"WHAT on earth are you doing now?" growled Sergeant Poppa one day.
"Introducing you to Cuthbert Mark I," grinned Fitz.
Cuthbert Mark I was a queer chameleon lizard about six inches long. The weird crawlers looked like miniature prehistoric reptiles. Quaintly, one eye would sometimes look ahead while the other gazed astern. Each foot appeared to be a claw more suitable for tree-climbing than waddling across the desert. They moved in a slow, hesitating manner, placing one foot forward then lurching backwards and forwards before dragging up the other leg.
"Can't make up his mind," grinned Fitz as I held Horrie while Cuthbert Mark I did his stuff across the tent floor. He had a slick tongue as long as his body; he flicked it out and rolled it back like a youngster's "squeaker". He was an expert shot at flies, whether on the wing or as sitting shots. The tongue would flick out and with the same movement recoil back into the large mouth. Cuthbert Mark I would then squat solemn and motionless and lick his chops. There appeared to be a hard sticky substance on the end of the tongue and when this touched a fly it was hopelessly bogged.
"Just as well Murchie isn't here," sighed Poppa. "What with his craze for scorpions and lizards and beetles and asps, the army is turning into a menagerie."
The Rebels took to chameleon hunting. In short time Gordie produced Cuthbert Mark II, Feathers rivalled him with Cuthbert Mark III, and the tent seemed full of chameleons making life not worth living for the flies. The Rebel competitors earnestly stalked around the tent each with his chameleon perched upon the index finger, the chameleon as intent upon this satisfying game as the man.
On sighting a fly the man's finger would cautiously poke out towards it, the chameleon's tongue would shoot out and slide back with the fly. Angle shots, upside down shots, fluke shots, all manner of difficult shots were tried out to impress the spectators with the merits of Cuthbert Mark I, II, and III. Cuthbert Mark II proved the best eater; he could gobble twenty flies before his bingy was filled. Mark I could only manage twelve while Mark III lazily declined another victim after he'd gobbled eight.
When not doing their stuff, the chameleons were kept in a box at the foot of the tent pole. Fitz made Cuthbert Mark I earn his tucker by forcing him change colour often throughout the day. Fitz put such vivid blue and red colours into the box that Feathers protested, reckoned poor Cuthbert would kill himself turning himself inside out trying to keep pace with the changing colours.
Horrie grew very jealous of these strange pets; often I would catch him gazing longingly at the box but I would shake my head reprovingly. Poor little Horrie exerted his will power and I could almost see him sighing, but he did not touch the box. Until --
Early one morning I noticed that Horrie had a somewhat hangdog look about him. As I glanced at the chameleons' box, Horrie rolled over on his back with a guilty invitation to play. Fitz sat up yawning, noticed my face and the box.
"Finish Cuthbert Mark I?" he inquired.
"Finish!" I replied.
"Finish Cuthbert Mark II?" came Gordie's voice.
"Finish!" I replied.
"Finish Cuthbert Mark III?" inquired Feathers.
"Finish!" I replied.
"You cannibal!" scolded Feathers, but Horrie rolled on his back and wagged his tail.
Time went on. It seemed certain we would return to Australia. Then word was whispered around that lest animal or bird diseases be introduced to Australia all pets must be destroyed or left behind when we again moved camp.
"What are you going to do with Horrie?" asked the Wog-dog's numerous friends.
"I don't know yet," I could only reply.
Something must be planned quickly.
Horrie gradually lost his enthusiasm for parades, even for play. For days on end we were compelled to force him leave the tent even for exercise, all he wanted to do was lie on the end of my bed with his big brown eyes staring voicelessly. That dog knew.
The boys were constantly dropping into the tent for a chat. It got on our nerves the way each man would unconsciously lower his voice, pat Horrie, and say "Poor little Horrie," or "Poor little Wog-dog."
Horrie would watch us talking, his head on his front paws, his eyes sad and searching.
One day Feathers remarked, "I'm getting that way that I can hardly look Horrie in the face. "
"Same here," said the Gogg.
As the Gogg spoke, Poppa tramped into the tent.
"This joint is like a morgue," he growled. He picked Horrie up and continued, "even the little Wog-dog has the miseries." He gently stroked the Wog-dog. The Rebels remained silent.
"It is a shame," growled Poppa, "to leave the little fellow behind. I well remember just before we returned home from the last war the Light Horsemen and En Zed soldiers shot their horses rather than leave them in the hands of the Arabs."
"Better than abandoning them to living death under the Arab whip," scowled Fitz. Horrie nosed my arm.
"What's the matter, little dog?" I asked and knew that could Horrie speak he would answer "Please don't leave me behind."
"What would be our position if we were caught trying to smuggle Horrie home?" inquired Don.
"If we could actually get him home, maybe we could get him quarantined, then he'd be all right," answered Poppa, "but if discovered before arrival he would be destroyed."
"If we leave him behind it means the Arabs or the desert," said Fitz. "Give him a fighting chance."
"He is entitled to his chance," declared Gordie. "He's, stuck to us through thick and thin."
"Give him his chance!" said Don.
The Gogg walked up beside Poppa and patted Horrie. "Cheer up, little dog! We won't let you down."
"Well, that's decided," said the relieved Gogg. 'We'll have to be careful now! One little slip and ---!"
"There'll be no slip," I said, "but it means very careful thought and teamwork from now on."
The first thing we did was to sneak Horrie away to Tel Aviv for veterinary examination, just to satisfy ourselves that he had no disease which he might introduce into Australia. Sergeant Poppa wangled the necessary leave for Don and me. We found a vet., a kindly, grey-haired man speaking fluent English. A refugee Jew forced to fly from Germany, he and his family had to start life all over again in a strange land. In his neat little room packed with medical books and photos of animals he examined the strangely quiet Horrie, whose eyes never left my face. The vet obviously knew his job, and was gentle too.
"He appears quite healthy he declared, "but I would like you to leave him with me a week until I can make tests and be sure."
To Don's doubting glance he smiled. "He'll be quite all right. Come with me and meet some of my little patients."
We followed him to the back yard which was divided into small compartments completely covered with a wire fence. Here were the patients, one little fellow with his leg in splints. One glance showed us the dogs were well cared for and had no fear of the old doctor.
"Your little dog can remain here," he said and pointed to a vacant run.
I lifted the uneasy Horrie into the run. "Good little dog," reassured Don and patted him. I could hardly look at the little fellow's eyes.
"Can you leave some personal article until you return for the dog?" asked the vet.
Thinking he meant a deposit and not holding too well I started to remove my wrist watch.
"No," he smiled, "a sock would serve the purpose admirably."
"A sock?" I inquired.
"Yes. He will treasure an article with your scent upon it and will thus expect you to return."
I removed my boot and handed the sock into the cage to Horrie.
"He will be reassured now," said the vet. "Say your temporary farewell."
We did so, trying to comfort the silent and miserable little Wog-dog.
"Anyway we're doing the job conscientiously - and he's in good hands," I said as we walked back along the street to pick up the leave bus.
"Yes," answered Don. "By the way, it was a good idea about the sock."
"Yes, but don't tell the Rebels or I'll never hear the end of it."
We trudged on silently and I wondered if Horrie felt as comfortable with the sock as I felt uncomfortable without it.
That week was a drag to all the Rebels, we realized how very much we now would miss the Wog-dog. On the third day the Gogg said "Go and ring up that vet, and find out how the Wog-dog is!"
For the life of us neither Don nor I could remember the vet's address.
"Nit-wits!" exclaimed Poppa fiercely.
At last the day arrived. Poppa wangled it so that I must drive a truck into Tel Aviv for "urgent military stores". And that truck was in a hurry. The old vet smiled when he opened the door.
"The little dog is quite all right," he said. "Come in."
With a sigh of relief I found myself again in the little room. "Come and we'll get him," invited the vet.
I called Horrie as he opened the back door. There was a flurry like sudden wind amongst leaves, and Horrie was leaping up frantically, nearly wagging himself in half. The vet. retrieved the sock from the kennel.
"Do you require this?" he asked.
"Guess I'll leave it," I laughed. "Did it do it's job?"
"Most certainly. It was a great comforter. That sock has remained with the little dog all the time. If he walked in the yard for exercise he carried the sock with him. It was in his mouth when he returned to the kennel. He slept with his head upon it."
Back in the room he said, "I have been totally unable to trace any signs of canine disease. Your little dog is in excellent health. Should any military necessity prevent you taking him with you I will readily accept him."
"All Hitler's armies could not prevent us taking him away," I answered happily. "At least there will always be one of us left to look after him."
He smiled and patted Horrie.
"So I should imagine," he said gently, "and I know a people who would love an army such as yours. You have a very faithful little friend here," and he patted Horrie again.
Despite my insistence he gently but firmly refused a fee. At the front door I asked, "What breed is Horrie?"
He smiled and simply answered, "Just a nice little dog."
"Well, we don't care, do we, Horrie?" I asked the Wog-dog.
Plain to see the Wog-dog now did not have a care in the world.
Sincerely wishing the kindly vet the best of luck the little "no-breed" dog and I walked out into the sunlight and the truck. Horrie put his head out the window and joyously barked at everything we passed.
Back at the camp Horrie's excited bark brought Don to the tent door with the Rebels behind him. No need to tell them the great news.
"You beauty" was the chorus.
"I was positive he was healthy," declared Feathers. "Now we know for certain."
"No. 1 hurdle over safely," laughed Gordie. The Wog-dog was trying to jump all over him.
"Good show," said Poppa approvingly, "and now I've got some news. Big Khassa the L.A.D. dog was taken for a ride this morning."
"So you'd better not let Horrie out of your sight," added Poppa Sand - you'd better make up your mind quick and lively just what you are going to do with him."
We thought out plan after plan. Once the dreaded order to destroy pets came out we knew it would be rigidly enforced. Days went by and we discarded plan after plan. It was by no means simple. As the authorities knew how not only we but the whole battalion were attached to the Wog-dog, it would need no ordinary plan to smuggle him home. The day we learned the A.A. Regiment had received word to move out we assembled in the tent and carefully fastened it against intruders.
"Our turn to move next!" said Poppa grimly. "We've got no workable plan thought out. Now let's get to it - or we lose the Wog-dog."
For hour after hour we debated it. One suggestion was to say he was run over by a truck. But if they dug up his grave there would be no body. Another was to keep him hidden in an abandoned trench a mile from the camp until we moved out. But someone might stumble across the trench. If we said we had given him to some English people in Tel Aviv then the authorities could check the address. As we found faults in all our schemes, we realized with a queer tinge of distress how difficult it was going to be. And this meant only the concealing of Horrie until we left this camp. There would be other camps then and the voyage to Australia.
"The most urgent thing is for him to disappear before the actual move," I said desperately, "for us to get him to a safe place away out of camp so that no inspection can possibly locate him."
"It will have to be some place where we can pick him up at a moment's notice," said Gordie, "for we may get two hours' notice to move in the middle of the night."
It was Fitz who gave us the first glimmering of a water-tight idea.
"What about saying that we gave him to a Palestine policeman in Tel Aviv," he suggested, "but we don't know his address. Horrie could then be in any one of the numerous police blockhouses in Palestine. The authorities would hardly be likely to check them all."
"Not a bad idea," said Poppa thoughtfully, "but the authorities will be very suspicious of that excuse."
"I have it!" I exclaimed, "we will actually give Horrie to the Palestine police I will get one of our own military police to accompany Horrie and me to the police block-house on the beach near Ascalon. The provost man will be an irrefutable witness."
"But how are you going to get him back?" demanded the Gogg.
"I'll sneak him back!" I declared.
"How?" demanded Poppa.
"I'll give the dog to the police. Then return here and report to the authorities that we've given the dog to the Ascalon police. A few hours later, I'll hurry back to the police and tell them I want to borrow the dog for a few hours to take a last photograph of him with his unit. And then - I'll forget to return him."
"And if we are ordered to leave at a moment's notice?" demanded Poppa.
"Look here," I said, "could you manage to detail me for duty with a truck early tomorrow morning?"
"If it was for urgent military duty," replied Sergeant Poppa.
"Very well, it is for very urgent duty. I'll take Horrie and the witness with me and hurry into Tel Aviv. I'll find the policeman all right; those English police are fine fellows. I'll bet the very first man I ask will willingly offer the little dog a home. Then I'll hurry back, drop the witness at headquarters and that very night will have Horrie back here in camp again."
"Which leaves only one problem," said Poppa dreamily. "Until we move we must keep Horrie perfectly hidden from everyone in camp."
"The tent is the safest," declared the Gogg, "but we can't keep him here. Although the authorities would know the Palestine police have taken him over, still there will be tent inspection in routine and Horrie would be discovered."
"It's a pity we could not safely hide him in the tent somewhere though," said Fitz thoughtfully. "If we could establish his alibi by giving him to the police, then keep him hidden amongst us in this very tent the whole problem would be solved."
"Look!" exclaimed Don and pointed to the cane mat that now served me as a bed. "A hole under Jim's bed!"
"You beauty" came the chorus.
If we could hide Horrie underground in a hole under the mat on the floor then the closest of tent inspections would not find him.