'Strewth,' exclaimed Jack Collins, 'that dog's a real stinker! I don't know how he puts up with himself. If I dropped bombs like that, I'd walk around with my head in a paper bag, just to protect myself.'
'Everyone likes their own smells,' said Mrs Collins. Jack raised his eyebrows and smirked at her, so she added, 'Or so they say.'
'Well, it's too much for me, Maureen. He's going to have to go out in the yard.'
'It's his diet,' said Maureen, 'eating what he eats, it's going to make smells. And he gulps it down so fast, he must be swallowing air.'
'Tally would let off even if you fed him on roses,' said her husband, shaking his head, half in wonder. 'Shame it's a talent you can't be paid for. We'd all be millionaires. You know what I think? We should hire him out to the airforce. You could drop him in enemy territory, he'd neutralise it for three days, more or less, and then you could send in the paratroops. It'd be a new era in airborne warfare.'
'Don't light any matches, he's done it again,' said Maureen, holding her nose with her left hand, and waving her right hand back and forth across her face. 'Tally, you're a bad dog.'
Tally Ho looked up at her with one yellow eye, keeping the other one closed for the sake of economy, and thumped his tail on the floor a couple of times. He had noted the affectionate tone of her voice, and took her words for praise. He was lying on his side, a little bit bloated after gnawing on one of his oldest bones. He was only a year old, so his oldest bone was not too old, but it certainly had plenty of flavours, and all the wind-creating properties of which Tally Ho was particularly fond.
Tally was the most notorious canine dustbin in the whole neighbourhood, and people delighted in presenting him with unlikely objects and encouraging him to eat them. With apparent relish he ate paper bags, sticks, dead rats, butterflies, feathers, apple peel, eggshells, used tissues and socks. On top of that, Tally ate the same food as the rest of the family, and at this moment carried in his stomach a goodly load of yesterday's mashed potato, gravy and steak and kidney pie.
This is not to say that Tally ever raided dustbins or browsed on garbage. That would have been very much beneath his dignity, and in any case, he had never found it necessary. He had never lacked success in obtaining perfectly good food from human beings, and ate odd things in good faith, just because human beings offered them to him. He made up his own mind as to what was worth eating again, and whilst he would probably be quite happy to eat more eggshells, as long as they still had some traces of egg in them, he probably wouldn't try another feather.
'I'm going to take him to the airport,' said Jack, 'he can work off some energy, and get some of that gas out.' He went to the door and turned. Tally Ho was looking up at him expectantly, both yellow eyes open this time. His ears had pricked up at the magic word 'airport'.
'Run time,' said Jack, and Tally sprang to his feet in an instant, bouncing up and down with pleasure as if the floor was a trampoline. The caravan shook and the glasses and cutlery in the cupboard started to rattle. Tally Ho seemed to be grinning with pleasure. He was shaking his head from side to side and yelping.
'Get him out before he demolishes the whole place,' said Maureen, and Jack stood aside for Tally Ho to shoot out of the door like the cork from a bottle of champagne. He bounded out of the small garden, and did some more bouncing up and down outside the car. Jack opened the back door, said 'Hop in' and Tally Ho jumped onto the back seat. In an instant he hopped over and sat in the front seat. Jack opened the front passenger door and ordered 'Out!'
Tally looked at him coolly, and then deliberately looked away. He had suddenly gone deaf, it appeared, and had found something in the far distance that was terribly interesting.
'Tally, out!' repeated Jack, and Tally pretended to be looking at a magpie that was flying over the caravan.
Jack used to be in the Australian army, and he liked his orders to be obeyed. He didn't take it lightly when he was ignored by a subordinate. He picked Tally bodily ov the seat, and deposited him in the back. 'Stay!' he said, wagging his forefinger at the dog, who looked up at him innocently as if he would never consider doing the slightest thing amiss. Jack closed the door and went round to the driver's side. He got in, opened all the windows, started the engine and called over his shoulder, 'No bomb-dropping in the car. Understood?'
Tally waited until the Land Rover had started ov down the road, before springing lightly once more over onto the front passenger seat. He sat down quickly and stuck his head out of the window, into the breeze, so that he would have a good excuse for not hearing his master telling him to get in the back. Jack raised his eyebrows, shook his head and sighed. Tally Ho was an obstinate dog, without a doubt, and didn't consider himself to be anyone's subordinate, not even Jack's. It never occurred to him that he was anything less than equal, and in that respect you might say that he was rather like a cat, although he probably wouldn't have liked the comparison.
Seven kilometres away the car stopped outside the perimeter fence of Paraburdoo airport, and Tally Ho was let out. A Cessna light aircraft bounced along the runway and took off. Tally chased its shadow along the ground, and pounced on it. The shadow sped on, and Tally ran after it in delight, repeatedly pouncing, and wondering at its escape.
Jack got back into the car, and drove away. He blew the horn, and Tally pricked up his ears.
It was a red-hot day in February, which in Australia is the middle of the summer, and all the vegetation was looking as if it had been dried in an oven. It was one of those days when you are physically shocked by the heat if you go outdoors, and the sun feels like the flat of a hot knife laid directly onto your face. The air shimmers, distorting your views of the distance, and you can't believe that it really is that hot, even if you have lived there for years, and ought to be used to it. If you have a bald patch, and you aren't wearing a hat, it feels as though the skin on the top of your head is made of paper and has just been set alight. It seems as if the heat is going straight through your shirt, so you go as fast as you can from one bit of shade to another, and everything looks white, as if the sun has abolished the whole notion of colour.
Even the red earth looked less red. Visitors to that place can't believe that the mining companies are actually allowed to leave all those heaps of red stones and red earth all over the place, without caring about it at all, but the strange fact is that all those heaps and piles were put there by nature, as if She had whimsically decided to mimic the most untidy and careless behaviour of mankind itself. The diverence is that nature managed to do it all without the help of bulldozers, diggers and dumper trucks. Through this ungentle andscape galloped Tally Ho, raising his own little plume of red dust in the wake of the greater plume raised by Jack Collins' car. His whole body thrilled with the pleasure of running, even though the day was at white heat, and even though he had to blink his eyes against the dust. He was young and strong, he had more energy than his muscles could make use of, and the world was still fresh and wonderful. He understood the joy of going full tilt to achieve the impossible, and therefore he ran after his owner's car as if he could catch it with no trouble at all. As far as he was concerned, he really did catch it, because after seven kilometres there it was, parked outside the caravan, its engine ticking as it cooled down, having given up the chase, too tired to continue. As for Tally, he could have run another seven kilometres, and then another again, and caught the car three times over. When he arrived home he came leaping through the door, headed straight for his bowl of water, and slurped it empty. Then, his tongue hanging out and leaving drips along the lino, he went back outside and lay down in the shade of a black mulga tree.
That evening Mrs Collins opened up a big can of Trusty, and Jack set his stopwatch to zero. Tally Ho had a special gift for bolting food at lightning speed, and so far his record for a whole 700g can was eleven seconds flat. Tally Ho put his forepaws up on the table to watch the meat going into his bowl, and Mrs Collins put on her curt tone of voice and said, 'Down, Tally! Lie down!' He slumped down on the xoor, and put on his most pathetic and appealing expression, so that she felt sorry for him even though she knew it was only an act. He sighed, and raised wrst one eyebrow and then another. His whole body was quivering with anticipation, the muscles in his legs just waiting for the moment when he could hurl himself at his dinner.
'Are you ready?' asked Mrs Collins, and Jack Collins nodded. She put the bowl down on the floor, Tally leaped up and Jack pressed the timer on his stopwatch. 'Crikey,' he declared. 'One hungry mongrel! Ten point one seconds. Truly impressive.'
Tally cleaned his bowl conscientiously with his tongue, and then cleaned it again just to make sure. When there was dewnitely not one atom of food left in it, he strolled outside and lay down once more under the shade of the tree, his stomach feeling pleasantly stretched, and very soon he fell asleep. He dreamed of food and adventuring. When he awoke half an hour later, fully restored, he lay for a while, enjoying the way that the evening was cooling off, and thought about going walkabout. He felt curious about what might be going on in the wide world, and the thought of missing out on something made him feel uneasy. He got to his feet, stood still for a time whilst he thought a little more, and then set off past the other caravans, and into the wilderness. He found a path worn through the spinifex by kangaroos, and set off joyfully down it, quickly losing all sense of time, completely absorbed by all the mysterious smells and noises. He was sure that he could wnd a bilby or a quoll.
In the morning Jack Collins said, 'I think Tally's gone bush again,' and Maureen Collins replied, 'I'm worried that one day he's going to disappear for ever.'
'Don't say that,' said her husband. 'He always comes back eventually.'
'It's the call of the wild versus the call of the supper-dish,' laughed Mrs Collins.
'He always seems to come back well fed, though.'
'Maybe he's got other people who feed him.'
'Wouldn't surprise me,' said Jack. 'Tally's no slouch when it comes to tucker.'
Three days later, just when the couple had almost given up hope of ever seeing him again, Tally Ho reappeared, bang on time for supper. He was dusty, his stomach was nice and full, his nose had a long scratch on it courtesy of a feral cat that he met on the roo-trail, and he was grinning with self-satisfaction. That night he polished ov a big can of Pal in nine seconds flat.
RED DOG GOES TO DAMPIER
The time came when Maureen and Jack Collins had to move from Paraburdoo to Dampier, a long hot journey of about 350 kilometres, along a difficult, rutty dirt-track. In some places there are water-courses that cross the road, so that your vehicle can get buried up to the axles in mud, and you get completely stuck there until another vehicle arrives to pull you out. People usually take a couple of days' worth of food and water with them, just in case.
The road runs alongside the railway line that takes the iron ore from Mt Tom Price to Dampier, and often you see trains so long that you cannot possibly count the number of wagons, heaped up with red earth, that need three vast locomotives to pull them slowly through that immense wilderness.
Before leaving Paraburdoo for that long trek, Jack Collins took the precaution of opening all the car windows so that the breeze would blow through and stop it turning into an oven, and began to pack it with the more precious and breakable things. Bigger and heavier items he packed into the trailer that they had hitched to the towbar on the back.
In the kitchen of the caravan, Maureen Collins packed an esky with cold drinks and sandwiches, because there weren't too many decent places to stop for refreshment, and for the same reason she remembered to put some dunny paper into the front glove box of the car. You never knew when you might have to stop and take a short stroll into the crinkled cassia.
When they were ready to go, Jack called Tally Ho and opened the back door of the Land Rover. 'Up, dog!' he commanded, and as Tally jumped in Jack quickly shut the door and jumped into the driver's seat before the dog could leap over and occupy it. Tally looked disgruntled, and thought about clambering over into Maureen's lap. It was against his principles to share a seat with anyone, however, so he sighed and reconciled himself to settling down in the back with his chin resting on a box.
It was early in the morning when they set ov, because it was much cooler then. There would be less chance of the car boiling over, and anyway, it was pleasant to travel when the day was fresh and new.
They had hardly gone wfteen kilometres, however, before Tally's stomach began to get to work on his breakfast, and a foul stink rolled over the two unfortunate folk in the front. 'Oh, my God,' exclaimed Maureen, 'open the windows! Tally's done it again!'
'They're already open,' said her husband, pinching his nose with one hand and controlling the steering-wheel with the other as they lurched over the ruts and corrugations of the road.
Copyright © 2001 by Louis de Bernieres. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.