Book 3, chapter 6 [The Yellow Wave, by Kenneth Mackay, 1895]

[Editor: This is a chapter from The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia (1895) by Kenneth Mackay.]

Chapter VI.

Professor Heinrich Jansen.

Professor Jansen had been a well-known figure on the northern coasts of Australia for some months. He was both philosopher, naturalist, musician, and litterateur; but as he travelled en prince, and gave excellent whist and dinner parties on board his rakish, slate-coloured steam-yacht, his intellectual fads were forgiven. A poor man possessed of the Professor’s inquisitive, not to say prying, disposition would probably have been arrested as a spy. In his case, however, the eccentricity of genius was the name given to his investigating habits by the leading men who enjoyed his hospitalities. As he was apparently in no need of financial help, Sir Peter McLoskie had lately appointed him to draw up a report on Pearlshell and Bêche-le-mer, so that the Professor, apart from his standing as a man of means, now commanded an official recognition as well.

Through the medium of irreproachable cigars and unlimited whisky-and-seltzer, Jansen had made a bosom companion of Mr. Peter Smith, Post-Office Inspector for the Government of Queensland, and through that somewhat bibulous official possessed the run of all the local post-offices. The Professor’s knowledge of telegraphy was indeed remarkable, as he had proved on more than one occasion, when the local line-repairers and operators were nonplussed.

Though, as a Finlander, a subject of Russia, being a philosopher, the Professor looked with contempt alike on a Czar who risked explosion for the sake of power, and on the Nihilists who courted death in an attempt to overturn one tyrant only that another might be set up. So to his well-balanced mind the fairness of British rule appeared incontrovertible, particularly that part of it immediately presided over by Sir Peter McLoskie.

Being a man of artistic tastes and manner of life, the ornate splendour of the Levantine firm of Spero, Aloysius and Co. rather repelled him, while with Zenski, the great contractor, he professed to hold little in common.

Speaking of these commercial magnates, he was once heard to declare: ‘While trade is doubtless admirable, I hold the right to buy supplies and railway-tickets without fraternizing with their vendors.’ And the men who listened, all traders themselves, laughed loud and long at the distinguished visitor’s admirable logic. Of late the Professor had spent most of his time on the pearlshell ground near Thursday Island, but, as it happened, on the day after Hatten’s arrival at Isis Downs, he and Zenski met at one of the hotels in Normanton. During the progress of the table d’hôte meal Jansen and the Count took little notice of each other, but, nevertheless, about ten o’clock that night a visitor came on board the yacht, who, on being shown into the cabin, threw aside his slouched hat and cloak, and, slapping the Professor on the shoulder, remarked, ‘Well, what news, mon brave?

Regarded physically, Jansen hardly bore out the title. There was, in fact, nothing warlike about his rather stooped figure, while the face, covered with a straggling, ill-kept beard, and further hidden by a pair of omnipresent glasses, gave little promise of a martial spirit.

Lady admirers said he was so artistically negligent; men with no soul for genius dubbed him confoundedly dirty. The Professor himself remained impervious to all criticism. He candidly admitted that the one cold of his life was caused by his falling into the water; his appearance vouched for the fact that he had since avoided any such accident.

Rather wincing under his visitor’s touch, Jansen pointed to a chair, saying, as he pushed a box of cigars within reach:

‘You grow too English, Zenski But I am glad to see you; there is much to talk over.’

Lighting a cigar, the Count leant back lazily.

‘We are ready,’ said he. ‘Pardieu, I hope no hitch occurs. If it does, we will have a nice lot of horse-flesh and cattle on hand. Besides, I hear these co-operative canaille grow suspicious, and you know how that spreads.’

‘What matter; up North, at least, it will have no brains to feed on. We are among our own people,’ sneered Jansen.

‘You forget all we risk,’ retorted Zenski.

‘Not I; and, what is better, I can show you there is no risk. Leroy is ready, and, if all goes well, his fleet will be in the Gulf by the end of the month. I will see that you know to a day in ample time.’

‘How about the cables?’

‘That I will see to. Thanks to Monsieur Smith, I am in touch with all their system, and can tap where I require.’

‘Have operations commenced yet?’

‘They have. The Russian advance on India is an established fact by now. The Franco-Russian fleets have only to draw away what is left of the China squadron, and the road lies open.’

‘When are the cables to be cut?’

‘All but the one from New Caledonia will be seen to next week.’

‘How about the attack on Hong Kong?’

‘It is to be made simultaneously with the sailing of Leroy’s expedition.’

‘Don’t forget the overland line from Thursday Island.’

‘Never fear, my friend; it will be tapped.’

‘I wonder if they will swallow our cables via New Caledonia?’ grinned Zenski.

‘Poor devils! what choice have they?’ replied Jansen. ‘All other communications will be cut off; and, after all, we will only cable that which is likely to happen.’

‘Set them on the qui vive all round the Southern coasts; we must keep their forces scattered at any cost.’

‘The flying squadron now lying in Noumea will see to that; all you have to do is to land General Leroy and his savages in the centre of Queensland, mon Zenski,’ chuckled the Professor, as his companion rose.

Kenneth Mackay, The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia, London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1895, pages 184-188

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