4. Murchie's Asp
Horrie The Wog-Dog by Ion L Idriess

The battalion warmed to the Wog-dog; despite his sock-tearing pranks he became a great favourite. His appetite amazed us. He always beat the bugle and ushered in meal-times by a swift waddling from the tent to the cookhouse. Even so, he was first on parade too, especially the route marches. He marched proudly at the head of the column, his quaint little legs stepping out with the funniest imitation of a martial air. Head and stumpy tail erect, chest forward, ears pricked, his keen eyes invited all and sundry to "Step out! Step out!"

During a route march the Rebel section manoeuvred to be in the leading platoon and keep an eye on the self-important Horrie. As he waddled along at the head of the column he believed that everything should give him right of way. But we were afraid of the busy trucks constantly tearing past. Horrie quickly learned to obey the Rebels but showed rebellious tendencies should any other soldier order him about. I first trained him to obey commands by aid of a fishing-line tied to his collar, while he marched proudly ahead with a glance back at us for approval. Now and again I would order "Come alongside!" then pull in the line until he came to heel. Very soon, at the order "Come alongside!" from any one of the Rebels he would immediately obey. We soon discarded the training string; his aptitude in grasping the meaning of anything required of him was uncanny.

"He is the most intelligent member of the Rebel section," growled Sergeant Poppa, "and," he added as an after-thought, "certainly the most obedient."

"That's because he's learning all the old-soldier tricks," laughed Fitz.

"What you don't know, you cub," growled Sergeant Poppa, "would fill a book — a library of books."

Horrie detested natives. Probably they had been cruel to him during his homeless days before he took to the desert. Where we were camped on the fringe of the Western Desert there was nothing but our camp, sand and barren rock, and the occasional humble camp of the wandering Bedouin. These extremely poor but surprisingly proud children of the desert were not disliked by the Australian soldiers as were the breeds that swarmed in the cities and their outskirts. We had to keep a sharp eye against the Bedouin on account of his expert thieving propensities but apart from these, in this particular camp he never caused us any trouble. The Bedouin children were rather favourites, and very different to the cheeky, baksheesh-cadging urchins of the city native quarters. But all native urchins were the same to Horrie; fiercely he growled his protest when we ordered him not to chase them. He would fly at any grown Arab who approached within smelling distance of the camp. This made it safe for us to leave washing to dry on the tent ropes overnight, so long as the garments were out of Horne's own reach. Prowling shades of the night soon learned to avoid our tent.

During the long route marches we would gratefully obey the occasional order to halt and smoke-oh. At such times Arab urchins would spring up from nowhere, vociferously selling us "eggs acook!" water-melons, sweetmeats and native lemonade, though with a wary ear on Horrie's growls of disapproval. These quick-witted little raggamuffins were shrewdly intelligent. A common trick of theirs was to say deferentially: "Gib it baksheesh, sergeant!" knowing that the "sergeant" was but a humble private.

They were good-humoured, surprisingly quick to grasp Australian slang phrases, and smart in picking up odd items of information which might help them in selling their wares. They had lent on attentive ear to the rules of hygiene that necessarily were so constantly drummed into the troops. While treating our idea of cleanliness with contemptuous mirth, they earnestly claimed their goods as "Verry clean!" "Verry sweet!" "Verry hygiene!" as they offered the fly-specked goods with grubby little hands that had never known a wash.

One day a quick-witted little chap sold out his goods because of the roar of laughter he caused at Horrie's expense. With serious mien Horrie took advantage of this particular smoke-oh to make his toilet in view of all. As energetically he scratched sand over the result the urchin shouted "Very good! Very sanitary!" While another quick-witted youngster cashed in on the laughter by yelling "Now wouldn't it!"

Horrie had an idea that the laughter was at his expense and with a menacing growl turned on the urchins, and despite his size caused a lively scatter.

"Big Jim" led the platoon on a route march one day and as we approached a small Arab village he roared the order: "March to attention!"

All backs were straightened up, rifles sloped automatically, heads up, chins in, chests out to the rhythmic tramp of marching feet. Big Jim evidently wished to impress the natives, for as a rule we marched at ease and yarned and walked along pretty well anyhow.

Dozens of Arab urchins flocked from the dwellings to gaze at the impressive sight; we were putting on a brave show with the Wog-dog, tail erect, marching in the lead. When right in the centre of the village a tiny urchin shrilled: "March at ease!" and the splendid sight collapsed to the laughter of the boys.

"Saieda (good day) George," called Murchie to the lad. His sharp little eyes took in Murchie's usual disreputable appearance and instantly he shrieked "Good day, Wog!"

Murchie was furious, the troops delighted. Any man could have bought a fight with Murchie if he had been game to say "Saieda, Wog!"
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