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ALBERT DORRINGTON

GENERAL BILL

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As published in
The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 25 Oct 1905,
This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version Date: 2020-04-30
Produced by Terry Walker, Gary Meller and Roy Glashan

All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

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SHE was a thievish-looking schooner, and her skipper, Jan Petersen, was a fat, silent man—also, an inveterate sea-vagabond and harbour pirate. The mate was a Finn, and the crew answered to the names of Jacob Ollsen and Carl Svedenborg. The supercargo was a bull-dog named Bill.

Bill slept on deck with nose and ears towards the gang-plank. When a sailor brought cargo or luggage aboard Bill was always asleep. But if any unauthorised person attempted to leave the schooner, carrying a bundle or package, Bill arose from his dreams and made noises in his throat, until the captain ran up and explained that the departing visitor was a friend of the family, and in no way connected with the police.

Considered merely as a dog, Bill was of no account whatever. There were much better looking animals to be had for a plug of tobacco or a sheath-knife. Bill was a sailor-man's dog; he knew every line and halyard aboard a schooner-rigged vessel. He knew the cook who put pickles and pepper in the soup, and the cook knew what Bill thought of a scalded nose.

Most cooks made themselves at home when they joined the schooner, starting by stroking the Finn's big red cat. Nine cooks out of ten worked off stale sea-going jokes on Bill, such as wrapping up an ounce of cayenne in a pound of steak, and heaving it dreamfully in the direction of Bill's mouth.

The skipper, Jan Petersen, carried on most of his trade inside Sydney Harbour. His dingy plied by night along the jetties. He borrowed skiffs and sailing boats, and repainted them. Odd portions of cargo, coils of rope, hawsers, and tarpaulin were lifted from pier ends and wharfs and sold to the Chinese dealers who buy fungi and ships' bolts and copper without questions.

For a week past the schooner had been under police surveillance. A cartload of illicit whisky had been captured near Bondi, and it was supposed that captain Jan Petersen had brought it in ballast from one of the bush stills on the North Coast. At present Jan was not to be found. The schooner creaked and whined at her moorings as though trying to explain to the detective concealed under the pier that she was a thoroughly respectable craft with a virgin horror of ill-doing.

Detective Lanigan had to help him an experienced waterside man, by the name of Dick McGinty. Dick lay on his stomach under the wharf and watched unceasingly. Lanigan squatted in the shadow of a big bond store, ready to grapple with the elusive Jan Petersen the moment he crossed the wharf.

"'E can't sail without his schooner," said the congested voice of McGinty. "'E's dead sure to come aboard to-night. You can have him stoo'd, biled, or fried once he puts foot on this wharf."

The wharf was quite deserted. Afar off the coloured lights of the big ferry steamers flashed and rippled across the harbour. Lanigan smiled and glanced at his watch. Nothing happened.

A white plug-shaped object lying near the schooner's gangway caught his eye. Walking over, the detective saw a bulldog curled up with its nose towards the city.

"It's Dutchy's dog," whispered M'Ginty. "Bill they call him. Good sort of a dog in 'is way, but he's always playin' off some little game in the interests of the schooner. Never takes a spell like other pups. Treat him like a hot fire bar, Lanigan, an' he won't stick to your 'and."

"Hulloa, Bill!" The detective snapped his fingers, and whistled cheerfully.

Bill pricked his left ear slightly, but did not move.

"Where's the cap'n, Bill?" whispered Lanigan. "Sool him out, Bill. Good old dog!"

Bill sat up suddenly and wagged his tail.

"Be careful of him," advised M'Ginty under the wharf. "E's been bred an' born among crimps. 'E'd sell his own father to keep that thievin' Dutchy outer gaol."

The detective stooped and patted Bill's head. "Seems to me that he's keeping watch over something, Dick. I fancy Dutchy must be close at hand."

"Keep yer eye on the dog, Lanny, koller 'im if 'e moves."

Bill looked into the detective's face suddenly, and then trotted across the road towards the Salvation Army barracks.

Lanigan chuckled, "By jove, we're on a scent; you'd better come too, Dick," he shouted.

Both men followed until the dog arrived at the barracks entrance. A crowd of sailors and others were singing inside. Bill sniffed on the steps, while McGinty ran his eye over the line of heads and backs in front of him.

"That fat shellback ain't 'im," he said, contemptuously. "No, he ain't here. I believe the dog is misinformed."

The two men turned into the street dejectedly. Pausing with his face in the air, Bill breathed hard on the steps of the barracks. Then changing his mind swiftly, he ran across the street. The men followed cautiously.

"By jove!" said Lanigan, "the dog knows something. I've seen lots of dogs looking for their owners on Saturday nights."

Bill lingered near the Ship Inn, as though listening for the sound of a well-known voice, but after a while he started off again. He stayed a moment at the door of a clothes-dealer. Then he ran into a pawn shop and made inquiring sounds with his front paws against the counter.

"Halla, Beela! the captain not here?"

The pawnbroker's teeth flashed in the shadow of the iron safe. Bill looked depressed, and retreated. He made his way towards a German boarding-house. A group of Baltic men lounged at the entrance.

"Hi yah, Beel, vas dot you, Beel!"

Bill ran among them, his tail moving like a whip lash. Then after pretending to bite a big Norwegian, he dashed inside the boarding-house.

A woman's loud voice broke out in welcome. "Vy, Beel, vere haf you peen dis long viles, eh? Someone tell me dot Cap'n Petersen sold you to a Chinaman."

Bill emerged with a look of disgust in his eyes, and paused in the middle of the street.

"Doing his dogged best," said detective Lanigan quietly. "A dog like that would be invaluable to me at times."

"'E travels alright," grinned the assistant. "Why, what's 'e up to now?" Bill was standing quite still, a lone and sorrowful look in his eyes, as though trying to recall some long-forgotten place once frequented by Captain Petersen. Then, without a glance at his two followers, he started at a fast gait down the street.

"We'd better follow," cried Lanigan. "He's on the right track this time."

"Never put me money on dogs," grumbled McGinty; "especially when they've got ears same shape as Bill's. I never see a dog with such ears; he'd bark if a fly walked across the street."

"Hurry on," panted the detective, "or we'll lose him in the crowd."

Bill, smitten with a sudden inspiration, swung round again towards the quay, past the Sailors' Home and the German wharf, and halted in front of a low-roofed building that showed a faint glimmer of light through a small window.

"The morgue!" Detective Lanigan wiped his brow. "This dog is getting on my nerves." He regarded Bill incredulously.

The door of the morgue was open, but the absence of anything living or dead proved that the dog had failed again. An air of dejection and weariness came over Bill; it seemed as though he wanted to lie down and have done with the business. Both men were now certain that the dog was in the habit of rounding up Captain Petersen whenever the schooner was about to sail.

Lanigan patted Bill's heaving sides.

"Good old chap. Where is he, eh? We'll give him 12 months' hard labour when we do find him," said the detective sweetly.

"Don't let the dog 'ear you say that," whispered McGinty.

Bill shook himself lazily, and ambled down the street. The unemployed dogs idling in the road gave him a wide berth as he ran past. They knew him for a professional fighter, who slammed himself at anything on four legs, big, little, black or brindled.

"Talk about fox an' 'ounds," gasped McGinty. "You could light a theatre with this dog's sagacity. If you showed 'im a pipe of tobaccer, he'd borrer a match for yer."

It seemed to both men as though Bill would never stop running. McGinty suggested hiring a hansom, and following him more leisurely, but the detective thought otherwise. He pointed out that Bill might vanish down a lane before they could alight from a cab.

The dog halted suddenly on the outskirts of the city, then ran towards an iron-railed house that was almost hidden from the road by closely-planted trees. A Stygian gloom enveloped the building. There was no sound of life or laughter about its darkened windows. Bill gazed steadily at McGinty, then walked to the corner of the lane, and was gone in a flash.

"Sold, by jingo!" Detective Lanigan almost leaped into the lane, but there was no sign of Bill.

"How 'ave we been sold," inquired McGinty? There was a certain innocence in the question that turned Lanigan's humour to gall. "That dog has been fooling the pair of us all night! He's brought and left us up against the Blind Asylum, the place for people without eyes—like you and me." The detective fidgeted uneasily at his watch chain. "Someone must have shown Bill the trick. It's clever in it's way."

"Can't see where the cleverness comes in." complained the tired McGinty.

Detective Lanigan shrugged his shoulders, and turned towards the city.

"Guess you'd think it clever if anyone told you that a two- and-sixpenny dog had pulled the smartest detective in Sydney from his post of observation, and rushed him against the back wall of a blind asylum. If that isn't clever I'll buy you a dog that can play the piano."

McGinty suddenly saw the full strength of Bill's manoeuvring, and—

"The 'orrible brute," he gasped. "Come along," growled Lanigan.

They hurried back to the wharf, only to find that the schooner had slipped away in the darkness with Captain Petersen on board.


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.