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First published in The Western Champion, Barcaldine, Qld, 23 Dec 1933

First e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2017
Version Date: 2017-11-25
Produced by Terry Walker, Colin Choat and Roy Glashan.

The text of this book is in the public domain in Australia.
All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

THIS book is a product of a collaborative effort undertaken by Project Gutenberg Australia, Roy Glashan's Library and the bibliophile Terry Walker to collect, edit and publish the works of Aidan de Brune, a colourful and prolific Australian writer whose opus is well worth saving from oblivion.

DARG HARRIS was a watchman in the employ of the Andora Steamship Company. Quite a character in his way. A queer old man who came to his occupation—when one of the Company's ships was at berth—accompanied by two cats. A wharf hand, who had traced the old man to his home in Woolloomooloo had reported to his mates that Darg lived in a couple of rooms in an alley off Cathedral-street, and that the place was literally overrun with cats. What the man did not know was the house belonged to Darg.

Darg bred cats. The two who accompanied him to his work were always the same. One was a full-grown cat of large size, the other a kitten. It was noticed that Darg invariably paid much attention to the kitten. Just as invariably the cat strayed to the cook's quarters on board the vessel—and, peculiarly, that high autocrat of the ship never appeared to have any objection.

Sam Plummer, one of the Custom's Inspectors, was curious. For some years he had seen Darg and his cats about the wharves. Occasionally he had petted the animals; not that Plummer was fond of cats, but that for a considerable time illegal drugs had made very free entry into Sydney, and he was curious regarding the methods the smugglers were adopting. Cats might be a method of entry—he could not, however, see how. Still, it was worth investigating.

Tom and Dick were the two cats who invariably came down to the wharf with Darg. Tom was three parts Persian and rather a fine specimen of the feline tribe. He had many accomplishments. He could beg like a dog; fetch and carry; and had a really marvellous command over his companion. No matter where the kitten strayed, Tom would search him out and bring him back to his master, mostly, carrying him by the scruff of the neck.

"I don't like those cats," Sam Plummer told his mate, Jim Perrin one day as they stood at the wharf and watched Tom fetch the smaller cat down from the deck in his mouth. "Look at that animal he's carrying. Why, it might be dead—"

The official paused, an idea coming into his mind. He looked at his watch. It wanted but a few minutes to five, when the wharf gates would be closed for the night and Darg left in solitary charge.

A dead cat. His thoughts went further. A stuffed cat. Why not a cat stuffed with cocaine? Pussy would carry a valuable cargo!

Two cats, one of them large and the other small: so small that the larger cat could carry it in its mouth. Sam Plummer was certain he had struck on an idea worth while. For some time he had had his eyes on the Andora Steamship Company's boats. More, he had held a big suspicion regarding Fred Dowles, the cook of Freda. The man was cheeky and argumentative. Several times he had questioned the Custom's officer's directions and decisions.

Plummer fell that he would go to far lengths to get even with the man—and this question of the cats...

Sam rubbed his hands gleefully.

It is one thing to have a theory and another to prove it. Sam Plummer found his path strewed with difficulties. It was easy for a Customs inspector to get on friendly terms with the watchman. Darg felt honoured at the attentions bestowed on himself and his cats. Tom came to recognise a friend in the dour-faced inspector who now had something appropriate for the occasion saved from this lunch. Tom was willing to show off his accomplishments to his new friend—and would even allow him to relieve him of his burden when he carried the smaller mate from the ship to the foot of his master.

The seamen of the various ships came to notice the strange friendship between the Custom's inspector and the cats. They quick to take advantage of the fact. Tom had no objection to carrying a well-fatted cat in his mouth—in fact he evidenced a disposition to put the little animal down and perform its ablutions—but Sam Plummer strongly objected to having an oiled bundle of dirty fluff deposited in his hand, especially when the gift was accompanied; by chortles of laughter from the crew.

"How the blazes does he get the stuff ashore?" Plummer asked his mate angrily one afternoon. "The five days the Freda's been in port I've worked overtime every night, trying to get to the bottom of this mystery.

"Perhaps old Darg doesn't run the stuff, after all," observed Perrin. He rather liked the old man and his cats, and he had no vendetta with the cook, or any of the crew of the ship.

"Don't be an ass."

Plummer turned on his heel and went after Tom, who was strolling on board for an interview with the cook.

"What's the joke, Darg?" Perrin halted by the side of the old watchman as he sat on an upturned box, stolidly shredding tobacco from his pipe. "Sam Plummer swears you're playing some joke on him."

"How?" The old man looked up incuriously; yet there was keenness behind the half-opened eyes.

"What do you have those cats down here for?"

"Company," Darg answered shortly.

"Who taught Tom to carry the little one?"

"I did."

"What for?"


Perrin scratched his chin. He was not satisfied with the old man's answers. Again, lately he had learned from unimpeachable sources that Darg was well-off; that he owned not only the house he lived in but its neighbour. Houses are not saved out of earnings of a wharf-watchman!

"Well, mind your steps. Sam Plummer is on the watch."


"If you don't know there's no harm done." Perrin answered ambiguously. "If you do..."

"I'll have the lor on 'im if he damages me character." Darg spoke loudly. "I'm an honest watchman, that's wot I am, and that Inspector's got no right to say things abart me. I'll—"

"Yes?" Jim Perrin paused, as he was moving away. "Got one, Darg?"

"Got what?"

"A character?" the inspector grinned. "If so you'd better tack it up in the office. You may want it one day."

He laughed as he made his way down the wharf to where Plummer stood, casually watching the gangway from the deck of the Freda to the wharf.

"Stayin' on Sam?" he inquired casually.

"For a little while.' In spite of his careless attitude Sam Plummer never relaxed his watch on the ship.

"Tom come down with his baby yet?" Perrin inquired; he could not resist a grin.

"I'll get that damned cat and its damned master yet!" Plummer's temper broke. "If you'd set your wits to work, Jim, we might, solve the puzzle. I'll swear quite a lot of cocaine came off that vessel."

"Who from?"

"That blithering cook."

"Oh, have a heart!" Perrin, shrugged. "You've got Darg and, his cats, and that cook, on the brain. It'd be different if you had something to go on, but for the life of me I can't see that you've got anything but...but..."

"But—what?" Plummer turned on his mate wrathfully.

"OK, If you want it—prejudice." Perrin shrugged and turned to the gates. "Well. I'm off duty.. Good-night, if you're not conning."

Sam Plummer did not answer.

Out on the streets the Inspector turned. Plummer was still leaning against the wharf-wall, watching the ship.

A slight noise made Perrin turn swiftly. Darg was rolling shut the big doors of the shed. He almost thought the old man winked at him, as the doors closed.

Events of the night put Plummer, Darg and the cats from Jim Perrin's mind. A new arrival was expected all the neat little house in the suburbs.

The inspector was not easy in his mind when he went to work the next day. Plummer wearied him with his everlasting talk of thee cats. Twice he went to the public telephone on the quay to telephone home, rather than use the instrument in the office.

As he came down to the wharf on the second occasion a large cat carrying a kitten in his mouth trotted past him.

"Eh, Tom!' Perrin snapped his fingers, 'Where are you going? Old Darg's in the sheds."

The cat took no notice, of him. Jim Perrin frowned. It was not like old Tom to leave the sheds almost as soon as he arrived. He had never known the cat to do that before.

With a queer smile of uneasiness he turned and watched the animal. It held steadily on its course, carrying his little companion easily. Perrin watched it out of sight. He shrugged, and retraced his steps to the wharf. Plummer was hovering about the wharf close to the 'Freda'.

"You've lost Tom to-night.' Perrin laughed as he came up.

"He's on board with that damned cook!' The senior inspector growled.

"He's given you the slip.' Perrin laughed. I saw him up the road, making a beeline for home, and carrying the youngster in his mouth. Funny habit, that."

"What do you mean?" Plummer swung around angrily. "I saw him go on board that ship and I'll swear he never came off. I'll—"

But Perrin had ceased to take notice of his mate. A cat had appeared on the bulwark, carrying in its mouth a kitten. Sedately it jumped down on to the grating and made a leisurely way to the wharf. Then it went directly to Darg and deposited its burden at the old man's feet.

"There! What did I tell you?" The older man strode across to where the kitten lay and lifted it, stroking it gently. He dropped it after a moment and returned to his mate's side.

"No luck," he reported.

Perrin was perplexed. He could have sworn that he had seen Tom walking up the road towards Circular Quay—yet here was the cat lying at its master's feet assiduously washing itself. Close by the kitten was composing itself for a nap.

For some time the Inspector paced the roadway outside the sheds trying to fathom the problem. He could only put it aside with the theory that the cat he had seen did not belong to Darg, but that would suppose a coincidence that he could not believe.

Instinctively, he started up the road is the direction the cat hid taken. At the corner he ran late Bob Marshall, one of the water police.

"Looking for Darg's cat?" The man grinned. "Well, you wont have to go far."

"Why?" Perrin regarded his friend curiously.

"I saw you watching him as be crossed the road just now." Again the water-policeman smiled. "You just missed him. As you turned old Tom got in the way of a taxi."

"Kill it?"

"Sure thing! Killed both Tom and the young one he was carrying. Funny thing, Tom's jaws locked so fast that they couldn't them apart."

"What did do with them?" Perrin asked the question idly. He was now certain that he had been on the wrong track.

"You know that rubbish bin under the slope? Well, that 'John' off point chucked them there."

The Inspector went up the road and looked in the bin. The cat was there and so was the kitten. He could have sworn that the cat was Darg's cat—if he had not seen that cat but a few minutes before on the wharf. He lifted the kitten gingerly—and his body stiffened.

Carrying the dead cat by the tail, and the kitten in his pocket Perrin went back to the wharf. Old Darg was rolling into place the big doors when he arrived.

"Got bad news for you. Darg," Perrin called, bringing the dead cat from behind his back, "Got in the way of a taxi and—"

He dropped the limp body on the floor of the shed.

"Old Tom!" Darg bent over the animal. "That ain't old Tom." He straightened and looked around the shed then pointed. "There's old Tom over there by my box."

"And this wasn't the kitten he was carrying?"

Perrin fished in his pocket. He placed the kitten the ground and slit it with his penknife. Out of the stuffed skin came a number of small packets containing cocaine.

Not old Tom and not my kitten! Darg did not bat an eyelash

"Where'd 'you get 'em? "Somebody's been trying to smuggle, but not me."

And, from that statement the inspectors could not budge him. They knew—but they had no proof—that Darg and the Freda's cook were the smugglers. The knew, and Darg knew that they knew; but with old Tom sitting in darkened shed, calmly washing an erected leg, they had no evidence.

Yet, they had some consolation. They had the cocaine.


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.