I HAVE bought me a horse! A horse is a good thing to have in the country. In the city, the persevering streets have pushed the Bloomingdale road out of reach. Riding-habits and rosy cheeks, bright eyes, round hats and feathers, are banished from the metropolis. There are no more shady bypaths a little way out of town to tempt equestrians. There are no visions of Die Vernon and Frank Osbaldiston at “Burnam’s” now. Romance no longer holds the bridle-rein while the delicate slipper is withdrawn from the old red morocco stirrup. A whirl of dust, a glitter of wheels, a stretch of tag-rag and bobtail horses, and the young Potiphars are contesting time with Dusty Bob and the exquisite Mr. Farobank. That is the picture of the 95 Bloomingdale road now. It is the everyday picture too. Go when you will, you see the tag-rag and bobtail horses, the cloud of dust, the whirl of wheels, the young Potiphars, Dusty Bob, and the elegant Mr. Farobank.
There was a time when I could steal away from the dusky counting-room to inhale the fragrant hartshorn of the stable, while the hostler was putting the saddle on “Fanny.” Fanny was a blooded filly, a descendant of the great Sir Henry. Her education had been neglected. She had been broken by a couple of wild Irishmen, who used to “hurrup” her, barebacked, morning and evening, through the lonely little street in the lower part of the city, where the stable was situated. As a consequence, the contest between her high blood and low breeding made her slightly vicious. The first time I backed her, she stood still for half an hour, no more moved by the whip than a brass filly would have been; then deliberately walked up the street, turned the corner with a jump that almost threw me on the curb-stone, then ran away, got on the sidewalk, and stopped suddenly, with her fore feet planted firmly in front of a steep flight of area steps, which happened to be filled with children. 96 I dismounted, and, in no time, was the centre of an angry swarm of fathers and mothers, who were going to immolate me on the spot for trying to ride down their ragged offspring. There is much difficulty in making an explanation under such circumstances. As the most abusive person in the crowd happened to be a disinterested strange who was passing by, it soon became a personal matter between the two of us. Accordingly, I asked him to step aside, which he did, when I at once hired him to lead the filly to the ferry. Once on a country road, I was at home in the saddle, and a few days’ training made Fanny tractable. She would even follow me with great gentleness, like a trained dog, and really behaved in a very exemplary way, after throwing me twice or so. Then Fanny and I were frequently on the Bloomingdale road, in summer evenings and mornings, and so were ladies and gentlemen. I do not think the fine buildings that usurp those haunted paths an improvement. Those leafy fringes on the way-side had a charm that freestone cannot give. That stretch of vision over meadow, boulders, wild shrubbery and uplifted trees, down to the blue river, is not compensated by ornate façades, cornices, and vestibules. Where 97 are the birds? In my eyes, the glimmer of sultry fire-flies is pleasanter in a summer night than the perspective gas-lights in streets.
Poor Fanny! my Bloomingdale bride! I believe I was her only patron; and when the stable burnt down, she happened to be insured, and her mercenary owner pocketed her value with a grin.
I have bought me a horse. As I had obtained some skill in the manége during my younger days, it was a matter of consideration to have a saddle-horse. It surprised me to find good saddle-horses very abundant soon after my consultation with the stage-proprietor upon this topic. There were strange saddle-horses to sell almost every day. One man was very candid about his horse: he told me, if his horse had a blemish, he wouldn’t wait to be asked about it; he would tell it right out; and, if a man didn’t want him then, he needn’t take him. 98 He also proposed to put him on trial for sixty days, giving his note for the amount paid him for the horse, to be taken up in case the animal were returned. I asked him what were the principal defects of the horse. He said he’d been fired once, because they thought he was spavined; but there was no more spavin to him than there was to a fresh-laid egg — he was as sound as a dollar. I asked him if he would just state what were the defects of the horse. He answered, that he once had the pink-eye, and added, “now that’s honest.” I thought so, but proceeded to question him closely. I asked him if he had the bots. He said, not a bot. I asked him if he would go. He said he would go till he dropped down dead; just touch him with a whip, and he’ll jump out of his hide. I inquired how old he was. He answered, just eight years, exactly — some men, he said, wanted to make their horses younger than they be; he was willing to speak right out, and own up he was eight years. I asked him if there were any other objections. He said no, except that he was inclined to be a little gay; “but,” he added, “he is so kind, a child can drive him with a thread.” I asked him if he was a good family horse. He replied that no lady 99 that every drew rein over him would be willing to part with him. Then I asked him his price. He answered that no man could have bought him for one hundred dollars a month ago, but now he was willing to sell him for seventy-five, on account of having a note to pay. This seemed such a very low price, I was about saying I would take him, when Mrs. Sparrowgrass whispered, that I had better see the horse first. I confess I was a little afraid of losing my bargain by it, but, out of deference to Mrs. S., I did ask to see the horse before I bought him. He said he would fetch him down. “No man,” he added, “ought to buy a horse unless he’s saw him.” When the horse came down, it struck me that, whatever his qualities might be, his personal appearance was against him. One of his fore legs was shaped like the handle of our punch-ladle, and the remaining three legs, about the fetlock, were slightly bunchy. Besides, he had no tail to brag of; and his back had a very hollow sweep, from his high haunches to his low shoulder-blades. I was much pleased, however, with the fondness and pride manifested by his owner, as he held up, by both sides of the bridle, the rather longish head of his horse, surmounting a neck shaped like a pea- 100 pod, and said, in a sort of triumphant voice, “three-quarters blood!” Mrs. Sparrowgrass flushed up a little, when she asked me if I intended to purchase that horse, and added, that, if I did, she would never want to ride. So I told the man he would not suit me. He answered by suddenly throwing himself upon his stomach across the back-bone of his horse, and then, by turning round as on a pivot, got up a-straddle of him; then he gave his horse a kick in the ribs that caused him to jump out with all his legs, like a frog, and then off went the spoon-legged animal with a gait that was not a trot, nor yet precisely pacing. He rode around our grass plot twice, and then pulled his horse’s head up like the cock of a musket. “That,” said he, “is time.” I replied that he did seem to go pretty fast. “Pretty fast!” said his owner. “Well, do you know Mr. ——?” mentioning one of the richest men in our village. I replied that I was acquainted with him. “Well,” said he, “you know his horse?” I replied that I had no personal acquaintance with him. “Well,” said he, “he’s the fastest horse in the county — jist so — I’m willin’ to admit it. But do you know I offered to put my horse agin’ his to trot? I had no money to put up, or, rayther, to 101 spare; but I offered to trot him, horse agin’ horse, and the winner to take both horses, and I tell you — he wouldn’t do it!”
Mrs. Sparrowgrass got a little nervous, and twitched me by the skirt of the coat. “Dear,” said she, “let him go.” I assured her I would not buy the horse, and told the man firmly I would not buy him. He said very well — if he didn’t suit ’twas no use to keep a-talkin’: but he added, he’d be down agin’ with another horse, next morning, that belonged to his brother; and if he didn’t suit me, then I didn’t want a horse. With this remark he rode off.
When I reached our rural dwelling in the evening, I brought with me the pleasant memory of a story I had heard amid the crash and roar of the great city. To preserve it, I wrote it down on paper. Then I brought it in to Mrs. Sparrowgrass, and, with a sort of premonitory smile, asked her if she remembered “Godiva.” Mrs. S. seemed puzzled at the question. I believe she was enumerating the names of our former servant girls in her mind — girls that had been discharged or gone off of themselves, from a disinclination to cleanliness, coupled with a certain amount of work. “Godiva,” 102 said I, “or Godina, was the wife of Lord Leofrick, of Coventry, in Warwickshire, England. He oppressed the citizens with heavy taxes, and destroyed their privileges. His wife interceded with him, begged him to remit the weighty burden for her sake. In jest, he promised to do so upon one consideration.” “I remember it,” said Mrs. Sparrowgrass. “The condition was, that she should ride through the streets of Coventry stark naked.” Mrs. Sparrowgrass blushed up to her eyes. “But like a noble woman, she undertook the task, and redeemed their liberties, by fulfilling his jest in earnest.” “Poor thing,” said Mrs. S. “You remember,” I continued, “how splendidly Tennyson has painted the legend:
“How noble!” said Mrs. S. “Yes,” I replied, “and now, after this, I want to read you my story. I call it
Sometime after the year eighteen hundred and fifty, a young Englishman landed at one of the quays that afford accommodation to packet ships, around the city of New York. He had come to the New World full of hope and enthusiasm, and he stepped upon the quay without a penny in his pocket. Seldom does an American find himself in this condition, in a foreign port. Here it is so familiar, so much of an every-day occurrence, that sympathy has grown callous to the repetition of the old story; — so this emigrant found, by bitter experience. His fine, intelligent face, under a check-cloth cap, presented itself at various counting-rooms of the city. Check-cloth caps, in search of employment, are common enough; and few merchants can spare time to analyze the lineaments of a fine, intelligent countenance.
So the young emigrant found no employment in 104 the busy, active city; the fine, intelligent countenance suffered by unwholesome resting-places, among funeral mahogany at night, and by pride struggling with hunger in the day, until at last the check-cloth cap bent over a stone mallet to beat down the city cobble stones, for a corporation contractor. Oh, the dreary, desolate city, crowded with strangers! Oh, the bright, alien sunshine, that never lighted up a sympathetic face! Oh, the green shores of Merrie England, that he had seen sinking in the distant sea, with misty eyes! There they all were; mother and brothers, and she, the dear one —all! and every blow of the stone-rammer went down like a sob. In no period of life is disappointment so poignant as in youth. The dreams of maturity are limited by experience, and the awakening is almost anticipated. But youth believes its gorgeous visions, and looks upon the real, work-day world as a monstrous fable. But, oh, the touch of the Ithuriel spear!
The stone-rammer, for months, steadily beat down the cobble-stones. The check-cloth cap had lost its pristine freshness; the fine, intelligent countenance became dead, dull, apathetic. There was a trifling sum deposited weekly in the Emigrant’s 105 Saving Bank. It was all withdrawn one day. It was the day the “Devonshire” Liverpool packed sailed. From that day the check-cloth cap, and the fine, intelligent countenance were seen no more by the corporation contractor.
The “Devonshire” packet ship had a fine passage out, and was beating up towards the Mersey in little more than a fortnight after she bade farewell to the American city. There she met another packet ship, outward bound. The ships came so near each other that passengers could recognize faces on either deck. Amid the multitude of emigrants, thronging the side of the outward-bound packet, one face had particularly attracted the attention of the passengers on the “Devonshire.” It was that of an emigrant girl, a right English face, in a Dunstable bonnet, but still strikingly lovely. It was a face not simply beautiful only, it was ideally so; one of those faces to inspire love in a woman, adoration in a man, and respect in coarser natures. It was not surprising, then, when one of the younger passengers on the “Devonshire” proposed at dinner, “the health of that English girl,” that everybody understood it — that ladies and all joined in the toast with enthusiasm.106
One person alone, a steerage passenger on the “Devonshire,” had been insensible to the excitement occasioned by the passing ships. From the time the blue land hove in sight, the inevitable check-cloth cap, and fine intelligent countenance had been turned shorewards, from the bowsprit. Never once had that eager gaze been diverted from the land; never once had it turned towards the packet, outward bound!
A fragment of his history must be inserted in the mosaic of the story. When he left home to seek his fortune in the Western republic, he did so with a feeling, a faith that seemed prophetic of success. His talents, for he had talents; his perseverance, for he had perseverance; his indefatigable industry, for he had that also, assured him there could be no failure. Nor would there have been, in time. Industry, perseverance, and talent, may fearlessly begin with the stone rammer, or even with a lower calling. Begin, begin, somewhere — anywhere — only begin. There is no position, no dignity, without the inevitable steps. If need be, take the lowest and surmount them. Here, then, might have been laid the foundation of his fortunes, had pride permitted; but that young, ardent spirit, 107 crushed by drudgery, saw the future only as a continuation of the present; the busy world had rudely thrust him aside; it is true, pride had succumbed to hunger, and beat down the cobble stones, but this, to him, was not the dawn of hope, but the sequel. Henceforth, one thought controlled his mind. “Home, home! return, return!” rang out from the flinty pavements. There was the face of mother, there were the faces of brothers, there was her face, the face of his beloved one — his betrothed, to whom, in his anguish, he had not written since he first stepped upon the shores of the busy, heartless New World. “Home, home!” was the constant burthen, until the “Devonshire” packet carried him, with his slender fortunes, once more across the Atlantic. What was that outward-bound ship to him, when his eyes were fixed again on Merrie England, where they all were?
Not very long after this period, Mr. Ultramarine, the famous artist, was arranging the drapery on his lay-figure. A lay-figure is a huge doll, usually about five feet three in height, kept in artists studios. Its joint are flexible, back, arms, neck, et ecetera, movable at will; it can be made to stand up, to sit down or lie down, in fact, may be put in 108 any posture; its limbs, bust, body, are stuffed out so as to cleverly represent womanity, in perfect and divine proportions; its ordinary use is to be dressed up as a lady, and to act as such in the studio. For example, Mrs. Honiton is sitting for her portrait, the lovely face, the rounded arms, the taper fingers, are transferred to the canvas; but Mrs. Honiton’s elaborate dress must also be painted, and a two hours’ sitting, day after day, is tiresome and tedious. The lay-figure then becomes useful, and plays a brief part in society. For a period, it represents Mrs. Honiton. While Mr. Ultramarine is finishing the picture, it wears her brocades, velvets, shawl, bertha, bracelets, lace-sleeves, with becoming dignity. There is one peculiarity in lay-figures, sometimes objectionable. They are apt to transfer an air of stiffness to the likeness; this, however may be also in the original, and then the effect is wonderful.
Mr. Ultramarine could not arrange the drapery on the lay-figure to suit his fancy. The delicate, careless curve of Mrs. Honiton’s arm, holding the thrown-off shawl, was beyond the lay-figure’s ability. So Mr. Ultramarine gave it up, and went on setting his pallet, with now and then a fiendish 109 look at his lay-figure. There was that rigid arm, stiffly holding out the shawl, with the precision of porcelain; completely excluding the idea Mr. U. wished to portray, of carelessness.
There is always, in every studio, of every artist in the city of New York, in the morning, before visitors arrive, a respectable, elderly female. Her duties are sweeping and dusting. By constantly breathing its magic atmosphere, she often gains an intuitive conception of art, beyond even the skill of a newspaper critic. The respectable elderly female who was putting Mr. Ultramarine to rights, understood the difficulty at once. She glanced at the artist and at the shawled manikin. Then she hushed the music of the broom, and said, timidly, “Please sir, there is a poor creature, a young English girl, sir, at my room, a living with me, that would be glad to earn a shilling or two; and she would hold yon shawl just as you want it.” Mr. Ultramarine squeezed a little vermilion out of the capsule upon his pallet, and looked up. “Hum,” he replied, “a coarse creature, I presume.” This was said in a kind voice, with a lingering accent on “coarse creature,” that did not convey harshness by any means. “No, sir,” she answered, “I 110 would call her an English beauty. The finest face and figure, sir.” “Dear me,” said the artist, “why did you not speak of it before? Can you bring her now, Mrs. Hill?” “I can, sire,” she replied, “immegently.” So Mrs. Hill left the studio for the model, and Mr. U. went on preparing Mrs. Honiton’s toilet on his pallet. He squeezed a tiny pod of blue in one place, then mixed it with white, in a variety of tints; then he smeared another place over with Vandyke brown; then he dropped a curious little worm of yellow ochre, out of another capsule; then the pallet-knife dipped into a patch of white, and then the ochre was graduated into various tints; then he dug a mass of magilp out of a bottle, and put that on the board; then glanced on the lovely Honiton, and again took up another capsule, from which he pressed a cogent blush of carmine. Then the door opened, after a short knock, and in walked Mrs. Hill and the model. Under a plain English bonnet was the same face the passengers on the “Devonshire” had seen looking over the side of the packet, outward-bound.
Mr. Ultramarine was a painter, and felt the divine inspiration of his profession realized in that face. But when the model had been arrayed by 111 Mrs. Hill in the ante-room in the splendid dress of Mrs. Honiton, and stood upon the dais, the effect was bewildering. “Such,” said the artist to himself, “was the face Raphael knew and painted, and men turned from Divinity to worship art in the ideal Virgin. It is not surprising the church has made so many proselytes.”
Mr. Ultramarine was an artist; he set to work manfully and painted the shawl. There was an ease and grace in the careless curve of the living arm holding it, that made lay-figure absolutely repulsive. He put lay-figure in one corner of his studio, and covered her all over with old coats, pantaloons, a rug, and bit of curtain, besides piling his fishing-rod, and laying a cracked pallet on top, by way of cap-stone. Alas, Mr. Ultramarine had not another lady sitter just then; there were a score of gentlemen whose portraits had to be painted. They must be painted; he had a family to support, and not much to do it with. He must pay the model and send her away. So he told her simply and kindly, and then ——
The model turned deadly pale, essayed to speak, failed, and fainted outright.112
Mr. Ultramarine took it into his head that the model had fallen in love with him. Never was he more mistaken, nor more relieved when he found he was mistaken. He carried the helpless form to a chair, bathed the Madonna face with water, and brought the model to.
Then came the story. She was betrothed; her lover had left England for America months ago; she had waited patiently to hear from him by letter; steamer after steamer arrived, but no letter. In the seclusion of her native village suspense had become intolerable. She determined to follow him. Not for an instant doubting his faith, but fearing all that woman can fear save that. Never did she think she could not find him; no, not if he were in the world. She had traced him even in the wilderness of New York, until at last she found he had taken passage to England again by the “Devonshire.” For here there was but one thought, one hope, one overpowering desire. That was also to return, speedily, instantly, if possible, but —— she was almost penniless.
When she had concluded, a bright idea suggested itself to Mr. Ultramarine, and played with a lambent light over his features. “My child,” said 113 he, “it would be impossible for me to assist you with means sufficient for your purpose, but I can tell you of a way by which you can make enough to enable you to return, and make it speedily too. We are in want of a nude model for the National Academy of Design. Our present models have been so long on the carpet they have grown too stringy even for high art. You understand me, we are in want of a nude model for the life school. If you will consent to sit, you can speedily earn enough to enable you to return, say in a few weeks.
What was passing in that young mind while the artist was saying this, in a plain matter-of-face way? What terrible thoughts were being balanced there? What years of blinding toil, to earn even a pittance for daily support, with no hope of regaining far-off England, were being weighed against this startling alternative? With all there was a little flush of hope; — in a month she could be on the broad ocean; — in a month she would see him for whom she suffered so much; and in that pure, maiden heart arose the determination to make the sacrifice. So, when the burning blush left her features, and she had heard all, it was a face as calm as marble 114 that bowed assent, meekly but firmly, and then she went forth from the studio.
In the National Academy of Design there are two schools of art — the Antique and the Life. The first comprises casts of the famous statues, the Farnese Hercules, the Venus de Medici, the Apollo Belvidere, Thorwaldsen’s Mercury with the pipe, and Venus with the apple, the Nymph of the bath, and Venus Victrix, the Greek Suppliant, and other immortal achievements. Here the neophytes of the Academy assemble in winter to draw from the casts. In the adjoining room maturer students copy from life. In no place is the ennobling influence of art more apparent than in the Life-school. The sacred stillness of the place, the calm, earnest faces of the sketchers, the statue-like repose of the living model; the analytical experience constantly suggested by the nude figure — the muscles, first round and firm, then flattened, then lax and shrunken by the hour’s duty, teaching the physical aspects of nature in various conditions, from which the true painter draws the splendid corollary, “that art represents nature best, when art comprehends nature in all its developments.”
Was there no shrinking in that young creature’s 115 heart when they had left her alone in the unrobing room? Was there no touch of unconscious pride as she stood at last, in her abundant beauty, before the mirror? Did she not hesitate as she opened the door, and stepped forth upon the curtained dais? Or, was that pure, innocent breast so unsullied, that even to shame it was alien? The truly good alone can answer this question.
To the most discreet, the wisest, and the gravest counsellors of the Academy is confided the delicate task of arranging the pose of the nude model on the dais. Then the curtains are drawn, and the figure is revealed to the students. There are usually three of these counsellors; for, “in a multitude of counsellors is wisdom.” This time no artistic interference was needed. The natural posture of the nude figure upon the dais-sofa was one of such exquisite grace that it rivalled even the Greek marble. So the wise graybeards of the Academy besought the model to sit perfectly still, and with this proclamation, the curtains were swept away, and a flood of light fell upon the dais and Godiva.
Thou white chastity! Amid that blaze of eager eyes now fastened upon thy beauties, there is not a soul so base as to harbor one evil thought of thee! 116 Here, where “art’s pure dwellers are,” thou art secure as in a shrine!
The hour’s probation is over: the curtains close. And now the touching history of her love is told by Mr. Ultramarine to the listening students, and ere the Madonna face is hidden again in the Dunstable bonnet, the artists before the curtain have a little gift for the model. It is a purse, not heavy, but sufficient. Young artists cannot give much. But there was an unanimous determination that she should be protected by them until such time as she could be safely placed on a steamer “outward bound.” And before a week had elapsed she stood again upon a deck; and never were farewells, waved to the departing passengers of the “Atlantic,” fuller of generous sympathy, than those that bade adieu to Godiva!
Is that all?” said Mrs. Sparrowgrass, as I rolled up the manuscript. “That is all, my dear.” “Did she find her lover?” said Mrs. Sparrowgrass. “I do not know,” I replied; “but I suppose she did.” “I hope she did,” said Mrs. S. “from the bottom of my heart I do.” — (A pause.) — “Come,” 117 said I, “it is late. To-morrow we must rise early, for you know the man is to bring the other horse here: — the one that belongs to his brother, Mrs. Sparrowgrass.”