Arion was the gray Arab loaned to Fletcher Thorson Wood in Shanghai by Artemis Fuller of H. Fogg & Company, who said Arion was “a distinguished old gentleman, not given to flights of fancy.” There is no record of FTW having a horse, but some contemporaries recalled him astride a horse, so for Yankee Mandarin we put Fletcher upon a horse of the gods.
Arion was “the horse of Hercules, a gift of Neptune. Neptune struck the earth with his trident and created Arion, a horse that ran like the wind and spoke in Greek. All my horses have old names, Mr. Wood: Bucephalus, Balios, Cerus, and Actæon.” Fletcher thought Actæon was a British gunboat. “Actæon was one of the snow-white horses of the Greek sun god Helios.”
Brewer’s 1970 Dictionary of Phrase and Fable says that Arion, meaning “martial,” was the horse of Hercules. Neptune brought up Arion out of the ground when the god smite the earth a blow with his great trident. The horse could speak like a man, and on its right side its feet were the feet of a man. Statius, a poet of old Rome, said that Arion’s lust for running could not be satiated, that he carried Neptune through the ocean depths, surpassed the clouds and wind for swiftness, and galloped over land with speed unimagined by mortal men. Arion made fly the war chariots of heroes with the cunning to master his fiery temper. Another tale holds that Neptune desired Ceres, goddess of the earth, who upon sighting the approaching sea god changed her form to that of a mare and hid herself among a herd of horses. Neptune changed his form to a stallion, chased her out from among the other horses, coupled with her, and sired Arion.
In Yang Shen Book I, and Yankee Mandarin, Arion is introduced in Chapter 24, Fire God Temple:
“By the way, how can I have a horse? I need a better way to get around Shanghai.”
“A horse? Do you ride, Mr. Wood?” [Artemis Fuller speaking]
“Western. I’m no wrangler, but I’ve crossed mountains and deserts on horseback.”
“Then take one of mine. The stable is behind our rooms. Here, I’ll have a note sent now to my groom Mafoo saying that you should have use of the gelding Arion. He’s a distinguished old gentleman, not given to flights of fancy – a gray Arab.”
“Arion – what kind of name is Arion?”
“The horse of Hercules, a gift of Neptune. Neptune struck the earth with his trident and created Arion, a horse that ran like the wind and spoke in Greek. All my horses have old names, Mr. Wood: Bucephalus, Balios, Cerus, and Actæon.”
“Actæon is a British gunboat.”
“Actæon was one of the snow-white horses of the Greek sun god Helios.”
The horse was waiting when Fletcher went to the stable behind Fuller’s rooms, saddled in modest English manner, with nubbins for pommel and cantle. Arion was impressive, gray with black mane, forelock and tail, tall and broad-chested, alert and listening, not at all a common jade. He obviously was cared for well. Fletcher stroked Arion’s satin-soft nose. The horse nickered softly, blinked languidly, and seemed to be looking straight into his eyes.
“Oh, he likee you,” Mafoo said, handing a pair of spurs to Fletcher. They had no rowel, just blunt nubs. Fletcher waved them away.
“No spurs, thank you.” If the horse did not respond to unadorned heels, Fletcher thought, he could learn. Better than stabbing the poor beast. Everyone in this town wears spurs, like an artifact of Western horse-culture and, if they all do it, then I certainly will not. Besides, I have to win my spurs.
Mafoo exchanged the spurs for a crop. Fletcher was about to refuse that as well – the light touch of a rein on the horse’s neck should be all that was needed – but the crop had the appeal of a swagger stick, the scepter of a soldier, and would add to the dramatic effect. He accepted the crop.
“No hittee ho’sey, massah.”
“No, Mafoo. I’ll not hit the horse.” He shook the crop. “This is just for look-see pidgin – I’ll tuck it out of the way.”
Arion watched him shove the crop into his boot and nickered again.