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Old Maguire and his Horse Bonny Doon by Jonathan F. Kelley


Few animals possess the sagacity of the horse; passive and obedient, they are easily trained; bring them up the way you want them to go, and they'll go it! The horse in his old age does not forget the precepts of his youth. A very touching anecdote is told of a horse, in the cavalry service of the British army, during Napoleon's time. After the battle of Waterloo, when the combined force of Europe, through chicanery—not valor—defeated the greatest soldier the world ever saw, the British army was cut down, rank and file—Napoleon having promised to “be a good boy,” and let 'em alone in future. Among the cut offs, was a troop of horse, and in this troop was an old veteran Bucephalus, who had stood and made charges, smelt fire and brimstone, faced phalanxes of bayonets, and clashed rough-shod over many bloody fields, besides Waterloo,—this old fellow was turned out to grass—cashiered. When the balance of his retained companions in saddle were leaving the town where the dismemberment had taken place, the old war horse was quietly grazing in a field; the troop passed—the bugler “sounded his horn,” and in less than forty winks the old old horse was up, off, over fences, and in the front ranks! The tenacity with which he clung to his place in the column caused—says the historian—the officers and men to shed tears.

So much by way of a prelude. Now for old Maguire and his horse. Some years ago, in the interior of Ohio, there did live an old Irish jintleman, who not only had a fine estate, but likewise a saw-mill, and as fine an old black mare as ever the rays of a noonday's sun lit down upon. “Bonny Doon,” Maguire's old mare, was a wonderful “critter;” she opened gates, let down bars, seized the pump handle by her teeth, and actually extracted water from the barn-yard well, with all the facility of a regular double-fisted genus homo. As a sly old joker, she had performed various tricks, such as nipping off the tails of sucking calves, catching chickens in her manger, and making various pieces of them, and kicking in the ribs of strange dogs and horned cattle. But to the eccentric habits and bacchanalian customs of her ex-military master, the old mare's dormant talents owed their “fetching out.”

Old “Captain Maguire” had served with credit to himself and honor to the State, in her early struggles against the Indians and French Canadians. “Bonny Doon” was then in her “fille"-hood, and probably the most beautiful, as well as the most saucy jade, in the frontier army. Some twenty-five years had passed, and still the old captain and the mare were about, every-day cronies, for the old man no more thought of walking fifty rods, premeditatedly, than a South Carolina dandy would dream of the possibility of getting a glass of water without the immediate assistance of a son of Ethiopia! The old man had become possessed of wealth as well as years—was likewise the progenitor of a large and flourishing family, of the finest looking men and women in the State, and having gotten all things in this pleasant kind of train, he “laid off” in perfect lavender. The old captain's farm was about four miles from the large and flourishing town of Z——, and here the captain spent most of his time. Riding in on “Bonny Doon,” in the morning, and hitching her to the sign-post, the poor beast would stand there—unless taken in by the ostler or others—until midnight, while the captain swigged whiskey, and smoked his pipe in the tavern. Yet “Bonny Doon's” affection for her old master did not flag; she waited patiently until he came—her mane and long tail would then switch about, while she'd “snigger eout” with gladness at his coming, and carry the old man through rain or snow, moonshine, or total darkness, over corduroy railroads, bridges, ravines, and last, though by no means least, over the narrow plank-way of Captain Maguire's saw-mill dam, while the waters on each side foamed and roared like a mountain torrent, and while the old man was either asleep or his hat so full of “bricks,” that he was about as difficult to balance in the saddle as a sack of potatoes or Turk's Island salt! A better citizen, when sober, never paid taxes or trod sole leather in that State, than old Captain Maguire; but when he was “up the tree,” a little sprung, or tight, as you may say, he was ugly enough, and chock full of wolf and brimstone! One day the captain was summoned to attend court, and testify in a case wherein his evidence was to give a lift to the suit of a neighbor, for whom the old man entertained a most lively disgust and very unchristianly hate. The old man, finding that he must go, went. He wet his whistle several times before starting, repeated the dose several times before he reached the Court House, and about the time he supposed he was wanted, he mounted “Bonny Doon,” and started, full chisel, up the steps, through the entry, and into the crowded Court room, just in the nick of time.

“Robert Maguire! Robert Maguire! Robert——”

“Be the help o' Moses, I'm here!” roared the captain, in response to the crier.

And sure enough, he wasn't anywhere else! There he sat, stiff, and formal as a bronze statue of some renowned military chieftain, on a pot-metal war steed. Some laughed, others stepped out of the way of the mare's heels, judge and jury “riz,” some of the oldest sinners in law practice looked quite “skeery,” doubtless taking the old captain and his black charger for quite a different individual! It was some time before order and decorum were restored, as it was much easier for the judge to order Captain Maguire to be arrested for his freak, than to do it, “Bonny Doon” not being disposed to let any man approach her head or heels. They shut the captain up, finally, for contempt of court, and fined him twenty dollars, but he escaped the disagreeable attitude of sustaining the suit of an enemy. At another time, the captain, being on a time, dashed into a meeting-house, running in at one door, and slap bang out at the other! This feat of Camanche horsemanship rather alarmed the whole congregation, and cost the captain five twenties! Riding into bar rooms and stores was a common performance of “Bonny Doon” and her master; and he had even gone so far as to run the mare up two entire flights of stairs of the principal hotel, dashing into a room where “a native” was shivering in bed with the fever and ague; but the noise and sudden appearance of a man and horse in such high latitudes effected a permanent and speedy cure; the fright like to have destroyed the sufferer's crop of hair, but the “a-gy” was skeered clean out of his emaciated body.

After a variety of adventures by flood and field, of hair-breadth 'scapes, and eccentricities of man and beast, they parted! “Bonny Doon” being about the only living spectator of her master's end. This tragic denouement came about one cold, stormy and snowy night, when few men, and as few beasts, would willingly or without pressing occasion, expose themselves to the pitiless storm. The old captain had been in town all day, with “Bonny Doon” hitched to the horse block, and being full of “distempering draughts,” as Shakspeare modestly terms it, and malicious bravery in the midst of the great storm, late in the evening he mounted his half-starved and as near frozen mare, to go home.

“Better stay all night, captain,” coaxed some friend.

“Hills are icy, and hollows filled with snow,” suggested the landlord.

“I wouldn't ride out to your place to-night, captain, for a seat in Congress!” rejoined the first speaker.

“Ye wouldn't?” replied the captain. “And—and no wonder ye wouldn't, fer not a divil iv ye's iver had the horse as could carry ye's over me road th' night. Look at that! There's the baste can do it!—d'ye see that?” and as the old man, reeling in the saddle, jammed the rowels of his heavy spurs into the flanks of the mare, she nearly stood erect, and chafed her bits as fiery and mettled as though just from her oats and warm stable, and fifteen years kicked off.

“Boys,” bawled the captain, “here's the ould mare that can thravel up a frozen mountain, slide down a greased rainbow, and carry ould Captain Maguire where the very ould divil himsilf couldn't vinture his dirty ould body. Hoo-o-oo-oop! I'm gone, boys!”

And he was off, gone, too; for the old man never reached the threshold of his domicil.—Next morning Captain Maguire was found in the mill-dam, entirely dead, with poor “Bonny Doon,” nearly frozen, and scarcely able to walk or move, standing near him. But there she stood, upon the narrow icy way over the dam, and from appearances of the snow and planks of the little bridge, the faithful mare had pawed, scraped, and endeavored by various means to rescue her master. The manner of the catastrophe was evident; the old man had become sleepy, and frozen, and while the poor mare was feeling her way over the icy and snow-covered bridge, her master had slipped off into the frozen dam, and no doubt she would have dragged him out, could she have reached him. As it was, she stood a faithful sentinel over her lost master, and did not survive him long,—the cold and her evident sorrow ended the eventful life of “Bonny Doon.”


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