Read CHAPTER I - AT HOME of Mary Anderson, free online book, by J. M. Farrar, on

Long Branch, one of America’s most famous watering-places, in midsummer, its softly-wooded hills dotted here and there with picturesque “frame” villas of dazzling white, and below the purple Atlantic sweeping in restlessly on to the New Jersey shore. The sultry day has been one of summer storm, and the waves are tipped still with crests of snowy foam, though now the sun is sinking peacefully to rest amid banks of cloud, aflame with rose and violet and gold.

About a mile back from the shore stands a rambling country house embosomed in a small park a few acres in extent, and immediately surrounding it masses of the magnificent shrub known as Rose of Sharon, in full bloom, in which the walls of snowy white, with their windows gleaming in the sunlight, seem set as in a bed of color. The air is full of perfume. The scent of flower and tree rises gratefully from the rain-laden earth. The birds make the air musical with song; and here and there in the neighboring wood, the pretty brown squirrels spring from branch to branch, and dash down with their gambols the rain drops in a diamond spray. A broad veranda covered with luxuriant honeysuckle and clematis stretches along the eastern front of the house, and the wide bay window, thrown open just now to the summer wind, seems framed in flowers. As we approach nearer, the deep, rich notes of an organ strike upon the ear. Some one, with seeming unconsciousness, is producing a sweet passionate music, which changes momentarily with the player’s passing mood. We pause an instant and look into the room. Here is a picture which might be called “a dream of fair women.” Seated at the organ in the subdued light is a young woman of a strange, almost startling beauty. Her graceful figure clad in a simple black robe, unrelieved by a single ornament, is slight, and almost girlish, though there is a rounded fullness in its line which betrays that womanhood has been reached. A small classic head carried with easy grace; finely chiseled features; full, deep, gray eyes; and crowning all a wealth of auburn hair, from which peeps, as she turns, a pink, shell-like ear; these complete a picture which seems to belong to another clime and another age, and lives hardly but on the canvas of Titian. We are almost sorry to enter the room and break the spell. Mary Anderson’s manner as she starts up from the organ with a light elastic spring to greet her visitors is singularly gracious and winning. There is a frank fearlessness in the beautiful speaking eyes so full of poetry and soul, a mingled tenderness and decision in the mouth, with an utter absence of that self-consciousness and coquetry which often mar the charm of even the most beautiful face. This is the artist’s study to which she flies back gladly, now and then, for a few weeks’ rest and relaxation from the exacting life of a strolling player, whose days are spent wandering in pursuit of her profession over the vast continent which stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Here she may be found often busy with her part when the faint rose begins to steal over the tree tops at early dawn; or sometimes when the world is asleep, and the only sounds are the wind, as it sighs mournfully through the neighboring wood, or the far-off murmur of the Atlantic waves as they dash sullenly upon the beach. On a still summer’s night she will wander sometimes, a fair Rosalind, such as Shakespeare would have loved, in the neighboring grove, and wake its silent echoes as she recites the Great Master’s lines; or she will stand upon the flower-clad veranda, under the moonlight, her hair stirred softly by the summer wind, and it becomes to her the balcony from which Juliet murmurs the story of her love to a ghostly Romeo beneath.

A large English deerhound, who was dozing at her feet when we entered the room, starts up with his mistress, and after a lazy stretch seems to ask to join in the welcome. Mary Anderson explains that he is an old favorite, dear from his resemblance to a hound which figures in some of the portraits of Mary Queen of Scots. He has failed ignominiously in an attempted training for a dramatic career, and can do no more than howl a doleful and distracting accompaniment to his mistress’ voice in singing. We glance round the room, and see that the walls are covered with portraits of eminent actors, living and dead, with here and there bookcases filled with favorite dramatic authors; in a corner a bust of Shakespeare; and on a velvet stand a stage dagger which once belonged to Sarah Siddons. Over the mantelpiece is a huge elk’s head, which fell to the rifle of General Crook, and was presented to Mary Anderson by that renowned American hunter; and here, under a glass case, is a stuffed hawk, a deceased actor and former colleague. Dressed in appropriate costume he used to take the part of the Hawk in Sheridan Knowles’ comedy of “Love,” in which Mary Anderson played the Countess. The story of this bird’s training is as characteristic of her passion for stage realism as of that indomitable power of will to overcome obstacles, to which much of her success is due. She determined to have a live hawk for the part instead of the conventional stuffed one of the stage, and with some difficulty procured a half-wild bird from a menagerie. Arming herself with strong spectacles and heavy gauntlets, she spent many a weary day in the painful process of “taming the shrew.” After a long struggle, in which she came off sometimes torn and bleeding, the bird was taught to fly from the falconer’s shoulder on to her outstretched finger and stay there while she recited the lines

“How nature fashioned him for his bold trade!
Gave him his stars of eyes to range abroad.
His wings of glorious spread to mow the air
And breast of might to use them!”

and then, by tickling his feet, he would fly off: and flap his wings appropriately, while she went on

“I delight
To fly my hawk. The hawk’s a glorious bird;
Obedient yet a daring, dauntless bird!”

Here, too, are her guitar and zither, on both which instruments Mary Anderson is a proficient.

And now that we have seen all her treasures, we must follow her to the top of the house, from which is obtained a fine view of the Atlantic as it races in mighty waves on to the beach at Long Branch. She declares that in the offing, among the snowy craft which dance at anchor there, can be distinguished her pretty steam yacht, the Galatea.

Night is falling fast, but with that impulsiveness which is so characteristic of her, Mary Anderson insists upon our paying a visit to the stables to see her favorite mare, Maggie Logan. Poor Maggie is now blind with age, but in her palmy days she could carry her mistress, who is a splendid horsewoman, in a flight of five miles across the prairie in sixteen minutes. As we enter the box, Maggie turns her pretty head at sound of the familiar voice, and in response to a gentle hint, her mistress produces a piece of sugar from her pocket. As Mary Anderson strokes the fine thoroughbred head, we think the pair are not very much unlike. Meanwhile, Maggie’s stable companion cranes his beautiful neck over the side of the box, and begs for the caress which is not denied him.

Night has fallen now in earnest, and the beaming colored boy holds his lantern to guide us along the path, while Maggie whinnies after us her adieu. The grasshoppers chirp merrily in the sodden grass, and now and then a startled rabbit darts out of the wood and crosses close to our feet. The light is almost blinding as we enter the cheerful dining-room, where supper is laid on the snowy cloth, and are introduced to the charming family circle of the Long Branch villa. Though it is the home now of an old Southerner, Mary Anderson’s step-father, it is a favorite trysting-place with Grant, the hero of the North, with Sherman, and many another famous man, between whom and the South there raged twenty years ago so deadly and prolonged a feud. While not actually a daughter of the South by birth, Mary Anderson is such by early education and associations, and to these grim old soldiers she seems often the emblem of Peace, as they sit in the pretty drawing-room at Long Branch, and listen, sometimes with tear-dimmed eyes, to the sweet tones of her voice as she sings for them their favorite songs.