Transcribed by Elizabeth Durack, who is very pleased to be able to share this rare and charming book.
IN THE RIDING-SCHOOL; CHATS WITH ESMERALDA
BY THEO. STEPHENSON BROWNE
— We two will ride, Lady mine, At your pleasure, side by side, Laugh and chat. ALDRICH
TO THE MODERN MEN OF UZ; MY FRENCH, ENGLISH, AND AMERICAN MASTERS.
I. A PRELIMINARY CHAT WITH ESMERALDA The proper frame of mind —Dress—Preparatory exercises. II. SHALL YOU TAKE YOUR MOTHER, ESMERALDA? The first lesson— Various ways of mounting—Slippery reins—Clucking—After a ride. III. CHAT DURING THE SECOND LESSON Equestrian language— Trotting without a horse—Exercises in and out of the saddle. IV. ESMERALDA'S TRIALS AT THE THIRD LESSON Pounding the saddle —A critical spectator—A few rein-holds. V. ESMERALDA ON THE ROAD Good and bad and indifferent riders— A very little runaway. VI. THE ORDEAL OF A PRIVATE LESSON Voltes and half voltes— "On the right hand of the school"—Imagination as a teacher. VII. ESMERALDA AT A MUSIC RIDE Sitting like a poker—The ways of the bad rider. VIII. ESMERALDA IN CLASS Keeping distances—Corners— Proper place in the saddle—Exercises to correct nervous stiffness. IX. ELEMENTARY MILITARY EVOLUTIONS "Forward, forward, and again forward!"—How to guide a horse easily. X. CHAT DURING AN EXERCISE RIDE The deeds of the three-legged trotter—The omniscient rider—Backing a step or two— Fun in the dressing-room. XI. ESMERALDA IS MANAGED Intervals—The secret of learning to ride. XII. CHAT ABOUT THE HABIT Riding-dress in history and fiction— Cloth, linings and sewing—Boots, gloves, and hats. XIII. CHAT ABOUT TEACHERS Foreign and native instructors—Why American women learn slowly—"Keep riding!"
Impatient to mount and ride. Longfellow.
And you want to learn how to ride, Esmeralda?
Why? Because? Reason good and sufficient, Esmeralda; to require anything more definite would be brutal, although an explanation of your motives would render the task of directing you much easier.
As you are an American, it is reasonable to presume that you desire to learn quickly; as you are youthful, it is certain that you earnestly wish to look pretty in the saddle, and as you are a youthful American, there is not a shadow of a doubt that your objections to authoritative teaching will be almost unconquerable, and that you will insist upon being treated, from the very beginning, as if your small head contained the knowledge of a Hiram Woodruff or of an Archer. Perhaps you may find a teacher who will comply with your wishes; who will be exceedingly deferential to your little whims; will unhesitatingly accept your report of your own sensations and your hypotheses as to their cause; and, Esmeralda, when once your eyes behold that model man, be content, and go and take lessons of another, for either he is a pretentious humbug, careless of everything except his fees, or he is an ignoramus.
It may not be necessary that you should be insulted or ridiculed in order to become a rider, although there are girls who seem utterly impervious by teaching by gentle methods. Is it not a matter of tradition that Queen Victoria owes her regal carriage to the rough drill-sergeant who, with no effect upon his pupil, horrified her governess, and astonished her, by sharply saying: "A pretty Queen you'll make with that dot-and-go-one gait!" Up went the little chin, back went the shoulders, down went the elbows, and, in her wrath, the little princess did precisely what the old soldier had been striving to make her do; but his delighted cry of "Just right!" was a surprise to her, inasmuch as she had been conscious of no muscular effort whatsoever. From that time forth, incessit regina.
You may not need such rough treatment, but it is necessary that you should be corrected every moment and almost every second until you learn to correct yourself, until every muscle in your body becomes self-conscious, and until an improper position is almost instantly felt as uncomfortable, and the teacher who does not drill you steadily and continuously, permits you to fall into bad habits.
If you were a German princess, Esmeralda, you would be compelled to sit in the saddle for many an hour without touching the reins, while your patient horse walked around a tan bark ring, and you balanced yourself and straightened yourself, and adjusted arms, shoulders, waist, knees and feet, under the orders of a drill- sergeant, who might, indeed, sugar-coat his phrases with "Your Highness," but whose intonations would say "You must," as plainly as if he were drilling an awkward squad of peasant recruits. If you were the daughter of a hundred earls, you would be mounted on a Shetland pony and shaken into a good seat long before you outgrew short frocks, and afterwards you would be trained by your mother or older sisters, by the gentlemen of your family, or perhaps, by some trusted old groom, or in a good London riding- school, and, no matter who your instructor might be, you would be compelled to be submissive and obedient.
But you object that you cannot afford to pay for very careful, minute, and long-continued training; that you must content yourself with such teaching as you can obtain by riding in a ring under the charge of two or three masters, receiving such instruction as they find time to give you while maintaining order and looking after an indefinite number of other pupils. Your real teacher in that case must be yourself, striving assiduously to obey every order given to you, no matter whether it appears unreasonable or seems, as the Concord young woman said, "in accordance with the latest scientific developments and the esoteric meaning of differentiated animal existences." That sentence, by the way, silenced her master, and nearly caused him to have a fit of illness from suppression of language, but perhaps it might affect your teacher otherwise, and you would better reserve it for that private mental rehearsal of your first lesson which you will conduct in your maiden meditation.
You are your own best teacher, you understand, and you may be encouraged to know that one of the foremost horsemen in the country says: "I have had many teachers, but my best master was here," touching his forehead. "Where do you ride, sir?" asked one of his pupils, after vainly striving with reins and whip, knee, heel and spur to execute a movement which the master had compelled his horse to perform while apparently holding himself as rigid as bronze. "I ride here, sir," was the grim answer, with another tap on the forehead.
And first, Esmeralda, being feminine, you wish to know what you are to wear.
Until you have taken at least ten lessons, it would be simply foolishness for you to buy any special thing to wear, except a plain flannel skirt, the material for which should not cost you more than two dollars and a half. Harper's Bazar has published two or three patterns, following which any dressmaker can make a skirt quite good enough for the ring. A jersey, a Norfolk jacket, a simple street jacket or even an ordinary basque waist; any small, close-fitting hat, securely pinned to your hair, and very loose gloves will complete a dress quite suitable for private lessons, and not so expensive that you need grudge the swift destruction certain to come to all equestrian costumes. Nothing is more ludicrous than to see a rider clothed in a correct habit, properly scant and unhemmed, to avoid all risks when taking fences and hedges in a hunting country, with her chimney-pot hat and her own gold-mounted crop, her knowing little riding-boots and buckskins, with outfit enough for Baby Blake and Di Vernon and Lady Gay Spanker, and to see that young woman dancing in the saddle, now here and now there, pulling at the reins in a manner to make a rocking-horse rear, and squealing tearfully and jerkily: "Oh, ho-ho-oh, wh-h-hat m-m-makes h-h-him g-g-go s-s-s-so?"
If you think it possible that you may be easily discouraged, and that your first appearance in the riding-school will be your last, you need not buy any skirt, for you will find several in the school dressing-room, and, for once, you may submit to wearing a garment not your own. Shall you buy trousers or tights? Wait till you decide to take lessons before buying either, first to avoid unnecessary expense, and second, because until experience shall show what kind of a horsewoman you are likely to be, you cannot tell which will be the more suitable and comfortable. Laced boots, a plain, dark underskirt, cut princess, undergarments without a wrinkle, and no tight bands to compress veins, or to restrain muscles by adding their resistance to the force of gravitation make up the list of details to which you must give your attention before leaving home. If you be addicted to light gymnastics you will find it beneficial to practise a few movements daily, both before taking your first lesson and as long as you may continue to ride.
First—Hold your shoulders square and perfectly rigid, and turn the head towards the right four times, and then to the left four times.
Second—Bend the head four times to the right and four times to the left.
Third—Bend the head four times to the back and four times to the front. These exercises will enable you to look at anything which may interest you, without distracting the attention of your horse, as you might do if you moved your shoulders, and thus disturbed your equilibrium on your back. Feeling the change, he naturally supposes that you want something of him, and when you become as sensitive as you should be, you will notice that at such times he changes his gait perceptibly.
Fourth—Bend from the waist four times to the right, four to the left, four times forward, and four times backward. These movements will not only make the waist more flexible, but will strengthen certain muscles of the leg.
Fifth—Execute any movement which experience has shown you will square your shoulders and flatten your back most effectually. Throw the hands backward until they touch one another, or bring your elbows together behind you, if you can. Hold the arms close to the side, the elbows against the waist, the forearm at right angles with the arm, the fists clenched, with the little finger down and the knuckles facing each other, and describe ellipses, first with one shoulder, then with the other, then with both. This movement is found in Mason's School Gymnastics, and is prescribed by M. de Bussigny in his little manual for horsewomen, and it will prove admirable in its effects. Stretch the arms at full length above the head, the palms of the hands at front, the thumbs touching one another, and then carry them straight outward without bending the elbows, and bend them down, the palms still in front, until the little finger touches the leg. This movement is recommended by Mason and also by Blaikie, and as it is part of the West Point "setting up" drill, it may be regarded as considered on good authority to be efficacious in producing an erect carriage. Stand as upright as you can, your arms against your side, the forearm at right angles, as before, and jerk your elbows downward four times.
Sixth—Sit down on the floor with your feet stretched straight before you, and resting on their heels, and drop backward until you are lying flat, then resume your first position, keeping your arms and forearms at right angles during the whole exercise. Still sitting, bend as far to the right as you can, then bend as far as possible to the left, resuming a perfectly erect position between the movements, and keeping your feet and legs still. Rising, stand on your toes and let yourself down fifty times; then stand on your heels, and raise and lower your toes fifty times. The firmer you hold your arms and hands during these movements, the better for you, Esmeralda, and for the horse who will be your first victim.
Already one can seem to see him, poor, innocent beast, miserable in the memories of an army of beginners, his mouth so accustomed to being jerked in every direction, without anything in particular being meant by it, that neither Arabia nor Mexico can furnish a bit which would surprise him, or startle his four legs from their propriety. No cow is more placid, no lamb more gentle; he would not harm a tsetse fly or kick a snapping terrier. His sole object in life is to keep himself and his rider out of danger, and to betake himself to that part of the ring in which the least labor should be expected of him. The tiny girls who ride him call him "dear old Billy Buttons," or "darling Gypsy," or "nice Sir Archer." Heaven knows what he calls them in his heart! Were he human, it would be something to be expressed by dashes and "d's"; but, being a horse, he is silent, and shows his feelings principally by heading for the mounting-stand whenever he thinks that a pupil's hour is at an end.
Why that long face, Esmeralda? Must you do all those exercises? Bless your innocent soul, no! Dress yourself and run away. The exercises will be good for you, but they are not absolutely necessary. Remember, however, that your best riding-school master is behind your own pretty forehead, and that your brain can save your muscles many a strain and many a pound of labor. And remember, too, that, in riding, as in everything else, to him that hath shall be given, and the harder and firmer your muscles when you begin, the greater will be the benefit which you will derive from your rides, and the more you will enjoy them. The pale and weary invalid may gain flesh and color with every lesson, but the bright and healthy pupil, whose muscles are like iron, whose heart and lungs are in perfect order, can ride for hours without weariness, and double her strength in a comparatively short time.
But—Esmeralda, dear, before you go—whisper! Why do you want to take riding lessons? Theodore asked you to go out with him next Monday, and Nell said that she would lend you her habit, and you thought that you would take three lessons and learn to ride? There, go and dress, child; go and dress!
Bring forth the horse! Byron.
Being ready to start, Esmeralda, the question now arises: "Is a riding school," as the girl asked about the new French play, "a place to which one can take her mother?" Little girls too young to dress themselves should be attended by their mothers or by their maids, but an older girl no more needs guardianship at riding-school than at any other place at which she receives instruction, and there is no more reason why her mother should follow her into the ring than into the class-room.
Her presence, even if she preserve absolute silence, will probably embarrass both teacher and pupil, and although her own children may not be affected by it, it will be decidedly troublesome to the children of other mothers.
If, instead of being quiet, she talk, and it is the nature of the mother who accompanies her daughter to riding-school to talk volubly and loudly, she will become a nuisance, and even a source of actual danger, by distracting the attention of the master from his pupils, and the attention of the pupils from their horses, to say nothing of the possibility that some of her pretty, ladylike screams of, "Oh, darling, I know you're tired!" or, "Oh, what a horrid horse; see him jump!" may really frighten some lucky animal whose acquaintance has included no women but the sensible.
If she be inclined to laugh at the awkward beginners, and to ridicule them audibly—but really, Esmeralda, it should not be necessary to consider such an action, impossible in a well-bred woman, unlikely in a woman of good feeling! Leave your mother, if not at home, in the dressing-room or the reception room, and go to the mounting-stand alone.
In some schools you may ride at any time, but the usual morning hours for ladies' lessons are from nine o'clock to noon, and the afternoon hours from two o'clock until four. Some masters prefer that their pupils should have fixed days and hours for their lessons, and others allow the very largest liberty. For your own sake it is better to have a regular time for your lessons, but if you cannot manage to do so, do not complain if you sometimes have to wait a few minutes for your horse, or for your master.
The school is not carried on entirely for your benefit, although you will at first assume that it is. As a rule, a single lesson will cost two dollars, but a ten-lesson ticket will cost but fifteen dollars, a twenty-lesson ticket twenty-five dollars, and a ticket for twenty exercise rides twenty dollars. In schools which give music-rides, there are special rates for the evenings upon which they take place, but you need not think of music-rides until you have had at least the three lessons which you desire.
Buy your ticket before you go to the dressing-room, and ask if you may have a key to a locker. Dress as quickly as you can, and if there be no maid in the dressing-room, lock up your street clothing and keep your key. If there be a maid, she will attend to this matter, and will assist you in putting on your skirt, showing you that it buttons on the left side, and that you must pin it down the basque of your jersey or your jacket in the back, unless you desire it to wave wildly with every leap of your horse. Flatter not yourself that lead weights will prevent this! When a horse begins a canter that sends you, if your feelings be any gauge, eighteen good inches nearer the ceiling, do you think that an ounce of lead will remain stationary? give a final touch to your hairpins and hatpins, button your gloves, pull the rubber straps of your habit over your right toe and left heel, and you are ready.
In most schools, you will be made to mount from the ground, and you will find it surprisingly and delightfully easy to you. What it may be to the master who puts you into the saddle is another matter, but nine out of ten teachers will make no complaint, and will assure you that they do very well.
If you wish to deceive any other girl's inconsiderate mother whom you may find comfortably seated in a good position for criticism, and to make her suppose that you are an old rider, keep silence. Do not criticise your horse or his equipments, do not profess inability to mount, but when you master says "Now!" step forward and stand facing in the same direction of your horse, placing your right hand on the upper pommel of the two on the left of the saddle.
Set your left foot in whichever hand he holds out for it. Some masters offer the left, some the right, and some count for a pupil, and others prefer that she should count for yourself. The usual "One, two, three!" means, one, rest the weight strongly on the right foot; two, bend the right knee, keeping the body perfectly erect; three, spring up from the right foot, turning very slightly to the left, so as to place yourself sideways on the saddle, your right hand toward the horse's head.
Some masters offer a shoulder as a support for a pupil's left hand, and some face toward the horse's head and some toward his tail, so it is best for you to wait a little for directions, Esmeralda, and not to suppose that, because you know all about Lucy Fountain's way of mounting a horse, or about James Burdock's tuition of Mabel Vane, there is no other method of putting a lady in the saddle.
After your first lesson, you will find it well to practise springing upward from the right foot, holding your left on a hassock, or a chair rung, your right hand raised as if grasping the pommel, your shoulders carefully kept back, and your body straight. It is best to perform this exercise before a mirror, and when you begin to think you have mastered it, close you eyes, give ten upward springs and then look at yourself. A hopeless wreck, eh? Not quite so bad as that, but, before, you unconsciously corrected your position by the eye, and you must learn to do it entirely by feeling. You will probably improve very much on a second trial, because your shoulders will begin to be sensitive. Why not practise this exercise before your first lesson? Because you should know just how your master prefers to stand, in order to be able to imagine him standing as he really will. It is not unusual to see riders of some experience puzzled and made awkward by an innovation on what they have regarded as the true and only method of mounting, although, when once the right leg and wrist are properly trained, a woman ought to be able to reach the saddle without caring what her escort's method of assistance.
Mounting from a high horseblock is a matter of being fairly lifted into the saddle, and you cannot possibly do it improperly. it is easy, but it gives you no training for rides outside the school, and masters use it, not because they approve of it, but because their pupils, not knowing how easy it is to mount from the ground, often desire it.
But, being in the saddle, turn so as to face your horse's head, put our right knee over the pommel, and slip your left foot into the stirrup. Then rise on your left foot and smooth your skirt, a task in which your master will assist you, and take you reins and your whip from him.
How shall you hold your reins? As your master tells you! Probably, he will give you but one rein at first, and very likely will direct you to hold it in both hands, keeping them five or six inches apart, the wrists on a level with the elbows or even a very little lower, and he is not likely to insist on any other details, knowing that it will be difficult for you to attain perfection in these. An English master might give you a single rein to be passed outside the little finger, and between the forefinger and the middle finger, the loop coming between the forefinger and thumb, and being held in place by the thumb. Then he would expect you to keep your right shoulder back very firmly, but a French master will tell you that it is better to learn to keep the shoulder back a little while holding a rein in the right hand, and an American master will usually allow you to take your choice, but, until you have experience, obey orders in silence.
And now, having taken your whip, draw yourself back in your saddle so as to feel the pommel under your right knee; sit well towards the right, square your shoulders, force your elbows well down, hollow your waist a little, and start. He won't go? Of course he will not, until bidden to do so, if he know his business. Bend forward the least bit in the world, draw very slightly on the reins, and rather harder on the right, so as to turn him from the stand, and away he walks, and you are in the ring. You had no idea that it was so large, and you feel as if lost on a western prairie, but you are in no danger whatsoever. You cannot fall off while your right knee and left foot are in place, and if you deliberately threw yourself into the tan, you would be unhurt, and the riding-school horse knows better than to tread on anything unusual which he may find in his way.
Now, Esmeralda, keep your mind—No, your saddle is not turning; it is well girthed. You feel as if it were? Pray, how do you know how you would feel if a saddle were to turn? Did you ever try it? And your saddle is not too large! Neither is it too small! And there is nothing at all the matter with your horse! Now, Esmeralda, keep your mind—No, that other girl is not going to ride you down. Her horse would not allow her, if she endeavored to do so. The trouble is that she does not guide her horse, but is worrying herself about staying on his back, when she should be thinking about making him turn sharp corners and go straight forward. Regard her as a warning, Esmeralda, and keep your mind— What is the matter with the reins? Apparently they are oiled, for they have slipped from under your thumbs, and your horse is wandering along with drooping head, looking as if training to play the part of the dead warrior's charger at a military funeral.
Shorten your reins now, carefully! Not quite so much, or your horse will think that you intend to begin to trot, and do not lean backward, or he will fancy that you wish him to back or stop. The poor thing has to guess at what a pupil wishes, and no wonder that he sometimes mistakes.
But, Esmeralda, keep your mind on those thumbs and hold them close to your forefingers. Driving will give no idea of the slipperiness of leather, but after your first riding lesson you will wonder why it is not used to floor roller-skating rinks. But remember that your reins are for your horse's support, not for yours; they are the telegraph wires along which you send dispatches to him, not parallel bars upon which your weight is to depend. Hitherto, you have not ridden an inch. Your horse has strolled about, and you have not dropped from his back, and that is not riding, but now you shall begin.
In a large ring, pupils are required to keep to the wall when walking, as this gives the horse a certain guide, but in small rings the rule is to keep to the wall when trotting, so as to improve every foot of pace, and to walk about six feet from the wall, not in a circle, but describing a rectangle. New pupils are always taught to turn to the right, and to make all their movements in that direction. Hold your thumbs firmly in place, and draw your right hand a very little upward and inward, touching your whip lightly to the horse's right side, and turning your face and leaning your body slightly to the right.
The instant that the corner is turned, drop your hand, keeping the thumb in place, square your shoulders, look straight between your horse's ears, and then allow your eyes to range upward as far as possible without losing sight of him altogether. No matter what is going on about you. Very likely, the criticizing mamma on the mounting-stand is scolding sharply about noting. Possibly, a dear little boy is fairly flying about the ring on a pony that seems to have cantered out of a fairy tale, and a marvelously graceful girl, whom you envy with your whole soul, is doing pirouettes in the centre of the ring.
All that is not your business. Your sole concern is to keep your body in position, and your mind fixed on making your horse obey you, doing nothing of his own will. Stop him now and then by leaning back, and drawing on the reins, not with your body but with your hands. Then lean forward and go on, but if he should remain planted as fast as the Great Pyramid, if when started he should refuse to pay any attention to the little taps of your left heel and the touches of your whip, nay, if he should lie down and pretend to die, like a trick horse in a circus, don't cluck. No good riding master will teach a pupil to cluck or will permit the practice to pass unreproved, and riding-school horses do not understand it, and are quite as likely to start at the cluck of a rider on the other side of the ring as they are when a similar noise is made by the person on their own backs.
But now, just as you have shortened your reins for the fortieth time or so, your master rides up beside you. You told him of your little three-lesson plan, and being wise in his generation, he smilingly assented to it. "Shall we trot?" he asks, in an agreeable voice. "Shorten your reins, now! Don't pull on them! Right shoulder back! Now rise from the saddle as I count, 'One, two, three, four!' Off we go!'" You would like to know what he meant by "off!" "Off," indeed! You thought you were "off" the saddle. You have been bounced up and down mercilessly, and have gasped, "Stop him!" before you have been twice around the ring, and not one corner have you been able to turn properly. As for your elbows, you know that they have been flying all abroad, but still—it was fun, and you would like to try again. You do try again, and you would like to try again. You do try again, and, at last, you are conscious of a sudden feeling of elasticity, of sympathy with your horse, of rising when he does, and then your master looks at you triumphantly, and says: "You rose that time," and leaves you to go to some other pupil. And then you walk your horse again, trying to keep in position, and you make furtive little essays at trotting by yourself, and find that you cannot keep your horse to the wall, although you pull your hardest at his left rein, the reason being that, unconsciously, you also pull at the right rein, and that he calmly obeys what the reins tell him and goes straight forward. Then your master offers to help you by lifting you, grasping your right arm with his left hand, and you make one or two more circuits of the ring, and then the hour is over and you dismount and go to the dressing-room.
Tired, Esmeralda? A little, and you do wonder whether you shall not be a bruised piece of humanity to-morrow. Not if your flesh be as hard as any girl's should be in these days of gymnasiums, but if you have managed to bruise a muscle or to strain one, lay a bottle of hot water against it when you go to bed and it will not be painful in the morning. If, in spite of warnings, you have been so careless about your underclothing as to cause a blister, a bit of muslin saturated with Vaseline, with a drop of tincture of benzoin rubbed into it, makes a plaster which will end the smart instantly.
This is not a physician's prescription, but is hat of a horseman who for years led the best riding class in Boston, and it is asserted that nobody was ever known to be dissatisfied with its effects. Muffle yourself warmly, Esmeralda, and hasten home, for nothing is easier than to catch cold after riding. Air your frock and cloak before an open fire to volatilize the slight ammoniacal scent which they must inevitably contract in the locker, and then be as good to yourself as the hostler will be to your poor horse. That is to say, give yourself a sponge bath in hot water, with a dash of Sarg's soap and almond meal in it, rubbing dry with a Turkish towel, and then dress and go down to dinner.
Looking at your glowing face and shining eyes, your father will tell your mother that she should have gone also, but when he marks the havoc which you make with the substantial part of the meal, and sees that your appetite for dessert is twice as good as usual, he will reflect upon his butcher's and grocer's bills, and, considering what they would be with provision to make for two such voracious creatures, he will say, "No, Esmeralda, don't take your mother!"
Up into the saddle, Lithe and light, vaulting she perched. Hayne.
And you still think, Esmeralda, that three lessons will be enough to make you a horse woman, and that by next Monday you will be able to join the road party, and witch the world with your accomplishments?
Very well, array yourself for conquest and come to the school. Talk is cheap, according to a proverb more common than elegant; but it is sinful to waste the cheapest of things. While you dress, you will meditate upon the sensation which it is your intention to make in the ring, and upon the humiliation which you will heap upon your riding master by showing wonderful ability to rise in the saddle. Although not quite ready to assert ability to ride hour after hour like a mounted policeman, you feel certain that you could ride as gracefully as he, and perhaps you are right, for official position does not confer wisdom in equitation. To say nothing of policemen, it is not many seasons since an ambitious member of the governor's staff presented himself before a riding master to "take a lesson, just to get used to it, you know; got to review some regiments at Framingham tomorrow." And when, after some trouble, he had been landed in the saddle, never a strap had he, and long before his lesson hour was finished, he was a spectacle to make a Prussian sentinel giggle while on duty.
And for your further encouragement, Esmeralda, know that it is but a few years ago that a riding master, in answer to a rebellious pupil who defended some sin against Baucher with, "Mr. —of the governor's staff always does so," retorted, "There is just one man on the governor's staff who can ride, and I taught him; and if he had ridden like that !" An awful silence expressed so many painful possibilities that the pupil was meek and humble ever after, and yet it was not written in any newspaper that any of those ignorant colonels were thrown from their saddles in public, nor did the strapless gentleman furnish amusement to civilian or soldier by rolling on the grass at Framingham.
The truth is, that the number of persons able to judge of riding is smaller than the number able to ride, and that number is rather less than one in a hundred of those who appear on horseback either in the ring or on the road; but Boston could furnish a legion of men and women who find healthful enjoyment in the saddle, and who look passably well while doing it, and possibly you may add yourself to their ranks after a very few lessons, although there is—You are ready? Come then!
Into the saddle well thought, thanks to your master, but why that ghastly pause? Turn instantly, place your knee over the pommel and thrust your foot into the stirrup, if you possibly can, without waiting for assistance. Teachers of experience, riding masters, dancing masters, musicians, artists, gymnasts, will unite in telling you that unless a pupil's mental qualities be rather extraordinary, it is more difficult to impart knowledge at a second lesson than at the first, simply because the pupil gives less attention, expecting his muscles to work mechanically.
Undoubtedly, after long training, fingers will play scales, and flying feet whirl their owner about a ballroom without making him conscious of every muscular extension and contraction, but this facility comes only to those who, in the beginning, fix an undivided mind upon what they are doing, and who never fall into willful negligence.
Keep watch of yourself, manage yourself as assiduously as you watch and manage your horse, and ten times more assiduously than you would watch your fingers at the piano, or your feet in the dancing class, because you must watch for two, for your horse and for yourself. If you give him an incorrect signal, he will obey it, you will be unprepared for his next act, and in half a minute you will have a very pretty misunderstanding on your hands.
But there is no reason for being frightened. You cannot fall, and if your horse should show any signs of actual misbehavior, you would find your master at your right hand, with fingers of steel to grasp your reins, and a voice accustomed to command obedience from quadrupeds, howsoever little of it he may be able to obtain at first from well-meaning bipeds. You are perfectly safe with him, Esmeralda, not only because he knows how to ride, but because the strongest of all human motives, self-interest, is enlisted to promote your safety. "She said she was afraid to risk her neck," said an exhausted teacher, speaking the words of frankness to a spectator, as a timid and stupid pupil disappeared into the dressing-room, "and I told her that she could afford the risk better than I. If she broke it, than don't you know, it probably could not be mended, but mine might be broken in trying to save her, and, at the best, my reputation and my means of getting a livelihood would be gone forever in an instant. It's only a neck with her; it's life and wife and babies that I risk, and I'll insure her neck." And when the stupid pupil, who was a lady in spite of her dulness, came from the dressing-room, calmed and quieted, and began to offer a blushing apology, he repeated his remarks to her, and so excellent was the understanding established between them after this little incident that she actually came to be a tolerable rider. Feeling that he would tell her to do nothing dangerous to her, she was ready at his command to lie down on her horse's back and to raise herself again and again, and, after doing this a few times, and bending alternately to the right and to the left, the saddle seemed quite homelike, and to remain in it sitting upright was very easy for a few moments.
Only for a few moments, however, for the necessity of paying attention still remained, as it does with you, and again she stiffened herself, as you are doing now.
As Mr. Mead very justly says, in his "Horsemanship for Women," a lesson may be learned from a bag of grain set up on horseback, which is, that while the lower part of your body should settle itself almost lazily in place, the upper part, which is comparatively light, should sway slightly but easily with the horse's motion.
Manage to ride behind the girl who was teaching herself to do pirouettes the other day. Her horse is walking rapidly, and you could almost fancy that her prettily squared shoulders were part of him, so sympathetically do they respond to each step, but if you should let your horse straggle against hers and frighten him, you would see that no rock is more firmly seated then she.
If it should please your master to require you to perform the bending exercise, you will feel the advantage of having practiced it at home, for it is infinitely easier in the saddle than it is on the floor, and your riding master will be exceedingly pleased at the ease with which you effect it. There is no necessity for telling him that the little feat is quite familiar to you. The woman of sense keeps as many of her doings secret as she can, and the wise pupil confesses no knowledge except that derived from her master. Being, in spite of his superior knowledge, a mortal man, he will take twice the pains with her, and a hundredfold more pride in her if persuaded that she owes everything to him.
There is no reason to worry about a little stiffness during the first lessons. It is almost entirely nervousness, and will disappear as soon as you are quite comfortable and easy, but the beautiful flexibility of the good horsewoman comes only to her whose muscles are perfectly trained, and it is surprising how few muscles there are to which one may not give employment in an hour's practice in the ring. If you like, you may, without the assistance of your master, lean forward to the right side until your left shoulder touches your horse's crest, and when you are trotting it is well how and then to lean forward and to the right until you can see your horse's forefeet, but you would better not perform the same exercise on the left side for the present, for you might overbalance yourself and almost slip from the saddle. If able, as you should be, to touch the floor with your fingertips without bending your knees, this little movement will be nothing to you, but do not bend to the left, Esmeralda. Why not? Why, because if you will have the truth, you are slipping to the left already, your right shoulder is drooping forward, and your weight is hanging in your stirrup and pulling your saddle to the left so forcibly that your horse has lost all respect for you, and would be thoroughly uncomfortable, were it not that you have forgotten all about your thumbs, and you have allowed your reins to slip away from you, so that he is going where he pleases, except when you jerk him sharply to the right, and then he shakes and tosses his head and goes on contentedly, as one saying, "All things have an end, even a new pupil's hour."
Now, sit well to the right, remembering the meal sack; shorten your reins, keeping your elbows down and your hands low. Shorten them a very little more, so as to bring your elbows further forward. When you stop, you should not be compelled to jerk your elbows back of your waist, but should bring them into line with it, leaning back slightly, and drawing yourself upward. Stop your horse now, for practice. Do not speak to him during your first lessons, except by your master's express command, but address him in his own language, using your reins, your foot, and your whip, if your master permit. "Why do you make coquette of your horse?" asked a French master of a pretty girl who was coaxingly calling her mount "a naughty, horrid thing," and casting glances fit to distract a man on the ungrateful creature's irresponsive crest. "Your horse does not care anything at all about you; don't you think he does!" pursued he, ungallantly. "You may coax me as much as you like," said a Yankee teacher to a young woman who was trying the "treat him kindly" theory, and was calling her horse a "dear old ducky darling;" "and," he continued, "I'm rather fond of candy myself, but it isn't coaxing or lump sugar that will make that horse go. It's brains and reins and foot and whip."
When you have a horse of your own, talk to him as much as you like, and teach him your language as an accomplishment, but address the riding-school horse in his own tongue, until you have mastered it yourself.
Now, adjust yourself carefully, lean forward, extend your hands a very little, touch your horse with your left heel, and, as soon as he moves, sit erect and let your hands resume their position. Hasten his steps until he is almost trotting, before you strike him with the whip. You can do this by very slightly opening and shutting your fingers in time with the slight pull which he gives with his head at every step, by touches with your heel, and by touches, not blows, with the whip, and by allowing yourself, not to rise, but to sit a little lighter with each step. It is not very easy to do, and you need not be discouraged if you cannot effect it after many trials. Some masters will tell you to strike your horse on the shoulder, and some will prefer that you should strike him on the flank as a signal for trotting. Those who prefer the former will tell you to carry your whip pointing forward; the others will tell you to carry it pointing backward, and many masters will say that it makes little difference as long as it is carried gracefully, and as long as you understand that it takes the place of a leg on the right side of the horse. General Anderson, in "On Horseback," lays down the rule that a horse should never be struck on the shoulder, as it will cause him to swerve, but use your master's horses in obedience to his orders.
Now, then, one, two, three, four! One, two, three, four! You don't seem to be astonishing anybody very much, Esmeralda! Again, one, two, three, four! Never mind! Sit down and let the horse do the work. Keep your left heel down, and your left knee close to the saddle. Not close to the pommel, understand, but close to the saddle. Try and imagine, if you like, that you are carrying a dollar between the knee and the saddle, after the West Point fashion, and do not fret overmuch because you are not rising. If you were a cavalryman riding with your troop, you would not be allowed to rise, and to sit properly while sitting close is an accomplishment not to be despised. "Ow!" What does that mean? You rose without trying? Watch yourself carefully, and if such a phenomenon should occur again, try to make it repeat itself by letting yourself down into the saddle, and then rising again quickly. But keep trotting! Count how many times you trot around the ring, and mentally pledge yourself to increase the number of circuits at your next lesson. And—"Cluck!"
Sit down in the saddle, Esmeralda! Lean back a little, bring your left knee up against the pommel, keeping the lower part of the leg close against the saddle; keep your right knee in place and your right foot and the lower part of your right leg close to the saddled; guide your horse, but do not otherwise exert yourself. How do you like it? Delightful? Yes, with a good horse it is as delightful as sitting in a rocking-chair, but, if you were a rider of experience, you would not allow your horse to enter upon the gait without permission, but would bring him back to the trot by slightly pulling first the left rein and then the right, a movement which is called sawing the mouth. The poor creature is really not in fault. He heard the cluck given by that complacent- looking man, trotting slowly about, and not knowing how to use his reins and knees in order to go faster, and he said to himself: "She is tired of trotting and wants a rest; so do I," and away he went. If you had been trying to rise, you might have been thrown, for the greatest danger that you will encounter in the school comes from rising while the horse is at a canter. The cadence of the motion is triple, instead of in common time like that of the trot, and you will soon distinguish the difference, but eschew cantering at first. If you once become addicted to it, you will never learn to trot, or even to walk well.
Having had your little warning against clucking, perhaps you will now sympathize with the indignant Englishwoman who, having been almost unseated by a similar mischance, responded, when the clucking cause thereof rode up to say that he was sorry that her horse should behave so: "It wasn't the horse that was in fault, sir; it was a donkey." But now, try a round or two more of trotting, then guide your horse carefully about the ring two or three times, bring him up to the mounting-stand, dismount, and go to the dressing-room. You are rather warm, but not in the least tired, and you have had "such a good time," as you enthusiastically explain to everybody who will listen to you, but as there is much merry chatter going on from behind screens, and as it is all to the same effect, nobody pays much attention, and if you were cross and complaining, everybody would laugh at you. A riding-school is a place from which every woman issues better contented than she entered, and there is no sympathy for grumblers.
Remember to be careful about your wraps, and that you may be able to ride better next time, practice these exercises at home: Place your knees together and heels together, adjust your shoulders, hands, and arms as if you were in the saddle, and sit down as far as possible, while keeping the legs vertical from the knee down. Rise, counting "One," sink again, rise once more at "Two," and continue through three measures, common time. Rest a minute and repeat until you are a little weary. Nothing is gained by doing too much work, but if you do just enough of this between lessons, you cannot possibly grow stiff. When you can do it fairly well, try to do it first on one foot and then on the other, and then bring your right foot in front of your left knee, and, standing on your left foot, assume, as nearly as possibly, the proper position for the saddle, and try to rise in time. You will not find it very difficult, and you will be compelled to keep your heel down while doing it, especially if you put a block about an inch thick under your left tow. You may try doing it while sitting sidewise in a chair, if it be difficult for you to poise yourself on one foot, but a girl who cannot stand thus for some time, long enough to lace her riding boot, for instance, is much too weak for her own good.
Take all your spare minutes for this work, Esmeralda. Bob up and down in all the secluded corners of the house; try to feel the motion in the horse-cars—it will not need much effort in many of them. And if you want to be comfortable in a herdic, sit sidewise and pretend that the seat is a horse. This is Mr. Hurlburt's rule for riding in an Irish "outside car." In short, while taking your first riding-lessons, walk, sit, and think to the tune of
"One, two, three, four! Near the wall, Make him trot; You cannot fall!"
The Horse does not attempt to fly; He knows his powers, and so should I. Spurgeon.
Wilful will to water, eh, Esmeralda? You are determined to appear in that riding party after your third lesson, and you think that you "will look no worse than a great many others." Undoubtedly, that is true, and more's the pity, but, since you will go, let us make the most of the third lesson, and trust that you will return in a whole piece, like Henry Clay's pie.
You do not see why there is any more danger on the road than in the ring, and you have never been thrown! It would be unkind, in the face of that "never," to remind you that you have been in the saddle precisely twice, and, really, there is no more danger from your incompetency, should it manifest itself on the road, than might arise from its display in the ring, but with your horse it is another matter. Having the whole world before him, why not, he will meditate, speed forth into space, and escape from the hateful creature who jerks on his head so causelessly, making him sigh wearily for the days of his unbroken colthood? He would endure it within doors, because he has noticed that his tormentor gives place to another every hour, and pain may be borne when it is not monotonous; but he remembers that there is no limit to the time during which one human being may impel him along an open road, and he also remembers some very pretty friskings, delightful to himself, but disconcerting to his rider, and he may perform some of them.
Even if he should, he would not unseat a rider well accustomed to school work, but you! You actually rose in the saddle three times in succession, the other day, and where were your elbows and where were your feet when you ceased rising, and long before your steady, quiet mount understood that you desired him to walk?
Your master smiles indulgently when you announce that this is your last practice lesson, and says: "Very well, you shall ride Charlie, to-day, at least for a little while, until some others come in." He himself mounts, moves off a pace or two, one of the assistant masters puts you in the saddle, and before the groom lets Master Charlie's head go, your master says, easily: "Leave his reins pretty long, especially the right one. Put your left knee close against the pommel; don't try to rise until I tell you. Ready. Now."
You feel as if you were in a transformation scene at the theatre. The windows of the ring seem to run into one another, and at very short intervals you catch a glimpse in the mirror of a young woman, in a familiar looking Norfolk jacket, sitting with her elbows as far behind her as if held there by the Austrian plan of running a broomstick in front of the arms and behind the waist.
On and on! You earnestly wish to stop, but are ashamed to say so. Close at your right hand, pace for pace with you, rides your master, keeping up an unbroken fire of brief ejaculation: "Hands a little lower! Arms close to the side!" Shoulders square! Square! Draw your right shoulder backward and upward! Now down with your right elbow! Don't pull o the right rein! Don't lift your hands! You'll make him go faster!"
"I like this kind of trot," you say sweetly. "It's easier than the other kind."
"It isn't a trot; it's a canter," says your master, with a suspicion of dryness in his voice, "but you may make him trot if you like. Shorten both reins, especially the left. Whoa, Charlie! Wait until I say 'Now,' before you do it! Shorten both reins, especially the left; that will keep him to the wall, Then extend your left arm a little, and draw back your right; draw back your left and extend your right, and repeat until he comes down to a trot. That saws his mouth, and gives him something besides scampering to occupy his mind. Now we will start up again at a canter. Lengthen your reins, but remember to shorten them when you want to trot."
"Shall I tell you before hand, so that you may have time to make your horse trot, too?" you ask.
Esmeralda, you must have been reading one of those sweet books on etiquette which advise the horsewoman to be considerate of her companions. How much notice do you think your master requires to "make his horse trot"? You will blush over the memory of that question next year, although now you feel that you have been very ladylike, even very Christian, in putting it, for have you not shown that your temper is unruffled and that you are thinking how to make others happy?
Your master answers that his horse may be trusted, and that if you prefer to take your own time to change from the canter to the trot, rather than to wait for him to say, "Now," you may do so. And the canter begins again, and, after a round or two, you try the mouth-sawing process, doing it very well, for it is an ugly little trick at best, rarely found necessary by an accomplished rider, and beginners seldom fail to succeed in it at the very first attempt. If it were pretty and graceful, it would be more difficult. Down to the trot comes the obedient Charles, and up you go one, two, three, four! And down you come, until you really expect to find yourself and the saddle in the tan between the two halves of your horse.
Of what can the creature's spinal column be made, to bear such a succession of blows! You begin by pitying the horse, but after about half a circuit, you think that human beings have their little troubles also, and you feel a suspicion of sarcasm in your master's gentle: "You need not do French trot any longer, unless you like. It will be easier for you to rise."
You give a frantic hop in your stirrup at the wrong minute, and begin a series of jumps in which you and the horse rise on alternate beats, by which means your saddle receives twice as much pounding as at first, and then you have breath enough left to gasp "Stop," and in a second you are walking along quietly, and your master is saying in a matter-of-fact way: "You would better keep your left heel down all the time, and turn the toe toward the horse's side and keep your right foot and leg close to the saddle below the knee; swing yourself up and down as a man does; don't drop like a lump of lead."
"Like a snowflake," you murmur, for you fancy that you have a pretty wit like Will Honeycomb.
"Not at all," says your master. "The snowflake comes down because it must, and comes to stay. You come because you choose, and come down to rise again instantly. You must keep your right shoulder back, and your hands on a level with your elbows, and you must turn the corners, not let your horse turn them as he pleases— but more pupils are coming now and I must give you another horse. You may have Billy Buttons." The change is effected, the other pupils begin their lessons, and you and Billy walk deliberately about in the centre of the ring.
At first he keeps moderately near the wall, but after a time you find that the circle described by his footsteps has grown smaller, and that he apparently fancies himself walking around a rather small tree. Your master rides up as you are pulling and jerking your left rein in the endeavor to come nearer to the wall, and says, "Try Billy's canter. I'll take a round with you. Strike him on the shoulder, and when you want him to trot, shorten your reins and touch him on the flank. Those are the signals which he minds best. Now! Canter."
You remember having heard of a "canter like a rocking-chair." Charlie had it, but you were too inexperienced to know it, but bad riders long ago deprived Billy of any likeness to a rocking- chair. He knows that if he should let himself go freely, you would come near to making him rear by pulling on the reins, and so he goes along "one, two, three, one, two, three," deliberately, and you feel and look, as you hear an unsympathetic gazer in the gallery remark, "like a pea in a hot skillet." You prided yourself on keeping your temper unruffled under the wise criticism of your master, but in truth you did not really believe him. You said to yourself that he was too particular, and you even thought of informing him that he must not expect perfection immediately, but this piece of impudence, spoken by a person who, for aught that you can tell, does not know Billy from a clotheshorse, convinces you instantly, and you decide to canter no more, but to trot, and so you "shorten your reins and strike him on the flank."
As you shorten the right rein more than the left, and as your whip falls as lightly as if you meant the blow for yourself, Billy goes to the centre of the ring, but you jerk him to the wall, and in time, trot he does. But your left foot swings now forward and now outward, and you cannot rise. The regular, pulsating count by which a clever girl is moving like a machine, irritates you, and you tell another beginner, "They really ought to let us rise on alternate bats at first, until we are more accustomed to the motion," and she agrees with you, and both of you try this, which might be called trotting on the American pupil plan, but even the calm Billy manages to take about six steps between what you regard as the "alternate beats," and at last breaks into a canter, and you hear yourself ordered, very peremptorily, to "sit down." You obey, but begin the pea in the skillet performance again, and at last you tell your master that you will not try to trot anymore, but would like to know all about managing the reins.
"And then," you say, looking as wise as the three Gothamites of the nursery song, "even if I should not be able to trot long, and should fall behind my friends on the road, I shall have perfect control of my horse, and can walk on until they miss me and turn back for me. Will you please tell me all the ways of holding the reins?"
Your master does not laugh; the joke is too venerable, and he feels awe-struck as he hears it, so ancient does it seem.
"If you take your reins in one hand," he says, "an easy way is to hold the snaffle on your ring finger, and the left curb outside the little finger, with the right curb between the middle and fore fingers. Then, when you want to use both hands, put your right little finger and ring finger between the right curb and right snaffle, and hold your hands at exactly even distances from your horse's head, with the two reins firmly nipped by the thumbs resting on top of the fore-fingers. This is the way recommended in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, in Colonel Dodge's 'Patroclus and Penelope,' and you will see it in many very good hunting pictures.
"Colonel Anderson, in his 'On Horseback,' recommends dividing the curb reins by the little finger of the left hand and the snaffle reins by the middle finger, carrying the ends up through the hand, and holding them by the thumb. Mr. Mead, in his 'Horsemanship for Women,' mentions this hold, but prefers taking the curb on the ring finger, and the snaffle outside the little finger, and between the forefinger and middle finger. This hold is used in the British army, and it is convenient in school, because if it be desirable to drop the curb in order to ride with the snaffle only, you can do it by dropping your ring finger, and, if your horse be moderately quiet, you can knot the curb rein and let it lie on his neck. Besides, it makes the snaffle a little tighter than the curb, and that is held to be a good thing in England. An English soldier is prone to accuse American cavalrymen of riding too much on the curb, and by the way, I have heard English soldiers assert that they were taught the second method, but it was a riding master formerly in the Queen's service who told me that the third was preferred.
"M. de Bussigny, in his little 'Handbook for Horsewomen,' gives the preference to crossing the reins, the curb coming outside the little finger and between the ring and middle finger, and the snaffle between the little and ring fingers and the middle finger and forefinger. I hold my won in that way when training a horse, but it is better for you to use both hands on the reins, and he would tell you so. You are more likely to sit square; it gives you twice the hold, and then, too, you know where your right hand is, and are not waving it about in the air, or devising queer ways of holding your whip. Now your hour is over, and I will take you off your horse. Wait until he is perfectly still, and the groom has him by the head. Now drop your reins; let me take off the foot straps; take your foot out of the stirrup; turn in the saddle; put one hand on my shoulder and one on my elbow, and slip down as lightly as you can."
You glance at the clock, perceive that you have been I the saddle almost an hour and a half, and murmur an apology. "Don't mind," is the encouraging answer. "As long as a pupil does not complain and call us stingy when we make her dismount, we do not say much. But are you really going on the road, Monday, Miss Esmeralda?" "Yes, I am," you answer. "Ah, well," he says, a little regretfully, "don't forget, then. Hold on with your right knee and sit down for the canter."
What shall you do by way of exercise before Monday? Practise all the old movements, a little of each one at a time, and take two lengths of ribbon as wide as an ordinary rein, or, better still, two leather straps, and fasten one to the knobs on the two sides of a door and run the other through the keyhole. Call the knob straps the snaffle reins, and the keyhole straps the curb, and, sitting near enough to let them lie in your lap, practice picking them up and adjusting them with your eyes shut. When you can do it quickly and neatly, try and see with how little exertion you can sway the door to left and right, and then practice holding these dummy reins while standing on one foot and executing the movement used in trotting. If the door move by a hair's breadth, it will show you that you are pulling too much, and you must remember that your hold on your horse's mouth gives you greater leverage than you have on the door, and then, perhaps, you will pity the poor beast a little now and then.
What is that? Your master treated you as if you were an ignorant girl? So you are, dear, and even if you were not, if you knew all that there is in all the books, you might still be a bad horsewoman, because you might now know enough to use your knowledge. You don't care, and you feel very well, and are very glad that you went? Of course, that is the invariable cry! And you mean to take some more lessons if you find that you really need them? Then leave your skirt in the dressing-room locker! You will come back from your ride a wiser, but not a sadder, girl. One cannot be sad on horseback.
—Pad, pad, pad! Like a thing that was mad, My chestnut broke away. Thornbury.
Esmeralda was puzzled when she returned from her first riding party. In the morning, looking very pretty in her borrowed riding habit, her English hat with the hunting guard made necessary by the Back Bay breezes, her brown gauntlets, and the one scarlet carnation in her button-hole, she drove to the riding-school, where she had agreed to meet Theodore and her other friends, not like Mrs. Gilpin, lest all should say that she was proud, but because her master had promised to lend her one of the school horses, to put her ion the saddle and to adjust her stirrup, and because she secretly felt that she would better give herself every possible advantage in what, as it came nearer, assumed the aspect of a trial rather than a pleasure.
Beholding Ronald, the promised horse, severely correct in his road saddle, and looking immensely tall as he stood on the stable floor, she inly applauded her own wisdom, strongly doubting that Theodore's unpractised arm would have tossed her into her place as lightly as the master's, and she was secretly overjoyed when the master himself mounted and joined the party with her, making its number nine; Esmeralda herself, the graduate of three lessons; Theodore, all his life accustomed to ride anything calling itself a horse, but making no pretenses to mastery of the equestrian science; the lawyer, understood, on his own authority, to be well informed in everything; the society young lady, erect, precise, self-satisfied; the Texan, riding with apparent laziness, his hands rather high and seldom quiet, but not to be shaken from his seat; the beauty, languid and secretly discontented because her horse was "intended for a brunette, and a ridiculous mount for a blonde"; Versatilia, who had "taken up riding a little," and the cavalryman, calm, quiet, and fraternally regarded by the master, as he reviewed the little flock from the back of a horse which had been offered to him as the paragon of its species, and for which and its kind, as he announced after riding a square or two, he "was not paying a cent a carload."
"It is a lovely horse," said the beauty. "It is such a beautiful color. But men never care for color."
"Good color is a good thing, undoubtedly," said the master, "but a beautiful horse is a good horse, not necessarily an animal which would look well in a painted landscape, because its color would harmonize with the hue of the trees."
"She is a beautiful girl, isn't she," said Esmeralda, looking admiringly at the beauty, who, having just remembered Tennyson's line about swaying the rein with flying finger tips, was executing some movements which made her horse raise his ears to listen for the cause of such conduct, and then shake his head in mild disapproval.
"What do I care for a pretty girl?" demanded the master. "Pretty rider is what I want to see, and 'pretty rider' is 'good rider.' Wait until that girl trots three minutes or so, and see whether or not she is pretty."
The party went through the streets at a rapid walk, now and then meeting a horse-car, now and then a stray wagon, but invariably allowed to take its own way, with very little regard for the rule of the road. The American who drives, whatever may be his social station, admires the courage of the woman who rides, but he is firmly convinced that she does not understand horses, and gives her all the space available wherein to disport herself.
"Are we all right in placing the ladies on the left?" asked Theodore, turning to the master.
"Of course," cried the lawyer. "We follow the English rule, and the left was the place of safety for the lady in the days when English equestrianism was born. Travelers took the left of the road, and this placed the cavalier between his lady and any possible danger."
"And in the United States they take the right, and she is between him and any possible danger," said the master. "It is the custom, but it seems illogical and foolish. True, it removes any danger that the lady may be crushed between her own horse and her escort's, but who protects her from any passing car or carriage, and in case of a runaway what can her escort, his left hand occupied with his own reins, do to aid her with hers, or to disentangle her foot from the stirrup or her habit from the pommels in case she is thrown? Can he snatch her from the saddle, after the matter of one of Joaquin Miller's young men? The truth is that since the rule of the road is 'keep to the right,' the rule of the saddle should be 'sit on the right,' but with a lady on his bridle hand the horseman could not be at his best as an escort, even then.
"It is one of the many little absurdities in American customs; the old story of the survival of the two buttons at the back of the coat, and, by the way, Miss Esmeralda, the two buttons on the back of your habit are out of place, not because of your tailor's fault, but because of yours. They should make a line at right angles with your horse's spinal column. Draw yourself back a little, until you can feel the pommel under your right knee. 'Draw' yourself back; don't lean, but keep yourself perfectly erect, your back perpendicular to your horse's. Sit a little to the left; lean a little to the right. Let your left shoulder go forward a little, your right shoulder backward. Now you are exactly right. Try to remember your sensations at this minute, in order to be able to reproduce them. When I say 'Careful,' pass yourself in review and endeavor to feel where you are wrong. But," addressing the cavalryman, who was in advance with Versatilia, "is this procession a funeral?"
"Not exactly," said the cavalryman, and the, after a backward glance, he cried, in the fashion of a military riding-school master: "Pr-r-re-pare to tr-r-r-ot—Trot!"
Esmeralda remembered to shorten her reins, and resigned herself to the Fates, who were propitious, enabling her to catch the cadence of the trot, and to rise to it during the few seconds before the cavalryman slackened rein. "Careful," said the master, and she shook herself into place, eliciting a hearty "Good!" from him. "Look at your pretty girl," he growled softly, but savagely, and truly the beauty solicited attention. Slipping to the left in her saddle, one elbow pointing toward Cambridgeport and the other toward Dorchester, her right foot visible through her habit, and her left all but out of the stirrup, she was attractive no longer, and to complete the master's disgust she ejaculated: "My hair is coming down!"
"Better bring a nurse and a ladies' maid for her," he muttered to Esmeralda, confidentially. "Hairpins in your saddle pocket? Well, you are a sensible girl," and he rode forward with the little packet, giving it to the lawyer to pass to the unfortunate young woman. But here arose a little difficulty. The space between the lawyer's horse and the beauty's as they stood was too wide to allow him to lay the parcel in her outstretched fingers. The Texan, on her right hand, had enough to do to keep her horse and his own absolutely motionless that she might not be thrown by any unexpected motion of either animal. Versatilia exclaimed in remonstrance, "Don't leave me," when the cavalryman said, "Wait a second, I'll come and give them to her;" the master sat quiet and smiling.
"Why don't you dismount and give them to her?" cried Theodore, and was out of his saddle, had placed the parcel in her hand, and was back in his place again before either of the other three men could speak.
"Very well done," said the master, approvingly, "but not the right thing to do. Never leave your saddle without good cause, and never leave your horse loose for a moment. Yes, I saw that you retained your hold of the reins; I was talking at Miss Esmeralda."
"Why didn't you make your horse step sideways?" he asked the lawyer.
"I can't. He won't. See there!"
Sundry pulls, precisely like those which he might have used had he intended the horse to turn, a pair of absolutely motionless legs, and an unused whip were accepted as evidence that the lawyer's "I can't" was perfectly true, and the master and the cavalryman exchanged comprehending glances as the latter said: "Well, don't mind. An eminent authority announced after the Boston horse show of 1889 that high-school airs were of no use on the road. To make a horse move a step sideways is the veriest little zephyr of an air, but it would have been of some use to you, then. Are we ready now? What's that? Dropped your whip?"
Up went the Texan's left heel, catching cleverly on the saddle as he dropped lightly to the right, after the fashion of the Arab, the Moor, the Apache, of all the nations which ride for speed and for fighting rather than for leaping and hunting, and he caught the whip from the ground and was back in his place in a twinkling. The ladies were unmoved, because inappreciative; the lawyer looked savagely envious, the cavalryman and the master approving, and Theodore, frankly admiring, but no one said anything, the little cavalcade rearranged itself, and once more moved on at a footpace until an electric car appeared.
"Ronald is like a rock," said the master, "and you need not be afraid, but I'll take this beast along in advance. He will shy, or do some outrageous thing, and he has a mouth as sensitive as the Mississippi's, and no more."
The "beast" did indeed sidle and fret and prance, and manifest a disposition to hasten to drown himself in the reservoir, beyond the reach of self-propelling vehicles, and he repeated the performance a the sight of two other cars, although evidently less alarmed than at first, but the fourth car was in charge of a kindly-disposed driver, who came to a dead stop, out of pure amiability.
This was too much for the "beast" to endure; a moving house he was beginning to regard as tolerable, but a house which stopped short and glared at him with all its windows was more than horse nature could endure, and he started for the next county to institute an inquiry as to whether such actions were to be allowed, but found himself forced to stop, and not altogether comfortable, while the master cried good-naturedly: "Go along and take care of your car. I'll take care of my horse!"
"More than some other folks can do," said the driver, with a quiet grin at the lawyer, whose angry, "Here, what are you doing!" shouted to his plunging steed, had brought all the women in the car to the front, to explain to one another that "that man was abusing his horse, poor thing."
The car glided off, and Versatilia turned to look at it; her horse stumbled slightly, jerking her wrists sharply, and but for the cavalryman's quick shifting of the reins to his right hand and his strong grasp of her reins with his left, she might have been in danger.
"Never look back," lectured the master. Esmeralda was his pupil, and he would have taken the whole centennial quadrille and all the cabinet ladies to point his moral, had he seen them making equestrian blunders. "Where your horse has been, where, he is, is the past. Look to the future, straight before you."
"The cavalryman looked back just now," Esmeralda ventured to say.
"Yes, but he turned his horse very slightly to do it, and he may do almost anything because he has a perfect seat, and is a good horseman."
"Suppose I hear something or somebody coming up behind me?"
"If it have any intelligence, it will not hurt you. If it have none, looking will do you no good. Turn out to the right as far as you can and look to the front harder than ever, so as to be ready to guide your horse and to avoid any obstacles in case he should start to run. What is the trouble with the ladies now?"
"O, dear!" cried the beauty to the society young lady, "your horse."
"What's the matter with him?" asked the other, still very stately and not turning.
"Oh! The dreadful creature has caught his tail on my horse's bit," said the beauty.
"Then you'd better take your horse's bit away," retorted the other. "My horse's eyes are not at that end of him, and he can't be expected to look at his tail."
"And you may be kicked," added the Texan. "Check him a little; there! We ought not to be so close together, and we ought to be moving a little, I think. Shall we trot again?"
Everybody assented, the cavalryman and Versatilia set off, the others followed as best they might, the beauty "going to pieces" in a minute or two, according to the master, the society young lady stiffening visibly, losing the cadence of the trot very soon, but making no outcry as she was tossed about uncomfortably, and not bending her head to look at her reins, as Versatilia did.
"There's the advantage of training in other things," said the master. "She's a good dancer and a good amateur actress, and she is controlling herself as she would on a ballroom floor, and remembering the spectators as she would on the stage. She's no rider, but is perfectly selfish and self-possessed, and she will cheat her escort into thinking that she is one. Glad she's no pupil of mine, however! She always heads the conversation, one of her friends told me the other day. That is to say, she is always acting. I can't teach such a person anything; nobody can. She can teach herself, as she can think of herself and love herself, but she can't go outside of herself—and the lawyer will find it out after he has married her."
Esmeralda and Theodore stared in astonishment.
"Walk," said the master, noticing that his pupil looked too warm for comfort, and the three allowed the others to go on without them. "Careful," he added, and Esmeralda, adjusting herself studiously, asked: "Is it really easier to ride on the road than it is in the school? It seems so."
"It is a little, especially if the corners of the ring are so near together that the horse goes in a circle, for then the rider has to lean to the right, while on the road she may sit straight. Give me the right kind of horse for my pupil to ride, and I would as leif give lessons on the road as anywhere, but it is not well for the pupil, whose attention is distracted by a thousand things, and who learns less in a year than she would in a month in school. There is no finish about the riding of a woman so taught. She may be pretty, as you said of one of your friends, she may be self-possessed, like the other, but she will betray her ignorance every moment. You were surprised just now at what I said of the society young lady. A woman can't cheat an old riding-master, after he has seen her in the saddle. He knows her and her little ways by heart. Shall we start up? Ah!"
Ronald, the "steady as a rock," was off and away at a canter; Theodore was starting to gallop in pursuit, but was sharply ordered back by the master, who went on himself at a rather slow canter, ready to break into a gallop if his pupil were thrown, but keeping out of Ronald's hearing, lest he should be further startled by finding himself followed. There was a clear stretch of road before her, and Esmeralda sat down as firmly as possible, brought her left knee up against the pommel, clung firmly with her right knee, held her hands low and her thumbs as firm as possible, and thought very hard.
"Very soon," she said to herself, "I shall be thrown and dragged, and hat a figure I shall be going home, if I', not killed! But I sha'n't be! I shall be ridiculous, and that's worse." Here she swept by the riding party, but as Versatilia and the beauty turned to look at her, and forgot to control their horses, the cavalryman and the Texan had to do it for them, and could do nothing for Esmeralda except to shout "Whoa," which Ronald very properly disregarded. The master came up, and the society young lady addressed him with, "Very silly of her to try to exhibit herself so, isn't it?"
"That's no exhibition; that's a runaway," said the master grimly. "She's doing well too, poor girl," and he and Theodore went on after the flying rider. Two or three carriages, the riders staring with horror; a pedestrian or two, innocently wondering why a lady should be on the road alone; a small boy whistling shrilly; these were all the spectators of Esmeralda's flight. She felt desolate and deserted, and yet sure that it was best that she should be alone, since the master could overtake her if he would, and she wondered if she should be very seriously injured when thrown at last, but all the time she was talking to Ronald in a voice carefully kept at a low pitch, and her hands were held with a steadiness utterly new to them, and the good horse went on regularly, but faster and faster.
"That isn't a real runaway," said the master to himself. "Ah, I see! Her whip is down and strikes him at every stride, and so she unconsciously urges him forward. If there were a side road here, I'd gallop around and meet her, or if there were fields on either side, I'd leap the fence and make a circuit and cut her off, but through this place, with banks like a railway cutting on each side, there is nothing to do."
Swifter and swifter! Esmeralda began to feel weaker, thought of Theodore, and of some other things of which she never told even him, said a little prayer, but all the time remembered her master's injunctions, and kept her place firmly, waiting for the final, and, as she believed, inevitable crash, when lo! She saw that just in front of her lay a long piece of half-mended road, full of ugly little stones, and she turned Ronald on it, with a triumphant, "See how you like that, sir," and then sawed his mouth. In half a minute he was walking. In another the master was beside her with words of approval. Theodore galloped up, pale and anxious, and between the two she had quite as much praise as was good for her, and, being told of the position of the whip, found her confidence in Ronald restored.
"But you should never start up hastily," said the master. "Take time for everything, and check your horse the instant he goes faster than you mean to have him. You are a good girl, and you shall not be scolded, or snubbed, either," he muttered, and the party came up, the cavalryman and the Texan loud in praise, the other four clamorous with questions and advice.
"You look quite disheveled," said the society young lady agreeably.
"Ladies often do after they have been on the road a little while. Excuse me, but one of your skirt buttons is unfastened," said the master, and, not knowing how to pass her reins into her right hand so as to use her left to repair the accident, the society young lady was effectually silenced, while the master, holding Esmeralda's horse, made her wipe her face, arrange the curly locks flying about her ears, readjust her hat, and generally smooth her plumage, until she was once more comfortable.
After a little, the master proposed a trot up the hill, and instructed Esmeralda to lean forward as her horse climbed upward, "If you should have to trot down hill, lean back a little, and keep your reins short," he said.
The lawyer and the society young lady, essaying to descend the next hill brilliantly, barely escaped going over their horses' heads, and all four ladies were glad when they perceived that they were going homeward.
"I like it," Esmeralda said to the master, "but I wish I knew more, and I'm going to learn, and I see now that three lessons isn't enough, even for a beginning."
"I knew a girl who took seventeen lessons and then was thrown," said the society young lady. "Native ability is better than teaching. I don't believe any master could make a rider of you, Esmeralda."
"A good teacher can make a rider out of anyone who will study," said the master, to whom she looked for approval. "As for seventeen lessons, they are better than seven, of course, but they are not much, after all. How many dancing lessons, music lessons, elocution lessons have you taken? More than seventeen? I thought so. Here's a railroad bridge, but no train coming. Had one been approaching, and had there been no chance to cross it before it came, I should have made you turn Ronald the other way, Miss Esmeralda, so that if he ran he would run out of what he thinks is danger, and not into it. And now for an easy little trot home."
An easy little trot it was, and Esmeralda, left at her own door, where a groom waited to take her horse to the stable, was happy, but puzzled. "Theodore," she cried, as soon as he appeared in the evening, "did you ask the master to go with us? He treated me just as he does in school."
"Yes, I did," said Theodore boldly. "I was afraid to take charge of you alone. That was a 'road lesson.'"
"You—you—exasperating thing!" cried Esmeralda. "But then, you were sensible."
"That's tautology," said Theodore.
A solitary horseman might have been seen. G.P.R. James.
And so you are feeling very meek after your road lesson and your runaway, Esmeralda, and are a perfect Uriah Heep for 'umbleness, and are, henceforth and forever, going to believe every syllable that your master utters, and to obey every command the instant that it is given, and—there, that will do! And you are going to take one private lesson so as to learn a few little things before you display your progress before any other pupils again? One private lesson! Did your master advise it? No-no, but he consented to give it, when you had persuaded him that it would be best for you? When you had persuaded him? Behold the American pupil's definition of obedience: to follow commands dictated by herself! However, there is no use in trying to eradicate the ideas bequeathed and fostered by a hundred years of national self-government, so go to the school at the hour when no other pupils are expected.
The horses pace very solemnly around the great ring, and you adjust yourself with wonderful dignity, feeling that your master must perceive by your improved carriage and by the general perfection of your aspect that your exquisite timidity and charming shyness have been responsible for your awkwardness in former lessons, when other pupils were present, but now he leaves your side and takes a position in the centre of the ring, whence he addresses you thus:
"Keep your reins even! The right ones are too short, the left too long! Stop him! That is not stopping him! He took two steps forward after he checked himself. Go forward, and try again when I tell you. Stop! Not so hard, not so hard! You are making him back! Extend your arms forward! There! A little more, and you would have made him rear! Whoa! Wo-ho! Now listen! Not so! Don't drop your reins in that way, and sit so carelessly that a start would throw you from your place! Never leave your horse to himself a second! Sit as well as you can, look between your horse's ears and listen! Always use some discretion in choosing your place to stop. Do not try to stop when turning a corner, even to avoid danger, but rather change your direction. In the ring, never stop on the track, unless in obedience to your masters order, but turn out into the centre, but when you have once told your horse to stop, make him do it, for his sake, as well as for your own, if you have to spend an hour in the effort. And it will be an hour well spent, so that you need not lose patient, and if you do lose it, do not allow your horse to perceive it.