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AIDAN DE BRUNE
(WRITING AS "A.D.B.")

WILES OF A HEATHEN CHINEE
CUSTOMS OFFICER INNOCENTLY SMUGGLES OPIUM

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First published in The World's News, Sydney, Australia, 2 Sep 1931

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2021
Version Date: 2021-04-11
Produced by Terry Walker, Colin Choat and Roy Glashan

All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright

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BIBLIOGRAPHIC NOTE

In 1931 Aidan de Brune wrote a series of stories for The World's News, Sydney, featuring an Australian Customs inspector by the name of Joe Porter.

The stories were given headline-style titles and sub-titles and printed with illustrated headpieces. Some included an in-text illustration. The byline under which the stories appeared was "A.D.B." The titles and publication dates were:

• Proof of the Pudding: The Dope in the Duff (8 Jul 1931)
• The Wedding Cake: Clever Drug-Running Ruse (12 Aug 1931)
• Wiles of a Heathen Chinee: Customs Officer Innocently Smuggles Opium (2 Sep 1931)
• Beautiful Girl Victimised: Cocaine Smuggler's Ruse (23 Sep 1931)
• The Elusive Mr. Chon: Smart Smuggling Scheme (4 Nov 1931)

The RGL editions of the Joe Porter stories were built from files found in the digital newspaper archive of the National Library of Australia. Thanks and credit go to the Australian bibliophile Terry Walker for locating these stories and making them available for publication in RGL.

—Roy Glashan, 7 April 2021



Illustration


CHO HUN was a mystery, even to the white men who lived or had business in the vicinity of Colin Street. The signs on his shop indicated that he was "merchant and importer." His windows displayed a quaint collection of goods of eastern origin. His shop was surrounded by shelves carrying parcels mysteriously wrapped. On the counters and floor were bales and cases, most of them unopened.

The doors of the store were opened at seven in the morning, and remained open until late at night. During those hours Cho Hun sat on his divan at the rear of the shop, clad in rusty black Chinese robes, his hands and eyes carefully veiled. The work of the shop—the attendance on customers—fell to the lot of the one assistant, Su Mah, a youth of nondescript, weedy appearance. In the history of Chinatown, Cho Hun had never been known to wait on a customer, or take any open interest in the business.

Yet, through the long hours of the day, not one incident happening in the shop escaped those heavily veiled eyes; not one happening but was recorded on the razor-keen brain of the old, old man.

Cho Hun was reputed wealthy. How the rumor arose no one could tell. White men who had questioned Chinese on the subject had been met with non-committal answers. No Chinaman confesses to personal wealth—or that any compatriot was other than a poor struggling trader.

Inspector Joe Porter mentioned Cho Hun while in conversation with Sergeant Westerham, of the Drug Squad, one day. The Customs officer had visited Chinatown during the previous afternoon. He had peered into the dim, mysteriously smelling shops; he had watched the impassive yellow men moving about their businesses. He had become curious. In search of information he had refreshed himself at a semi-white restaurant in the quarter. The proprietor, scenting ignorance, and always ready to encourage a "mug," had been very informative.

Cho Hun had come into the conversation, and proved a fruitful subject. Porter heard tales of the man's reputed wealth—and of his widespread interest in the gardens surrounding Sydney that provide more than a fair proportion of the housewives' daily vegetables. The restaurant keeper had whispered of drug smuggling—and far, far worse things.

Environment is everything. Had those tales been brought to Joe Porter while he was engaged in his daily business on Sydney wharf side he would have scoffed, openly and loudly. Whispered in Chinatown, they assumed a strange importance. Leaving his informant, the Inspector strolled again past the low-ceilinged, dimly-lit shop; peering doubtfully in. How could the owner of that ramshackle, dusty business be a man of wealth?

Except through one source. In the Inspector's mind opium and China were inexplicably mingled. Always he devoted particular care to Chinese ships and coolie seamen. With glee he would drag to light the small opium hoards of the yellow men.

Not that the Inspector was without human sympathies. Really he was a kind, warm-hearted man. Often he turned a very blind eye on small infringements of the Customs' rules and regulations. Only with the illegal drugs did he lose all sense of proportion. Their hunting was almost his mania.

Sergeant Westerham laughed and shrugged when Porter placed before him his suspicions regarding Cho Hun. Yet, from long experience, he held silent when Porter persisted. The "Drug Squad" and Customs Department worked, mainly, in harmony—yet there was a certain jealousy. The Sergeant considered that Porter's work lay along the waterfront and on the harbor. His snooping about Chinatown was an infringement of the "Drug Squad's" territory. He heard all the Inspector had to say; and mentally decided on a careful watch. Cho Hun would always bear watching—but if the wily old Chinaman taught Porter the well-merited lesson of minding his own business, then the Sergeant would not interfere—too early.

A rumor swept through Chinatown that certain eastern-trading vessels lately arriving in Sydney Harbor had brought, as secret cargo, vast stores of opium. In time these rumors reached the Customs House. Joe Porter went on the warpath. He obtained certain, rather vague, confirmation of the rumors—and sought his chiefs. How he convinced them is not known; but he received freedom from his ordinary duties and a roving commission to trace down the illegal importation. Of facts he had only one. The Chinese seamen and coolies had, for them, vast sums of wealth to spend on the subtle delights of Chinatown.

The rumors gathered and grew, as rumors do. Inspector Porter wore an air of secrecy and great importance. He spent much of his time wandering about Colin Street and the immediate neighborhood. He was specially inquisitive regarding Cho Hun's store.

He found little evidence to support his doubts against the Chinese storekeeper. Cho Hun continued to sit, like the graven presentment of one of his gods, at the end of the shop. Su Mah continued to use vigorously the very ineffective bass-broom, and serve the few customers who sought goods. Porter's investigations made him conspicuous in a neighborhood where suspicion is very tender. In his office at police headquarters Sergeant Westerham received daily reports of the Customs officer's movements—and sometimes swore into his heavy moustache.

"Porter'll come to a bad end," prophesied Westerham one day, as he and Detective Malcolm strolled past Cho Hun's shop. "Why th' hell he's poking his nose into things down here I can't understand."

"Can't you?" the younger man answered gloomily. He was always gloomy when Joe Porter came up for discussion. "If you 'ad a nose like his... He couldn't keep it out of other people's business if he tried!"

The two men were passing through Colin Street, towards George Street. A few seconds and Malcolm questioned:

"What made you say that?"

"Joe's in Cho Hun's shop, in close confab with the old Chink. What for?"

Without a word Malcolm retraced his steps. He rejoined his companion, a deep frown on his face.

"What's he after?" he asked inconsequently.

The Sergeant shrugged. "Think's he's putting one over on us," he laughed. "He's a couple of doors out, as it is."

Both men glanced back at the facade of a shop close by. For many months they had been suspicious regarding Ah Sun. At that time his shop was under close observation, night and day. No one—nothing—entering or leaving, but came under close police scrutiny.

Yet, in spite of police doubts, Joe Porter returned home that evening well satisfied with his day. For quite a time he had hung about Cho Hun's shop. He had made a few purchases in it of small objects he recognised, but had no great appreciation for. He had refused, abruptly, the many Eastern delicacies Su Mah continually brought under his notice. He shuddered as he surveyed them. They looked too akin to the traditional French delicacies—snails and frogs—but withered and dried. Yet one day he made a plunge. He purchased, extensively, of a delicacy that Su Mah enthusiastically recommended—a delicacy described as "all one time velly good fellel." The next day Cho Hun had broken his long silence. He had come to meet Porter, his thin, high-pitched, sing-song voice rising above the noises that floated in from the street.

The Inspector had nobly responded to the Chinaman's advances. Understanding that his customer had no knowledge of Cantonese, Cho Hun changed to low voiced, courteous, flawless English. He told Porter of many strange things regarding the delicacies he sold.

The Chinaman told the Inspector of the rumors of Chinatown—of the whisper that Sergeant Westerham believed that vast stores of opium had lately come into the district. He told the Customs officer that the police officer was carefully watching Ah Sun, his customers, and premises. Very regretfully Cho Hun allowed Porter to understand that he believed his neighbor to deal in the insidious "smoke."

From that time the friendship between the old Chinaman and the Inspector grew apace. Cho Hun confided in his new white friend; he asked his advice on matters pertaining to his business—and particularly regarding his very large interests in market gardens. Joe Porter gathered that Cho Hun was not satisfied with the returns he was receiving, but that he was too old and weak to inquire into matters personally. Su Mah was but a youth, of little understanding and less experience. The conversation developed over little cups of tea, brewed and drunk in Chinese fashion. Almost without surprise the Inspector found himself committed to an inquiry into conditions and workings of the market gardens—a subject on which he was abysmally ignorant.

In the meantime Sergeant Westerham had received confirmation of the secret store of opium in Chinatown. He drew tighter the cordon he had established around Colin Street, and particularly Ah Sun's shop. For the moment things stood at a stalemate. The Chinese could not shift the valuable consignment; in spite of frequent raids Westerham could not discover it.

The next day Porter again visited Cho Hun. Before the shop stood a handsome sedan car, a Chinese chauffeur at the wheel. Cho Hun gravely explained that the car was for the convenience of his "white father," whose profound advice would be received with abject humility. With the aid of a stick and Su Mah's arm Cho Hun escorted his white friend to the waiting car. There he presented him with his credentials—a large tablet engrossed with Chinese characters.

Joe Porter enjoyed his visit of inspection—and especially the importance of the motor car and the Chinese chauffeur. He came back from the tour aghast and pained. The conditions at the garden were abnormal—the wages utterly inadequate—the housing and board awful. Joe Porter was a staunch unionist, and these things gravely hurt him. Another incident pained him. A motor-cycle "John" had deliberately searched his car while he had been on a tour of the gardens.

Cho Hun received the Inspector's report with gratifying humility. He would be favored if his "white father" would continue the good work. All should be as he directed—his reforms would be immediately adopted. Would the august Inspector allow the miserable, inadequate car to convey him to his mansion of bliss. Su Mah and the chauffeur carried quite a number of small parcels to the car.

These were left at the Porter residence—to Mrs. Porter's mingled delight and perplexity.

The next morning, early, the motor car called for Porter. A message from Cho Hun indicated that he could not allow his friend and benefactor to walk to his wretched, miserable, dirty shop. Joe Porter swelled, almost visibly. He had a glorious day; only marred by the fact that the inquisitive motor-cycle "John" again searched the car during his absence. That could not be tolerated!

He took occasion to meet Sergeant Westerham the next day. A sharp exchange of opinions occurred. Westerham scoffed at "Joseph Porter, business expert." He dared to suggest that the "Chow" was using him. In lofty supremacy the Inspector asked if the police officer thought any Chinaman could use him to distribute illegal drugs. Bluntly, Westerham stated that he believed a child in arms could use his quondam friend for any and all purposes. They parted in unfriendly moods.

Yet much that the Sergeant had spoken stuck in Porter's thoughts. That day he searched the car himself. He searched the huts at several gardens. He searched until he felt ashamed under the inscrutable eyes of the Chinese chauffeur.

Days passed. Friends of Cho Hun sought Porter's advice. They were very deferential—eloquent with material gratitude. Mrs. Porter became a warm pro-Cho Hunite. Among her friends she was gaining a big reputation for uncommon and palatable delicacies at her afternoon teas. The Inspector strode with a new importance. He felt that he held a unique and high position in Chinatown.

And—Sergeant Westerham and his men drew tighter the cordon they had thrown around Colin Street and the neighborhood. Raids and searches were continuous. Yet, never even the shadow of a "pipe", rewarded their efforts. Almost it seemed as if Chinatown had reformed from the insidious "dream-smoke."

Suddenly came one of those rumors that sweep, inexplicably, through Asiatic colonies. Very definitely it was stated that the huge store of "mud" had been distributed. The smugglers had accomplished their task—and Chinatown suddenly showed signs of wealth.

Sergeant Westerham tried to confirm the rumors. He obtained sufficient to believe that he had once more been baffled. For that he blamed Inspector Porter.

The Customs officer heard the rumor—and from another source—Sergeant Westerham's conclusions. He grew furious. Now all his work was destroyed. If the police had left him alone, he, unaided, would have brought the investigations to success.

At this point intruded a very minor official of the Customs Department. He expressed a doubt at a private investigation instituted by one of the highest officials. The very minor official questioned, the genuineness of the "gifts" Su Mah, the chauffeur, and Cho Hun's friends had lifted into the motor car. He had suggested that not all the parcels had been taken out of the car at the door of the Porter mansion. He had suggested that the chauffeur had delivered certain of these parcels at other addresses on his way home.

The Inspector loudly scouted such suggestions. The official was a very, very minor one—with absolutely no experience. Cho Him was a high and influential Chinaman with a large horror of the "dope." Inspector Porter was an experienced and keen officer. No one could put such a double-cross... etc... etc. very much ad libitum...

Yet the friendship between Joe Porter and Cho Hun waned. The Chinaman "forgot" to seek the advice of his white friend. Always he was pleased to see him—to entertain him with the little steaming cups of fragrant tea. But—he was now a very, old man—so old that even the delightful conversation of his "white father" exhausted him.

The Customs offices were not comfortable, those days, and Joe Porter sought solace on the wharves. Yet even here the story spread. Men openly asked if all the parcels had been delivered at the Porter home; had not certain parcels, of extremely doubtful contents, found their way to other—also doubtful—addresses.

What could Inspector Joe Porter do or say? In his youth he had been taught that "one should not look a gift-horse too closely in the mouth."


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.