D ad was fond of horses and for a while was a dispatch rider in the First World War. He told me that they made the switch to motorcycles but that he preferred horses because when you got lost behind enemy lines you could give the horse it's head and it would take you home. Dad's horse during the war was "Dick" and when the conflict ended Dad tried everything to bring Dick home with him, even offering to pay passage for the horse. All to no avail. He was forced to leave Dick behind, probably to be destroyed as so many were, and turned into dog food or horsemeat. What an ignominious end for a faithful comrade and friend. The story, "BONNY" is meant as a tribute to not just the war horses, but the man/horse relationship.
T he tree stood tall and stark, silhouetted against the gun flashes in the west. Dark and foreboding, the tree yet seemed somehow comforting to the young soldier, lying there in the mud where he had fallen, his mount shot from under him. Perhaps the tree called to mind the big winter-stripped maple in the front yard of the farm house. Home. So many miles and so many months away. Home. The farm he and his Dad worked, tended the cows and the horses.
T he horses. Two of them. Bonny and King. Matched chestnuts, brown and shiny coated. Soft of muzzle and so gentle of manner. Yet real workers, pulling the double hitched plow with ease as its polished share turned the warm sod. How he missed home. And the horses. "God, how I hate this war!" he thought aloud. "It's bad enough what men do to each other. But the horses, not the horses. It just isn't right. So many of them wounded and killed. It isn't right."
H e began to crawl through the cold mud towards where he thought his lines were. "Have to be quiet." He had heard about the German sharpshooters. He had been a pretty fair shot himself back home. Picking off the groundhogs with his single shot .22, in the back pasture where the horses grazed. A groundhog's hole could break a horse's leg. Right from the back porch he could shoot and he always, nearly always hit his target. Any doubt and he had to go see. Can't let even a varmint suffer. Now he could be the groundhog. Target for a sharpshooter of a different sort. Had to be quiet. Not make a sound. Keep low. Forget the mud and the stench. The stench of death all around. Forget these things, concentrate on keeping low and quiet.
H e heard a sound, off to his left, a moan sort of, not human yet human. There it was again, soft and beseeching. He crawled carefully towards the sound. The moan was closer, still in front of him. Dare he look? He raised himself slightly on his elbows and looked. There, not ten yards away was a man sprawled on the ground beside a fallen horse. That's where the sound came from.
H e crawled the ten yards, fearful, yet wanting to help. He remembered the Minister in the hot, stuffy country church, flies buzzing, motes of dust in the hot summer air. Intoning solemnly, "Repeat after me the Golden Rule. 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.' "Again." 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.' ". He had to help somehow. He reached the fallen man. A German officer. No matter, "Do unto others..." Doesn't matter who the others are, just others. Least that's the way he took it to be.
T he man's throat was gone, torn away by shrapnel most likely. He was dead. Again the moan. Startled, the young man jumped to his knees and looked around. The sound came from the horse. Now he could hear the animal's laboured breathing. He moved to the horse and saw that it had a terrible stomach wound, right where the belly bend of the saddle should be. The intestines lay in the cold mud, writhing gently. No hope. He slid over to the horse's head. A star shell burst a few hundred yards away. In its harsh white light he could see that the stricken beast was a chestnut, with a white star on its forehead, and a white stocking on its left foreleg. Just like Bonny, his Bonny. He gently raised the horse's head and, placing himself under it, lowered the head into his lap. The animal's eyes rolled white with pain and yet, seeming to sense the young man's concern, it whickered softly.
"W hat am I to do with you, Bonny?", the young man murmured, "Poor Bonny." He knew there was no hope for the beast. Bonny, his Bonny was dying, slowly and in agony. What was he to do? His Dad had told him never to let an animal suffer. "Put it out of its misery, Son, it's the best thing to do." Yet here he was, his Bonny dying, and he had no way to help. His gun lay in the mud, God knows where, back there somewhere where he had fallen. "Poor Bonny, what can I do?"
T hen he remembered the dead German officer. German officers carried pistols. He gently lowered the horse's head to the ground and crawled to the corpse. He found the holster and clumsily took out the pistol. He had to feel for the safety, had to, with cold numb hands, learn the workings of the unfamiliar weapon .
H e crawled back to the stricken horse and again cradled its head in his lap. "Remember the time you and King were pulling the manure spreader and got spooked by something and ran away, manure flying everywhere? You ran right through Ma's Monday wash on the line. God, she was mad! Dad didn't get the pair of you stopped till the manure spreader got one wheel caught on the corner of the chicken coop and darn near pulled it over. God, Dad was mad at you two. But you know, at the dance a month later he told the story and laughed so hard about it. Everybody else laughed too, even Ma."
H e put the muzzle of the pistol to the forehead star on the horse's head and pulled the trigger. "Good-bye, Bonny, God I hate this war!" The sound of the shot was muffled. The horse made no sound, just went all of a sudden, limp. The boy, forgetful for a moment, rose to his feet and stood, almost as if in prayer, looking down at the two dead things.
T he German sharpshooter, from 200 yards away had heard the faint pistol shot. Looking in the direction the shot had come from he saw, through his telescopic sight, the figure of an enemy soldier rise, as if from the very mud. He squeezed off one shot. One shot only. The bullet caught the young man squarely in the chest.
T hey found him the next morning, lying beside a dead German horse, his hand clutching a German pistol, a dead German officer nearby. Later, after the burial, they talked about what they had seen. This young Canadian soldier, lying near a dead German officer, a German pistol in his hand. One arm was flung around the horse's neck. His face wore sort of a sad, wistful smile.
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