The Lost Galleon and Other Tales

The Tale of a Pony

Bret Harte

NAME of my heroine, simply “Rose;”
Surname, tolerable only in prose;
Habitat, Paris,—that is where
She resided for change of air;
Ætat XX; complexion fair;
Rich, good looking, and débonnaire;
Smarter than Jersey lightning.    There!
That’s her photograph, done with care.

In Paris, whatever they do besides,
Moire antiques you never meet
Sweeping the filth of a dirty street
But every woman’s claim to ton
        Depends upon
The team she drives, whether phaeton,
Landau, or britzka.    Hence it’s plain
That Rose, who was of her toilet vain,
Should have a team that ought to be
Equal to any in all Paris!

“Bring forth the horse!”    the commissaire
Bowed, and brought Miss Rose a pair
Leading an equipage rich and rare.
Why doth that lovely lady stare?
Why?    The tail of the off gray mare
Is bobbed, by all that’s good and fair!
Like the shaving-brushes that soldiers wear,
Scarcely showing as much back hair
As Tam O’Shanter’s “Meg,”—and there,
Lord knows, she’d little enough to spare.

That stare and frown the Frenchman knew,
But did as well-bred Frenchmen do:
Raised his shoulders above his crown,
Joined his thumbs with the fingers down,
And said, “Ah, Heaven!”—then, “Mademoiselle,
Delay one minute, and all is well!”
He went—returned; by what good chance
These things are managed so well in France
I cannot say, but he made the sale,
And the bob-tailed mare had a flowing tail.

All that is false in this world below
Betrays itself in a love of show;
Indignant Nature hides her lash
In the purple-black of a dyed mustache;
The shallowest fop will trip in French,
The would-be critic will misquote Trench;
In short, you’re always sure to detect
A sham in the things folks most affect;
Bean-pods are noisiest when dry,
And you always wink with your weakest eye:
And that’s the reason the old gray mare
Forever had her tail in the air,
With flourishes beyond compare,
        Though every whisk
        Incurred the risk
Of leaving that sensitive region bare.
She did some things that you couldn’t but feel
She wouldn’t have done had her tail been real.

Champs Elysées: time, past five.
There go the carriages,—look alive!
Everything that man can drive,
Or his inventive skill contrive,—
Yankee buggy or English “chay,”
Dog-cart, droschky, and smart coupé,
A desobligeante quite bulky
(French idea of a Yankee sulky);
Band in the distance playing a march,
Footman standing stiff as starch;
Savans, lorettes, deputies, Arch-
Bishops, and there together range
Sous-lieutenants and cent-gardes (strange
Way these soldier-chaps make change),
Mixed with black-eyed Polish dames,
With unpronounceable awful names;
Laces tremble and ribbons flout,
Coachmen wrangle and gendarmes shout—
Bless us! what is the row about?
Ah! here comes Rosy’s new turnout!

Smart!    You bet your life ’twas that!
Nifty! (short for magnificat).
Mulberry panels,—heraldic spread,—
Ebony wheels picked out with red,
And two gray mares that were thoroughbred:
No wonder that every dandy’s head
Was turned by the turnout,—and ’twas said
That Caskowhisky (friend of the Czar),
A very good whip, (as Russians are),
Was tied to Rosy’s triumphal car,
Entranced, the reader will understand,
By “ribbons” that graced her head and hand.

Alas! the hour you think would crown
Your highest wishes should let you down!
Or Fate should turn, by your own mischance,
Your victor’s car to an ambulance,
From cloudless heavens her lightnings glance!
(And these things happen, even in France.)
And so Miss Rose, as she trotted by,
The cynosure of every eye,
Saw to her horror the off mare shy,
Flourish her tail so exceedingly high
That, disregarding the closest tie,
And without giving a reason why,
She flung that tail so free and frisky
Off in the face of Caskowhisky.

    Excuses, blushes, smiles: in fine,
    End of the pony’s tail, and mine!

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