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Title: Buggy
Author: Arthur Gask
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Language: English
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"BUGGY"



By Arthur Gask



Published in the Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 1954), Thursday 29 April 1943.





HIS master and mistress called him Soda, but to the children he was always known as Buggy, because when he had come to them as a very small puppy there were crawlers in his little coat which made him scratch a lot.

He was a little Scotty and picturesquely ugly with his huge head, very short legs, and great, lumpy, heavy paws. Eyes, nose and small body he was black as night all over. An aristocrat to his claw tips, and a descendant of a long line of noble ancestors, he carried his little tail stiffly upright in defiance of all the world.

He was only a young dog and he lived in one of the suburbs of a big city. Except for an occasional scamper outside with the children, his little world was bounded by four high garden walls, and there he carried on relentless war with everything which flew, crept, crawled or ran. He was game as a pebble and, as quick as lightning, his pounce was swift as the strike of a snake. His scent, too, was keen as a razor's edge, and woe betide any rodent who imagined he could hide away, even under many feet of garden rubbish. Buggy's front paws would then work like flails, untiring as a piston under full pressure, until he had routed him out. A few yards of hectic rush would follow before the unhappy rat or mouse was bitten, crunched and shaken into that Valhalla where the spirits of all rodents go.

With birds he was less successful and rarely caught one, for both his strategy and tactics were undeniably bad. He scorned all ambushes or lying in wait and, instead, directly one had alighted upon the lawn, would launch himself like an arrow upon it, barking, however, so vociferously all the while that the bird would have ample warning to fly and escape.

The one exception to his unceasing chase after birds was Mickum, the magpie, and there experience had taught him to keep well away from her spiteful beak and fiercely beating wings. Once, when she had had her nest in one of the garden trees, she had most strongly resented his interest in her two little Mickums, and he never forgot the painful peck she had given him on the side of his nose. After that he had left her sulkily alone.

As with birds, with cats he had not much luck, for again he was so noisy in his approach that they invariably had sufficient time to climb back safely on to the wall or run up some friendly tree. Still, he was known far and wide in catdom, and mother cats were wont to warn their kittens it was most unlikely they would ever grow to cathood if they played or hunted in the garden of Number Seven.

So Buggy passed his days, feared by so many rats, mice, cats and birds, and yet so much loved and petted by all the children who came to know him. To all humans he was such a friendly little animal.

When Buggy was just over a year old a great sorrow came into his life, for his master moved with his family into a flat where it was one of the ten commandments of the proprietor of the building that no dogs were allowed.

So Buggy's master gave him to a friend who was a farmer far away in the country, and one morning of most dreadful memory to the little dog he was given a most unusual big breakfast of underdone liver, his favorite dish, and, after much hugging and petting by the moist-eyed children, was driven off in the lap of the eldest girl to the railway station. There he was consigned to the care of the guard of a country bound train, and tied up in the brake-van.

He could not understand it and, a few minutes later, the rumbling of the wheels and the jolting of the train filled his little heart with terror. The guard, however, was a doggy man, and between stations stroked him and talked to him quite a lot. But the guard's voice was strange and his smell was different from any Buggy was accustomed to and, in consequence, the friendliness was not much appreciated. Buggy thought of the garden of Number Seven, the mice who would be running unchecked in the rubbish heap, and the big black cat from next door, who would probably be insolently upon the wall, and his heart was heavy that he was not there to put things right.

The day seemed endless, but at last when dusk was falling the train drew up at a siding and Buggy was taken out on to the platform. "Here's your new boss, old man," said the guard, "and I'm sure he'll be kind to you."

He was given into the arms of a big man who smelt of earth and a strange new smell which he was to learn later was that of sheep. "Hullo, hullo," said the man, holding him up at arms' length, "now what's going to be the good of you on a farm? Gosh, what a little beggar! No, no, Soda, don't tremble like that. No one's going to hurt you, little chap."

"Soda's not his name," said the guard. "The little girl who kissed him good-bye called him Buggy."

"And a darned good name," laughed the man. "He's not much bigger than a fair-sized bug himself."

After a very jolting ride in an old car, Buggy arrived at his new home, and a young woman stroked him and cuddled him and put him down in a little basket before a nice warm fire. He was given a drink of milk and, according to instructions received, a nice supper of cut up meat, gravy, potatoes and greens. As much as possible he tried, as indeed he always did, to nose away the greens, but there was too much delicious gravy on them and, in the end, he licked the saucer clean.

Then he squatted before the fire, watching with sad and melancholy eyes the man and his wife having their meal. From their glances in his direction he could see they were talking about him, but he was not interested, and his thoughts were only of his lost home.

Still, there was one bright spot that evening when, suddenly, he caught sight of an immense tabby cat stealing stealthily into the room. For the moment he did not realise his good fortune, but then he went after her like a bullet from a gun. However, he slipped badly on the linoleum and before he could get to her she had sprung on to the top of a high cupboard and was out of reach. She spat fiercely and the hair on her back stood up like wires.

"No, Buggy, darling," called out the woman reprovingly, "you must never hurt old Pom-Pom. You must become great friends." But the men roared with laughter and thought it a splendid joke.

Buggy was put to bed in his basket in a cupboard at the end of the passage, with the door, however, left open so that he should get plenty of air. All was quiet and peaceful until about the middle of the night, and then the man and his wife were awakened by yelps and frenzied scuttling in the passage.

"What the devil is it?" roared the man, and he jumped out of bed and ran out of the bedroom, flashing his torch. "Tarnation," he shouted gleefully, "the little beggar's caught that big rat!" and Buggy was patted and stroked and praised before he was returned to his cupboard.

The next morning Buggy was taken out into the yard and introduced to Blackbeetle, the big sheep dog. For a few moments they smelt at each other suspiciously, but then they both began wagging their tails. "It's not bad up here," said Blackbeetle, talking things over. "They're quite decent to you and there's plenty of good grub. I've got a spare bone or two now in my kennel if you feel peckish, but you'll not find much meat on them, as they were part of my supper last night." He spoke warningly. "But you'll have to leave Pom-Pom alone or the mistress won't like it. He's no blessed good now, but he's one of the family."

Gradually Buggy began to settle down, and as time passed the memory of his old home in part faded away. There was plenty of sport in the barns, and it was a poor day if he didn't kill two or three rats. As for mice, he caught hundreds among the cornsacks, greatly to the envy of Blackbeetle, whose big body could not wriggle into places where Buggy's little one went.

Rabbits, however, became Buggy's great delight, and when his master took him with him into the paddocks he was in the seventh heaven of dog joy, routing them out of the bushes and chasing them back into the burrows. Sometimes he actually caught one, and though his master generally took it away from him, it always meant succulent innards for his tea.

Sometimes he was put down a fox hole, and it was grand sport, for yelping and snarling like a beast of great size, he would so terrify its inmates that out they would bolt to fall to his master's gun or be caught by the sheepdog who would be whining and whimpering all the time because he was too big to go down the hole. Time and often Buggy got bitten, but he would bite hard in return, and fear never came into his heart.

Ploughing time came round presently, and then he went with his master for the whole day long among the hills some miles distant from the homestead. Rabbits were plentiful there, and while his master was ploughing round and round the paddock, he would enjoy himself sniffing and scraping among the burrows.

Once he came upon a big brown snake basking in the sun. It was the first snake he had seen, and, all unaware of the danger he was running, he set upon it with no delay. It lifted its dreadful head and hissed, but that did not deter Buggy in the very least. It was something for him to kill, and he started upon the job at once, jumping round it and barking excitedly. The instinct, however, handed down to him by thousands and thousands of his ancestors warned him to keep clear of the deadly uplifted head, and it was not until the snake started to glide off in the direction of its hole that he closed in to the attack. Then, like lightning, he sprang on to it and made his sharp little teeth meet in the neck.

The snake's body lashed round him furiously, but he held on grimly, shaking the snake violently as he was accustomed to do rats, and soon he could tell that it was dead. He was so pleased with himself for having killed something new that, without letting it drop out of his mouth, he carried it with great pride to show his master. To his disgust the latter was quite angry and gave him a couple of little cuffs.

"Silly little idiot!" he scowled. "You leave snakes alone or you'll soon be having a little grave with a cross and a bit of writing on it. 'Here lies Buggy, the fool!'"

And that night Blackbeetle, the sheepdog, gave him a scolding, too. "Never go near a snake, my son," he said, "or sooner or later he'll get you as sure as bones are bones." The big dog spoke sadly. "I lost my poor wife, Titbits, that way, as faithful a wife as any dog ever had. Seventy-three children she gave me, and I've got sons and daughters all over the place."

"Seventy-three!" exclaimed Buggy in great surprise. "Then didn't they have to drown a lot of them?"

"Drown!" ejaculated Blackbeetle angrily. "Good gracious, no! They were all sold at high prices." He drew himself up proudly. "I'm a pedigree dog, I am, and the son of Blackspot, whose grandfather was Blackangas, the famous Scotch dog. All his descendants were called Black Something, and that's why I'm Blackbeetle." He sighed. "I suppose they'd used up all the other Black names and had to call me that."

Buggy spoke with some pride, too. "My mother was Cosey Corner," he said, "and I believe she was sold for fifty guineas."

"Never heard of her," said the sheepdog contemptuously, "but then few people are interested in small dogs."

Buggy felt humbled. "But how did your wife come to be killed?" he asked.

"Went for a snake the same as you did," was the reply. "He bit her on the nose and she was dead in 10 minutes. Some day I'll take you and show you some of her bones. There are still a few left by the creek. She was a very finely formed dog."

At supper that night Buggy's master told his wife all about the snake. "I was scared almost out of my life," he said, "when up he came with a big 6ft. one trailing behind him. Gosh, the little devil will never be afraid of anything!"

However, he was mistaken there, for only a few days later Buggy knew fear for the first time, and it happened in this way.

His master was ploughing and as usual, he wandered away to do a bit of hunting. He chased a nice fat-looking bunny rabbit into his burrow and then for a good half-hour tried to scrape him out. Of course he was unsuccessful and, presently tiring with his exertions, he lay down for a bit of a rest. He stretched himself at full length and closed his eyes. The sun was nice and warm and, in the distance, he could hear the hum of his master's tractor going round. It was very soothing and soon he had dropped to sleep. It was quite a nice sleep, and he dreamed of rats and mice and other things which dogs love.

Picky, the son of Nasrah the crow, came passing by and saw him, and in great haste flew off to tell his father. "Dad," he said excitedly, "there's a black lamb lying by the rabbit burrows and he must be sick for he's lying not as lambs generally lie. He's got his legs stretched out."

"Good," nodded Nasrah, "then we'll go and pick his eyes out. That's the ticket, my son."

So Nasrah told his wife and off they flew, but other crows noticed them flying so straight and guessed there must be something important on and flew after them.

Nasrah alighted warily a few yards away from the sleeping Buggy and proceeded to give his opinion after the wisdom of crow lore. "He's got funny feet," he said, "and for his size an unusual amount of wool. Still, he's a lamb right enough, and as Picky says, he must be very sick from the way he's stretched out. But he's not dead yet, because his legs keep twitching. So we must wait a little while."

More and more crows arrived, and soon there was a complete circle of them gathered round the unconscious Buggy. Crows, with all their cruelty, are cowardly birds and they hesitated to peck at him until he was dead, or very nearly so. Besides, they could not make out exactly where his eyes were, as everything about his face was so black and the hair was so thick.

Buggy dreamed on and on and the crows, getting more and more impatient, hopped closer and closer until they were only a few feet away. Suddenly then, a big blowfly alighted on Buggy's nose and he awoke.

He blinked his eyes a few times and then sat up. The crows hopped back a few feet or so, but, thinking it must be his last dying effort, did not move very far. Buggy blinked hard again. Great Bones, where was he? What had happened? There was a ring of big, evil-looking birds all around him! They had even bigger beaks than had had Mickum, the magpie, in the garden of Number Seven, and they were looking at him with cruel, dreadful eyes! They were not afraid of him and he was all alone! He could not hear the tractor now and so his master must have left him and gone home! He did not remember that his master would be now having a spell while he ate his dinner.

Terror filled poor Buggy's heart, stark naked terror—and he lifted up his head and howled, a long drawn, melancholy howl.

The effect was startling and, if ever crows could gasp, they would certainly have gasped then. Never had they heard a lamb make a noise like that! No, it could not be a lamb! Then it was some new strange animal and he might be dangerous to them all! So, quicker than it takes to tell, and long before the howl had died away, they had flung themselves up into the air and, with hoarse and raucous cries, were flying swiftly away.

Buggy found himself alone.

That night he told the whole story to the sheepdog, and when he had finished the latter asked thoughtfully, "Do you say they were all round you? Some of them were actually behind?"

"Yes, behind me," nodded Buggy. "In front of me and on both sides."

The sheepdog looked very grave. "Then anything might have happened to you," he said. "You'll never know in what real danger you were. Crows are all right if you're watching them, but if not——then they'll do anything." He sighed heavily. "If my poor wife, Titbits, were here now, she'll tell you that."

"Why, did they do anything to her?" asked Buggy with saucer eyes.

"They did," nodded Blackbeetle, "and it was when she was carrying her sixth litter. I know it grave her a great shock, because a few weeks later she had only seven pups in stead of her usual nine or ten. What happened? Well, one day Titbits had seen a big crow perching about the place all the afternoon, and in the evening she saw him again when she was having a bit of supper in this very yard. He was atop of that big gate there. She was keeping her eye on him, right enough, when suddenly she heard a great crash somewhere by the barn. She got up and turned round so that her back was towards the crow to see what it was. She found it was only old Gooseberry kicking over her milkpans and, turning back again, saw the darned crow——"

"Coming straight at her," interrupted Buggy excitedly.

"No," snarled the sheepdog, "flying away with her blooming bone."



THE END.