Captain Locke hid in the bushes next to the gate of Lord Harthless’ Manor while watching Lady Keye stroll around the block for the last hour. Any moment, she might give the signal with her parasol. She stopped for a moment, placing the parasol in front of her, then dropping it. All eyes turned to her as she bent to pick it up. Kensington glanced around and climbed over the wall. Once over, the massive mastiff began to bark.
Back in the day of manners and monitored contact between a man and a woman, scandal could erupt if they heard somebody express romantic interest to somebody else. Secret signals were developed to foil to stodgy adults at the party. It is unclear if men were privy to code, mores the pity given the intended receiver.
In 1827, the fan maker Duvelleroy of Paris published a leaflet explaining the way to signal interest. It helped that Queen Victoria appeared with a fan. Soon, everybody had them. Even Oscar Wilde’s 1892 play Lady Windermere’s Fan featured the not-so-secret language.
Parasols came into fashion in the late 1700s and a similar set of signals to fans arose. It is unclear which developed first. I suspect people applied the signals to either device. Here is a version of the language:
Carried closed in the left hand : Meet on the first crossing.
Carried closed in the right hand by the side : Follow me.
Carried elevated in left hand : Desiring acquaintance.
Carried elevated in right hand : You are too willing.
Carried front of you : No more at present.
Carried over the right shoulder : You can speak to me.
Carried over the left shoulder : You are too cruel.
Closing it : I wish to speak with you, love.
Dropping it : I love you.
End of tip to the lips : Do you love me?
Folding it up : Get rid of your company.
Resting on the left cheek : No.
Resting on the right cheek : Yes.
Putting it away : No more at present.
Struck on the hand : I am much displeased.
Swung to and fro by the handle on left side : I am engaged.
Swung to and fro by the handle on right side : I am married.
Tapped on the chin gently : I am in love with another.
Twirled around : Be careful! We are watched.
Used as a fan : Introduce me to your company.
Bring handle to the lips : Kiss me.
The 1900s came and fans and parasols gave way to sunglasses and air-conditioning. For a time, people’s hands were empty, but the twenty-first century put omni-present smartphones in their hands. For steampunks and re-enactors, learning the signs can add a layer of character.
His clothing in tatters, Kensinton made it to the safe house, closed the door and leaned on it to catch his breath. Lady Keye looked up from the desk and exclaimed, “My word, Captain, what happened to you?”
“You told me the coast was clear.”
“I most certainly did not. ”
He sank to the floor. “Well, that’s what I thought it meant.”
“I’m certain you misinterpreted.”