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A MORNING AT WEST POINT.
BY AMY LOTHROP.
A Shoet ride in the cars, a sail across the river, and a beautiful up-hill drive, brought us to Mr. Ryder's hotel one morning in time for a .late breakfast. We were so unromantic as to have good appetites, and so thoughtless as to spend a long time in satisfying them. I say thoughtless, not because I advocate fast eating in general, but because our stay at the Point was to be a short one, and we wished to see everything, and "the lions of West Point" are numerous.
"Let us go and see the cadets ride, first of all," said Florence, "the Newtons went every day while they were here, at eleven o'clock, and they say it's perfectly lovely." The proposal was immediately adopted, and we all scattered, each one exhorting the others to make haste.
But there is no hurrying some people^ and one or two of our party tarried so long at the toilet, that of course we were late,—ladies always are, if one may believe gentlemen,— and though we intended to walk very fast, it was no easy matter to accomplish. We were so glad there had been no drought, and the weather was so fine, and it was so hard to take our eyes from the plain, and the flag, and the mountains—(I confess mine were fairly entranced)—that when we reached the exercise hall the groups of people outside the windows, and the quick passing horses' heads within, warned us that the ridirlg had begun.
"We shall not get in!" was on every one's tongue, but at the moment a dragoon opened the door, and we entered.
All I took in at first was, that two strings of mounted horses were passing rapidly round the hall; that the quick beat of their feet, the smell of the tan-strewed floor, and a certain metallic clang which Resounded through the ■ apartment, formed a combination somewhat confusing to my nerves; and that at the far end of the ellipsis there was a place of bonnets, and shawls, and safety, could I but reach it.
One string of horses had just passed, but I in my wisdom looked to the right hand, as well as the left, and there came the second string, headed by a new figure in heraldry—a
cadet and horse rampant, bearing down upon us sabre in hand. Don't anybody laugh,— horses do look remarkably large in doors, and cadets remarkably fierce with drawn sabres at the shoulder, and black straps under the chin.
Well, we waited to see the last horse whisk his tail, and then set out on a trial of speed,— not gracefully I presume, hurriedly I know. But we might as well have been graceful, for we could but reach the partition before tramp, tramp, they were upon us again, and once more I stood still while they clattered by. It was enough to make one think of the old legend of "The Wild Night Huntsman."
"Now you can go," said my companion, and a few steps brought me within the barricade— a slight one to be sure, but better than nothing, and where I had time to look about me.
In the place where I stood there was a sprinkling of cadets and officers,—
« Black apirita and white,
just enough to amuse any ladies who might tire of the riding; the rest of the spectators were "them things, sir, that do wear caps and aprons"—some sitting, some standing, some mounted on benches, so as to be more on a level with the aforesaid cadets rampant. The caps and aprons themselves were sometimes wanting, sometimes to be seen in new varieties. For instance, — a silk apron with long silk shoulder-straps, unmodified by shawl, cape, or scarf, and overshadowed by a flat, has to say the least a striking appearance, when coupled with those years which we term, "of discretion."
In front of this assemblage of sense and nonsense was a long oval, from end to end of which stretched two rows of pillars. Outside of these went the horses, and in the central space there stood two gentlemen.
"That left hand one is Mr. B ," said an
officer to me; "he has just come back from bis furlough, and has not yet donned his uniform."
"And why does he stand there?"
"I don't know, unless to display(his mustaohe."
There seemed some plausibility in this notion; for Mr. B stood looking our way in
the most complacent manner, and for no perceptible reason.
And now the trot was changed to a gallop, and the orders to "take" or "loose" stirrups, were obeyed without any diminution of speed. The tan flew from the horses' hoofs to our faces, and in the full bright eye of each animal that passed (each quadruped of course), I read no guarantee that he would not take a flying-leap over my head the next time he came round. On they went, without stirrups, and so fast that the inclination to the centre was often considerable in both steed and rider; bright sabres in hand, and the long scabbards jingling and clattering a most suitable accompaniment.
"Do they never get thrown!" I asked instinctively.
"0 yes, often; but they are seldom much hurt. A day or two's medical treatment generally cures them."
"Black Hawk is a little restive to-day," added my friend presently, and pointing to a dark horse not in the 'line, on whose back sat cadet officer; "he don't like that sabre-sheath. Poor fellow! he has been curbed pretty well!— see, his mouth is bleeding." And as the fine creature threw back his head in uneasiness at the powerful bit, I perceived that the open mouth was indeed of a deeper red than it should be. I was glad to hear "Halt!" "Sheath sabres!" and "Dismount!"
Am I ill-natured !—it certainly did seem to me that there was some attitudinizing when the cadets were once more on their feet,—or it may have been that their dress made them necessarily picturesque, stand as they would. I will let the reader judge; but his imagination must furnish the high, Mexican saddles, the gray riding-jackets, and white pantaloons,— my sketch would be nothing without them.
One cadet was most affectionately patting his horse on the head and shoulder; another stood half reclining, with his arm thrown over the neck of his steed, cap off, and hair brushed back, both horse and man facing the spectators. A third had confidingly let go the bridle, and was now endeavouring, by dint of eloquence, to make the emancipated charger come to his extended hand. But moral suasion failed for once,—the horse was a true American, and though he didn't run away, he scorned to surrender. Mahomet was forced to go to ^he
Some time was given them to rest, and then came the remounting, without the aid of stirrups. There seemed to be a preparatory order and motion, and at the next word every cadet but one was in his saddle. He failed; and I
was amused at the flushed and somewhat furious look which he gave the spectators, as he led his horse out of the line to make a second attempt. The riding went on as before, with one or two variations, a-la-March cotillion, and then the two lines drew up to go through with what they call "the sabre exercise."
The instructor, Lieutenant H , who, during the riding had remained almost motionless in the centre of the hall, now rode slowly among the cadets to criticise their performance. To describe it well, would require much more knowledge of the words and motions than I oan pretend to.
Once in a while I could understand an order, as "the point a yard f#m your horse's head, at the height of a man's neck from the ground."
Very comprehensible that!
Then there was another manoeuvre, in which the hand being raised in front of the face, both heads and sabre-points were turned towards us—the inoffending spectators; the cadetsrampant being transformed into cadets gardant (heraldic truth compels me to reject the more descriptive term of regardant), and it was hard to tell whether eyes or sabres were the most conspicuous. I had much ado to keep my countenance.
After this the performers twirled the sabres over their horses' heads, and over their own (with an occasional admonition to " take care" of the former); and it was interesting to note the different adroitness and limberness of different hands and wrists.
Meantime some ladies were retiring—in other words, walking off in sight of everybody —and a cadet would come back in great haste for some forgotten shawl, or with a message to some lcft-behind friend.
N. B. Men should never run.
Or, as that might be a hard maxim to follow when a lady is in one place and her scarf in another, suppose it be adopted that people should never look at them when they run.
But the running ended, and so did the sabre exercise. The cadets dismounted, the dragoons came forward to take the horses; and while the riders "fell in," we walked out, flushed with excitement and the heat of the room, and felt the Bweet, cool air, playing about our faces, and a good degree of satisfaction playing about our hearts.
People sometimes attain ends which they never aimed at; and I fear I may have made that ludicrous on paper, which in reality was but amusing. If so, my apologies are due to all the horsemen herein mentioned; for they did ride remarkably well—for beginners, and '"stuck on" to admiration.
See slept—but not tho gentle sleep
That cloaca childhood'B eye; And not the slumber that in youth
Subdues the pulses high. All day the surf had swept the shore
With hoarse, unbroken chime, And now its midnight murmurings
With her young heart's kept time.
In dreams she lived the sorrows o'er
That paled her check's warm glow; In dreams she met neglect and scorn,
Reproach and want and woe:
A wrestler with despair I
I faint with grief and care."
Tears fell like rain—a soft repose
Stole o'er the sleeper's eye,
And white wings hovered nigh.
Of firm endurance given
By perfect trust in Heaven.
Of him who on an ocean world
Outrode the surges high,
The rainbow span the sky.
Of Uagar's lonely cries;
And Abraham's sacrifice.
Full swelled the symphony divine,
Exultant and afar.
Crowned with a new-born star.
Athwart her pillow stole,
Serene and glad of Boui.
Ohl nightly doth a vision like
Some burdened spirit see;
God-guided still are we.
Its victories sublime,
In Judah's sacred clime.
"Wuo is she?"
"Ay, that is precisely the question which everybody asks, find nobody can answer."
"She is a splendid-looking creature, be she who she may."
"And her manners are as lovely as her person. Come and dine with me to-morrow; I sit directly opposite her at table, so you can have a fair opportunity of gazing at this new star iii our dingy firmament."
"Agreed; I am about changing my lodgings, and if I like the company at your house, I may take a room there."
The speakers were two gay and fashionable men; one a student of law, the other a confidential clerk in a largo commercial house. They belonged to that class of youths, so numerous in New York, who, while in reality labouring most industriously for a livelihood, yet take infinite pains to seem idle and useless members of society:—fellows who at their outset in life try hard to repress a certain respectability of character, which alter a while
comes up in spite of them, and makes them very good sort of men in the end. The lady who attracted so much of their attention at that moment, had recently arrived in the city; and, as she wore the weeds of widowhood, her solitary position seemed sufficiently explained. But there was an attractiveness in her appearance and manners which excited a more than usual interest in the stranger's history. She had that peculiar fascination which gentlemen regard as the most exquisite refinement of frank simplicity, but which ladies, better versed in the intricacies of female nature, always recognise as the perfection of art. None but an impulsive, warm-hearted woman, can retain her freshness of feeling and ready responsive sympathy after five-and-twenty; and such a woman never obtains sufficient command over her own sensitiveness to exhibit the perfect adaptability and uniform amiableness of deportment which are characteristics of the skilful fascinator.
Harry Maurice, the young lawyerling, failed not to fulfil his appointment with his friend; and at four o'clock on the following day, he found himself the vis-a-vis of the bewitching Mrs. Howard, gazing on her loveliness through the somewhat hazy atmosphere of a steaming dinner-table. If he was struck with her appearance when he saw her only stepping from a carriage, he was now completely bewildered by the whole battery of charms which were directed against him. A well-rounded and graceful figure, whose symmetry was set off by a close-fitting dress of black bombazine; superb arms gleaming through sleeves of the thinnest crape; a neck of dazzling whiteness, only half concealed beneath the folds of a fichu a la grand'mire; features not regularly beautiful, somewhat sharp in outline, but full of expression, and enlivened by the brightest of eyes and pearliest of teeth, were the most obvious of her attractions.
The ordinary civilities of the table, proffered with profound respect by Maurice, and accepted with quiet dignity by the lady, opened the way to conversation. Before the dessert came on, the first barriers to acquaintance had been removed, and, somewhat to his own surprise, Harry Maurice found himself perpetrating bad puns and uttering gay bon-mots in the full hearing, and evidently to the genuine amusement, of the lovely widow. When dinner was over, the trio found themselves in the midst of an animated discussion respecting the relative capacity for sentiment in men and women. The subject was too interesting to be speedily dropped, and the party adjourned to a convenient corner of the drawing-room. As usual, the peculiar character of the topic upon which they had fallen, led to the unguarded expression
of individual opinions, and of course to the development of much implied experience. Nothing could have been better calculated to display Mrs. Howard as one of the most sensitive, as well as sensible of her sex. She had evidently been one of the victims to the false notions of society. A premature marriage, an uncongenial partner, and all the thousand-andone ills attendant upon baffled sentiment, had probably entered largely into the lady's bygone knowledge of life. Not that she deigned to confide any of her personal experience to her new friends, but they possessed active imaginations, and it was easy to make large inferences from small premises.
Midnight sounded ere the young men remembered that something was due to the ordinary forms of society, and that they had been virtually "talking love," for seven hours, to a perfect stranger. The sudden reaction of feeling, the dread lest they had been exposing their peculiar habits of thought to the eye of ridicule, the frightful suspicion that they must have seemed most particularly "fresh" to the lady, struck both the gentlemen at the same moment. They attempted to apologise, but the womanly tact of Mrs. Howard spared them all the discomfort of such an awkward explanation. She reproached herself so sweetly for having suffered her impulsive nature to beguile her with such unwonted confidence, — she thanked them so gently for their momentary interest in her "melancholy recollections of blighted feelings,"—she so earnestly implored them to forget her indiscreet communings with persons "whose singular congeniality of soul had made her forget that they were strangers," that she succeeded in restoring them to a comfortable sense of their own powers of attraction. Instead of thinking they had acted like men " afflicted with an extraordinary quantity ofyoungness," they came to the conclusion that Mrs. Howard was one of the most discriminating of her sex; and the tear which swam in her soft eyes as she gave them her hand at parting, added the one irresistible charm to their previous bewilderment.
The acquaintance so auspiciously begun was not allowed to languish. Harry Maurice took lodgings in the same house; and thus, without exposing the fair widow to invidious remark, he was enabled to enjoy her society with less restraint. Unlike most of his sudden fancies, he found his liking for this lady "to grow by what it fed on." She looked so very lovely in her simple white morning dress and pretty French cap, and her manners partook so agreeably of the simplicity and easy negligence of her breakfast attire, that she seemed more charming than ever. Indeed, almost every one in the house took a fancy to her. She won the hearts of the ladies by her unbounded