“Extraordinary! Most extraordinary!” he said. “It runs in our family. Now, where has that nasty little beast gone to?”
I heard him feeling about with his trunk.
“We all seem to be affected in various ways,” he went on, blowing his nose. “Now, you gentlemen were alarmed, I believe, when I trumpeted.”
“Not alarmed, exactly,” said the troop-horse, “but it made me feel as though I had hornets where my saddle ought to be. Don’t begin again.”
“I’m frightened of a little dog, and the camel here is frightened by bad dreams in the night.”
“It is very lucky for us that we haven’t all got to fight in the same way,” said the troop-horse.
“What I want to know,” said the young mule, who had been quiet for a long time—”what I want to know is, why we have to fight at all.”
“Because we’re told to,” said the troop-horse, with a snort of contempt.
“Orders,” said Billy the mule, and his teeth snapped.
“Hukm hai!” (It is an order!), said the camel with a gurgle, and Two Tails and the bullocks repeated, “Hukm hai!”
“Yes, but who gives the orders?” said the recruit-mule.
“The man who walks at your head—Or sits on your back—Or holds the nose rope—Or twists your tail,” said Billy and the troop-horse and the camel and the bullocks one after the other.
“But who gives them the orders?”
“Now you want to know too much, young un,” said Billy, “and that is one way of getting kicked. All you have to do is to obey the man at your head and ask no questions.”
“He’s quite right,” said Two Tails. “I can’t always obey, because I’m betwixt and between. But Billy’s right. Obey the man next to you who gives the order, or you’ll stop all the battery, besides getting a thrashing.”
The gun-bullocks got up to go. “Morning is coming,” they said. “We will go back to our lines. It is true that we only see out of our eyes, and we are not very clever. But still, we are the only people to-night who have not been afraid. Good-night, you brave people.”
Nobody answered, and the troop-horse said, to change the conversation, “Where’s that little dog? A dog means a man somewhere about.”
“Here I am,” yapped Vixen, “under the gun tail with my man. You big, blundering beast of a camel you, you upset our tent. My man’s very angry.”
“Phew!” said the bullocks. “He must be white!”
“Of course he is,” said Vixen. “Do you suppose I’m looked after by a black bullock-driver?”
“Huah! Ouach! Ugh!” said the bullocks. “Let us get away quickly.”
They plunged forward in the mud, and managed somehow to run their yoke on the pole of an ammunition wagon, where it jammed.
“Now you have done it,” said Billy calmly. “Don’t struggle. You’re hung up till daylight. What on earth’s the matter?”
The bullocks went off into the long hissing snorts that Indian cattle give, and pushed and crowded and slued and stamped and slipped and nearly fell down in the mud, grunting savagely.
“You’ll break your necks in a minute,” said the troop-horse. “What’s the matter with white men? I live with ’em.”
“They—eat—us! Pull!” said the near bullock. The yoke snapped with a twang, and they lumbered off together.
I never knew before what made Indian cattle so scared of Englishmen. We eat beef—a thing that no cattle-driver touches—and of course the cattle do not like it.
“May I be flogged with my own pad-chains! Who’d have thought of two big lumps like those losing their heads?” said Billy.
“Never mind. I’m going to look at this man. Most of the white men, I know, have things in their pockets,” said the troop-horse.
“I’ll leave you, then. I can’t say I’m over-fond of ’em myself. Besides, white men who haven’t a place to sleep in are more than likely to be thieves, and I’ve a good deal of Government property on my back. Come along, young un, and we’ll go back to our lines. Good-night, Australia! See you on parade to-morrow, I suppose. Good-night, old Hay-bale!—try to control your feelings, won’t you? Good-night, Two Tails! If you pass us on the ground tomorrow, don’t trumpet. It spoils our formation.”