"To stop, you should press your leg and your whip against your horse's sides; lift your hands a very little, and turn them in toward your body, lean back and draw yourself up. There are six things to do: two to your horse, one on each side of him, two with your hands and two with your body, and you must do them almost simultaneously. Unless you do the first two, your horse will surely take a forward step or two after stopping, in order to bring himself into a comfortable position. If you do not cease doing the last four the moment that your horse has stopped, he may rear or he may back several steps, and he should never do that, but should await an order for each step. Now, do you remember the six things? Very well! Go forward! Stop! Did I tell you to do anything with your arms? No> Well, why did you bring your elbows back of your waist, then? It is allowable to do that —to save your life, but not to stop your horse. Bend your hands at the wrist, turning the knuckles, if need be, until they are at right angles with their ordinary position, so that the back of your hand is toward your horse's ears, but keep the thumb uppermost all the time.
"Now, think it over a moment! Go forward! Stop! Pretty well! Go on! Don't lean forward too much when you start, and sit up again instantly.
"Now walk around the school once, and go into all the corners. Stop! You stopped pretty well, but you leaned back too far, and you did not draw yourself up at all. Mind, you draw 'yourself' up; you don't try to pull the bit up through the corners of your horse's mouth. What I wanted to say was that a turn is just half a stop as far as your hands, leg and whip are concerned. To turn to the right, use your right hand and whip, but keep your left leg and hand steady; to turn to the left, use your left leg and hand and keep your whip and whip hand steady. When you turn to the right, lean to the right instead of backward; 'lean,' not twist to the right, and turn your head to the right so as to see what may be there.
"If you were on the road, and did not turn your head before going down a side street, you might knock over a bicycle rider, and thereby hurt your horse, which would be a pity," he says, with apparent indifference as to the bicycle rider's possible injuries. "Now go around the school again. Left shoulder forward! Right shoulder back! Sit to the right! Lean to the left! I told you to sit to the left, the other day? And that is the reason that I have told you to sit to the right to-day. You over-do it. Miss Esmeralda, if I were talking for my own pleasure, I should say pretty things to you, but I am talking to teach you, and when I say 'This is wrong! This is wrong!' and again 'This is wrong!' I do it for you, not for myself. When your father and mother say 'This is wrong; you must not do it, or you will be sorry,' you do not look at them as if you thought them to be unreasonable—or, I trust that you do not," he adds, mentally. "Heaven only knows what an American girl may do when anybody says, 'You must not' to her.
"Now," he goes on aloud, "it is the same with your teacher; he says 'You are wrong,' lest you should be sorry by and by, and he is patient and says it many times, as your father and mother do, and he says it every time that you do anything wrong, unless you do so many wrong things at once that he cannot speak of each one. Now you shall turn to the right, and remember that a turn is half a stop. Go across the school and then turn to the left! Keep a firm hold on your right rein now so as to keep your horse close to the wall. Where, where are your toes? It was not necessary to make you turn so as to see your right foot through your riding habit as I can now, to know that they were pointing outward. Your right shoulder told the story by drooping forward. M. de Bussigny lays especial stress on this point in his manual, and you will find that your whole position depends more on that seemingly unimportant right foot than on many other things, so bend your will to holding it properly, close against the saddle. Walk on now, keeping on a straight line. If you cannot do it in the school, you cannot on the road, and many an ugly scrape against walls, horse-cars, and other horses you will receive unless you can keep to the right and in a straight line. Now turn to the left, and go straight across the school. Straight! Fix your eye on something when you start, and ride at it with as much determination as if it were a fence; now you turn to the right again and go forward. Have you read Delsarte?"
No, you murmur to yourself, you have not read Delsarte, and, if you had, you do not believe that you could remember it or anything else just at present. What an endless string of directions! You wish that there was another pupil with you to take the burden of a few of them! You wish you were—oh! Anywhere. This is your obedience, is it Esmeralda? Well, you don't care! This is dull! Your horse thinks so, too. He gently tries the reins, and, finding that you offer no resistance, he decides to take a little exercise, and starts off at a canter, keeping away from the wall most piously, avoiding the corners as if some Hector might be in ambuscade there to catch and tame him, and rushing on faster and faster, as you do nothing in particular to stop him.
"Lean to the right," cries the master, and you obey, but the horse continues his canter, almost a gallop now, when suddenly your wits return to you, you draw back first the right hand and then the left, he begins to trot, and by some miracle you begin to rise, and continue to do it, you do not know exactly how, feeling a delight in it, an exhilarating, exultant sensation as if flying. "Keep your right leg close to the saddle below the knee and turn your toes in!" You obey, and even remember to press your left knee to the saddle also and to keep your heel down. "Don't rise to the left! Rise straight! Your horse is circling to the right, and you must lean to the right to rise straight! Take him into the corners so that he will move more on a straight line, and you can rise straight and be as much at ease as if on the road. Whoa! Now, don't change your position, but look at yourself! You did not shorten your reins when you began to trot, and, if your horse had stumbled, you could not have aided him to regain his balance. Had you shortened them properly, you could, by sitting down, using your leg and whip lightly and turning your hands toward your body, have brought him down to a walk without hurling yourself forward against the pommel in that fashion. Now, adjust yourself and your reins, and start forward once more," and you obey, and are beginning to flatter yourself that your master does not know that your canter was accidental, when he warns you against allowing a horse to do anything unbidden.
"You should have stopped him at once," he says. "He will very likely try to repeat his little maneuver in a few minutes. When he does, check him instantly, not by your voice, but as you have been directed. And now, have you read Delsarte? No? If you have time, you might read a chapter or two with advantage, simply for the sake of learning that a principle underlies all attitudes.
"He divides the body into three parts; the head, torso, and legs, and he teaches that the first and third should act on the same line, while the second is in opposition to them. For instance, if you be standing and looking toward the right, your weight should rest on your right leg and your torso should be turned to the left. Neither turn should be exaggerated, but the two should be exactly proportioned, one to another.
"Now for riding, your body is divided into three parts, your head and torso making one, your legs above the knee, the second, and your legs below the knee, the third, and you will find that the first and third will act together, whether you desire it or not. Your right foot is properly placed now, but turn its toes outward and upward; you see what becomes of your right shoulder. Now try to make a circle to the right, a volte we call it, because it is best to become accustomed to a few French words, as there are really no English equivalents for many of the terms used in the art of equestrianism.
"To make a volte you have only to turn to the right and to keep turning, going steadily away from the wall until opposite your starting point, and then regaining it by a half-circle. Making voltes is not only a useful exercise, showing your horse that you really mean to guide him, and teaching you to execute a movement steadily, but it affords an excellent way of diverting the horse's attention from the mischief which Satan is always ready to find for idle hoofs. Give him a few voltes and he forgets his plans for setting off at a canter. Do you understand? Very well. When you are half-way down the school try to make a volte. I will give you no order. Your horse would understand if I did and would begin the movement himself, and you should do it unaided."
You try the volte, and convince yourself that the geometry master who taught you that a circle was a polygon with an infinite number of sides was more exact and less poetical than you thought him in the days before the riding-school began to reform your judgment on many things. You are conscious of not making a respectable curve in return, and you draw a deep breath of disgust as you say, "That was very bad, wasn't it?"
"Not for the first time. Keep your left hand and leg steady, and try it again on the other side of the ring. Better! Now walk around, and make him go into the corners, if you have to double your left wrist in doing it, but don't move your arm, and when you begin to bend you right wrist to turn, straighten your left, and remember to lean your body and turn your head, if you want your horse to turn his body. Your wrist acts on his head and keeps him in line; your whip and leg bring his hind legs under him, but you must move your body if you want him to move his.
"Now, you shall make a half volte, or shall 'change hands,' as it is sometimes called, because, if you start with your left hand nearest the wall, you will come back to the wall with your right hand nearest to it; or, to speak properly, 'if you start on the right hand of the school, you will end on the left hand.' For the half volte, make a half circle to the right, and then ride in a diagonal line to a point some distance back on your track, and when you are close to it make three quarters of a turn to the left and you will find yourself on the left of the school, and in a position to practice keeping your horse to the right. Try it, beginning about two thirds of the way down the long side of the school. Now to get back to the right hand, you may turn to the left across the school, and turn to the left again.
"There is a better way of dong it, but that is enough for to-day. Walk now. Do you see how much better your horse carries himself, and how much better you carry your hands, after those little exercises? Now you must try and imagine yourself doing them over and over and over again, to accustom your mind to them, just as when learning to play scales and five-finger exercises you used to think them out while walking. Shall you not need pictures and diagrams to assist you? Not if you have as much imagination as any horsewoman should have. Not if you have enough imagination to manage a cow, much more to enter into the feelings of a good horse. Pictures are invaluable to the stupid; they benumb and enervate the clever, and turn them into apish imitators, instead of making them able to act from their own knowledge and volition. Theory will not make you a good rider, but a really good rider without theory is an impossibility, and your theory must have a deeper seat than your retinae. Now, you shall have a very little trot, and then you may walk for ten minutes, and try to do voltes and half voltes by yourself, asking me for aid if you cannot remember how to execute the movements. Doing them will help you to pass away the time when you are too tired to trot, and will keep you from having any dull moments."
And you, Esmeralda, you naughty girl! You forgot all about your sulkiness half an hour ago, and, looking your master in the face, you say: "But nobody ever has dull moments in riding-school." There! Finish your lesson and walk off to the dressing-room; you will be trying to trade horses with somebody the next thing, you artful, flattering puss!
Here we are riding, she and I! Browning.
What is it now, Esmeralda? By your blushing and stammering it is fairly evident that another of your devices for learning on the American plan—that is to say, by not studying—is in full possession of your fancy, and that again you expect to become a horsewoman by a miracle; come, what is it? A music ride? Nell has an acquaintance who always rides to music, and asserts that it is as easy as dancing; that the music "fairly lifts you out of the saddle," and that the pleasure of equestrian exercise is doubled when it is done to the sound of the flute, violin, and bassoon, or whatever may be the riding-school substitutes?
As for lifting you out of the saddle, Esmeralda, it is quite possible that music might execute that feat, promptly and neatly, once, and might leave you out, were it produced suddenly and unexpectedly by "dot leetle Sherman bad," and it is undoubtedly true that, were you a rider, music would exhilarate you, quicken your motions, stimulate your nerves, and assist you as it assists a soldier when marching. It is also true that it will aid even you somewhat, by indicating on what step you should rise, so that your motions will not alternate with those of your horse, to your discomfiture and his disgust, and that thus, by mechanically executing the movement, you may acquire the power of seeing that you are not performing it when you rise once a minute or thereabouts, but a music ride is an exercise which a wise pupil will not take until advised thereto by her master. Still, have your own way! Why did George Washington and the other fathers of the republic exist, if its daughters must be in bondage to common sense and expediency?
Borrow Nell's habit once more, for the criticism to be undergone on the road is mild compared to that of a gallery of spectators before whom you must repeatedly pass in review, and who may select you as the object of their especial scrutiny. Dress at home, if possible; if not, go to the school early, and array yourself rapidly, but carefully, for there may be fifty riders present during the evening, and there will be little room to spare on the mounting-stand, and no minutes to waste on buttoning gloves, shortening skirt straps or tightening boot lacings. Remember all that you have been taught about mounting and about taking your reins, and think assiduously of it, with a determination to pay no attention to the gallery. There will be no spectators on the mounting-stand, and Theodore, who will take charge of you in the ring, will mount before you do, and when you have been put in your saddle by one of the masters, and start, he will take his place on your right, nearer the centre of the ring. While you are walking your horses slowly about, turning corners carefully and never ceasing to control your reins, warn him that when you say, "Centre," he must turn out to the right instantly, that you also may do so. If possible, you will not pronounce the word, but will ride as long as the horses canter or trot in time to the music.
"Do you understand," Theodore asks, "that these horses adjust their gait to the music?"
"So Nell's friend says."
"Well, I don't believe it. They are good horses, but I don't believe that they practice circus tricks. Why must I go to the centre the minute that you bid me? Why couldn't you pull up and pass out behind me?"
"Because if I did, somebody might ride over me. It is not proper to stop while on the track."
"Oh-h! How long do they trot or canter at a time? Half an hour?"
"Only a few minutes," you answer, wondering whether Theodore really supposes that you could canter, much less trot half an hour, even if stimulated by the music of the spheres.
"That's a pretty rider," he says, as a girl circles lightly past, sitting fairly well, and rising straight, but with her arms so much extended that her elbow is the apex of a very obtuse angle, though her forearms are horizontal. You explain this point to Theodore, who replies that she looks pretty, and seems to be able to trot for some time, whereupon your heart sinks within you. What will he say when he sees the necessary brevity of your performance?
Other riders enter: two or three men mounted on their own horses, beautiful creatures concerning whose value fabulous tales are told in the stable; the best rider of the school, very quietly and correctly dressed, and managing her horse so easily that the women in the gallery do not perceive that she is guiding him at all, although the real judges, old soldiers, a stray racing man or two, the other school pupils and the master—regard her admiringly, and the grooms, as they bring in new horses, keep an eye on her and her movements, as they linger on their way back to the stable.
"Her horse is very good," Theodore admits, "but I don't think much of her. Well, yes, she is pretty," he admits, as she executes the Spanish trot for a few steps and then pats her horse's shoulder; "it's pretty, but anybody could do it on a trained horse, couldn't they, sir?" he asks your master, who rides up, mounted on his own pet horse.
"Anybody who knew how. The horse has been trained to answer certain orders, but the orders must be given. An untrained horse would not understand the orders, no matter how good an animal he might be. Antinous might not have been able to ride Bucephalus, and I don't believe that Alexander could have coaxed Rosinante into a Spanish trot. It isn't enough to have a Corliss engine, or enough to have a good engineer: you must have them both, and they must be acquainted with one another. I don't believe that horse would do that for you."
"No, I don't think he would," Theodore says dryly, for he has been watching, and has reluctantly owned to himself that he does not see how the movement is effected. Meantime, you, Esmeralda, have been arduously devoting yourself to maintaining a correct attitude, and are rewarded by hearing somebody in the gallery wonder whether you represent the kitchen poker or Bunker Hill Monument.
"Don't mind," your master says, encouragingly. "It is better to be stiffly erect than to be crooked, and as for the person who spoke, she could not ride a Newfoundland dog," and with that he touches his hat, and rides lightly across the ring to speak to a lady whose horse has, in the opinion of the gallery, been showing a very bad temper, although in reality every plunge and curvet has been made in answer to her wrist and to the tiny spur which his rider wears and uses when needed. The lady nods in answer to something which the master says, the two draw near to the wall, side by side, the others fall in behind them, and the band begins a waltz, playing rather deliberately at first, but soon slightly accelerating the time.
There is very little actual need of guiding your horse, Esmeralda, because long habit has taught him what to do at a music-ride, but you do right to continue to endeavor to make him obey you. Should he stumble; should that man riding before you and struggling to make his horse change his leading foot fail in the attempt, and cause the poor creature to fall; should the rider behind you lose control of her horse, your firm hold of the reins would be of priceless value to you, but now the waltz rhythm suddenly changes to that of a march, and your horse begins to trot, slowly and with little action at first, and then with a freer, longer stride which really lifts you out of the saddle, sending you rather too high for grace, indeed, but making the effort very slight for you, and enabling you to think about your elbows, and sitting to the right and keeping your right shoulder back and your right foot close to the saddle and pointing downward, and your left knee also close, and "about seventy-five other things," as you sum up the case to yourself. Thanks to this, you are enabled to continue until the music stops, and Theodore says, approvingly, "Well, you can ride a little."
"A very little," your master says. She has learned something, of course, but it would be the unkindest of flattery for me to fell her that she does well."
"One must begin to ride in early childhood," Theodore says.
"One should begin to be taught in childhood," the master amends, "but it is not absolutely necessary. Some of the best riders in the French Army never mounted until they went to the military school, and some of the best riders at West Point only know a horse by sight until they fall into the clutches of the masters there, and then!" His countenance expresses deep commiseration.
"Now," he adds, "if you take my advice, you two, you will take places in the centre of the ring; you will sit as well as you know how, Miss Esmeralda, and you will watch the others through the next music. It is perfectly allowable," he adds, drawing rein a moment as he passes, "to sit a little carelessly when your horse is at rest, always keeping firm hold of the reins, but I would rather that you did not do it until you had ridden a little more and are firmer in your seat. Hollow your waist the least in the world, for the sake of our poker-critic in the gallery, and watch for bad riding as well as for good," and away he goes, and again the double circle of riders sweeps around the ring, and you have time to see that the horses seem to enjoy the motion, and that their action is more easy and graceful than it is when they are obeying the commands of poor riders.
Theodore indulges in a little sarcasm at the expense of a man whose elbows are on a level with his shoulders, while his two hands are within about three inches of one another on the reins, and his horse has as full possession of his head as of his body and legs, which is saying much, for his riders toes are pointing earthward and his heels apparently trying to find a way to one another through the body of his steed. Another man, riding at an amble into which he has forced his fat horse by using a Mexican bit, and keeping his wrists in constant motion; and another, who leans backward until his nose is on a level with the visor of his cap, also attract his attention, but he persists in his opinion that the best riders among the ladies are those who can trot and canter the longest, until your master, coming up, says in answer to your protest against such heresy, "No. Ease and a good seat are indeed essential, but they are not everything. They insure comfort and confidence, but not always safety. It is well to be able to leap a fence without being thrown. It is better to know how to stop and open a gate and shut it after you, lest some day you should have a horse which cannot leap, or a sprained wrist which may make the leap imprudent for yourself. You can acquire the seat almost insensibly while learning the management, but you must study in order to learn the management. However, you came mainly for enjoyment to-night, I think. Go and ride some more."
And you obey, and you have the enjoyment. And when you go to the dressing-room, it is with a feeling of perfect indifference to the gallery critics, and when you come down, ready for the street, you have a little gossip with the master.
This is the only kind of music ride, he tells you, practicable for riders of widely varying ability, but the ordinary circus is but a poor display of horsemanship compared to what may be seen in some private evening classes in this country, or in military schools. There are groups of riders in Boston and in New York, friends who have long practiced together, who can dancer the lancers and Virginia reels as easily on horseback as on foot, and who can ride at the ring as well as Lord Lindesay himself, or as well as the pretty English girls who amuse themselves with the sport in India.
"Just think," you sigh, "to be able to make your horse go forward and back, and to move in a circle, a little bit of a circle, and to do all of it exactly in time! Oh!"
And then, seeing Theodore perfectly unmoved, your master tells of the military music rides when, rank after rank, the soldiers dash across the wide spaces of the school and stop at a word, or by a preconcerted, silent signal, every horse's head in line, every left hand down, saber or lance exactly poised, every foot motionless, horse and rider still as if wrought from bronze. And then he tells of the labyrinthine evolutions when the long line moving over the school floor coils and uncoils itself more swiftly than any serpent, each horse moving at speed, each one obeying as implicitly as any creature of brass and iron moved by steam. And then he talks of broadsword fights, in which the left hand, managing the horse, outdoes the cunning of the right, and of the great reviews, when, if ever, a monarch must feel his power as he sees his squadrons dash past him, saluting as one man, and reflects on the expenditure of mental and physical power represented in that one moment's display.
"You can't learn to do such things as these," he says, "by mere rough riding. Why, only the other day, when Queen Victoria went to Sandringham, the gentlemen of the Norfolk County hunt turned out to escort her carriage, all in pink, all wearing the green velvet caps of the hunt, all splendidly mounted and perfectly appointed. They were a magnificent sight, and it was no wonder that Her Majesty looked at them with approval.
"In a dash across country they would probably have surpassed any other riders in the world, unless, perhaps, those of some other English country, but when Her Majesty and the Prince of Wales appeared at a front window, and the gentlemen rode past to salute them, what happened? The first three or four ranks went on well enough, although Frenchmen, or Spaniards, or Germans would have done better, because they, had they chosen, would have saluted and then reined backward, but the Englishmen made a gallant show, and Her Majesty smiled. Somebody raised a cheer, and the horses began to rear and perform movements not named in the school manuals. The Queen laughed outright, and the gentlemen finished their pretty parade in some confusion. Now a very little school training would have prevented that accident, and the huntsmen would have been as undisturbed as Queen Christina was that day when her horse began to plunge while in a procession, and she quickly brought him to his senses, and won the heart of every Spaniard who saw her by showing that 'the Austrian' could ride. An English hunting-man's seat is so good that he is often careless about fine details, but a trained horseman is careless about nothing, and a trained horsewoman is like unto him."
And now the lights are out, and you and Theodore go away, and, walking home, lay plans for further work in the saddle, for he, too, has caught the riding-fever, and now you begin to think about class lessons.
All in a wow. Sothern.
And you really fancy, Esmeralda, that you are ready for class lessons? You have been in the saddle only six times, remember. But you have been assured, on the highest authority, that fifty lessons in class are worth a hundred private lessons? And the same authority says that the class lessons should be preceded by at least twice as much private instruction as you have enjoyed; but, naturally, you suppress this unfavorable context. You think that you cannot begin to subject yourself to military discipline so soon?
After that highly edifying statement of your feelings, Esmeralda, hasten away to school before the dew evaporates from your dawning humility, and make arrangements for entering a class of beginners. You are fortunate in arriving half way between two "hours," and find to your delight that you may begin to ride with five or six other pupils on the next stroke of the clock, and you hasten to array yourself, and come forth just in time to see another class, a long line of pretty girls, making its closing rounds, the leader sitting with exquisitely balanced poise, which seems perfectly careless, but is the result of years of training and practice; others following her with somewhat less grace, but still accomplishing what even your slightly taught vision perceives to be feats of management far beyond you; still others, one blushing little girl with her hat slung on her arm, the heavy coils of her hair falling below her waist; and an assistant master riding with the last pupil, who is less skillful than the others, while another master rides up and down the line or stands still in the centre of the ring, criticising, exhorting, praising, using sarcasm, entreaty and sharp command, until the zeal and energy of all Gaul seem centered in his speech.
The clock strikes, and in a trice the whole class is dismounted, and its members have scampered away to make themselves presentable for the journey home, and to you, awaiting your destiny in the reception room, enter Versatilia, the beauty, and the society young lady, and Nell, and you stare at them in wrathful astonishment fully equalled by theirs, and then, in the following grand outburst of confession, you are informed that, each one having planned to outgeneral the others and to become a wondrous equestrian, the Fates and the wise fairy who, sitting in a little room overlooking the ring, presides over the destinies of classes, have willed that you should be taught together.
"And there are three other young ladies who have never ridden at all," the wise fairy says, "and they are to ride behind you, and you must do very well in order to encourage them," she adds with a kind smile; and then there is a general muster of grooms and horses, and in a moment you are all in your saddles and walking about the ring, into which, an instant after, another lady rides easily and gracefully, to be saluted by both masters with a sigh of relief, and requested to take the lead, which she does, trotting lightly across the ring, wheeling into line and falling into a walk with trained precision, and now the lesson really begins.
"You must understand, ladies," says the teacher, that you must always, in riding in class, keep a distance of about three feet between your horse and the one before you, and that you must preserve this equally in the corners, on the short sides of the school, and on the long sides."
"That's easy enough, I'm sure," says the society young lady, taking it upon herself to answer, and eliciting an expression of astonishment from the teacher, not because he is surprised, habit already rendering him sadly familiar with young women of her type, but because he wishes to relegate her to her proper position of submissive silence as soon as may be.
"You think so?" he asks. "Then we shall depend on you to regard the distance with great accuracy. At present you are two feet too far in the rear. Forward! Now, ladies, when I say 'forward,' it is not alone for one; it is for all of you; each one must look and see whether or not her horse is in the right place. And she must not bend sideways to do it, Miss Versatilia. She must look over her horse's head between his ears. Now, forward! Now, look straight between your horse's ears, each one of you, and see something on the horse before you that is just on a line with the top of his head, and use that as a guide to tell you whether or not you are in place! Now, forward, Miss—Miss Lady! Not so fast! Keep walking! Do not let him trot! Keep up in the corners! Do not let your horse go there to think! Use your whip lightly! Not so, not so!" as the society young lady brings down her whip, half on the shoulder of gentle Toto, half on his saddle, and sets him dancing lightly out of line, to the discomfiture of Versatilia's horse, who follows him from a sense of duty.
"Take your places again," cries your teacher, "and keep to the wall! If you had had proper control of your horse, that would not have happened, Miss Versatilia! Now, Miss Lady, hold your whip in the hollow of your hand, and use it by a slight movement, not by raising your arm and lashing, lashing, lashing as if you were on the race course. A lady is not a jockey, and she should employ her whip almost as quietly as she moves her left foot. Forward, forward! And keep on the track, ladies! Keep your horses' heads straight by holding your reins perfectly even, then their bodies will be straight, and you will make one line instead of being on six lines as you are now. And, Miss Esmeralda, forward! Use your whip! Not so gently! It is not always enough to give your horse one little tap. Give him many, one after the other with quickened movement, so that he will understand that you are in a hurry. It is like the reveille which sounds ever louder until everybody is awake!
"Now, you must not make circles! Make squares! Go into the corners! Don't pull on your horse's head, Miss Nell! He thinks that you mean him to stop, and then you whip him and he tries to go on, and you pull again, and he knows not what to think. Always carry out whatever purpose you begin with your horse if you can. If sometimes you make a mistake, and cannot absolutely correct it because of those behind you, guide your horse to his proper place, and the next time that you come to that part of the ring, make him go right! Forward, forward! Ladies, not one of you is in the right place! Keep up! Keep up! Miss Lady, you must go forward regularly! Now prepare to trot! No, no! Walk! When I say, 'Prepare to trot,' it is not for you to begin, but to think of what you must do to begin, and you must not let your horses go until I give the second order, and then not too fast at first. Now, prepare to trot! Trot! Not quite so fast, Miss Lady; gently! Keep up, keep up, Miss Beauty! Miss Esmeralda, you are sitting too far to the left, your left shoulder is too far back! on't hold your hands so high, Miss Versatilia! Rise straight, Miss Esmeralda! Now, remember, ladies, what I say is for all. Prepare to whoa! Whoa!"
The leader, by an almost imperceptible series of movements, first sitting down in her saddle, then slightly relaxing her hold of the reins, and turning both hands very slightly inward, brings her horse to a walk and continues on her way. The others, with more or less awkwardness, come to a full stop, and your teacher laughs.
"When I say that," he explains, "I mean to cease trotting, not to stop. Go forward, and remember how you have been taught to go forward, Miss Esmeralda. It is not enough to frown at your horse. Now, prepare to trot! Trot!" And then he repeats again and again that series of injunctions which already seems so threadbare to you, Esmeralda, but which you do not follow, not because you do not try, but because you have not full control of your muscles, and then comes once more the order, "Prepare to whoa. Whoa!" and a volley of sharp reminders about the solemn duty of keeping a horse moving while turning corners, and once more the column proceeds as regularly as possible.
"I observe," says your teacher, riding close to you, "that you seem timid, Miss Esmeralda. Do you feel frightened."
"No," you assure him.
"Then it is because you are nervous that you are so rigid. Try not to be stiff. Give yourself a little more flexibility in the fingers, the wrists, the elbows, everywhere! You are not tired? No? Be easy then, be easy!" And you remember that you have been likened unto a poker, and sadly think that, perhaps the comparison was just.
"The other master shall ride with you for a few rounds," he continues; "that will give you confidence, and you will not be nervous." You indignantly disclaim the possession of nerves, he smiles indulgently, and the other teacher rides up beside you, and advises you steadily and quietly during the next succession of trotting and walking, and, conscious of not exerting yourself quite so much and of being easier, you begin to think that perhaps you have a nerve or two somewhere, and you determine to conquer them.
"You are sitting too far to the right now," says your new guide, the most quiet of North Britons. "There should be about half an inch of the saddle visible to you beyond the edge of your habit, if it fit quite smooth, but you would better not look down to se it. It would do no harm for once, perhaps, but it would look queer, and might come to be a habit. Try to judge of your position by the feeling of your shoulders and by thinking whether you are observing every rule; but, once in a great while, when you are walking, take your reins in your left hand, pass your right hand lightly along the edge of your saddle, ad satisfy yourself that you are quite correct in position. If you be quite sure that you can take a downward glance, without moving your head, try it occasionally, but very rarely. Use this, in fact, as you would use a measure to verify a drawing after employing every other test, and if any teacher notice you and reprove you for doing it, do not allow yourself to use it again for two or three lessons, for, unless you can be quiet about it, it is better not to use it at all."
"Ladies, ladies," cries a new voice, at the sound of which the leader is seen to sit even better than before, "this is not a church, that you should go to sleep while you are taught truth! Attend to your instructor! Keep up when he tells you. Make your movements with energy. You tire him; you tire me; you tire the good horses! how then, rouse yourselves! Prepare to trot! Trot!" And away go the horses, for it is not every hour that they hear the strong voice which means that instant obedience must be rendered. "Keep up! keep up!" cries your teacher. "Come in!" says your own guide, and then pauses himself, to urge one of the beginners behind you, and for a minute or two the orders follow one another thick and fast, the three men working together, each seeming to have eyes for each pupil, and to divine the intentions of his coadjutors, and then comes the order, "Prepare to whoa! Whoa! and the master sits down on the mounting-stand, and frees his mind on the subject of corners, a topic which you begin to think is inexhaustible.
"Please show these ladies how to go into a corner," he concludes, and your teacher does so, executing the movement so marvelously that it seems as if he would have no difficulty in performing it in any passageway through which his horse could walk in a straight line. The whole class gazes enviously, to be brought to the proper frame of mind by a sharp expostulatory fire of: "Keep your distance! Forward!" with about four times as many warnings addressed to the society young lady as to all the others; and then suddenly, unexpectedly, the clock strikes and the lesson is over.
The society young lady dresses herself with much precision and deliberation, and announces that she will never, no, never! never so long as she lives, come again; and in spite of Nell's attempts to quiet her, she repeats the statement in the reception room, in the master's hearing, aiming it straight at his quiet countenance.
"No?" he says, not so much disturbed as she could desire. "You should not despair, you will learn in time."
"I don't despair," she answers; "but I know something, and I will not be treated as if I knew nothing."
"An, you know something," he repeats, in an interested way. "But what you do not know, my young lady, is how little that something is! This is a school; you came here to be taught. I will not cheat you by not teaching you."
"And it is no way to teach! Three men ordering a class at once!"
"Ah, it is 'no way to teach'! Now, it is I who am taking a lesson from you. I am greatly obliged, but I must keep to my own old way. It may be wrong—for you, my young lady—but it has made soldiers to ride, and little girls, and other young ladies, and I am content. And these others? Are they not coming any more?"
And every one of those cowardly girls huddles away behind you, Esmeralda, and leaves you to stammer, "Y-yes, sir, but you do s-scold a little hard."
"That," says the master, "is my bog voice to make the horses mind, and to make sure that you hear it. And I told you the other day that I spoke for your good, not for my own. If I should say every time I want trotting, 'My dear and much respected beautiful young ladies, please to trot,' how much would you learn in a morning?"
"We are ladies," says the society young lady, "and we should be treated as ladies."
"And you—or these others, since you retire—are my pupils, and shall be treated as my pupils," he says with a courtly bow and a "Good morning," and you go away trying to persuade the society young lady to reconsider.
"Not that I care much whether she does or not," Nell says confidentially to you. "She's too overbearing for me," and just at that minute the voice of the society young lady is heard to call the master "overbearing," and you and Nell exchange delighted, mischievous smiles.
Now for that stiffness of yours, Esmeralda, there is a remedy, as there is for everything but death, and you should use it immediately, before the rigidity becomes habitual. Continue your other exercises, but devote only about a third as much time to them, and use the other two thirds for Delsarte movements.
First: Let your hands swing loosely from the wrist, and swing them lifelessly to and fro. Execute the movement first with the right hand then with the left, then with both.
Second: Let the fingers hang from the knuckles, and shake them in the same way and in the same order.
Third: Let the forearm hang from the elbow, and proceed in like manner.
Fourth: Let the whole arm hang from the shoulder, and swing the arms by twisting the torso.
Execute the finger and hand movements with the arms hanging at the side, extended sidewise, stretched above the head, thrust straight forward, with the arms bent at right angles to them and with the arms flung backward as far as possible. Execute the forearm movements with the arms falling at the side, and also with the elbow as high as the shoulder.
After you have performed these exercises for a few days, you will begin to find it possible to make yourself limp and lifeless when necessary, and the knowledge will be almost as valuable as the ability to hold yourself firm and steady. You will find the exercises in Mrs. Thompson's "Society Gymnastics," but these are all that you will need for at least one week, especially if you have to devote many hours to the task of persuading the society young lady not to leave your class unto you desolate.
"Left wheel into line!" and they wheel and obey. Tennyson.
When you arrive at the school for your second class lesson, Esmeralda, you find the dressing-room pervaded by a silence as clearly indicative of a recent tempest as the path cloven through a forest by a tornado. From the shelter of screens and from retired nooks, come sounds indicative of garments doffed and donned with abnormal celerity and severity, but never a word of joking, and never a cry for deft-fingered Kitty's assistance, and then, little by little, even these noises die away, and the palace of the Sleeping Beauty could not be more quiet. No girl stirs from her lurking-place, until our yourself issue from your pet corner, and then Nell, a warning finger on her lip, noiselessly emerges from hers, and you go into the reception room together, and she explains to you that, despite her announcement that she would never come again, the society young lady has appeared, and has announced her intention to defend what she grandly terms her position as a lady.
"And the master will think us, her associates, as unruly as she is!" Nell almost sobs. "If I were he, I would send the whole class home, there!" But the other girls now enter, each magnificently polite to the others, and the file of nine begins its journey along the wall, attended as before, the society young lady taking great pains about distance, and really doing very well, but the beauty sitting with calm negligence which soon brings a volley of remonstrance from both teachers, who address her much after the fashion of Sydney Smith's saying, "You are on the high road to ruin the moment you think yourself rich enough to be careless."
"You must not keep your whip in contact with your horse's shoulder all the time," lectured one of the teachers, "if you do, you have no means of urging him to go forward a little faster. Keep it pressed against the saddle, not slanting outward or backward. When you use it, do it without relaxing your hold upon the reins, for if, by any mischance, your horse should start quickly, you will need it. Forward, ladies, forward! don't stop in the corners! Use your whips a very little, just as you begin to turn! Miss Esmeralda, keep to the wall! No, no! Don't keep to the wall by having your left rein shorter than your right! They should be precisely even."
"As you approach the corner," says the other teacher quietly, speaking to you alone, "carry your right hand a little nearer to your left without bending your wrist, so that your rein will just touch your horse's neck on the right side. That will keep his head straight."
"But he seems determined to go to the right," you object.
"That is because your right rein is too short now. While we are going down the long side of the school, make the reins precisely even. Now, lay the right rein on his neck, use your whip, and touch him with your heel to make him go on; bend your right wrist to turn him, use your whip once more, and go on again!"
"Forward, Miss Esmeralda, forward!" cries the other teacher.
"That is because Miss Lady did not go into the corner, and so is too far in advance," your teacher explains. "You must, in class, keep your distance as carefully when the rifer immediately before you is wrong as when she is right. It is the necessity of doing that, of having to be ready for emergencies, to think of others as much as of your horse and of yourself, that give class teaching much of its value."
"Forward, ladies, forward," cries the other teacher. "Remember that you are not to go to sleep! Now prepare to trot, and don't go too fast at first. Remember always to change from one gait to another gently, for your own sake, that you may not be thrown out of position; for your horse's, that he may not be startled, and made unruly and ungraceful. He has nerves as well as you. Now, prepare to trot! Trot! Shorten your reins, Miss Beauty! Shorten them!" and during the next minute or two, while the class trots about a third of a mile, the poor beauty hears every command in the manual addressed to her, and smilingly tries, but tries in vain to obey them; but in an unhappy moment the teacher's glance falls on the society young lady and he bids her keep her right shoulder back. "You told me that before," she says, rather more crisply than is prescribed by any of he manuals of etiquette which constitute her sole library.
"Then why don't you do it?" is his answer. "Keep your left shoulder forward," he says a moment later, whereupon the society young lady turns to the right, and plants herself in the centre of the ring with as much dignity as is possible, considering that her horse, not having been properly stopped, and feeling the nervous movements of her hands, moves now one leg and now another, now draws his head down pulling her forward on the pommel, and generally disturbs the beautiful repose of manner upon which she prides herself.
"You are tired? No? Frightened? Your stirrup is too short? You are not comfortable?" demands the teacher, riding up beside her. "Is there anything which you would like to have me do?"
"I don't like to be told to do two things at once," she responds in a tone which should be felt by the thermometer at the other end of the ring.
"But you must do two things at once, and many more than two, on horseback," he says; "when you are rested, take your place in the line."
"I think I will dismount," she says.
"Very well," and before she has time to change her mind, a bell is rung, a groom guides her horse to the mounting-stand, the master himself takes her out of the saddle, courteously bids her be seated in the reception room and watch the others, and she finds her little demonstration completely and effectually crushed, and, what is worse, apparently without intention. Nobody appears to be aware that she has intended a rebellion, although "whole Fourth of Julys seem to bile in her veins."
"Now," the teacher goes on, "we will turn to the right, singly. Turn! Keep up, ladies! Keep up! Ride straight! To the right again! Turn!" and back on the track, on the other side of the school, the leader in the rear, the beginners in advance, you continue until two more turns to the right replace you.
"That was all wrong," the teacher says, cheerfully. "You did not ride straight, and you did not ride together. Your horses' heads should be in line with one another, and then when you arrive at the track and turn to the right again, your distance will be correct. Now we will have a little trot, and while you are resting afterward, you shall try the turn again."
The society young lady, watching the scene in sulkiness, notes various faults in each rider and feels that the truly promising pupil of the class is sitting in her chair at that moment; but she says nothing of the kind, contenting herself by asking the master, with well-adjusted carelessness, if it would not be better for the teacher to speak softly.
"It gives a positive shock to the nerves to be so vehemently addressed," she says, with the air of a Hammond advising an ignorant nurse.
"That is what he has the intention to do," replies the other. "It is necessary to arouse the rider's will and not let her sleep, but if it were not, the teacher of riding, or anybody who has to give orders, orders, orders all day long, must speak from an expanded chest, with his lungs full of air, or at night he will be dumb. The young man behind the counter who has to entreat, persuade, to beg, to be gentle, he may make his voice soft, but to speak with energy in a low tone is to strain the vocal cords and to injure the lungs permanently. The opera singer finds to sing piano, pianissimo more wearisome than to make herself heard above a Wagner orchestra. The orator, with everybody still and listening with countenance intent, dares not speak softly, except now and then for contrast. In the army we have three months' rest, and then we go to the surgeon, and he examines our throats and lungs, and sees whether or not they need any treatment. If you go to the camp of the military this summer, you will find the young officers whom you know in the ball-room so soft and so gentle, not whispering to their men, but shouting, and the best officer will have the loudest shout."
The society young lady remembers the stories which she has heard her father and uncles tell of that "officer's sore throat," which in 1861 and 1862, caused so many ludicrous incidents among the volunteer soldiery, the energetic rill master of one day being transformed into a voiceless pantomimist by the next, but, like Juliet when she spoke, she says nothing, and now the teacher once more cries, "Turn!" and then, suddenly, "Prepare to stop! Stop! Now look at your line! Now two of you have your horses' heads even! And how many of you were riding straight?"
A dead silence gives a precisely correct answer, and again he cries, "Forward!" A repetition of the movement is demanded, and is received with cries of "This is not good, ladies! This is not good! We will try again by and by. Now, prepare to change hands in file."
The leader, turning at one corner of the school, makes a line almost like a reversed "s" to the corner diagonally opposite, and comes back to the track on the left hand, the others straggling after with about as much precision and grace as Jill followed Jack down the hill; but, before they are fairly aware how very ill they have performed the manoeuvre, they perceive that their teacher not only aimed at having them learn how to turn to the left at each corner, but also at giving himself an opportunity to make remarks about their feet and the position thereof, and at the end of five minutes each girl feels as if she were a centipede, and you, Esmeralda, secretly wonder whether something in the way of mucilage of thumb-tacks might not be used to keep your own riding boots close to the saddle. "And don't let your left foot swing," says the teacher in closing his exhortations; "hold it perfectly steady! Now change hands in file, and come back to the track on the right again, and we will have a little trot."
"And before you begin," lectures the master, "I will tell you something. The faster you go, after once you know how to stay in the saddle, the better for you, the better for your horse. You see the great steamer crossing the ocean when under full headway, and she can turn how this way and now that, with the least little touch of the rudder, but when she is creeping, creeping through the narrow channel, she must have a strong, sure hand at the helm, and when she is coming up to her wharf, easy, easy, she must swing in a wide circle. That is why my word to you is always 'Forward! Forward!' and again, 'Forward!' There is a scientific reason underlying this, if you care to know it. When you go fast, neither you nor the horse has time to feel the pressure of the atmosphere from above, and that is why it seems as if you were flying, and he is happy and exhilarated as well as you. You will see the tame horse in the paddock gallop about for his pleasure, and the wild horse on the prairie will start and run for miles in mere sportiveness. So, if you want to have pleasure on horseback, 'Forward!'"
While the little trot is going on, the society young lady improves the shining hour by asking the master "if he does not think it cruel to make a poor horse go just as fast as it can," to which he replies that the horse will desire to go quite as long as she can or will, whereupon she withdraws into the cave of sulkiness again, but brightens perceptibly as you dismount and join her.
"You do look so funny, Esmeralda," she begins. "Your feet do seem positively immense, as the teacher said."
"Pardon me; I said not that," gently interposes the teacher; "only that they looked too big, bigger than they are, when she turns them outward."
"And you do sit very much on one side," she continues to Versatilia: "and your crimps are quite flat, my dear," to the beauty.
"Never mind; they aren't fastened on with a safety pin," retorts the beauty, plucking up spirit, unexpectedly.
"O, no! of course not," the wise fairy interposes, with a little laugh. "You young ladies do not do such things, of course. But, do you know, I heard of a lady who wore a switch into a riding- school ring one day, and it came off, and the riding master had to keep it in his pocket until the end of the session."
Little does the wise fairy know of the society young lady's ways! What she has determined to say, she declines to retain unsaid, and so she cries: "And you do thrust your head forward so awkwardly, Nell!"
"'We are ladies,'" quotes Nell, "and we can't answer you," and the society young lady finds herself alone with the wise fairy, who is suddenly very busy with her books, and after a moment, she renews her announcement that she is not coming any more. "Well, I wouldn't," the wise fairy says, looking thoughtfully at her. "You make the others unhappy, and that is not desirable, and you will not be taught. I gave you fair warning that the master would be severe, but those who come here to learn enjoy their lessons. Once in a great while there are ladies who do not wish to be taught, but they find it out very soon, as you have."
"There is always a good reason for everything," the master says gravely. "Now, I have seen many great men who could not learn to ride. There was Gambetta. Nothing would make a fine rider out of that man! Why? Because for one moment that his mind was on his horse, a hundred it was on something else. And Jules Verne! He could not learn! And Emile Giardin! They had so many things to think about! Now, perhaps it is so with this young lady. Society demands so much, one must do so many things, that she cannot bend her mind to this one little art. It is unfortunate, but then she is not the first!" And with a little salute he turns away, and the society young lady, much crosser than she was before he invented this apology for her, comes into the dressing room and— bids you farewell? Not at all! Says that she is sorry, and that she knows that she can learn, and is going to try. "And I suppose now that nothing will make her go!" Nell says, lugubriously, as you saunter homeward.
You are still conscious of stiffness, Esmeralda? That is not a matter for surprise or for anxiety. All your life you have been working for strength, for even your dancing-school teacher was not one of those scientific ballet-masters who, like Carlo Blasis, would have taught you that the strength of a muscle often deprives it of flexibility and softness. You desire that your muscles should be rigid or relaxed at will. Go and stand in front of your mirror, and let your head drop forward toward either shoulder, causing your whole torso to become limp. Now hold the head erect, and try to reproduce the feeling. The effect is awkward, and not to be practised in public, but the exercise enables you to perceive for yourself when you are stiff about the shoulders and waist. Now drop your head backward, and swing the body, not trying to control the head, and persist until you can thoroughly relax the muscles of the neck, a work which you need not expect to accomplish until after you have made many efforts. Now execute all your movements for strengthening the muscles, very slowly and lightly, using as little force as possible. After you can do this fairly well, begin by executing them quickly and forcibly, then gradually retard them, and make them more gently, until you glide at last into perfect repose. This will take time, but the good results will appear not only in your riding, but also in your walking and in your dancing. You and Nell might practise these Delsarte exercises together, for no especial dress is needed for them, and companionship will remove the danger of the dulness which, it must be admitted, sometimes besets the amateur, unsustained by the artist's patient energy. Before you take another class lesson, you may have an exercise ride, in which to practise what you have learned. "Tried to learn!" do you say? Well, really, Esmeralda, one begins to have hopes of you!
—Ye couldn't have made him a rider, And then ye know, boys will be boys, and hosses, —well, hosses is hosses! Harte.
When you and Nell go to take your exercise ride, Esmeralda, you must assume the air of having ridden before you were able to walk, and of being so replete with equestrian knowledge that the "acquisition of another detail would cause immediate dissolution," as the Normal college girl said when asked if she knew how to teach. You must insist on having a certain horse, no matter ho much inconvenience it may create, and, if possible, you should order him twenty-four hours in advance, stipulating that nobody shall mount him in the interval, and, while waiting for him to be brought from the stable, you should proclaim that he is a wonderfully spirited, not to say vicious, creature, but that you are not in the smallest degree afraid of him. You should pick up your reins with easy grace, and having twisted them into a hopeless snarl, should explain to any spectator who may presume to smile that one "very soon forgets the little things, you know, but they will come back in a little while."
Having started, you must choose between steadily trotting or rapidly cantering, absolutely regardless of the rights or wishes of any one else, or else you must hold your horse to a spiritless crawl, carefully keeping him in such a position as to prevent anybody else from outspeeding you. If you were a man, you would feel it incumbent on you to entreat your master to permit you to change horses with him, and would give him certain valuable information, derived from quarters vaguely specified as "a person who knows," or "a man who rides a great deal." meaning somebody who is in the saddle twenty times a year, and duly pays his livery stable bill for the privilege, and you would confide in some other exercise rider, if possible, in the hearing of seven or eight pupils, that your master was not much of a rider after all, that the "natural rider is best," and you would insinuate that to observe perfection it was only necessary to look at you. If, in addition to this, you could intimate to any worried or impatient pupils that they had not been properly taught, you would make yourself generally beloved, and these are the ways of the casual exercise rider, male and female. But you, Esmeralda, are slightly unfitted for the perfect assumption of this part by knowing how certain things ought to be done, although you cannot do them, and alas! you are not yet adapted to the humbler but prettier character of the real exercise rider, who is thoroughly taught, and whose every movement is a pleasure to behold.
There are many such women and a few men who prefer the ring to the road for various reasons, and from them you may learn much, both by observation and from the hints which many of them will give you if they find that you are anxious to learn, and that you are really nothing more pretentious than a solitary student. So into the saddle you go, and you and Nell begin to walk about in company. "In company," indeed, for about half a round, and then you begin to fall behind. Touching your Abdallah lightly with whip and heel starts him into a trot and coming up beside Nell you start off her Arab, and both horses are rather astonished to be checked. What do these girls want, they think, and when you fall behind again, it takes too strokes of the whip to urge Abdallah forward, Arab is unmoved by your passing him, and you find the breadth of the ring dividing you and Nell. You pause, she turns to the right, crosses the space between you, turns again and is by your side, and now both of you begin to see what you must do. Nell, who is riding on the inside, that is to say on the included square, must check her horse very slightly after turning each corner, and you must hasten yours a little before turning, and a little after, so as to give her sufficient space to turn, and, at the same time, to keep up with her. You, being on her left, must be very careful every moment to have a firm hold of your left rein, so as to keep away from her feet, and she must keep especial watch of her right rein in order to guard herself.
After each of you has learned her part pretty well, you should exchange places and try again, and then have a round or two of trotting, keeping your horses' heads in line. You will find both of them very tractable to this discipline, because accustomed to having your master's horse keep pace with them, and because they often go in pairs at the music rides, and you must not expect that an ordinary livery stable horse would be as easily managed. It is rather fashionable to sneer at the riding-school horse as too mild for the use of a good rider, and very likely, while you and Nell are patiently trying your little experiment, you will hear a youth with very evident straps on his trousers, superciliously requesting to have "something spirited" brought in from the stable for him.
"Not one of your school horses, taught to tramp a treadmill round, but a regular flyer," he explains.
"Is he a very good rider?" you ask your master. "Last time he was hear I had to take him off Abdallah," he says sadly, and then he goes to the mounting-stand to deny "the regular flyer," and to tender instead, "an animal that we don't give to everybody, William." Enter "William," otherwise Billy Buttons, whom the gentleman covetous of a flyer soon finds to be enough for him to manage, because William, although accustomed to riders awkward through weakness, is not used to the manners of what is called the "three-legged trotter"; that is to say, the man whose unbent arms and tightened reins make a straight line from his shoulders to his horse's mouth, while his whole weight is thrown upon the reins by a backward inclination of his body.
If you would like to know how Billy feels about it, Esmeralda, bend your chin toward your throat, and imagine a bar of iron placed across your tongue and pulling your head upward. It would hurt you, but you could raise your head and still go forward, making wild gestures with your hands, kicking, perhaps, in a ladylike manner, as Gail Hamilton kicked Halicarnassus, but by no means stopping. Now suppose that bar of iron drawn backward by reins passing one on each side of your shoulders and held firmly between your scapulae; you could not go forward without almost breaking your neck, could you? No more could Billy, if his rider would let out his reins, bend his elbows, and hold his hands low, almost touching his saddle, but, as it is, he goes on, and if he should rear by and by, and if his rider should slide off, be not alarmed. The three-legged trotter is not the kind of horseman to cling to his reins, and he will not be dragged, and Billy is too good-tempered not to stop the moment he has rid himself of his tormentor. But while he is still on Billy's back, and flattering himself that he is doing wonders in subjugating the "horse that we don't give to everybody," do you and Nell go to the centre of the ring and see if you can stop properly. Pretty well done, but wait a moment before trying it again, for it is not pleasant to a horse. Sit still a few minutes, and then try and see if you can back your horse a step or two.
In order to do this, it is not enough to sit up straight and to say "back," or even to say "bake," which, according to certain "natural riders," is the secret of having the movement executed properly. You must draw yourself up and lean backward, touching your horse both with your foot and with your whip, in order that he may stand squarely, and you must raise your wrists a little, and the same time turning them inward. The horse will take a step, you must instantly sit up straight, lower your hands, and then repeat the movement until he has backed far enough. Four steps will be quite as many as you should try when working thus by yourself, because you do not wish to form any bad habits, and your master will probably find much to criticise in your way of executing the movement. The most that you can do for yourself is to be sure that Abdallah makes but one step for each of your demands. If he make two, lower your hands, and make him go forward, for a horse that backs unbidden is always troublesome and may sometimes be dangerous.
"Just watch that man on Billy Buttons," says your master, coming up to you, "and make up your minds never to do anything that you see him do. And look at those two ladies who are mounting now, and see how well it is possible to ride without being taught in school, provided one rides enough. They cannot trot a rod, but they have often been in the saddle half a day at a time in Spanish America, whence they come, and they can 'lope,' as they call it, for hours without drawing rein. They sit almost, but not quite straight, and they have strength enough in their hands to control any of our horses, although they complain that these English bits are poor things compared to the Spanish bit. You see, they can stay on, although they cannot ride scientifically."
"And isn't that best?" asked Nell.
"It is better," corrects the master. "The very best is to stay on because one rides scientifically, and that is what I hope that you two will do by and by. There's that girl who always brings in bags of groceries for her horse! Apples this time!"
"Isn't it a good thing to give a horse a tidbit of some kind after a ride?" asked Nell.
"'Good,' if it be your own horse, but not good in a riding- school. It tends to make the horses impatient for the end of a ride, and sometimes makes them jealous of one another at the mounting-stand, and keeps them there so long as to inconvenience others who wish to dismount. Besides, careless pupils, like that girl, have a way of tossing a paper bag into the ring after the horse has emptied it, and although we always pick it up as soon as possible, it may cause another horse to shy. A dropped handkerchief is also dangerous, for a horse is a suspicious creature and fears anything novel as a woman dreads a mouse."
What is the trouble on the mounting-stand? Nothing, except that a tearful little girl wants "her dear Daisy; she never rides anything else, and she hates Clifton, and does not like Rex and Jewel canters, and she wants Da-a-isy!"
"But is it not better for you to change horses now and then, and Daisy is not fit to be in the ring to-day," says your master. "Jewel is very easy and good-tempered. Will you have him?"
"No, I'll have Abdallah."
"A lady is riding him."
"Well, I want him."
It is against the rules for your master to suggest such a thing to you, Esmeralda, but suppose you go up to the mounting-stand and offer to take Jewel yourself and let her have Abdallah. You do it; your master puts you on Jewel, and sends the wilful little girl away on Abdallah, and then comes up to you and Nell, thanks you, and says, "It was very good of you, but she must learn some day to ride everything, and I shall tell her so, and next time!"
He looks capable of giving her Hector, Irish Hector, who is wilful as the wind, but in reward for your goodness he bestows a little warning about your whips upon Nell, who has a fancy for carrying hers slantwise across her body, so that both ends show from the back, and the whole whip is quite useless as far as the horse is concerned, although picturesque enough with its loop of bright ribbon.
"It makes one think of a circus picture," he says; "and, Miss Esmeralda, don't hold your whip with the lash pointing outward, to tickle Miss Nell's horse, and to make you look like an American Mr. Briggs 'going to take a run with the Myopias, don't you know.' Isn't this a pretty horse?"
"Well, I don't know," you say frankly; "I'm no judge. I don't know anything about a horse."
For once your master loses his self-possession, and stares unreservedly. "Child," he says, "I never, never before saw anybody in this ring who didn't know all about a horse."
"Well, but I really don't, you know."
"No, but nobody ever says so. Now just hear this new pupil instruct me."
The new pupil, who thinks a riding habit should be worn over two or three skirts, and is consequently sitting with the aerial elegance of a feather bed, is riding with her snaffle rein, the curb tied on her horse's neck, and is clasping it by the centre, allowing the rest to hang loose, so that Clifton, supposing that she means to give him liberty to browse, is looking for grass among the tan. Not finding it, he snorts occasionally, whereupon she calls him "poor thing," and tells him that "it is a warm day, and that he should rest, so he should!"
"Your reins are too long," says your master.
"Do you mean that they are too long, or that I am holding them so as to make them too long," she inquires, in a precise manner.
"They are right enough. Our saddlers know their business. But you are holding them so that you might as well have none. Shorten them, and make him bring his head up in its proper place."
"But I think it's cruel to treat him so, when he's tired, poor thing! I always hold my reins in the middle when I'm driving, and my horse goes straight enough. This one seems dizzy. He goes round and round."
"He wouldn't if he were in harness with two shafts to keep his head straight"—
"But then why wouldn't it be a good thing to have some kind of a light shaft for a beginner's horse?"
"It would be a neat addition to a side saddle," says your master, "but shorten your reins. Take one in each hand. Leave about eight inches of rein between your hands. There! See. Now Guide your horse."
He leaves her, in order that he may enjoy the idea of the side saddle with shafts, and she promptly resumes her old attitude which she feels is elegant, and when Clifton wanders up beside Abdallah, she sweetly asks Nell, "Is this your first lesson? Do you think this horse is good? The master wants me to pull on my reins, but I think it is inhuman, and I won't, and"—but Clifton strays out of hearing, and your arouse yourselves to remember that you are having more fun than work.
There is plenty of room in the ring, now, so you change hands, and circle to the left, first walking and then trotting, slowly at first, and then rapidly, finding to your pleasant surprise, that, just as you begin to think that you can go no further, you are suddenly endowed with new strength and can make two more rounds. "A good half mile," your master says, approvingly, as you fall into a walk and pass him, and then you do a volte or two, and one little round at a canter, and then walk five minutes, and dismount to find the rider of the alleged William assuring John, the head groom, that redoubtable animal needs "taking down."
"Shall ride him with spurs next time," he says. "I can manage him, but he would be too much for most men," and away he goes and a flute-voiced little boy of eight mounts William, retransformed into Billy Buttons, and guides him like a lamb, and you escape up stairs to laugh. But you have no time for this before the merciful young woman enters to say that she is going to another school, where she can do as she pleases and have better horses, too, and the more you and Nell assure her that there is no school in which she can learn without obedience, and that her horse was too good, if anything, the more determined she becomes, and soon you wisely desist.
As she departs, "Oh, dear," you say, "I thought there was nothing but fun at riding-school, and just see all these queer folks."
"My dear," says philosophic Nell, "they ar part of the fun. And we are fun to the old riders; and we are all fun to our master."
Here you find yourselves enjoying a bit of fun from which your master is shut out, for three or four girls come up from the ring together, and, not seeing you, hidden behind your screens, two, in whom you and Nell have already recognized saleswomen from whom you have more than once bought laces, begin to talk to overawe the others.
"My deah," says one, "now I think of it, I weally don't like the setting of these diamonds that you had given you last night. It's too heavy, don't you think?"
The other replies in a tone which would cheat a man, but in which you instantly detect an accent of surprise and a determination to play up to her partner as well as possible, that she "liked it very well."
"I should have them reset," says the former speaker. "Like mine, you know; light and airy. Deah me, I usedn't to care for diamonds, and now I'm puffectly infatooated with them, don't you know! My!" she screams, catching sight of a church clock, and, relapsing into her everyday speech: "Half-past four! And I am due at"—[An awkward pause.] "I promised to return at four!"
There is no more talk about diamonds, but a hurried scramble to dress, an a precipitate departure, after which one of the other ladies is heard to say very distinctly: "I remember that girl as a pupil when I was teaching in a public school, and I know all about her. Salary, four dollars a week. Diamonds!"
"She registered at the desk as Mrs. Something," rejoins the other. "She only came in for one ride, and so they gave her a horse without looking up her reference, but one of the masters knew her real name. Poor little goosey! She has simply spoiled her chance of ever becoming a regular pupil, no matter how much she may desire it. No riding master will give lessons to a person who behaves so. He would lose more than he gained by it, no matter how long she took lessons. And they know everybody in a riding-school, although they won't gossip. I'd as soon try to cheat a Pinkerton agency."
"I know one thing," Nell says, as you walk homeward: "I'm going to take an exercise ride between every two lessons, and I'm going to ride a new horse every time, if I can get him, and I'm going to do what I'm told, and I shall not stop trotting at the next lesson, even if I feel as if I should drop out of the saddle. I've learned so much from an exercise ride."
Ride as though you were flying. Mrs. Norton.
"Cross," Esmeralda? Why? Because having had seven lessons of various sorts, and two rides, you do not feel yourself to be a brilliant horsewoman? Because you cannot trot more than half a mile, and because you cannot flatter yourself that it would be prudent for you to imitate your favorite English heroines, and to order your horse brought around to the hall door for a solitary morning canter? And you really think that you do well to be angry, and that, had your teacher been as discreet and as entirely admirable as you feel yourself to be, you would be more skilful and better informed?
Very well, continue to think so, but pray do not flatter yourself that your mental attitude has the very smallest fragment of an original line, curve or angle. Thus, and not otherwise, do all youthful equestrians feel, excepting those doubly-dyed in conceit, who fancy that they have mastered a whole art in less than twelve hours. You certainly are not a good rider, and yet you have received instruction on almost every point in regard to which you would need to know anything in an ordinary ride on a good road. You have not yet been taught every one of these things, certainly, for she who has been really taught a physical or mental feat, can execute it at will, but you have been partly instructed, and it is yours to see that the instruction is not wasted, by not being either repeated, or faithfully reduced to practice. Remember clever Mrs. Wesley's answer to the unwise person who said in reproof, "You have told that thing to that child thirty times." "Had I told it but twenty-nine," replied the indomitable Susanna, "they had been wasted." What you need now is practice, preferably in the ring with a teacher, but if you cannot afford that, without a teacher, and road rides whenever you can have them on a safe horse, taken from a school stable, if possible, with companions like yourself, intent upon study and enjoyment, not upon displaying their habits, or, if they be men, the airs of their horses, and the correctness of their equipment, or upon racing.
As for the solitary canter, when the kindly Fates shall endow that respectable American sovereign, your father, with a park somewhat bigger than the seventy-five square feet of ground inclosed by an iron railing before his present palace, it will be time enough to think about that; but you can no more venture upon a public road alone than an English lady could, and indeed, your risk in doing so would be even greater than hers. Why? Because in rural England all men and boys, even the poorest and the humblest, seem to know instinctively how a horse should be equipped. True, a Wordsworth or a Coleridge did hesitate for hours over the problem of adjusting a horse collar, but Johnny Ragamuffin, from the slums, or Jerry Hickathrift, of some shire with the most uncouth of dialects, can adjust a slipping saddle, or, in a hand's turn, can remove a stone which is torturing a hoof.
Not so your American wayfarer, city bred or country grown; it will be wonderful if he can lengthen a stirrup leather, ad, before allowing such an one to tighten a girth for you, you would better alight and take shelter behind a tree, and a good large tree, because he may drive your horse half frantic by his well- meant unskilfulness. Besides, Mrs. Grundy very severely frowns on the woman who rides alone, and there is no appeal from Mrs. Grundy's wisdom. Sneer at her, deride her, try, if you will, to undermine her authority, but obey her commands and yield to her judgment if you would have the respect of men, and, what is of more consequence, the fair speech of women. And so, Esmeralda, as you really have no cause for repining, go away to your class lesson, which has a double interest for you and Nell, because of the wicked pleasure which you derive from hearing the master quietly crush the society young lady with unanswerable logic.
You have seen him with a class of disobedient, well-bred little girls, and know how persuasive he can be to a child who is really frightened. You have seen him surrounded by a class of eager small goys, and beset with a clamorous shout of, "Plea-ease let us mount from the ground." You have heard his peremptory "No," and then, as they turned away discomfited, have noted how kindly was his "I will tell you why, my dear boys. It is because your legs are too short. Wait until you are tall, then you shall mount." You know that when Versatilia, having attended a party the previous evening and arisen at five o'clock to practise Chopin, and then worked an hour at gymnastics, could not, from pure weariness, manage her horse, how swift was his bound across the ring, and how carefully he lifted her from the saddle, and gave her over to the ministrations of the wise fairy. You know that any teacher must extract respect from his scholars, and you detect method in all the little sallies which almost drive the society young lady to madness, but this morning it is your turn.
You do, one after the other, all the things against which you have been warned, and, when corrected, you look so very dismal and discouraged that the Scotch teacher comes quietly to your side and rides with you, and, feeling that he will prevent your horse from doing anything dangerous, you begin to mend your ways, when suddenly you hear the master proclaim in a voice which, to your horrified ears, seems audible to the whole universe: "Ah, Miss Esmeralda! she cannot ride, she cannot do her best, unless she has a gentleman beside her." In fancy's eye you seem to see yourself blushing for that criticism during the remainder of your allotted days, and you almost hope that they will be few. You know that every other girl in the class will repeat it to other girls, and even to men, and possibly even to Theodore, and that you will never be allowed to forget it. Cannot ride or do your best without a gentleman, indeed! You could do very well without one gentleman whom you know, you think vengefully, and then you turn to the kindly Scotch teacher, and, with true feminine justice, endeavor to punish him for another's misdeeds by telling him that, if he please, you would prefer to ride alone. As he reins back, you feel a decided sinking of the heart and again become conscious that you are oddly incapable of doing anything properly, and then, suddenly, it flashes upon you that the master was right in his judgment, and you fly into a small fury of determination to show him that you can exist "without a gentleman." Down go your hands, you straighten your shoulders, adjust yourself to a nicety, think of yourself and of your horse with all the intensity of which you are capable, and make two or three rounds without reproof.
"Now," says the teacher, "we will try a rather longer trot than usual, and when any lady is tired she may go to the centre of the ring. Prepare to trot! Trot!"
The leader's eyes sparkle with delight as she allows her good horse, after a round or two, to take his own speed, the teacher continues his usual fire of truthful comments as to shoulders, hands and reins, and one after another, the girls leave the track, and only the leader and you remain, she, calm and cool as an iceberg, you, flushed, and compelled to correct your position at almost every stride of your horse, sometimes obliged to sit close for half a round, but with your whole Yankee soul set upon trotting until your master bids you cease. Can you believe your ears?
"Brava, Miss Esmeralda!" shouts the master. "Go in again. That is the way. Ah, go in again! That is the way the rider is made! Again! Ah, brava!"
"Prepare to whoa! Whoa!" says the teacher, and both he and your banished cavalier congratulate you, and it dawns upon you that the society young lady is not the only person whom the master understands, and is able to manage. However, you are grateful, and even pluck up courage to salute him when next you pass him; but alas! that does not soften his heart so thoroughly that he does not warningly ejaculate, "Right foot," and then comes poor Nell's turn. She, reared in a select private school for young ladies, and having no idea of proper discipline, ventures to explain the cause of some one of her misdeeds, instead of correcting it in silence. She does it courteously, but is met with, "Ah-h-h! Miss Esmeralda, you know Miss Nell. Is it not with her on foot as it is on horseback? Does she not argue?"
You shake your head severely and loyally, but brave Nell speaks out frankly, "Yes, sir; I do. But I won't again."
"I would have liked to ride straight at him," she confides to you afterwards, "but he was right. Still, it is rather astounding to hear the truth sometimes."
And now, for the first time around, you are allowed to ride in pairs, and the word "interval," meaning the space between two horses moving in parallel lines, is introduced, and you and Nell, who are together, congratulate yourselves on having in your exercise ride learned something of the manner in which the interval may be preserved exactly, for it is a greater trouble to the others than that "distance" which you have been told a thousand times to "keep." You have but very little of this practice, however, before you are again formed in file, and directed to "Prepare to volte singly!"