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ALBERT DORRINGTON

THE MOUTH OF THE MOON-GOD

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A "BULLY" HAYES STORY


Ex Libris

As published in The Australian Town and Country Journal, 25 December 1907

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2019
Version Date: 2019-05-31
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 told the story inside Chung War's little opium-shop overlooking the pier at Port Darwin. A crowd of shellers and bÍche-de-mer men were gathered within, and the voice of "Bully" sounded like a typhoon at times when the story climbed to an interesting point.

"You see, boys, I've had a chequered career, as the magistrates say, trading about the islands and dodging Yankee gunboats, also fighting policemen. I must say that fighting policemen and tearing valuable uniforms is a healthier occupation than playing hide and seek in Hindu temples and Chinese joss-houses.

"I always had a notion that India was the place for me," continued Hayes somewhat thoughtfully. "I'd read a lot, when a boy, about the golden palaces along the Ganges, and the beautiful silver idols and peacock thrones. I always wanted to steal a peacock throne. I used to dream that I was tearing down Macquarie-street with a peacock throne on my head, and a black-tracker following on his hands and knees. Still, everybody admits there's boodle in India—gold vaults and bullion rooms under the palaces. Wait till I tell you about the dead city of Meeraj.

"It was Harrison Blake who sent me on the idol-stealing track. Big thief of a man was Blake; everything on his schooner was stolen from poor little trading ships and hard-up tramps. Anyway, I didn't leave him much to thieve when I come to think of it.

"Blake went through India, and he reckoned there was more gold hidden under the temples than was ever taken out of Australia. And I guess he wasn't the first thief who proved the fact. I met Blake a year after Ross Lewin put me away to the gunboats, and he showed me a chest of Indian gold coins that would have filled a barrow. A Sydney broker melted the lot down, and Harrison started a sugar mill in Queensland out of the proceeds.

"Two years afterwards I met an old P. and O. serang in Calcutta, who offered to pilot me to Meeraj, one of the dead cities of the Upper Ganges. The serang—Keddah Singh was his name—; told me of a palace among the ruins, where the old rajputs had hidden about two tons of silver and gold seven centuries before.

"Guess I don't know Hindoo history from a gasometer, but I'm always fresh and willing when the fittings aren't screwed down or bolted to the floor. I talked things over with Keddah Singh; I made him draw up a plan of the dead city of Meeraj, and explain all he knew about the police and the fighting strength of the surrounding district.

"Keddah explained that the palace of the rajputs and the city of Meeraj had been decimated by plague half a century before. It was situated in a valley, about nine miles from the river, but that everything about it was as dead as Jonah's family.

"We had drinks—that is, I had them, because Keddah was a non-drinking thief who hated the sight of gin.

"It was after tho monsoon holidays that we got round to the Ganges, where the little red temples bulge on the skyline, and business hums in ghats where the funeral pyres deal with the dead men in hundreds.

"Two days after we entered the river I strolled ashore with my first mate, Bill Howe, and Keddah Singh, to find the city of Meeraj and the palace of the dead rajputs. We struck west through the fields, where the buffaloes wallowed in mud and the women ground corn just as they'd done 2,000 years before.

"We passed dozens of native camel-drivers, their jaws bound up like mummies, travelling north with their loads. Sometimes a potter came from his wheel and stared at us as we passed; nobody spoke, it was too blamed hot, and the pariah dogs kept 365 yards in my rear. Some of 'em had smelt a gun before, I reckoned.

"Keddah showed us a valley in the distance, with an old red fort at the entrance. We pushed on down a cactus-choked street, where the squirrels ran in and out of the grass-grown ruins, and the sand had piled itself waist high in front of the old marble columns.

"The palace stood in the centre of the valley, and it looked deader than a churchyard full of undertakers. There were gaping drip-stones under the turrets and smooth-walled passages scoured by the wind and rain and sand.

"'Into this place we must go,' said Keddah, pointing to the grass-covered courtyard. "The captain sahib will find many things in the vaults, but none to match the great diamond tooth fixed in the mouth of the Moon-god.'

"'We'll see everything first, and choose afterwards,' says I. 'There's no harm, anyway, in looking under the palace.'

"'No harm,' says Keddah solemnly, 'If the captain sahib wills it.'

"It was a dusty walk under the winding passages of the dead palace. There had been plague all along the Ganges that year, and you've got to go into a dead Indian city to see what the plague can do when it gets to work. The carrion birds had cleaned up the open spaces, but on the palace steps we saw the bones of the priests lying in the dark archways of the shrines. You could see where the robbers had run in to carry off jewels and trinkets, and you saw their bones lying where the disease had caught them by the throat, so to speak, and flung them to the ground.

"Some lay in the open courtyard, others sprawled in front of the altars, with silver and gold gee-gaws clutched in their skeleton hands. We could see, too, where the jackals had been and stripped them bare, leaving nothing but the bones and the jewels.

"Well, we worked our way below until we hit a big black door, with more bones piled in front, showing where plague had trapped the looters. We worked for three hours with a crowbar before we smashed in the highly decorated fastenings and plates.

"Once inside, we saw what old Warren Hastings must have seen in dozens of rajahs' palaces. The room was about 40 feet square; in the centre was a copper sarcophagus, bolted and clamped with iron and brass. Smashing it asunder, we found it bulging with ancient coins, silver, bronze, and gold. There were piles of vases underneath, and broken sword, hilts covered with rubies and gems.

"Bill Howe sat on the floor, and rubbed his eyes. 'No more sailorisin' for me,' says he. 'There's enough money here to sink a mud-barge."

"Bill had been used to stealing empty bottles and gas fittings all his life, and it staggered him to see the real stuff lying in barrowfuls around him. You could have loaded a dray with the metal trinkets, armlets and plaques scattered around. We filled the sack we'd brought, and started upstairs, whistling as we stepped over the bones of the dead robbers who'd been before us.

"Bill carried the sack, while I pushed from behind. At the top of the steps stood Keddah Singh, stomping around impatiently. He looked a bit nettled when he saw what we had in the sack.

"'You cannot leave the palace with this load, captain sahib,' says he. 'The Indian police or the natives will stop you before you reach the schooner.'

"'I'll chance it,' says I, looking at the bag. 'I'll shed quarts of blood before I part with an ounce of the boodle.'

"'Captain,' says he, 'your eyes are greater than your legs. This load of rubbish will be your destruction. Be sure that someone has seen us enter the palace. We shall be followed the moment we appear in the open; we shall be mobbed or strangled probably by the infuriated villagers.'

"'What do you want?' says I. 'A sackful of gold ornaments is worth fighting for.'

"'There are things within the palace more precious than gold ornaments. The diamond tooth of the Moon-god is worth 300,000 dollars of American money. And it is no heavier than a spoon,' says he. 'It was stolen from the rajputs 800 years ago.'

"'Where is it?' says I.

"'Within the holy shrine, where the Moon-god has sat for centuries. If the captain sahib will follow, I will show him the way.'

"'Put down that sack, Bill,' says I. 'There's reason in what Keddah says. I've heard of the Moon-god. Maybe he's got a few other ornaments about his person beside the tooth. I guess if he isn't screwed down we'll take him, pedestal and all.'

"'There is no pedestal, Captain Sahib,' says Keddah Singh. 'And the god is made of granite and ebony, and weighs many tons.'

"Leaving the sack in the courtyard, we followed Keddah down a long colonnade past more bones and scattered ornaments, until we arrived at the foot of some winding stone stairs. Up went Keddah with Bill and me at his heels, while overhead we could hear the hoarse voices of the vultures as they flew in and out of the barred turret windows. The air was alive with these carrion birds, and as I peeped through a grass-covered embrasure I saw a jackal scampering across the courtyard into the open country.

"'Keep your hands ready, captain sahib,' says Keddah. 'All may not be dead within the Palace of Ramidar the Great.'

"At the top of the stairs we came to a long black gallery flanked with elephant images and big stone monkeys. The statue of a marble tiger filled the archway, its great snarling head looking down at us as though the blamed thing was alive.

"'Pass under the belly of the tiger, captain sahib,' says Keddah. 'The shrine of the Moon-god is a little way beyond.'

"Bill Howe didn't like crawling under the marble tiger, so I sent him back to keep guard over the sack of gold ornaments in the court-yard.

"I followed Keddah to the end of the black stone arch, until we saw a stream of light pouring through a thousand tiny holes in the lacquered ceiling overhead.

"In the full glare of the afternoon light sat the Moon-god, its body filling the whole apartment. It had the paws and shoulders of a mammoth bear, and its great lamp-like face stood ten feet from the floor, the eyes staring full at an open window that faced the west.

"The face was made of carved crystal; its huge mouth gaped as though it was grinning at the reddening sky. You could see into the great black throat and the crystal-fretted gums. One thing struck us as we crouched under its paws, looking into its horrible face—the long knife-shaped diamond tooth that hung like a spike from the roof of its mouth.

"'There isn't a forceps in the world big enough to drag out that tooth,' says I to Keddah Singh.

"'Pressure will drag it out, captain sahib,' says he, peeping up into the mouth of the god. 'There is a spring somewhere within the throat; it was known to the old priests of the shrine; one touch and the diamond tooth will slip into your hand.'

"'Be good enough to show me,' says I, looking hard at him. 'Stick your hand into the Moon-god's mouth, and let me see how It is done, Keddah Singh.'

"The fellow's knees fairly trembled as I looked at him and pointed to the god.

"'Spare me that, sahib,' says he. 'Although I am a thief, and the son of a caste-breaker, yet I must not touch the face of the Moon-god. The hell of the Christian is nothing to the Jehannum of the caste-breaker!'

"'Stand aside!' says I. 'I've no time for your empty-brained scruples!' Placing my toe on the knee of the Moon-god, I hauled myself to its big shoulders until my chin was level with its shining crystal face.

"'Now,' says I, looking down at Keddah Singh, 'stand by when I came down with the tooth!' Resting my body against the great stone shoulder, I looked into the gaping tunnel of a mouth, and breathed a space. It seemed to me that I could hear strange noises deep down in the throat of the god—whispering voices and the breathing of some great beast. I put it down to the draught that blew into the large ears and mouth. And the dazzling crystal face glowed like the front of a furnace, as I touched the wide burning eyes.

"'Quick, sahib, there is no time to waste!' whispered Keddah Singh. 'We know not who may come to this plague-deserted palace: other robbers, maybe, or a troop of native cavalry.'

"'Rot!' says I, getting a fresh grip of the Moon-God.

"The knife-shaped molar was set firm as a rock in the crystal gums. Gripping it, I hauled and twisted until the sweat ran down my face.

'No good,' says I, looking down at Keddah Singh. 'It will take a charge of dynamite to loosen the tooth.'

"Keddah was standing in the centre of the shrine, watching me closely. I could see that he was choking back his excitement, and it occurred to me that he mightn't know so much about the Moon-god as he supposed.

"'There is a spring inside the throat,' says he. 'Press hard and the tooth will fall into your hand, captain sahib.'

"Pushing my fist into the dark throat, I touched a small metal knob that fell back as I pressed it. Then something happened that made my hair stiffen and my blood turn to ice. The jaw of the Moon-god closed with a snap before I had time to snatch out my hand, and the huge lips held my arm fast as an octopus or a shark.

"'The blamed thing's got me!' says I, looking down, but Keddah had gone; I could hear the patter of his feet as he ran down the dark corridor.

"The silence of the shrine was worse than the pressure of the god's lips on my wrist and forearm.. The carrion birds flew in and out of the barred windows, screaming and fluttering wildly at sight of me hanging from the mouth of the god.

"A jackal yelped somewhere under the palace wall; then came a troop of tiny, grey-faced monkeys, chattering as they skipped over me towards the marble dome and the open window at the top, where the sunlight poured in.

"I began to wonder why Bill Howe didn't come, and the pain of my arm began shooting like gun-flashes through my body. I could almost feel the eyes of the god looking into mine, and the beamed horrors of it almost made me faint.

"I saw, too, that the great diamond tooth had just missed spiking my arm when the mouth closed down. Once or twice I called out; but my voice was drowned by the screams of the carrion birds in the tower overhead. It was getting dark, too, and the face of the god grew bright as a volcano as the sun set.

"Guess a devil couldn't have held me tighter than the Moon-god. No power of mine could move those crystal jaws that seemed to flatten out the bones of my wrist and arm.

"I must have fainted, for when I woke the shrine, was as dark as the pit. Someone was calling me from the corridor end. Then I saw the face of Bill Howe staring up at me from the blackness, a small lantern in his hand.

"'Up here, Bill,' says I, hoarsely. 'The god has me fast as an old man alligator.'

"Bill crawled closer, and looked up at me, his hair stiffening as the light from the Moon-god's face fell on him.

"'Steady, Bill,' says I. 'If I fall my arm will be wrenched away.'

"Bill was a man of few words; but I noticed, that he had the crowbar in his hands; it was a most valuable crowbar in the hands of Bill Howe. I'd seen him move a two-ton steel girder with it when he was in a hurry.

"'Easy does it,' says I, as he stood by the knee of the god. 'Easy, Bill, and hit it on the starboard side of the dial!'

"Bill hit the crystal face a bang that shook the shrine from floor to roof. Then he drew back, and hit it again, and the big moon face seemed to split in halves, as it fell with a horrible crash to the floor.

"'If anybody's got any objection to the god being hit,' said Bill, In a loud voice, 'he'd better come out an' say so.'

Bill waved the crowbar, and stood on his toes.

"'Pick up that diamond tooth,' says I, 'an' don't stand blatherskitin' to an empty palace.'

"Bill muttered something about my ingratitude, and started to look for the big diamond tooth. The Moon-god's face had been smashed into a dozen pieces, and the crystal lay about the floor in jagged lumps. We turned over the pieces, and examined them carefully; but the tooth seemed to have vanished into space.

"'P'r'aps the god swallowed it,' said Bill groping on his hands and knees. 'Most grown-up people swallow their teeth when their face meets a crowbar.'

"After what I'd suffered I wasn't game to start groping inside the god to see whether it had swallowed the diamond tooth. We left the shrine, and hurried down to the courtyard, to where Bill had stood guard over the sack of trinkets and gold coins.

"It was gone! Bill felt his hair and looked at the sky, and I saw in a flash what had happened.

"'Keddah Singh!' says I. 'Too smart for you and me, Bill. He's cleared off with the loot.'

"We crossed the courtyard in the direction of the underground passage. Bill stopped suddenly, with his nose in the air. 'Listen, cap'n,' says he.

"Prom the darkness of the sand-hills came the faint jingle of arms, and the clink-clink of scabbards.

"Native cavalry on the prowl," said I. "Guess we'd bettor move, or there'll be two brand-new skeletons in the courtyard to-morrow. I don't like the way those vultures get to business."

"We ran into the darkness towards the river, Bill raced me and I raced Bill until we'd left the dead city of Meeraj miles behind.

"Yes, there's lots of gold and silver lying about those Indian temples," said Hayes finally. "I'm going back to get some more one of these days."


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.