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ALBERT DORRINGTON

A CHINESE WHALE

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A published in
The Southern Star, Bega, New South Wales, 24 May 1911

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version Date: 2020-04-21
Produced by Terry Walker, Gary Meller and Roy Glashan

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HIS hut stood on the southern shore of Twofold Bay, overlooking the whaling station at Kiah. Dense mulberry bushes and jungle-like creepers concealed the eerie wind-racked shanties that leaned over the hillside. Grease and blubber smoke had evidently preserved the timbers of the whalers homesteads against the fierce Antarctic winds that sweep over the southern limits of Australia.

Peter's hut stooped against a bullock-proof fence which marked the eastern boundary of a deserted cattle station. The skeleton of a whale-boat peeped from a roofless house. A broken-hafted bomb spear and the scrap ends of a disused oil-tank added to the general litter, and suggested a once thriving industry.

Peter was sitting near the hut door, his bare feet and sea- chafed hands half covered in the folds of a trawling net. Below, in the surf-trenched hollow, an ancient yawl pressed her weary shoulders against the hip of a red sandbar. Myriads of gulls and mollie-hawks clung to the wave-worn reefs beyond the trying-out sheds.

Peter's voice was a shrill soprano at times, but beneath it ran a bass note that could lift itself when required above the music of the humming white squalls that spin up from the southern Ice Limit.

'Fifty years ago'—his old sea blown eyes puckered humorously—'we stowed our rum under the oil tanks, and ran it to the Victorian goldfields whin the b'ys were ready. 'Twas smart goin' in those days, an' the troopers always enj'yed a plate av prawns whin they looked in at the whaling shed.'

Peter's skin was blue where the salt-water sores had newly healed. There was a light in his eyes as nimble as pointed steel.

'Many an enterprise has vanished at the click of a trooper's bit and chain,' I ventured sorrowfully.

Peter rolled some tobacco in his palm thoughtfully, while his ferocious black-bowled pipe dived and scooped into it until the weed hung beard-like over its charred rim.

'I was thrapped wanst almost red-handed, here in this hut, between five tubs av spirit and a Chinaman named Wong Hoy.

'Twas the night the Dunbar split up on the rocks, and 'twas black as the thriminns av a funeral party. God save us, 'twas north Atlantic weather, wit' wind from the pack ice, but a good night, me son, for overlandin' rum. Five tubs in the corner beyant: Barney Cash and Ennis waitin' for the cart to lift it away. Cash an' Ennis were good lads, foot, hand an' eye.

'D'ye hear the wind?' says Cash, huggin' the fire. 'Tis like the feet av mountains sthridin' over the sea.'

The rain tore through the shingles; the tide was at the door soppin' the flure where we sat. Ennis lay on the table listenin', his small eyes half shut, a revolver under the cuff av his coat. The ears av a rat had Ennis, an' the eye av a thracker whin circumstances provoked his sinsibilities.'

'Hush!' says he, kickin' Cash wit' his toe; 'the ghosts are walkin'.'

The door opened, an' the wind licked us like the wet tongue av a wolf.

'God spare us!' says Cash. 'Fwat is it?'

The face iv a Chinaman came through the door: the rain was dhrippin' from his bald head: the eyes av him looked at the three av us.

'Come in,' says Ennis, widout movin'. 'Fwat brings ye on the bache tonight, John?' says he.

The Chinaman looked scared av somethin': 'twas like as though a thunder-clap had shaken his bones. The wind roared in upon us, an' the lightnin' jumped blue across his old eyes.

'He was travellin' along the coast towns wit' fancy goods and joolery. 'You let me stay here little while?' says he. 'Welly bad night outside.'

'Be seated, John. We wouldn't turn a dog adrift in such weather,' says Cash.

'Or a throoper either!' And Ennis put away his gun wit' a laugh. We shook up the fire an' brought the cards. We played an' waited for the cart to take away the illicit spirit in the corner. The Chinaman lost an' won at euchre. The money stood in a small heap in the middle av the table. At midnight we heard a thrimingus noise outside; 'twas like Hell's horses draggin' the drowned ship from the bed iv the sea. We took the hurricane lamp an' ran out, and the waves flew upon us in a blindin' smother av brine.

'Mother av Hivven!' says Cash, swingin' high the lamp. 'Look! Look and behold!' says he.

We stood by watchin' an' listenin' to the blowin' av it, as the walls av surf batthered an' slammed it ashore. Mud an' flyin' shells cut the air in front of us. Twas like a giant thrashin' the beach wit' a bullock's hide, it rowled and fizzed and slashed the sea in halves. An' through the roar av wind an' water we cud hear the breathin' av it.

'The killers had dhriven it ashore, a half-murdered bull whale swimmin' in its own blood an' grease.

'Are ye game to hit it under the fluke wi' a harpoon?' says Barney Cash to us.

'I am not,' says Ennis, dhrawin' back. 'Time enough to sthrike whin the sea goes down an' the sun is up.'

'The big wounded bull whale lay there while the surf thrashed it into a blind spoutin' heap. Goin' back to the hut we heard the rattle av the cart over the hill yonder. Jim Cash, whip in hand, came in, his face black as thunder whin he saw the Chinaman sittin' over the fire.'

'Ye yellow scut,' says he, 'I saw ye connivin' wit' a throoper at Bega awhile ago. Ye damned spy, get out av this!'

'The five tubs av spirit stood in the corner av the hut. An' Wong Hoy made a bad defence whin we pressed home the charge of spyin'. The divil got hold av him as we threw him from the hut. He struck Jim Cash wit' his shut hand, an' the two brothers knocked him to the ground. 'Tis strange how a small clip under the ear will make a Chinaman lie still.'

'He'll pull round prisintly,' says Ennis, pourin' whisky into Wong How's open mouth. Barney an' Jim Cash sat by the fire howldin' their chins an' suckin' their lips. 'He will wake up,' says Jim, lookin' over his shoulder at the big stiff body on the flure.

'At the Judgment trumpet,' whispered Barney. 'I struck too hard,' he says, stoopin' over the fire. 'Too hard an' too quick.'

'Where will ye bury him?' asks Ennis widout looking up. 'If he was in the pay iv the police they will follow him here.'

'The black thrackers will run straight to his grave whether ye bury him on a hill or in the sea!' cried Jim Cash. 'A man may cover his sins, but 'tis hard to hide the dead.'

A dead Chinaman is poor company on a wet, howlin' night. An' the fear av the black police set our minds goin'. The five tubs of illicit spirit an' the dead Chinaman was enough to hang us all.

Barney Cash was first to see an end av the trouble. He stood up wit' the firelight in his eyes, his dhry lips crackin' wit' fear and divilry.

'D'ye not see how 'tis to be worked? Come wit' me, b'ys, while I conduct ye to the grandest funeral iv the century.'

He took Wong Hoy in his arrums an' walked into the blindin' wind an' rain.

'Come to the funeral,' says he, looking back at us. 'An' for ever howld your tongues.'

'Twas no business av mine to follow those men. Ennis took a spade an' ran after Cash. There was no need to ask what was done. Anyone could guess.

'They found the big bull whale gaspin' in torment on the beach. Ennis levered the jaws open wit' the spade, while Barney Cash rammed the dead Chinaman into the gullet.

'Twill be the Big Sea mystery if the thing is found out,' says Cash, slappin' the whale on the head wit' the spade. The tide will cover our tracks, an' the police will kape a mile from the whale whin the sun comes out.'

'They came back to the hut an' dhrank to the health av the whale an' the Chinaman, while the cart waited by the door an' the five tubs av spirit stood like five publicans in the corner beyant.

'If I'm thrapped carryin' the stuff over the hills,' says Jim Cash, 'they'll hold me in gaol till Wong Hoy is found.'

'Then,' says Ennis, 'let us hide the five tubs in the belly iv the whale until mortification sets in an' drives the constabulary out iv the district.'

'Barney Cash seconded the motion, an' we dhrank to the health av all good strong whales that kape away poor wake policemen.

'We took the tubs to the beach one by one, and cut a tunnel under the big fluke wit' an axe an' blubber spade, an' rowled the illicit spirit fair into the belly av the brute; Barney was a bricklayer by thrade; he tuck-pointed the corners av the whale an' but for the dead Chinaman stretched in the dark gullet, he wud have planted threes an' a verandah to cover up the openin'.

'We slept through the next tide an' the next, until the hammerin' av the throopers at the hut door woke us.

'Good mornin', Cash,' says Sergeant Cunningham easily. 'Have ye seen an 'owl Chinaman about here lately?'

'Twould puzzle one to see anythin' smaller than a camel this mornin', sergeant,' says Barney rubbing his eyes. 'Have ye seen the whale, sergeant?'

'I have not,' says the throoper, holdin' up his head. 'I have learnt sobriety in me time, and I have learnt,' says he, 'how to begin the day wit'out seein' whales.'

An' away he rode wit'out spakin' another word.'

Ennis said no word, but stared open-mouthed across the beach.

The high tide had swept it clean as a well-broomed flure. The whale was gone, thrawn out by the big under-tow.

'Two hundred pounds' worth av oil, an' five tubs av spirit,' Say Ennis bitterly. 'Twas worse than dhrownin' a goldmine.'

'Twas a chape funeral, anyway,' says Barney Cash.

'No more was said, although 'twas mighty harrud to think that so much good liquor should go asthray.'


A MONTH afterwards I met O'Donnel, the whaler, in the pub at McCrossan's. From his top boots to his greasy guernsey he was covered wit' flies—big brown whale flies that followed him from the beach.

'Did ye hear av the catch last week?' says he, 'near Cape Dromedary?'

'I did not,' says I.

''Twas the best thing in the season,' says he, drawin' a blubber fly out av his beer. 'A dead bull whale dhriftin' north wit' a crowd av sharks bitin' their way clane troo the middle. We gave them harpoons for lunch, an' cleared them off. We took away eighteen barrels av pure oil an' five tubs av whisky!'

'A quare kind av whale, O'Donnel,' says I. 'How dy'e account for the whisky?'

'Twas a Chinese whale,' says he, flickin' another fly from the beer. 'An' ye'll say no word to the boys whin I tell ye that it was thravellin' wit' a long pigtail sthreamin' from the blow- hole?'


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.