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34. An Old War Horse
Captain had been broken in and trained for an army horse; his first owner was an officer
of cavalry going out to the Crimean war. He said he quite enjoyed the training with all the
other horses, trotting together, turning together, to the right hand or the left, halting at the
word of command, or dashing forward at full speed at the sound of the trumpet or signal
of the officer. He was, when young, a dark, dappled iron-gray, and considered very
handsome. His master, a young, high-spirited gentleman, was very fond of him, and
treated him from the first with the greatest care and kindness. He told me he thought the
life of an army horse was very pleasant; but when it came to being sent abroad over the
sea in a great ship, he almost changed his mind.
"That part of it," said he, "was dreadful! Of course we could not walk off the land into the
ship; so they were obliged to put strong straps under our bodies, and then we were lifted
off our legs in spite of our struggles, and were swung through the air over the water, to
the deck of the great vessel. There we were placed in small close stalls, and never for a
long time saw the sky, or were able to stretch our legs. The ship sometimes rolled about
in high winds, and we were knocked about, and felt bad enough.
"However, at last it came to an end, and we were hauled up, and swung over again to the
land; we were very glad, and snorted and neighed for joy, when we once more felt firm
ground under our feet.
"We soon found that the country we had come to was very different from our own and
that we had many hardships to endure besides the fighting; but many of the men were so
fond of their horses that they did everything they could to make them comfortable in spite
of snow, wet, and all things out of order."
"But what about the fighting?" said I, "was not that worse than anything else?"
"Well," said he, "I hardly know; we always liked to hear the trumpet sound, and to be
called out, and were impatient to start off, though sometimes we had to stand for hours,
waiting for the word of command; and when the word was given we used to spring
forward as gayly and eagerly as if there were no cannon balls, bayonets, or bullets. I
believe so long as we felt our rider firm in the saddle, and his hand steady on the bridle,
not one of us gave way to fear, not even when the terrible bomb-shells whirled through
the air and burst into a thousand pieces.
"I, with my noble master, went into many actions together without a wound; and though I
saw horses shot down with bullets, pierced through with lances, and gashed with fearful
saber-cuts; though we left them dead on the field, or dying in the agony of their wounds, I
don't think I feared for myself. My master's cheery voice, as he encouraged his men,
made me feel as if he and I could not be killed. I had such perfect trust in him that while
he was guiding me I was ready to charge up to the very cannon's mouth. I saw many
brave men cut down, many fall mortally wounded from their saddles. I had heard the
cries and groans of the dying, I had cantered over ground slippery with blood, and
frequently had to turn aside to avoid trampling on wounded man or horse, but, until one
dreadful day, I had never felt terror; that day I shall never forget."
Here old Captain paused for awhile and drew a long breath; I waited, and he went on.