and the man laughed.

“Thank goodness,” said Colville, as he slipped a shilling in the man’s hand, and, hugging his parcel, made a bolt tor the beach. He was just in time. Cynthia was standing by her machine, a frown on her brow and a look in her eyes which spoke volumes. As she saw Colville running toward her, the frown vanished and a smile came over her face.

“Good boy,” she exclaimed, as she took the parcel from the hands of the breathless man, and mounting the steps of her machine disappeared within.

* * *

“Mme. Rossi must have made a mistake,” said Cynthia, as she prepared to don her bathing-garment. “It is hardly the sort of thing I wanted. Still, it doesn’t seem so bad,” she said, contemplating herself, “and I dare say it looks all right. Anyhow, there’s hardly any one about, and so it doesn’t matter.”

The water was splendid and she felt in such perfect trim that she determined to have a longer swim than usual. Presently, feeling tired, she floated on the surface, closing her eyes and basking in the warm sunshine. When she turned toward the shore, she was surprised to see a large crowd lining the beach and what was more curious still every third person was armed with a field-glass.

“What on earth can be the matter?” she muttered, calmly swimming into shallow water. “If they are going to stare like that, I shall go in.”

She walked toward her machine. Then suddenly something caused her to look down.

She gave one wild shriek and literally fell into her bathing machine.

* * *

From Cynthia Mango to her friend Lydia Stapleton.

“I shall never dare to show my face in Folkestone again. By some horrible mistake, Colville brought me a bathing-dress which—I can hardly write the words, my cheeks are simply burning—as soon as it got wet became—oh, Lydia, think of it—almost transparent! Unconscious of this, there I was in full view of the crowded beach for nearly half an hour. Can you imagine my feelings? The local papers are full of it. Colville talks of going to India or some other horrid place and hiding himself until the scandal has blown over. Worse still, dear mother, when she heard of it—the curate brought her the news—went herself to the police station, and not knowing that I, her own daughter, was the guilty party, refused to leave the place until a promise was given to take action in the matter. When she heard the truth she took to her bed and has not been up since. I wish I were dead!”

* * *

Copy of a paragraph in the local paper.

“A great crowd turned up last night to witness the curious and much-advertised performance of Mlle. Mimi, the Human Mermaid, but before the doors were opened an announcement was made that, owing to the loss of Mlle. Mimi’s costume during her journey from town, the performance could not take place. We understand that a reward of $500 is to be offered for the recovery of the missing parcel.

The Democratic Press [Ravenna, OH] 9 January 1895: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil really has nothing more to add except that it is a pity the contretemps did not inspire Miss Mango to break off the engagement to a fiancé she regarded as a sort of human retriever, to be rewarded with “good boy” and a pat.

Mrs Daffodil has previously written about a professional swimmer here, several bathing machine stories, both fiction and non-fiction, and an actress’s mermaid palace here.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


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