A CHAT WITH A SUMMER GIRL,
Edited by John Kendrick Bangs
Her name was not Miss Flora MacFlimsey, and she does not live in Madison Square. What her name is and where she dwells is, however, none of the public’s business. In fact, I should not have been able to get from her lips the plan of her campaign had I not promised under oath, duly attested, that her identity would be kept inviolably a secret. Hence let us call her Miss Flora MacFlimsey, after the heroine of one of most truly immortal satirical poems that have ever been written in the English language.
Neither did I choose the assignment which led me into her sacred presence. It was “handed out” to me by one whose word is law, whose “must” it were oblivion to disobey, whose instincts–well, of that more anon. Anyway, he is an editor, what he tells me to do I do as best I can….
Hence, when he said, “Call upon Miss Flora MacFlimsey of Madison Square and get her forecast of her coming engagements,” I went home, put on my pongee Prince Albert, got out my straw pot hat and my card and called.
That she was tall, goes without saying; that she was beautiful, it is unnecessary to state; that she received me graciously, is the main point. It was an unconventional reception, but it was all I could hope for at the moment, since Miss MacFlimsey was engaged in packing her trunks prior to her departure for the Sea View House at Oakhearst-on-the-Ocean.
“You will excuse me if I receive you thus,” she said pleasingly as I climbed over four Saratoga trunks, three “steamers” and a dozen suit cases in the hallway of her charming apartment. “Word has come from headquarters that we are to move on Oakhearst-on-the-Ocean early tomorrow morning, where the enemy is concentrated in large numbers. We shall take them by surprise, and by Tuesday night we expect to have them routed.”
“The enemy?” said I.
“Yes, the enemy,” said she. “Man. Ma and I expect to meet him in several lively engagements this summer. The campaign promises to be a warm one.
“You are well provided with the sinews of war,” said I, with a glance at the lady’s eyes, which, as I know the enemy, Man, were well calculated to carry all before them. “If I were the foe I think I should capitulate at once.”
“No, thank you,” she replied with a laugh, construing my remark as an invitation to a flirtation. “I never level my guns on wholly serious persons or fathers of families. The consequences are apt to be too costly.”
“Madame,” said I, solemnly, “you mistake me. I only said if. I have been chosen for this dangerous assignment for the sole reason that I am know to be immune. Eyes of the deepest blue, the snappiest black, the most scintillating brown or the liveliest green affect me not. No feminine smile of sweetest texture can move my soul. The cherriest lips in all creation move me not, and liquid sighs fall frozen ‘neath my gaze. I am here to interview, not to win. Shall I sit upon this hat box or recline upon yonder suitcase?”
“Make yourself comfortable any way you can,” she said. “I’m busy.” With that she picked up an armful of pink foulard and threw it into an adjacent trunk.
“What are your plans for 1904?” I asked, making for a cozy corner which I now beheld half hidden behind a very Gibraltar of bonnets.
“I’m out for the record,” she sighed, trying on a hat that was trimmed with lace enough to make a comfortable hammock. “Last year Miss Dottie de Limelight came home with thirty-seven engagement rings on her fingers. I am out for thirty-eight.”
“The season is short,” said I.
“Art is long,” laughed she. “And I shall win out. That is why we are going to a transient hotel. The Sea View has the West End people, and it is so badly conducted that no one ever comes back, so that I have a constant supply of fresh raw material to work on.”
“You must suffer terribly,” said I.
“Not at all,” said Miss Flora MacFlimsey. “I am an expert with the chafing dish. It is one of my weapons. I can cook lobsters in sixty different says, clams in ninety-eight and eggs—well, I can’t tell you how many ways I can cook eggs. Mother and I live very well with our chafing dish alone, and when my eyes fail to work havoc with the enemy’s heart I wheel the chafing dish into action and victory perches on my banners.” Here she tied a strip of point lace about her neck in a most fetching fashion and called upon me to admire it—which, of course, out of courtesy I did.
“May I ask your object in winning so many hearts?” I queried, settling down to business. “Is it mere love of conquest?”
Question of Hearts.
“Not entirely,” she replied. “Of course, you like to win in whatever game you go into, whether it is bridge, ping-pong, poker or pit. Some people like to play chess, using inanimate chessmen for the purpose. That does not interest me when I can have real men for my pawns. What is the use of devoting yourself to abstractions when the world is full of live, concrete propositions that it is sheer delight to overcome? No reasonable child would prefer a hobby horse to a real pony. No more have I any patience with playing hearts with cards when I am surrounded with those that actually pulsate, swell with emotions, grow faint with vague fears and respond always to my advances.”
“That is all very well,” said I, “but you might destroy a whole pack of cards and do no harm, whereas if you broke a single real heart I should think Ii would rest heavily on your conscience.”
“It would,” said Miss MacFlimsey. “But you see I don’t break any hearts. If I married any of those many fiancés of mine there would be danger. But I don’t marry them. There was that nice tow-headed little Harvard man I got engaged to at Saratoga last summer, for instance. We had about as delightful an engagement as any two people that ever lived. We had long and beautiful drives together. The ring was the cutest little arrangement of sapphires and diamonds you ever saw. His tastes in the selection of gifts was exquisite–I really hated to sell the things afterward, they were so pretty–and he was perfectly fine to mamma. It was ideal, and best of all, we never spoiled it by even thinking of getting married.”
“You–er–you sold his gifts?” I asked, in some surprise.
“Oh, my, yes,” she returned, with a merry laugh. “We always do that. The ring, too. How do you suppose we summer girls live through the winter if we don’t hypothecate our summer loot? We are none of us rich in our own right. If we were we’d become British Duchesses. As it is, we have to eke out a living as best we can, and I must admit I have been very successful. Last summer I cleared $800 on my engagement rings alone, and I should say that out of the books and trinkets I received I got as much more. That, with my commissions from the livery stables and confectionery people, enabled mamma and me to live very comfortably all winter long and provided us with twenty stunning new gowns for this season that we think will pay 200 per cent dividends.
“The commissions on what?” I demanded, for I could scarcely believe that I had understood the lady correctly.
“Confectionery people and livery stables,” she replied. “Don’t you know that we summer girls get commissions on all the candy we eat and buggy rides we take with our fiancés?”
“It is sad and solemn news to me,” said I, shaking my head. “I knew you summer girls were fond of a good time and always ready to make some man temporarily happy by uttering a soft ‘yes’ in response to his passionate request that you be his, but that commercialism, had entered even into that I never dreamed.”
“You funny old man!” she cried, with a silvery laugh, whose potency to stir the heart was undeniable, since it got upon even my weary old nerves. “Of course, commercialism, enters into it, but in an awfully nice way. It is delicately done. Instead of saying to our fiancés that we will be engaged to them at so much an hour, with a special commutation race for the season, we merely take our share of the profits from those who make money out of the fact that we are engaged.
She Gets a Percentage.
“For instance, if, because he is engaged to me, a young millionaire from Altoona keeps returning to the mountain resort where I am spending the summer, the landlord of the hostelry that thus profits pays me 10 per cent of his bill. Two summers ago, up in the Ratskills, ten of my beaux spent altogether 140 days there. If it hadn’t been for me they wouldn’t have stayed ten altogether. What could be more proper, then, than that the landlord should recognize the value of my services to him by giving my mother and myself free board and 10 percent of the money paid him by Teddy and and Harry and Jim and George and John and William and Roderick and Gaston and Leon and Alphonse. I believe my share came to $200. The livery stable people reason the same way. If Miss MacFlimsey was not engaged to Mr. Robertson Van Tile, Mr. Van Tile would not have used our buck boards so frequently, they say. Hence we should give Miss MacFlimsey some suitable testimonial of our regard and appreciation of the value of her services. Reasoning thus, at the end of the season they send me a check for 15 per cent of Mr. Van Tile’s bill.”
“But how do they know it is to you not to some other summer girl that they owe this–er–rake off?” I asked.
“Because Mr. Van Tile is registered on their books as my fiancé the moment become engaged,” explained the lady. “It is a very simple system. Same way with the confectionery people. Oh, I tell you this summer girl business isn’t so bad, and it’s a great sight pleasanter than becoming a trained nurse or a stenographer.”
Playing the Fiancés.
“Don’t you have some trouble in keeping your fiancés apart?” I queried. “Don’t they ever get jealous?”
“Why, of course they do.” smiled Miss MacFlimsey. “I don’t know what I’d do if they didn’t. I strain every nerve to make them jealous, for that makes us quarrel. Our quarrels increase my dividends, because when we make it up later the young man to show his repentance has to be unusually lavish in his attentions, takes me on longer drives, sends me bigger boxes of candy, buys more trinkets, flowers and all that, so that there is a corresponding increase in my returns. I was engaged to young Reggie Aquidneck five times in one summer and got a new engagement ring every time just because we quarreled so over my becoming engaged to Harry Stockbridge and three or four other chaps whose names I have forgotten. That jealousy complication is one of my richest assets.”
“And you never see these fellows afterward?” I asked.
“Oh, indeed yes,” replied Miss MacFlimsey; “often. In fact, I always give a reception to my ex-fiancés every winter and we have stunning good times at them, but of course entirely without flirtation. No successful summer girl ever flirts during the winter season–unless she gets a special engagement for Palm Beach or some place. It is too great a strain and we need the whole of the winter time to get rested up for the summer campaign.”
“Well,” said I, rising to leave, “I am very much obliged to you for this illuminating chat. I have learned much and I wish you the best of luck for the coming season.”
Will Beat the Record.
“Thank you,” said she. “I think I shall get the record away from Miss de Limelight without any trouble. In fact, I am sure to, for I am already booked for thirty-five engagements in August and six for the first two weeks in September. That’s forty-one sure. Better come down and see me at work,” she added, with that fetching smile of hers.
“No. thanks,” said I, moving toward the door. “I wouldn’t dare. I am afraid I might be jealous of those fortunate others.”
“I’ll let you pretend you are my fiancé for an evening,” she put in demurely.
“What! And involve myself in a row with Reggie Van Toodles or some other lover of your!!” I cried.
“No, that wouldn’t be necessary,” she said, referring to a memorandum book. “I find here that I have one free Sunday, the 28th of August, when I shall not be engaged to anybody. Shall I book you for the 28th?”
But I made no reply, fleeing madly for the door. My engagements have a way of being permanent, and I wanted to escape before it was too late.
The Galveston [TX] Daily News 26 July 1904: p. 9
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The “Summer Girl” was a figure of fascination and of fun in the newspapers. It was axiomatic that she would become engaged multiple times during the summer, although typically nothing ever came of those engagements. Such entanglements seem to have been a convenient fiction which allowed the young to spend time together with less scrutiny than otherwise. As Miss MacF. notes, Mama is on the scene, but she seems a mere cipher.
Such engagements were the source of many a rude joke. This is one of the more trenchant:
“It is just a malicious fib,” said the returned summer girl. “Of course I didn’t get engaged to three men at once while I was at the seashore. There was more than 30 minutes’ lapse of time between them.”
The Topeka [KS] State Journal 16 August 1895: p. 4
No doubt those young men who had been ensnared by the Summer Girl had their eyes opened, reading this candid description of her heartless transactions. One wonders what happens to the Summer Girls who “age out” of being the toasts of the summer resort? Do they eventually settle down with a millionaire or a little Harvard man with exquisite taste? Or are they seen on the promenade in their formerly stunning gowns, growing ever shabbier, season by season, haunting the watering places like public Miss Havishams?
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 anecdote
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.