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ALBERT DORRINGTON

THE DRAGON SMELTER

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A "BULLY" HAYES STORY


Ex Libris

First published in The Popular Magazine, April 1909

Reprinted in
The Sketch. A Journal of Art and Actuality, London, 30 June 1909
The Sunday Times,Perth, WA, Australia, 15 August 1909 (this version)
The National Advocate, Bathurst, NSW, Australia, 7 October 1911

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2019
Version Date: 2019-08-23
Produced by Terry Walker and Roy Glashan

All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

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ABOUT CAPTAIN "BULLY" HAYES

"BULLY" HAYES was a notorious American-born "blackbirder" who flourished in the 1860 and 1870s, and was murdered in 1877. He arrived in Australia in 1857 as a ships' captain, where he began a career as a fraudster and opportunist. Bankrupted in Western Australia after a "long firm" fraud, he joined the gold rush to Otago, New Zealand. He seems to have married around four times without the formality of a divorce from any of his wives.

He was soon back in another ship, whose co-owner mysteriously vanished at sea, leaving Hayes sole owner; and he joined the "blackbirding" trade, where Pacific islanders were coerced, or bribed, and then shipped to the Queensland canefields as indentured labourers. After a number of wild escapades, and several arrests and imprisonments, he was shot and killed by ship's cook, Peter Radek.

So notorious was "Bully" Hayes, and so apt his nickname, (he was a big, violent, overbearing and brutal man) that Radek was not charged; he was indeed hailed a hero.

Dorrington wrote a number of amusing and entirely fictitious short stories about Hayes. Australian author Louis Becke, who sailed with Hayes, also wrote about him.

Terry Walker



CAPTAIN HAYES was awakened by the sudden banging of oars under the schooner's side. Slipping from his bunk, he reached the deck in time to meet a half naked white man clambering up the gangway. In a flash Hayes recognised the figure of his boatswain, Tom Emery, who had deserted from the schooner only a month before.

The binnacle revealed the newcomer's ragged appearance, the mosquito-bitten face, the half-healed cuts on the reef-torn hands and feat, that spoke of labour and privations among the Chinese mining camps of North Queensland.

Hayes was awaiting a cargo of pearl-shell from the luggers in the offing, and the boatswain's desertion had threatened to interfere with his sailing arrangements. His anger and indignation evaporated at sight of Emery's appearance. He put out his hand impulsively, and gripped the shaking, toil-hardened fingers.

With a single exception, Emery's experiences ashore had been similar to those of others who had deserted their ships in the hope of finding gold. He had found employment at a big mining camp in the hills. During his labours the boatswain had become suspicious of the large quantities of gold escorted from the working of a big Chinese syndicate near by.

One night he shadowed the coolie escort from the mine to the door of a small temple situated at the head of a gully about a mile from the camp. Two Chinaman took charge of the gold blocks, and, according to Emery, the whole consignment of metal was afterwards riveted to the feet of an iron dragon that stood on the altar within the shrine.

Hayes heard Emery's story with misgivings, although, from experience gathered in Queensland, he was aware that Chinamen, when forced to safe-guard newly-won gold, adopt the most unthinkable methods of concealment.

For a long time he paced the schooner's deck in silence, while the thought of so much wealth lying within reach filled him with tigerish impatience.

"Those two Chinamen," he muttered, "would wake the blamed Continent if they sighted us inside their joss house."

"Try 'em with a suckin'-pig, Cap'n," suggested Emery. "A pig has been known to bluff a Chinky where a gun only fooled the show."

A glimmering of Emery's idea filtered gradually through the buccaneer's mind. And after one or two inquiries concerning the pig's whereabouts, he agreed finally to accompany him the following night to the temple at the head of the gully.

The piglet, obtained from an old fisherman near the pier-head, was secured in a sack and conveyed by Emery in the direction of the Chinese temple. Hayes followed leisurely in the rear.

The bush-track skirted the big Mongolian mining camp, where the stunted box-trees shut out the vast stretches of spinifex country beyond. A splinter of light pricked the masses of shadow near the temple entrance.

"Keep to the back of the shrine," whispered the boatswain, "and give me a leg-up to the roof, Cap'n."


THE piglet had been gagged and muffled to prevent it squealing, and as Emery gained the flat roof he pulled the sack after him, and approached the skylight on all fours.

Hayes stood in the shadows and waited. Behind in the masses of hill and jungle shade, flared the coolie camp-fires; a shout or signal of any kind from the two Chinamen within the temple would bring a pack about his heels.

An unmistakable sound came from the roof, followed by the boatswain's hoarse-mutterings; then sharp squeals echoed in rapid succession as if the released pig had struck the altar in its descent through the skylight. Round and round the sacred precincts it ran, filling the hot silence with shrill protests. A clattering of sandalled feet was heard in the temple doorway; voices charged with anger and surprise reached Hayes as the two guardians of the shrine dashed towards the altar and seized the rioting intruder. Leaving the door ajar, they ambled towards an enclosed compound on the western side of the temple. Here they paused to inspect the noisy invader. Shang Wah, chief guardian of the shrine, held the pig at arm's length, while a dreamful ecstasy over-clouded his eyes.

"Our prayers have been heard at last, Wing Poo," he said in his musical Nankingese. "Only last night I dreamed of such a thing, and it has come even before our cooking fires are out."

The buccaneer crawled forward and slipped through the open door into the temple. A smell of burning roots and oils assailed him; the strange odour of flame-chastened offerings lingered in the darkness. At the altar he paused, and glared at the dragon's outline perched on its castings of gold. Taking a jemmy from his pocket, he worked it under the massive blocks of metal until the woodwork cracked and split under the tremendous leverage. The dragon tilted suddenly and leaned on its side. With almost superhuman strength the buccaneer hauled it to his shoulder, and staggered with it to the open door of the shrine.

For a moment he stared from the doorway at the backs of the two chattering Celestials in the compound, then lounged into the shelter of the bush.

Emery was beside him in a flash, and together they bore the unwieldy iron monster down a deep side track, where the stiff kangaroo grass lacerated their ankles at every stride. It was soon evident to both men that they were wandering in an opposite direction to the schooner. A small stone building shone suddenly through the darkness: scattered around it were heaps of broken mineral ore and tailings. A quantity of scrapped mining machinery littered the ground. Peering inside the deserted building, Hayes saw that it had once been used as a smelting house. A small brick furnace stood opposite the door, further examination revealed an iron ladle lying on top of some fluxing ore.

The two men panted in the darkness as though the hurried journey across the sandhills had told on their strength. Several miles of rough ground had yet to be crossed before the schooner was reached. It was long past midnight and the dawn would be upon them long before the inlet was sighted. Once the darkness lifted their chances, of eluding the scattered bands of Chinese fossickers were extremely small. A hue and cry would be raised at sight of two white men hauling their sacred dragon towards the creek.

Striking a match cautiously, Hayes examined the massive blocks of gold which had been screwed and riveted to the feet of the iron-monster. It would take a bullock-dray to shift it through the sand-hills," he said shortly."

"And if we leave it here until to-morrow night some of those black trackers at the Chinese camp will ferret it out."

"Smelt it in the crucible," suggested Emery. "The gold'll run to the bottom of the pot; the iron part can be thrown away."

"What then?" demanded Hayes, whose knowledge of smelting work was limited.

"Run off the gold into bars with the ladle. We can carry 'em to the schooner easy enough. We don't want the blamed dragon, Cap'n. The gold'll come away from its claws easy enough once the fire's started."

"There's a lot of sense being warmed out of your head to- night, Emery," laughed Hayes as he heaved the mass of gold and iron into the furnace.

A heap of coke stood near the furnace, and with some dry wood from a stack outside the boatswain soon had a draught-fed fire roaring up the wide bricked flue. Hayes regarded the glowing fire with interest, then turned to the stooping boatswain hurriedly.

"You'd better make your way to the schooner and bring back a couple of sacks. We can leave here at daybreak and nobody will be the wiser."

Throwing a final armful of coke into the furnace, Emery departed noiselessly in the direction of the creek. Hayes watched him across the low-lying hills, then closed the smelting door to prevent the red light of the furnace from reflecting on the white quartz heaps outside. The coke burned fiercely under the circular-shaped crucible, and the buccaneer soon witnessed the swift fluxation of metal as, one by one, the heated gold blocks fell away from the mass of iron which held them. Drawing the cumbersome dragon from the furnace, he cast it into a far corner of the smelting house.

For several seconds he was overcome by an irresistible desire to stir the glowing orange-hued mass lying at the bottom of the crucible. Never before had he seen molten gold flow and splash from the basin-like rim of a three-foot ladle. Like a child fascinated, he allowed the fluid gold to drip and spill back into the crucible until it emitted a trickling, purling sound delightful to the ear.

It occurred to him suddenly that it would be an easy matter to run the metal into a shallow trench scooped out of the floor. The earth would make an excellent mould for the gold bars.

Stooping near the door, he listened, with his shoulder against the panel, scarce daring to breathe. Something was pressing the door from the out-side, and for a fraction of time he allowed it to open about the fifth of an inch. A naked Chinaman was standing outside, and the light rays from the furnace flashed suddenly in his eyes. Swift as a panther, Hayes reached for his throat and missed, the pig-tailed head ducked nimbly and vanished.

The furnace rays illumined the white heaps of quartz outside while Hayes searched wrathfully for a glimpse of the spying intruder. The ghostly silence of the ti-tree and thorn-bush scrub gave no hint of the Chinaman's whereabouts. A far-off shouting turned him sharply in the direction of the coolie camp fires. All along the hip of the range streamed a procession of small lamps, held aloft by scores of naked figures reconnoitering in his direction.

There was no lock to the smelting house door: no weapon worthy of the name to stave off, even for a second, the first rush of the coolie mob. The lanterns dipped and vanished suddenly, as though the near bush had engulfed them.

"They're coming― the air is thick with them. I guess I have no business to be caught in a place like this."

Hayes fell back to the door of the smelting-house.

A shrill, wailing sound came from the near ti-tree, a sobbing noise that resembled the first rush of a dingo pack, it broke, suddenly from the scrub, and with it a score of lean-hipped Mongolians, dancing in their rage, flashing their mine-lamps over the glittering quartz heaps in front of the smelting-house.

"Now... Johnny boys, don't be in a blamed hurry. Guess you'll let me fight long enough to warm the soles of my feet."

What followed happened in the fall of an eye. A dozen coolies burled themselves at the swiftly-slammed door. Hayes held his back to it with the strength of a Titan, while fist and knives hammered and smote from the outside. The din was terrific. Nothing could withstand the fierce impacts, the irresistible weight of twenty Chinamen flung ram-like at the rough hewn panels.

The buccaneer gasped under the strain, jammed his feet into the earth, buttressed the quaking door with arms and shoulder until it rattled and splintered about his ears. Then his eye fell on the molten metal in the glowing crucible, the long-handled ladle resting against the wall. A single leap took him across the smelting-house to the red door of the furnace. Snatching up the iron ladle he pivoted nimbly and faced the inrushing mob of coolies.

Four of their leaders fell head first through the suddenly opened door, checking for a moment the wolf-like rush of the mob. The problem of effective resistance appeared incredibly simple the moment the crowd of bronzed hued bodies tumbled in a heap before him. A plunge of the iron ladle into the crucible brought up a brimming mass of molten metal that was emptied in a blinding wave over the struggling group in the doorway.

A second helping from the glowing crucible was executed even more deftly, for Hayes saw that by tossing the fluid gold in the air, it scattered in a tortuous stream over their naked backs and. shoulders. Up and out he cast the flesh-eating metal, plying his ladle with laughter and savage grunts. He saw it shoot like quick-silver over the pig-tailed heads and shoulders, streaming in learning pools about the unprotected feet and ankles.

"Guess you've bit the big gold-cure!" he shouted suddenly. "Guaranteed to do away with a Sunday thirst or―" He turned with his brimming ladle up-lifted and found the smelting-house deserted.

A couple of scalded Chinamen dragged themselves through the doorway, where the fast-pooling metal lay in shining gouts of red about the door. Outside the frantic mob withdrew to the shelter of a sand hill and discussed the situation. The shoulders and the limbs of the front and middle rank men were covered with metal scalds. Many of the others bore traces of the terrible baptism of gold; their faces and bodies disfigured where the yellow fire had sealed and spilled over them.

From the furnace lit house came the jeering laughter of the white barbarian. They could see him standing beside the crucible, the flare and sweat of battle upon his face.

"The dog has skinned us with our metal," snarled a Tonquinese coolie from the rear. "Let us fight him another way."

They gathered in a bunch near the smelting-house door armed with stones picked from the pile at hand. Hayes, stooping beside the furnace, knew that they would batter him to pulp the moment he tried to leave the building.

One of the leaders advanced within a few feet of the door, arid dropped a heavy short-fused dynamite cartridge near the threshold. Retreating nimbly, he rejoined his comrades, and took his stand beside the pile of broken stones.

The buccaneer leaned forward half-hypnotised, and stared at the slow burning fuse, the carbon-like flame that ate its way slowly towards the cartridge. He knew what would happen j the moment the fire reached the metal cartridge-ease, for he had seen rocks and hills rent asunder by smaller charges of dynamite. The smelting-house would fail about his ears as surely as though a five-inch shell had struck it. There was only one exit, and that was by way of the coolie stone-heaps.

Hayes rested out the long-handled ladle and contemplated the changing colour of the fire that bit its way surely and swiftly down to the cartridge-cap. He noted how the white glow turned from saffron to violet. The fuse-end began to smoke dully, then emitted a murderous red spark that interested him vastly. He almost felt the coming impact, the thunderous shock of earth and stone that would engulf him.

With a glance at the mob half-concealed behind their stone- heap, he leaped out, snatched up the smoking cartridge, and cast it in their midst. Its swift passage through the air seemed to quicken the last throbbing spark; a deafening roar smothered the howls of dismay that went up from the close-packed coolies. A blade-white flame seemed to eat the darkness about them, splitting the stone-heap in fifty directions; the sobbing roar of it shook the smelting-house to its foundations.

Hayes peeped out and the bitter fumes of dynamite blew back in his face. Several indistinct forms moved from the scattered stone-heap, moaning, calling to each other in supplicating voices. Drops of rain fell at his feet; he glanced skyward, instinctively.

At that moment a long arm shot out from the near ti-tree—a jagged stone struck him full on the brow. Staggering forward, he pitched over and lay almost in the doorway of the smelting house. A couple of big-chested coolies crept from the scrub-shadows and stood over him critically.

"The stone is better than the knife, Chung Lee. He will not melt or steal our gold again. Look how he has played with it!"

The speaker pointed to the gold-fretted floor of the house, where the ruddy patches of metal lay in hardened heaps and cakes of curious design. Grasping the ladle, he dipped it into the crucible and poured the fluid gold in short bars over the floor.

"Let us do what the barbarian would have done," he said, hurriedly, "and escape to the coast. The men who fight get the blows and the scalds. We who know better get the beautiful gold." He paused, with the brimming ladle of metal poised in the air reflectively, and glanced at the motionless figure stretched near the door.

"For what he he's done, Chung Lee, let us fill his mouth with burning gold; let us pour it down his great throat until it reaches his heart... the dog defiled our gods."

Chung Lee placed a fierce restraining hand on the uplifted ladle.

"Gold is hard enough to win, Foo Yen, without pouring it into the mouth of the yanjen. Let us hurry; others are coming."

Three bars of gold were run on the earthen floor, and the last dregs scraped from the furnace. Not a scrap of metal remained in the smelting-house when they emerged laden from hip to shoulder with bullion. They passed the sprawling, motionless shapes of their comrades in silence, and hurried north in the direction of Port Darwin.


WHEN Emery returned, three hours later, he found Hayes sitting inside the smelting-house with his hands pressed over his eyes. The boatswain's glance wandered from the empty crucible to the huddle of coolies outside.

"It's been a drawn fight, Cap n." he ventured dismally. "Everybody's got a headache, it seems."

Hayes rose with an effort, his lips puckering a trifle maliciously.

"A man wants two heads to fight Chinamen with, Emery. The one I've got is always stopping pieces of flying iron."

They returned through the sandhills and gullies to the schooner.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Administered by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.