THE wildfire the rumour spread "Something doing! There's a move on!"
No one knew how it originated, no one could obtain any verification or details. Any diplomatic approach to an officer brought a surprised lift of the eyebrows. No, he'd heard nothing about it. Or he would shrug the matter away as just another rumour.
But we noticed that the officers were taking a keen interest in life.
It was about this time that the Gogg got mixed up in an argument with a gharry in Alexandria. You cannot ignore a horse, gharry and wild Egyptian driver — not when they're galloping "all out". They took the Gogg to hospital where he bemoaned his luck in getting knocked just when a move was on. He declared he'd follow us up, even on crutches.
After many rumours, the actions of Sergeant Poppa first convinced us there really was something doing. In the temporary absence of Big Jim he ran our particular little show. His enthusiasm in checking the signal gear and in bullying us for mislaying it was a sure sign something was doing, particularly as he was so mysterious about it all.
"Like a clucky old hen hatching eggs," grinned Gordie.
"It was a mistake when you were hatched!" declared Poppa.
"A better job than you, anyway," came back Gordie. "You're only a bad egg."
But we could not draw Poppa though we saw he was dying to spill the beans.
"We know all about it, anyway," declared Don. "We're going home so you can lead the Anzac march through Melbourne."
"Too ancient," said Fitz pityingly. "He'd never see the distance out."
"Neither of you will ever lead any march," snapped Poppa. "When you're my age you'll be wheeled about in a bath chair."
"Poppa don't need his bath chair," remarked Gordie. "We've carried him a long way now and it looks as if we've to keep on carrying him."
"When you've got to carry me," said Poppa grimly, "it will be in a box."
Next thing was that Don and I were issued with two brand-new motor cycles; while running and adjusting the engines we eagerly discussed the certainty of a move. Wild guesses again swept the camp. "Greece?" "Western Desert?" But to the Rebels' inquiries Sergeant Poppa still kept a stern silence.
Making an excuse that we were testing the new bikes, Don and I slipped away to Alexandria. I wanted to buy some spools for the camera, anyway. We entered a Greek shop the proprietor of which spoke excellent English.
"Sorry, boys," he said, "no spools. But you'll soon be able to buy plenty in Greece!"
We walked out quietly; the Greek knew more than we.
As we rode back we both were thinking about the Wog-dog. He must come with us. But how?
"He's solved it!" declared Gordie when we told what the Greek had said. "The weight of our gear has been assessed and the boxes are measured in cubic feet. That points to a short sea trip where space will be vital."
Fitz voiced our thoughts.
"What about the Wog-dog?"
We were discussing the pros and cons when Poppa entered the tent. He went straight to the Wog-dog, picked him up, sat on the edge of my bunk and stroked him.
"Poor little Wog-dog," he said. "We'll be sorry to leave you."
"Where we go Horrie goes also," snapped Feathers.
Poppa put the dog down and grinned happily. "I was wondering if you were slipping. That's all," he answered.
"You prehistoric worm!" declared Murchie. "If we leave anyone behind it will be you!"
"Relax," grinned Poppa. "You'll get all the scrapping you want before long."
"So the move is on?" I inquired.
"It is," replied Poppa, and lapsed into silence.
"Are you going to stay behind to mind the kit-bags?" inquired Murchie sweetly.
"You'll take your own kit-bags," snapped Poppa, "and I'll take you!"
We gazed at him in respectful silence. At last his weathered countenance wrinkled into a grin. Sergeant Poppa had relented.
"Look here," he said confidentially, "this is the news — but keep it under your hat! First of all, mail closes tomorrow at 1700 hours. So get your letters to the orderly room before 5 o'clock. The transport is going ahead the following day and I suggest there might be room among their gear for something the size of a little Wog-dog. Don and Jim will probably take their machines and travel with the transport.
Good old Poppa. The first stage of the problem was solved by that cunning old head.
"I'll trot over to the transport tent and chat to Ron Ford," I said. Ron was one of the drivers. I found the transport platoon busily writing letters home.
"Fordy about?" I inquired.
"He's down at the truck lines," answered Reg Jenks. "Did you get the drill (news)?"
"Yes. I hear you pull out the day after tomorrow."
"Yes. Looks like Greece."
"That's the Rebels idea, too," I replied, and located — Ron Ford.
"We're in a spot, Ron," I explained, "about Horrie. There's a good chance we could smuggle him away if only you could fit him in among the gear in your truck."
"Of course," agreed Ron. "The battalion would never forgive you if you left the little dog behind. He can travel in the cabin of the truck and I'll fix the windows so that he can't be seen."
"Thanks, Ron." And we arranged for such details as a tin of water and doggy meat for several days.
"We'd better put in a fair issue of water and meat," advised Ron. "You see, the truck may be lowered down into the ship's hold and I may not be able to get at it for a few days."
"Phew!" I said. "Horrie will be terrified."
"We've got to take risks," explained Ron. "If the truck is lashed to the deck then of course it will be all right. But we don't know what will happen when we get to the wharf. I'll do my best."
"The sarge tells us he may be able to detail Don and me to travel with you. If so then one or the other of us will be able to watch where the truck is loaded aboard ship and rescue Horrie if anything goes wrong."
I returned to the tent and discussed the scheme with the Rebels. All agreed that it appeared quite practical so long as Ron the driver, Don and I could work together with an eye on Horrie.
Next morning came the first shock. Despite Poppa's pulling of strings, Don and I received orders to load our machines on one of the trucks and travel with the signal platoon — not the transport platoon.
The more we thought of it the blacker it looked. The Rebels held serious council.
"Ron Ford will do all he can for the little Wog-dog," said Gordie, "but we know what happens when troops move; a man may be transferred to a different job at any time."
"I hate to think of the little Wog-dog away down there in a dark hold locked alone in the cabin of a truck," said Fitz.
"We wouldn't forgive ourselves," said Murchie, "if the ship was torpedoed and we didn't get time to go down and give him his chance."
That decided it; we agreed we must straightway work out another scheme.
"We must get him aboard somehow," said Don. "Then he'll be all right."
"No, he won't," cautioned Fitz. "Quarantine regulations are too strict; we still must hide him or some of the crew might put him away."
"They wouldn't do that," said Gordie.
"Not in the main, they wouldn't, but some semi-officer bloke might spot him and it might be more than his job was worth to keep quiet."
"Get him aboard first," advised Gordie. "We'll solve the other problems as they come. Now, he's such a tiny little chap that we could easily hide him in one of our kit-bags."
"A brain-wave," declared Feathers.
"It sometimes affects me that way," said Gordie modestly.
"Yes," smiled Feathers, "though seldom in the right place. But let us work on this kit-bag idea."
"I wonder if he would keep quiet," I said. "If he should bark at a critical moment he would put the show away. We could hardly keep him in the bag for two or three days either. Don't forget he's got his own little arrangements to make."
"I've got the right answer to that problem," declared Feathers. "It's about two days travel from Alex. to Greece, isn't it?"
"About that, all going well."
"Well, counting Poppa, we know that six of us Rebels are detailed to travel together. We get the dog aboard somehow per kit-bag. Six of us will be together. Forty-eight hours is two days. Six into forty-eight goes eight."
"Marvellous!" declared Murchie.
"How well educated he's been," said Fitz admiringly.
"He went through college on a bike," explained Murchie.
"And thus," resumed Feathers, "we arrive at shifts of eight hours, if your limited intelligence can grasp that simple mathematical calculation. Now, once aboard the ship and we will scatter and search for a latrine. When located we claim it speedy like. The rest is childishly simple. That latrine will be Horrie's suite; in it he can live in comfort and attend to his toilet as and when required. One man will stay with him throughout each eight hours, each of the six taking turn about. Providing the caretaker has a book to read, the time will pass very pleasantly, the seating accommodation being all that is desired."
"Marvellous!" breathed Fitz.
"Scrumptious!" declared Gordie.
"I'm for the first shift!" claimed Feathers.
"Don't move so fast," warned Murchie. "Wait till the proper time."
"That'll be O.K." grinned Feathers. "I'm regular."
"It's a good idea, anyway," said Don. "I'm relieved."
"Not yet," grinned Feathers, "It's not your shift."
"Oh go and fry your face," replied Don. "The idea's good anyway."
"Perfect!" said Feathers with a wave of the hand. 'We can easily take his meal to the man sitting on shift. The scheme is perfect."
"Yes, Solomon," broke in Murchie scathingly. "Only for one little point you've missed."
"What's that?" demanded Feathers.
"The latrine may not be a single-seater!"
This was a blow, we knew only too well the usual arrangements made aboard ships for troops — a rolling line of benches with seating accommodation for a troop of men open to the world.
"There must be a single-seater somewhere aboard a ship," declared Feathers, "and we simply must find and commandeer it, even if it's the captain's."
"Well, we'll trust to luck about the single-seater," I suggested. "Let us first educate the Wog-dog to the kit-bag. I'm afraid he'll play up. By the way, where is he?"
"Poppa has him on duty guarding the signal gear to keep the Wogs away," answered Gordie.
"I'll go get him," volunteered Murchie, and strode to the tent door.
"Better speak to him as you approach," called Feathers, "or he'll mistake you for a Wog."
"That's why you didn't offer to get him," came back Murchie's voice. "He'd smell you a mile away."
Murchie returned with Horrie and Poppa.
"Fitz," ordered Poppa, "you go and take over Horrie's place for a while."
"Oh," growled Fitz, "it would be a poor show if any of your precious gear were pinched at this stage of the game!"
"It would," snapped Poppa. "Go and guard that gear. Step lively."
"Oh, all right," growled Fitz. "I suppose I've got to do what you can't do," and he growled his way out into the dark.
'Well, what's the new idea?" demanded Sergeant Poppa.
We told him. 'Well, well," he declared. "So my patient teaching is bearing fruit at last; I was beginning to think you were hopeless."
"You've got nothing to think with," protested Murchie.
"An extra fatigue to you for that crack," replied Poppa amiably. "And now, you poor nit-wits, I'll run the rule over your plan."
"You couldn't improve it," declared Feathers.
"Nit-wit," answered Poppa scathingly. "Paint on a card-board 'Out of Order' and tack it on the latrine door."
We saw the point at once.
"The dear old man," said Murchie admiringly. Who'd ha' thought it".
"Not you, anyway," replied Poppa.
"He was always such a stickler for privacy," grinned Murchie.
"I wasn't dragged up beside a hollow log," explained Poppa.
"There's one snag," murmured Gordie.
"Well, what is it?" snapped Poppa.
"If the latrine has 'Gentlemen' painted upon it then you won't be able to go in and do your shift."
"He'd ignore the notice," grinned Feathers, "not knowing the meaning of the word."
"Get to work and educate Horrie to that kit-bag," ordered Poppa.
I held the bag while Don introduced Horrie stern-first into it. Horrie kicked a bit but when I lowered the bag to the floor and his little hind legs found solid ground he ceased kicking, standing on tip toes in a comically desperate attempt to keep his head out of the bag.
'We can't shut the bag," said Gordie doubtfully, "for if we pull the neck-string tight Horrie would smother. That means that we cannot carry the bag the usual way."
"Cut an air-hole in the side of the bag," growled Poppa.
We did, and poked Horrie's bewildered head out of the hole.
'We can carry the bag now as usual and Horrie won't choke," said Fitz proudly.
Poor Horrie looked so comical we all laughed; gratefully he gazed up at Poppa as the old warrior patted his head.
"Never mind, Horrie; you'll soon take a tumble; it's you will soon be laughing at the nit-wits here."
When we let Horrie out of the bag he shuffled shame-facedly to my bunk and, settling down, rested his chin on his leg and looked very miserable.
"The little chap is offended because we laughed at him," I said as I picked him up.
"Pretty smart dog, our Horrie," flattered Poppa and soon under the reassuring words the little stubby tail was wagging again.
At the second trial he entered the bag more willingly though not actually liking it, but he seemed resolved it was part of some new game he must play.
We saw he would quickly learn every trick we could teach him. We considered the problem of getting him on board ship unobserved was now as good as settled. When once aboard, the locating of his "suite" must be left to quick wits and fate.
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