Horrie The Wog-Dog by Ion L Idriess
23. Horrie Takes It On The Chin

THE Rebels brought our food from the cookhouse, but Horrie was not allowed his bones until lights out lest visitors hear the crunching.

"Well now," said Sergeant Poppa that night, "how are we going to transport Horrie when orders come to move off?"

We decided on a pack-bag. I lifted Horrie from his hideout, covered him with a towel, then Don and I sneaked away with him out the back of the tent. We hurried away to the vacated camp area where the ack-ack regiment had been and put Horrie to the ground. He hardly knew what to do with himself and scampered round and round us in delight. To please him we played chasings but when he barked in excitement we sat down until he'd worked off his energy. When he came trotting back to us we gave him his bones; then his training commenced in earnest. I put him in the pack-bag on Don's shoulders but for a start left the flap open. Then away we went, tramping round and round the old camp area. I walked close behind Don, talking reassuringly to the Wog-dog whose wise little head gazed at me from the open pack.

Now and again we'd stop, lift Horrie to the ground and pat him and whisper "Good little dog, good little Horrie, very smart pup!" And he just lapped up this praise. I changed places with Don and away we went again. Every time Horrie moved Don whispered "Sssh! still, still." Apart from the effort of learning what all this meant Horrie was not comfortable for his weight in the bottom of the pack tended to make it fold in on him. We did the best we could.

After several hours of this practice we fastened the flap. Horrie was then completely encased in the pack-bag. Again we marched around the area. Horrie now remained very quiet but the tip of his nose appeared where the flap just covered the side of the pack. Gently pushing back his nose, I whispered "Quiet! good dog! good dog! sssh!"

For a start, we left him in the closed pack only five minutes; then we'd undo the flap and let him poke his nose out. As a final lesson on that first night, we put the covered pack on the ground while Don and I sat beside it and every time he moved whispered "Sssh! still, good dog!

Thus, night after night we trained Horrie until he would stay two hours in the covered pack, quiet as a sleeping mouse. And now when we showed him the pack, he would quietly step into it and cuddle down on his own accord. Day by day, for eight long days he remained noiselessly down in the deep black hole. As to tent inspection now, Big Jim asked with a puzzled frown, "What on earth has come over you Rebels? Have you reformed?"

"Yes," we grinned.

Big Jim could not understand the uncanny tidiness, the scrupulous accuracy of gear. One glance now and inspection was over so far as the Rebels' tent was concerned.

Then came the great order. We were to move out in two days' time. Tomorrow there was to be a trial parade, each man with all gear moving out of camp precisely as he would do for the last time on the following day.

This meant a problem to the Rebels. We dare not leave Horrie in the hole next day, for every man must move from camp; every tent would be stripped bare. Under such conditions, tent inspection must discover even a button upon the bare floor.

"Horrie must attend parade with us," declared Fitz, " In his pack!"

"He'll stand up to it all right," said Don confidently.

And he did. But we had not allowed for daylight and the heat. Horrie had been trained in the dark and cool of night. He now needed all his stout little heart.

We moved off with Horrie in the pack on my back, the Rebels keeping an eye on the pack from the following ranks. We'd missed out very badly in foresight, for every man's pack was bulging with kit, while mine looked as if it had collapsed, was only half-filled. Luck was with us; none of the heads noticed. Horrie, very hot, only moved once then became instantly still at Don's warning "Sssh!" After the parade, when back in the tent I let Horrie out as quickly as possible; he was nearly smothered. We put him back in the hole and I got down and whispered to the panting pup. He licked my hand to show he trusted us implicitly As I laid him down on the old heap of clothes and stroked his head he sighed and dozed off to sleep.

We set to work to improve the pack. We cut round holes in it to admit air, camouflaged the holes with netted string, lined the pack with plywood to keep it square and give it the solid appearance of a tightly filled pack. Then we fitted the pack on Don's back. It now looked the part of a well-filled pack and, what was just as important, it was much more roomy and comfortable and admitted much more air. We rolled a pair of socks very tightly and fastened them behind the pack. This kept the pack out nearly an inch from Don's back which did away with considerable heat and also allowed air to flow between Don's back and the pack. We then put Horrie in and were delighted at the improvement; he could really move now and the slight movement would not be noticeable. We fastened the flap, then fastened the roll of blankets on it, with the tin hat held between the two straps in the centre of the pack. We stood back then and saw it would be impossible for anyone to guess there was anything but a man's kit inside the pack. We stepped out into the night and gave it a thorough tryout. It was perfect.

When back in the tent, we took Horrie out of the pack and his pleased expression and tail wagging emphatically assured us "It is O.K. now!"

As at dawn we must pull down the tents and pack them away, we must quickly find a new hiding place for Horrie on this last night. We solved the problem with the aid of the canteen sergeant, a good sport. He hid Horrie away in a cupboard of the canteen for the last day and never breathed a word about it.

That night I recovered Horrie and quietly edged away from the roadway, sleeping well away from the troops, and joining them in the morning with Horrie in the pack as they were crowding into the transport buses en route for Gaza. When there, Horrie had to lie quietly for many hours in that pack before the train arrived. The Rebels then shepherded us towards the guard's van, and before the guard knew what was doing, Don and I had hopped in and slammed the door. We were determined about it but presently managed to square the annoyed guard though he nearly threw a fit when we let Horrie out of the pack and Horrie immediately tackled the worthy Oriental gentleman. It proved quite a comfortable ride for Horrie during all the long trip through the Sinai desert back into Egypt.

With Horrie again in the pack we filed out of the train at Kantara on the Suez Canal and marched to a transit camp. The pack was quickly put to the ground and surrounded by the Rebels' gear in such a way that Horrie still had air through the string laced holes. It was fearfully hot. As we ate, I noticed Captain Hindmarsh now and then glance in our direction and laugh. I felt uneasy but am sure he did not suspect anything, he was always a cheerful O.C. When we moved off the Rebels managed to stick together. We marched to the Canal, with Horrie silent as a mouse, to the heavy "tramp, tramp, tramp" of feet. As I marched on I knew how the little Wog-dog would dearly love to be marching at the head of the column. But it simply could not be. At the Canal we boarded punts, crossed the Canal, and once again entrained.

We had to travel in a crowded carriage, bound for Port Tewfik. It must have been misery to Horrie, the tramp of feet, the marching songs, the laughing voices throughout the train journeys, all the sounds of an army on the move, that was sweet music to him and now throughout it all he had to huddle in silence in the depths of a black, suffocatingly hot pack. Don fought for a window seat and we were thus able to place Horrie's pack with the airhole in the back of the pack facing the open window. Thus at last he got a cool breeze. He needed it. If only the Rebels could have taken possession of the carriage, we could have let Horrie out of the pack. But we daren't risk it; these noisy boys were not in the know.

Night came. The boys stretched out in the best way they could. Silence at last except for an uneasy snore, the squeak and rattle of the carriage wheels, the dreamy hum of the train. I placed the pack on its flat side so that Horrie could lie down and poked my fingers through the strings that covered the air hole and stroked his head. He gave a doggy sigh and then remained quite content. In the small hours we arrived at Port Tewfik, and in the bustle of detraining Don carried the pack. We formed up and marched to a transit camp where the boys simply rolled up on the sand and slept the last few hours to dawn. Just before dawn I sneaked right away from camp with Horrie and finding an old trench let him loose there, waiting until Don should get the hang of the new camp. Horrie quietly slipped away to do his little business and then came racing back up and down the trench to stretch his little legs. I sat there for hours, puzzling and wondering, discarding plan after plan as to how I could get him on the ship.

Don found me about 9 o'clock. He had managed to locate the Rebels who seized their opportunity to secure a tent to themselves. He then located me and I carried Horrie under a blanket through the camp to the tent. We took it in turns to watch at the door while again and again I had to grab Horrie and slip under the blanket as lads came in to gossip. The lads were so restless they could not remain still.

At midday Sergeant Poppa came into the tent. "We march to the embarkation point tomorrow morning," he announced.

"Hooray!" we shouted. "So we really embark."

"Sure thing. But I've heard another whisper!"

"Out with it, you grizzled old oyster."

"Imshi!"

"What?"

"Yes. The Anti-Tank Regiment has just camped not far away. One of the boys whispered to me that so far they've managed to smuggle Imshi all the way from Syria to Port Tewfik in a truck."

We were delighted at this news of Horrie's girl friend; his little tail would have wagged itself right off could he have seen her again. Regretfully we decided we dare not risk it. We were almost on the ship now and it would be heart-breaking to lose the little dog at the last moment. Love must wait. Apart from unwise risks, the greatest problem of all lay just ahead of us - how to get Horrie aboard ship. The Rebels sat around in serious conclave.

"If there's one slip," said Poppa, "it means the end."

"It will be the most severe inspection of all," declared the Gogg.

"I've thought out a plan," I said. "Here it is. The troops will be formed up on the wharf in three ranks. After 'Open order, march!' kit-bags and packs and gear are placed at the owners' feet. Now, when the inspecting officers draw near us, I'll quietly faint. Feathers and Don will break ranks and come to my assistance. But on reaching me I'll weakly regain my feet with their assistance. Sergeant Poppa noticing the disturbance will hurry along and advise Corporal Feathers, 'Help him up the gangway and get him to a cool place!' Fitz will then immediately move to my gear and say to Sergeant Poppa, "I'll take his gear aboard, Sergeant." "Yes," Poppa will reply, "do that." Fitz will then pick up the pack containing Horrie and escort me up the gangway. Once aboard Feathers and Don will inquire where I'm to bunk, meanwhile I will have recovered sufficiently so that there'll be no need to take me to the hospital bay. We'll just slip down below and find a bunk or a latrine where I'll wait with Horrie until all the Rebels come aboard and sort things out. Now how's that for an idea!"

"Excelsior!" they declared admiringly.

"You might even think your way out of jail," said Poppa grudgingly.

"He'll probably have to one of these days," declared Fitz.

Under cover of darkness that night Don and Feathers and I took Horrie out on the desert. While he exercised his legs we sat a long time under the brilliant stars. This was to be our last night in the Middle East.

"I wonder what the future has in store for us," mused Feathers.

"Goodness knows," said Don.

We lapsed into silence, wondering what the future meant for Australia. We were very unhappy. Singapore gone, Java gone -we did not dare to think too much.

Next morning the camp was in a bustle. Soon, we were on the march, Horrie in the pack on Don's shoulders, and I marching behind to cheer Horrie with a whispered word. Feathers and Fitz marched at Don's left, Gordie and the Gogg on my right.

That day, the sun blazed down upon a desert that radiated suffocating heat. Horrie suffered terribly. He made no movement, uttered no whimper. At half-way, we halted for a few minutes. The Rebels screened me while I wet my fingers from the water bottle and thrust them into the top of the pack to feel Horrie's famishing little tongue.

"Good dog, Horrie," I whispered, "good little pup! Stick it out!"

The last mile dragged by in silence but for the muffed tramp, tramp, tramp. Sweat poured down faces and necks and bared chests brown with dust. I leaned forward and put my ear to the pack. I could hear Horrie panting, but he never moved. He was a little Anzac; the breathless desert sun poured down upon that suffocating pack but could not break his spirit. He would have died without a whimper. At last, at long last, we marched out on to a wharf; soon now would end one of the greatest triumphs of endurance that ever a brave dog went through. On the wharf we sat -wearily down to wait. I carefully lifted the pack from Don's back and placed it with the hole in the back facing a cool breeze from the water. The Rebels squatted around while I again thrust wet fingers into Horrie's hot prison. I whispered "Good dog!" and could hear his little stub tail brushing along the bottom of the pack. Towards anchored ships heavily laden ferries were taking troops. In low voices we were rehearsing the fainting stunt when Sergeant Poppa located us, his grin as wide as the funnel of a ship.

"There's to be no kit inspection on the wharf," he chuckled in a low voice. "Not until we board the ship, anyway."

This was a relief as great as it was unexpected; it meant I would not have to become an amateur Clark Gable. A ferry came bustling alongside, we crowded aboard, carrying Horrie in his pack. There was only standing room. I gained the side of the ferry and stood with my back to the water. Thus the pack was out of sight of the crowd and also received the breeze. All hands were eagerly staring across the harbour wondering which ship was to be our particular transport. Pleased were we when our ferry headed towards a mammoth liner; excited too, when we saw the Stars and Stripes lazily fluttering over the stern, our first glimpse of the United States Navy. She was the first United States ship to carry Australian soldiers in this war. She was now named West Point, and was formerly the S.S. America built in answer to the Queen Mary. Cheery greetings floated down to us from the Yankee sailors. The Rebels crowded round me as we climbed the gangway and into the ship through a big iron doorway in the side. Horrie's lucky star was in the ascendant; there was no word of the dreaded inspection. We were immediately given a ticket and found ourselves in a huge cabin that could accommodate all the Rebels and our cobbers Reg Jenks and Ron Baker as well; it was really a palatial flat. Of all the luck! We shut the door, lifted off our packs and grinned delightedly at one another. In the bustle and excitement and anxiety this really seemed too good to be true. Our extraordinarily large, luxurious cabin also had a separate shower room all to itself, this room was also fitted up to the Nth degree as a princess's boudoir - or Horrie's suite.

"Just watch this closely!" I whispered mysteriously to Reg and Ron as I carefully undid Horrie's pack.

"First roll up your sleeves," said Don earnestly, "just to show them there's nothing there."

I did so, made a few flourishes over the pack and said "Hey Presto! Sir Knight arise from the Wars!" and out popped Horrie.

"Well, I'll be blessed!" exclaimed the dumbfounded pair.

"I don't know about 'blessed'," smiled Don, "but we'll be damned if we're caught."

Horrie was all wags and grins and about to bark that he was no phantom dog when a command from me quietened him on the instant.

"But I thought he was with the Palestine police!" exclaimed Reg.

"How on earth did you manage it?" demanded Ron.

"It's a long story," I replied. "We must make Horrie secure first. In the meantime, not a whisper about him."

"You can count on us," they promised in one voice.

Horrie was in a bad way; to feel him was almost like touching a hot-water bottle. Don and I gave him a refreshing bath and he brightened up immensely after Feathers mixed him a cool drink of Horlick's Milk. The Rebels allotted me the bunk with an air inlet above it and I placed Horrie on the mattress under the inlet. As the cool fresh air flowed over him he seemed to droop wearily, gave a few sighs and in a moment was fast asleep.

"The poor little Wog-dog is all in," sympathized Gordie.

While we stripped for a bath I quickly told Reg and Ron the story. We were so delighted with our success so far we would have loved to tell all the boys on the ship. But this could not be, for it would mean the end of Horrie. The secret must never come out until he was safe in Australia. We wondered if the Anti-Tank Regiment was aboard our ship and, if so, whether the men had managed to smuggle Imshi aboard. We would soon find out; it would be wonderful if the doggie romance were to have a happy ending.
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