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ALBERT DORRINGTON

THE PROFESSIONAL OCTOPUS

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A "BULLY" HAYES STORY


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First published in Short Stories, July 1914

Reprinted in The World's News, Sydney, Australia, 11 December 1915

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2019
Version Date: 2019-12-21
Produced by Terry Walker and Roy Glashan

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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



THE shout of warning which had grown to a roar of dismay was heard far beyond the line of close-drawn pearling luggers. Captain Hayes leaped from his hammock under the schooner's sun awning, and stared across the Straits.

A scene of confusion and panic prevailed along the Vanderdecken Bank. Several helmeted divers were being drawn up in wild haste from the tide-fretted shoal water. A Manila boy swam, shouting, towards a trepang fisher's dory, his eyes bulging with fear and terror. Hayes leaned over the rail, and spoke to a shell-opener belonging to the Dutch Arab Company's fleet.

"Say, Mayar, what's the trouble with the boys? I guess no one's smelt a cyclone coming. The glass is behaving all right!"

Mayar swung his dory under the schooner's side cleverly, his right hand coming to the salute as he caught the white captain's eye.

"Two of your men been scrappin' with a blue-faced devil-fish, near Shinto Reef, cap'n!" he stated hoarsely. "Blamed animal's scared the wits out of your divers. There's goin' to be no more work for a bit!"

Hayes nodded pensively. He was aware that a certain species of octopus infested the reef-strewn channels of Torres Straits. But, until now, he had never heard complaints from the lugger-masters or divers who periodically worked the rich oyster-swathes of the Vanderdecken Bank. The present scare might lead to a stoppage of work among the sixteen shelters in his employ. During the last year he had invested his life's savings in the pearling venture, and had borne the brunt of the Dutch Arab Company's fierce rivalry.

In the struggle to obtain shell; the rival fleets had been barely restrained from using arms. Hayes, who had appeared first on the scene, was known to have cornered the smallest but richest shell-area in the Straits. Cessation of work meant incalculable loss, for once it became known that his divers were idle his Government license was liable to forfeiture.

His white divers had proved particularly sensitive to the presence of marine octpoda, whereas the Malay and Japanese workers employed by the Arab company exhibited no trace of fear when confronted by sharks or other vicious sea-monsters.

Nodding sullenly to Mayar, he put off in a dinghy, a few minutes later, and rowed towards the fleet of pearling vessels across the Straits. Boarding the nearest lugger, he was met by a group of sullen-browed divers, who stood silently watching the gyrations of a naked boy on the deck.

"Gone mad, cap'n!" one of the divers informed him, in a scared voice. "He went down for shell twenty minutes ago, and sighted a blue sea-devil in the water—"

Hayes laughed hoarsely as he bent over the writhing figure on the deck. The boy was evidently suffering from severe shock, and his hysterical babblings grew louder and more incoherent each moment.

It angered Hayes to see his whole fleet lying inactive when he remembered the weeks and months he had waited before the Queensland Government had thought fit to grant him a pearling license. And now that the rich golden-edge shell was within reach, a striped marine monster bade fair to demoralise his crews.

A drop of brandy, forced between the boy's teeth, steadied him. He looked up at Hayes, while a shiver ran through his limbs.

"Me no dive any more!" he declared with an effort. "One sea- devil with big white eye came by an' blow black poison in my face!"

"You had a helmet on!" Hayes said sternly. "And the derned poison didn't hurt you anyhow!"

Other divers stated that the octopus had emerged from a jungle of sea-grass and sponge-beds within a cable's length of Shinto Reef. Amati, the boy lying on the deck, had been nearest when it attacked them. Only for the deftness of the windlass hands, in hauling them to the surface, not a diver would have come up alive.

Hayes swore under his breath as he returned to the dinghy. No greater calamity could have happened to the fleet. His crews would loaf and idle away the days until the terror of the sea- devil left them.

In the meantime the colored crews of the Arab Company's luggers were scouring the floor of the Straits, encroaching foot by foot on his rich preserves. He rowed sullenly in the direction of Shinto Reef, where the trepang clung like black cucumbers to the spongy floor of the Straits. Among the swaying jungles of sea-grass the remnants of a mullet-shoal flashed past, closely followed by a couple of blue-pointer sharks. A tropic sun flared down on a dazzling stretch of beach in the south. The silence of infinity lay over the heat-fretted coast. Rowing leisurely inshore, his shrewd eyes gathered in the hummock-ridden skyline, the mountainous wastes of sand that stretched in endless leagues to the west. In the north lay the inevitable mangrove-skirted coastline. Hauling his boat high on the beach, his glance was arrested by a blood-red flare in the sand. Approaching, he scooped away the fine coral dust with his boot, and raised a gold wrist-ornament to the light. It was inset with several ruby- colored stones of peculiar lustre and orient. If Hayes had alighted suddenly on a new continent hie amazement could not have been greater. The nearest settlement was thirty miles away.

None of his divers or crews wore expensive wrist-ornaments, and no woman that he knew had ever ventured near the lonely, gull-ridden Vanderdecken Bank. An expert in bushcraft, Hayes's glance went out to the mangrove-skirted headland in the north. A dozen steps took him beyond the beach where the thirty-foot tide had erased all signs of recent visitors. Pausing on the slope, he detected the unmistakable impression of a naked foot in the dry sand. The footprints ran straight for a quarter of a mile and stopped suddenly. Scrub and undergrowth hid them. Hayes's binoculars swept the near woods and skyline until a brown, bamboo-thatched bungalow showed in the centre of a clearing-some half-mile distant. Captain Hayes felt it his duty to follow the owner of the jewelled wrist-bangle. It seemed a much pleasanter task than hunting a spotted devil-fish in the Straits of Torres.

A brisk walk under cover of the scrub brought him to the bungalow palisade. Before he could enter the gate an elderly Japanese woman appeared at the door. Halting, with his hand on the gate, his glance traversed the inner passages of the bungalow.

"I found a piece of jewellery on the beach, ma'am," he began slowly. "Maybe you know the loser, or"—he paused with the bracelet held tight in his palm—"the article?"

The woman's mouth grew tight as a trap, and his sailor's eye told him that she was breathing with difficulty. "Maisola San leaves her things everywhere."

She spoke fluently, but with a visible effort, her shoulders heaving slightly.

"You have found the pearl necklace," she hazarded, "or the diamond locket?"

"Guess again, ma'am." Hayes's grip on the bangle tightened. The Japanese woman looked over her shoulder, into the passage beyond, while a nervous cough escaped her. "Maisola San is very careless with her jewels," she answered slowly. "I cannot say what she has lost or mislaid on the beach."

Hayes opened the palisade gate, the wrist-ornament exposed in his left palm. "You may return it to Maisola San with my compliments. As commander of that pearling fleet over there, I might advise your daughter not to leave valuables on these beaches, ma'am. My divers happen to be in the collecting business."

The Japanese woman considered his big handsome figure thoughtfully, his spotless white clothes and official bearing. Silence leaped between them for a period of six heart-beats, until the soft rustle of a dress in the passage quickened his senses.

He was conscious of a face peering at him from the bungalow interior, a face with jewel-lit hair and ear-pendants. And there camp to him, as he stared, a faint perfume of island trees and old remembered frangipani....

Captain Hayes had seen many beautiful Japanese women in his day. Yet, despite the beauty of her face, he knew that she belonged to the coolie class.

The elder woman in the door grew rigid as stone. She took the proffered bracelet, while her strong hand drew the bungalow door towards her.

"I shall tell my daughter, Captain—Captain—"

"Hayes," he spoke from the palisade. "There's no need to thank me for being honest once in a while," he added, with a smile.

He was walking swiftly along the scrub-track before her answer reached him. Once in the mangrove shade, he looked back swiftly and saw the crimson curtains of the bungalow move and close again, but not before the gleam of a jewelled pendant had betrayed the peeping face of Maisola San.

His return to the fleet was almost unnoticed by the crew of idle pearl-shellers loafing under the sun awnings. No word of reprimand escaped him. Neither threats nor promises of increased pay would send them to work. Yet a mile away, on the southern limit of the bank, the naked divers of the Dutch Arab Company flashed in and out of the water, bringing their baskets of shell to the lugger's sides unmindful of the soul-scaring sea-devil that lurked in one of the clear tideswept channels.


THE following morning Hayes sent for Emery, the mate of his largest lugger, the Three Moons. "I want," he began immediately the mate reached the schooner's deck, "all those water-rats you've been trapping lately!"

Emery blinked and stared incredulously, and then, after a breath-giving pause, explained that he had obtained the rodents for the exclusive use of Mick Hennessey, proprietor of the whisky-bar at Deliverance Inlet. It was Hennessey's custom, the mate went on, to give an exhibition of rat-killing with his terrier in the pit, at the rear of the bar, whenever the crews of the fleet came ashore on pay-day.

Hayes nodded patronisingly, and then put his question almost sharply. "How many rats are there?" he demanded.

"About a dozen, cap'n." The mate's eyes were full of unuttered questions that were checked only by the other's abrupt manner.

"I'm going down to interview this octopus, Emery. So... I want you to take charge of the pump and air-lines while I'm in the water."

"Aye, aye, cap'n!"

"Furthermore," Hayes commanded,' "when I signal twice you'll be good enough to pass down the rats in that iron cage of yours. Tie on a couple of lead sinkers so that the cage will come to me with a rush. Savvy?"

Emery's congested features spoke of his suppressed amazement and curiosity. There had been times when he had doubted Hayes's sanity, but the maddest trick performed by his erratic commander was sheer comedy compared with the scheme to send down rats to assist in a death conflict with an octopus!

"I've never heard of rats as a cure for sea-devils!" he blurted out in disgust. "You might as well throw a dozen spring- chickens at a blamed boa-constrictor!"

Hayes controlled himself with an effort. "I'm going to oil the neck of that pie-faced mudbat!" he declared. "You watch the blue pieces come flying on top!"

"Got eight or nine necks according to latest reports," Emery stated with a seaman's regard for his commander's health. "Nothing that swims can run a sea-devil for neck, sir!"

The fleet of idle luggers became suddenly aware that their respected commander was about to enter the water, equipped in his own patent diving dress.

Earlier in the morning Hayes had made a close survey of the coral-flanked grotto, at Shinto Reef, where the dreaded octopus had first been encountered. The entrance was choked with a dense sea-growth of mundi-grass and mangrove roots. His lead had registered three fathoms at the grotto mouth, a spot much frequented by his divers on account of the rich golden-edge spat which lined the entrance. He was confident that the cave mouth was the feeding ground of the tentacled invader.

A slant of wind permitted the schooner to wear close to the Shinto Reef, while Hayes, helmeted and dressed, stood irresolute for a moment on the steps of the little port gang-way. A cage containing a dozen long-bodied rats lay to hand. With a final glance at the air-pump and windlass, he descended into the warm, sunlit water.

It rushed green and opalescent past the glass-fronted helmet. Sheafs of waving sea-grass swirled in the eddies caused by his descent. The floor of the channel was scored with coral and pumice-like sand worn from the rocky sides by the ceaseless churning of the tides. A pink-gilled parrot-fish looked at him for an instant and flashed away into the green valley of water beyond.

Hayes kicked the coral pavement with his lead-weighted boot. Spurting a stream of air from his tight, rubber wrist-band, he laughed softly at the effect of the bubbling explosions on a pair of eels basking between the reefs.

The mouth of the grotto claimed his attention. Layers of golden-edge shell lined the floors and sides. Guarding his air- tubes from the fouling undergrowth, be peered inside. The water shone almost white beneath the coral reef, indicating to his practised eye an exit somewhere on the eastern side of the bank.

Above him the huge breast of the lugger stood in quaint silhouette as it swayed rhythmically in the ebbing tide. Turning sharply, he was conscious that the water of the grotto had grown dark. It was as if a tree branch had suddenly obscured the light.

He stooped and watched. A black searching tentacle drifted towards him, and then, as he turned, a cyclopean feeler gravitated in the vicinity of his life-line.

Crouching low until both hands rested on the coral floor of the channel, he signalled to Emery.

Eight seconds later the iron cage swept down and was gripped by Hayes. Holding the trap before him he opened the wire-bound door. For a moment the released rodents swam about the grotto entrance, unmindful of the black tentacles that now receded frantically from their circling bodies.

They were gone in a flash, leaving Hayes crouching forward, his lead-shod boots planted within a foot of the retreating devil-fish. In a moment he had lunged forward, his powerful arms encircling the palpitating mass of tentacles and feelers. His knife had made a clean, swift stroke at a rubber tube trailing behind the sea monster's girth. For an instant he thought his own air-line had fouled. Then, with a jerk at the life-line he felt himself, hauled quickly to the surface, his arms still gripping the struggling octopus' girth.

A cry went up from the assembled pearling fleet at sight of Hayes dragging the black, writhing monster up the schooners gangway. A stampede followed that was only quieted by their commander's explosions of laughter. With his helmet unscrewed, he sank on his knees beside the quivering devil-fish, and cut away the rubber skin that concealed a live, breathing shape inside.

"I guess you won't play octopus any more, Maisola San!" he said with a laugh. "Just waltz out of this beastly pantomime-rig and explain yourself!"

A final cut at the octopus-like garment revealed the young Japanese girl smiling rather defiantly after her exciting experience. She was dressed in her usual attire, even to the bracelet he had returned only the day before.

"Those ugly rats frightened me!" she admitted with a shiver. "I thought they would bite through the rubber of my dress."

Hayes spoke sharply to the inquisitive crowd of divers who sought to gain a glimpse of Maisola San. Then, leading her to the for'ard deck-house, he indicated a chair briefly.

Maisola sat down, trembling slightly, for she had not been prepared for the sudden cutting of her air-tube and line, a circumstance which had permitted the water to drench her through and through.

"Someone commissioned you to play sea-devil, Maisola San," be began sternly. "Your bit of submarine work wasn't all comedy!"

Maisola's breathing became more regular now that the faces of the divers were shut out. Shaking back her thick, sea-drenched hair, she faced him unflinchingly.

"Last year you caused my brothers Sonag and Okahu a great deal of trouble. Okahu was nearly eaten by a shark because he was forced to jump into the sea from your schooner!" she told him with a flash of anger.

Hayes appeared disturbed. "I was commissioned to recover a Sumatran wedding dress your brother stole!" he retorted quickly. "Okahu went overboard on his own account. And he made a fool of the shark as well as me," he added with a bitter laugh.

She looked up, and he saw a flash of tears in her eyes, "The wedding dress was intended for me, Captain Hayes. I was to have married Sustu Ma, whom I love very dearly. My people regarded the loss of the dress as an ill omen and... there has been no marriage!"

Hayes frowned. "Was it to annoy me, Maisola, that you played the sea-devil?" he asked, a curious gleam in his eyes.

She shook her head, out did not meet his glance. "They told me I would grow rich if I scared your divers. They said you were a very bad man!"

"Who said?"

"The commander of the Arab company!" she answered. "He sent many presents to me and provided the rubber octopus to frighten your men!"

His brow darkened as he heard Maisola confess how the Arab company's officials had bribed her to enter the grotto at Shinto Reef, tricked out as an octopus, to scare his divers. He was certain that she was the innocent tool of the unscrupulous Arabs who were straining nerve and brain to oust him from the Straits of Torres. Doubtless, he argued, she had been forced by her mother to accept the company's bribes... And, after all, she was little more than a child.

It came to him as he stood in the doorway that the men of the Dutch Arab fleet had been encroaching foot by foot on his preserves during the day, glutting their baskets with his precious golden-edge shell.

Turning from the trembling Japanese girl, he bayed an order to the midday watch standing in the break of the poop. A twelve- pounder gun was run out of the open port, and loaded with broken oyster shell. Four luggers belonging to the Dutch Arab Company had pushed their hulls far beyond their own limit. They were square-rigged, big-beamed vessels working in a dead line with each other's stern and fore rails. Suddenly a blinding explosion shook the still, hot silence: the air became filled with a roaring whirlwind of broken oyster shells that stripped and tore through the Arab luggers' spars and canvas.

The voice of Hayes was heard through the drifting gun-smoke. "Give you eight minutes to take your thief-boats off my line. I'll use the nickel-plated machine gun next time!"

Amid cries of terror from the astonished Arabs, the four luggers trailed like wounded sea-fowl back to their own waters. Satisfied that his enemies would not again venture hurriedly within gun-shot, Hayes returned pensively to the sobbing Japanese girl.

"When I came to your bungalow yesterday," he said quietly, "I saw about three yards of rubber tentacle folded up under the verandah. Some sailormen have eyes, my dear!—and that rubber tentacle gave me an idea. Now," he went on, watching her narrowly, "I want to know the name of the person who worked the air-pump at Shinto Reef, while you played octopus in the water?"

Maisola San wrung her hands, while sudden tears of anguish flowed down her brown cheeks. "Speak up!" Hayes thundered. "I must know your accomplice. I must knock the bottom out of this Japanese fooling. His name, do you hear?"

Maisola shrank from his threatening figure, her hands pressed over her streaming eyes. "It was Sustu Ma, my lover!" she choked. "He helped with the air-pump whenever I ventured into the sea with the rubber dress. Please do not be angry because my people thought you a bad man!"

The buccaneer frowned and took a turn across the deck-house. Then, facing her suddenly, he flung out his question.

"If I send a boat ashore will Sustu Ma come on board this vessel?"

"You are angry and want his life!" Maisola almost wailed. "He is only a boy and does not take these matters seriously. Do not judge him too harshly!"

"I'll judge the pair of you my own way!" Hayes rapped out. Opening a drawer in the locker, he produced a pen and some note- paper, which he placed on the table beside her, "Now, Maisola San, just write asking Sustu Ma to honor me with his presence aboard this schooner!" he commanded.

Maisola pushed away the paper, a sudden defiance in her pretty face. "I will not ask my lover to come here and be shot!" she said firmly. "The spirit of my people is not dead within me, Captain Hayes!"

"I'll shoot the little beggar if he doesn't come, Maisola San. I'll scour those sandhills night and day with my men and kill him where I find him!"

"And... If he comes aboard?" Maisola quavered.

The blind fury seemed to evaporate from the buccaneer's face. He sat down suddenly and lit a cigar: "If he comes aboard it will prove that he's a good boy, that's all. Now, my little woman," he went on in a businesslike tone, "tell me honestly are you fond of priests?"

Maisola's mouth dropped, a look of curiosity came into her dark eyes. "I do not understand!" she gasped. "We have nothing to do with priests!"

"Don't be silly!" Hayes warned her. "Just write that note to little Sustu, and tell him that if he doesn't come and marry you at once I'll—I'll—"

The pen almost fell from Maisola's trembling fingers. "What will happen?" she quavered.

"Why I'll blamed well marry you myself to keep you out of harm's way!" he thundered. "Are you going to write...?"

Maisola San steadied the wild beatings of her heart as she wrote:—


"Beloved Sustu Ma,—

I am a prisoner on Captain Hayes's schooner. There is some anger on account of the rubber octopus trick. He will spare my life if you will come on board with old Kanio, our priest at Deliverance Inlet. The bad Captain Hayes has told his men that you have not the courage to die for me. Bring the priest, my beloved. Death must be for one of us. Maisola."


Hayes read the note, while a grin stayed on his big, handsome face. He looked down at the pretty head and patted the plump shoulders laughingly.

"So... you think Sustu might hesitate to come aboard and get married, eh, Maisola San?"

She nodded wistfully.

"But you're dead sure he'll come If you tell him he's afraid to die?"

Again Maisola nodded. "We Japanese are a funny people," she confessed. Then, with a long drawn sigh. "I hope your man will not be long, Captain Hayes!"

Without replying, Hayes took the note aft and placed it in the mate's hands.

"You'll find a little brown chap hiding somewhere about the grotto at Shinto-Reef, Emery. Give him this note and wait till he's ready to come back with you."

The moon had risen in the south-east when the mate returned. Hayes, leaning over the rail, detected a handsome but rather shame-faced Japanese youth seated in the stern. Beside him was a small, bald-headed priest dressed in native fashion, his uncovered head glowing like polished metal in the moonlight.

"See here, Sustu Ma!" Hayes exclaimed, gripping the boy's hand as he mounted the gangway. "You can be hanged without expense at my yard-arm, or marry your sweet-heart, Maisola San, within an hour!"

Sustu drew himself up with the pride of a Samurai in his young limbs. "There is no prospect here to keep a wife!" He indicated the distant sandhills with a sweep of his hand. "And the Arab company paid us well for our services."

Hayes laughed hoarsely. "I've dusted the Arabs off the sky- line, sonny. So there's no more money or employment from them, Savvy?"

Sustu contemplated the yard-arm thoughtfully, his hands stiff- drawn at his side. "I cannot marry to starve Maisola!" he announced after a pause. "If I hang you will let her go free?"

Hayes swore under his breath at the unexpected turn of affairs, then scratched his head as he surveyed the boy's intelligent face and quick eyes.

He was genuinely disturbed at the prospect of Maisola repeating the octopus trick.

Compelled very often to employ fresh crews, three and sometimes four times a year, he saw his whole pearling venture at the mercy of two mischievous Children of the Sun. And since they had acquired the knack of stampeding his divers, it was like tempting providence to allow them another opportunity.

His hand went out to Sustu's shoulder, while his fingers closed in a fatherly grip. "I can offer you a job in my trade- house at Thursday Island, keeping books and making yourself useful."

Sustu did not remove his eyes from the yard-arm. "The pay?" he questioned unmoved.

"Fifty dollars a month and a bungalow for Maisola. Is it a deal?"

Sustu folded his arms and sighed. "Bring Maisola and the priest!" he said gently.

The buccaneer hurried forward to where Maisola sat waiting in the little deck-house. Outside, he almost collided with the palpitating Emery.

"Perhaps you'd like to give the little octopus away, Bill," he laughed, catching the mate's arm, "borne along!"

"Perhaps," the mate growled afterwards, "I'd be getting me fifty dollars a month too, and a bungalow, if I'd brains enough to be some kind of a sea-devil! There never was such inspiration in my blamed family!"


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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.