HORRIE's education went on apace; he was such an eager pupil that the lads took pleasure in teaching him.
His lively interest in everything was another trait in his character which endeared him to us. Often when the Rebels were discussing some matter he would squat quietly there gazing up at our expressions and catching every word. Particularly when during Sergeant Poppa's absence we would be plotting some dark deed against Authority, Horrie's big brown eyes would fairly dance with delighted comprehension. Always eager to join in our escapades we had but to whisper "Be quiet!" and he would move silently as a mouse.
He was fussily pleased with his little box bunk and during the hot hours would recline in it while keeping one eye cocked towards the tent door. Nothing delighted him so much as to get in first with a greeting to any Rebel entering the tent, or to rush out if he believed someone was threatening the Rebel's possessions.
Nights in Egypt were surprisingly cold and Horrie discovered that the foot of my bed was warmer than his box. Shortly after lights out, when our conversation had ceased he would snuggle on the bed but the slightest movement would send him scuttling back to his box until I settled down again. Sometimes I'd strike a light and frown, and there was his little head poking from the edge of the box, innocence in the big brown eyes.
He loved to accompany the inspection officer through the ranks during inspection parades, standing by with critical eye and knowing head as if detecting as keenly as the officer any shortcomings in the men's kits or untidiness among the tents. After inspection, he would take up his position in front of the platoon facing the troops, for except on marches he would not turn his back to the ranks.
He was humanly downhearted by occasionally missing a parade. At the sound of marching feet he would rush out barking for us to hurry and join in. But when we did not come he would return on his own account quite crestfallen though understanding it was not the Rebel's platoon that was marching.
"Next time, Horrie," I'd promise and he'd wag his tail with brightening countenance while enviously gazing after the platoon.
One morning we received orders for a battalion parade. Our company formed up in platoons preparatory to a preliminary inspection before moving off to the battalion parade-ground. Corporal Feathers happened this morning to be in charge of our signal platoon. As usual he was spick and span as a new pin, the smart, perfectly equipped soldier, erect at the head of the platoon. Horrie was yelping excitedly, racing round and urging the platoon to move off. Just as Big Jim came striding up to take command of our platoon, another came marching by and Horrie's excitement burst control. In the desert there are no trees where a dog can express his feelings but Horrie's anguished eye lit on Feathers's beautifully polished boots. In a second he had dived up behind the immaculate soldier and cocking his leg, made his salute in full view of the platoon just as Feathers smartly saluted Big Jim.
Even then the platoon might not have exploded had not a stray mongrel noticing Horrie's mistake dashed up and added his quota. The platoon burst into an uncontrollable roar of laughter. Feathers quite unconscious of the comedy turned about sharply and ordered "Quiet everywhere! Every man firm as a rock!"
Fitz called out, "That's what Horrie thought, sir!" and it took ten minutes and a threat of seven days G.B. to quieten the platoon, all the more tickled by the puzzled frown of Big Jim who could not make out what had happened to his platoon on parade. Horrie meanwhile dashed to the head of the platoon impatiently wagging his tail while awaiting the order to march.
The little dog dearly liked a trip in a military truck and would stand by the side of one, asking for a ride. It was a good adventure for him to stand on the driver's seat, bark at the Arabs and assault the dogs of Alexandria.
By the way, it was in Alexandria that Murchie blotted the not-so-lily-white escutcheon of the Rebels. I won't say we were on leave, exactly, but anyway we were there. Night. Under the stars the massed lights of Alexandria blinked upon the historic city.
We strolled into a cafe where the red-fezzed orchestra was fairly drowned in the roar of voices; the lights were dim through clouds of tobacco smoke. New Zealanders, South Africans, British Tommies, Free French, Aussies, Allied soldiers of many nationalities were all at their tables in lively enjoyment of precious hours of leave. As we sat down and ordered our drinks I handed my hat to a waiter.
"Hang this up too!" said Murchie and handed him some-thing. A scream silenced the cafe as the waiter leaped back in ghastly fear from the asp he had dropped.
Murchie's little joke. The asp wriggled and the waiter screamed again and fell backwards over a table. That did it; there was a crash of glasses and foam of spilt beer, and the Tommies picked themselves up with howls of anguish. If you wish to arouse the British Lion just knock over his beer. They flew at us and a brawl was in full swing. Tommies rushed to join Tommies, Aussies sprang to join Aussies while Allied soldiers sprang up in noisy gesticulation. Overturned tables, upended waiters, a frantic orchestra, howls from the management while a cosmopolitan mob gaped in from the street. Then concerted yells of "Coppers, coppers!" broke up the struggling groups as all fought for the exits to escape the military police.
"Not a bad start," panted Murchie as we picked our-selves up out of the gutter. "We've only been in Alex twenty minutes!"
But a much more disturbing event happened back at camp. When nothing much was doing Horrie was in the habit of wandering through the camp, visiting his numerous friends in their tents. One day he returned to us limping. We examined the leg that was worrying him but could find nothing wrong. Later that day we were informed that Horrie had shot out of one particular tent with a yelp, the only occupant at that time being a particularly nasty piece of work who unfortunately was able to shelter under three stripes. We could not understand any man who would seek to hurt Horrie but this man was the only one in all that battalion who detested dogs.
"I'm going to do him in!" declared Murchie with an ugly look. He was striding towards the offending sergeant's tent, and would listen to none of us.
"Look here, Murchie," I protested, "for goodness sake don't thump him or we will lose Horrie. No dogs are allowed in camps, remember! We'll have to face a serious charge of assaulting a sergeant and we won't have a leg to stand on. It will mean we will have to give the Wog-dog up."
In frowning anger, Murchie hesitated; we talked it over and walked slowly back to the tent.
The time came when the particular insect who had hurt the dog happened to be sergeant of the guard. It was a pitch-black night. One duty of the sergeant was to visit each post to see that all was in order. While on this tour of inspection he was suddenly confronted by a muffled figure and challenging voice.
"Who goes there?"
"The sergeant of the guard!"
"Sergeant so-and-so?" inquired the figure.
"Cop this!" and the sergeant was knocked to the ground.
Next morning he sported a lovely pair of black eyes. Strenuous efforts were made to find the perpetrator of the dastardly deed, for the "knocking" of a sergeant of the guard was unheard of. A check-up of every tent was ordered but all the Rebels were in their tent at the time, Poppa, the signal-sergeant was there to prove it!
The offender was never brought to light despite the persevering attempts of the black-eyed sergeant. For some reason or other, he was certain one of the Rebels was the culprit.
But the dark crime faded into the limbo of unsolved mysteries.
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