Robert and B.S.M. Joyce reach the S.S. Massanabie’s hold, where the horses are packed in tightly and given no exercise besides trying to maintain their balance. The horse with the broken leg had fallen after the soldiers were commanded to let the animals fend for themselves during the storm. Regis, the last remaining picket, weeps as the fallen horse cries.
The horses’ inhumane living conditions are traumatic not only for the animals, but for the soldiers who take care of them. Regis’s reaction to the horse with the broken leg shows that he has been deeply affected by watching this animal suffer.
The ship begins to crash violently, and Robert is surprised by his own authority when he assures Regis that they will not drown. Thinking that his military exploits may one day be written in a book, Robert resolves to be decisive and effective. Remembering a picture he had seen as a boy of a cowboy shooting its horse behind the ear, he positions himself and shoots the fallen horse in the head.
Although he is terrified of taking the horse’s life, Robert’s resolve to put on a brave face for Regis and fulfill his duty shows that he is committed to acting honorably. This attitude demonstrates Robert’s willingness to sacrifice himself for a higher purpose.
Robert’s first shot fails to kill the horse. B.S.M. Joyce advises him to be “cool and quick,” but he panics and shoots the horse repeatedly until Joyce pulls him away. The other horses are spooked and nearly trample Regis, so Joyce runs off to commandeer more men to help them. Robert declines Regis’s offer to light a lantern because he does not want to see his eyes.
The act of shooting the horse is clearly traumatizing for Robert, as he panics and loses control of his reflexes. Although he was only fulfilling his bound duty as an officer and was only putting the horse out of its misery, Robert is left feeling too guilty to even look Regis in the eyes.