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Art and the Bronco
by [?]

During the three days that yet intervened before the coming of the date fixed for the introduction of the bill, the centaur lobby did valiant service. Coatless, spurred, weather-tanned, full of enthusiasm expressed in bizarre terms, they loafed in front of the painting with tireless zeal. Reasoning not unshrewdly, they estimated that their comments upon its fidelity to nature would be received as expert evidence. Loudly they praised the skill of the painter whenever there were ears near to which such evidence might be profitably addressed. Lem Perry, the leader of the claque, had a somewhat set speech, being uninventive in the construction of new phrases.

“Look at that two-year-old, now,” he would say, waving a cinnamon- brown hand toward the salient point of the picture. “Why, dang my hide, the critter’s alive. I can jest hear him, ‘lumpety-lump,’ a-cuttin’ away from the herd, pretendin’ he’s skeered. He’s a mean scamp, that there steer. Look at his eyes a-wailin’ and his tail a-wavin’. He’s true and nat’ral to life. He’s jest hankerin’ fur a cow pony to round him up and send him scootin’ back to the bunch. Dang my hide! jest look at that tail of his’n a-wavin’. Never knowed a steer to wave his tail any other way, dang my hide ef I did.”

Jud Shelby, while admitting the excellence of the steer, resolutely confined himself to open admiration of the landscape, to the end that the entire picture receive its meed of praise.

“That piece of range,” he declared, “is a dead ringer for Dead Hoss Valley. Same grass, same lay of land, same old Whipperwill Creek skallyhootin’ in and out of them motts of timber. Them buzzards on the left is circlin’ ’round over Sam Kildrake’s old paint hoss that killed hisself over-drinkin’ on a hot day. You can’t see the hoss for that mott of ellums on the creek, but he’s thar. Anybody that was goin’ to look for Dead Hoss Valley and come across this picture, why, he’d just light off’n his bronco and hunt a place to camp.”

Skinny Rogers, wedded to comedy, conceived a complimentary little piece of acting that never failed to make an impression. Edging quite near to the picture, he would suddenly, at favourable moments emit a piercing and awful “Yi-yi!” leap high and away, coming down with a great stamp of heels and whirring of rowels upon the stone-flagged floor.

“Jeeming Cristopher!”–so ran his lines–“thought that rattler was a gin-u-ine one. Ding baste my skin if I didn’t. Seemed to me I heard him rattle. Look at the blamed, unconverted insect a-layin’ under that pear. Little more, and somebody would a-been snake-bit.”

With these artful dodges, contributed by Lonney’s faithful coterie, with the sonorous Kinney perpetually sounding the picture’s merits, and with the solvent prestige of the pioneer Briscoe covering it like a precious varnish, it seemed that the San Saba country could not fail to add a reputation as an art centre to its well-known superiority in steer-roping contests and achievements with the precarious busted flush. Thus was created for the picture an atmosphere, due rather to externals than to the artist’s brush, but through it the people seemed to gaze with more of admiration. There was a magic in the name of Briscoe that counted high against faulty technique and crude colouring. The old Indian fighter and wolf slayer would have smiled grimly in his happy hunting grounds had he known that his dilettante ghost was thus figuring as an art patron two generations after his uninspired existence.

Came the day when the Senate was expected to pass the bill of Senator Mullens appropriating two thousand dollars for the purchase of the picture. The gallery of the Senate chamber was early preempted by Lonny and the San Saba lobby. In the front row of chairs they sat, wild-haired, self-conscious, jingling, creaking, and rattling, subdued by the majesty of the council hall.

The bill was introduced, went to the second reading, and then Senator Mullens spoke for it dryly, tediously, and at length. Senator Kinney then arose, and the welkin seized the bellrope preparatory to ringing. Oratory was at that time a living thing; the world had not quite time to measure its questions by geometry and the multiplication table. It was the day of the silver tongue, the sweeping gesture, the decorative apostrophe, the moving peroration.