Book 4, chapter 1 [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.]

The Yellow Wave

Book IV.

The wave breaks.

Chapter I.

A stormy petrel.

Leaving the brilliantly-lighted piazza of the Mitylene Palace, two men walked slowly down to the pier that stretched out into the dark waters of the Gulf. On either side of the broad rail-shod causeway electric lamps shone like giant fireflies, throwing their prismatic rays far out into the gloom and cresting the lazy ripples with coronets of silver.

Here and there groups of townsmen lounged or sat on the pier, either idly smoking or discussing local scandal and the latest cablegrams with that hopeless lassitude and utter ennui common to European-Asiatic life. Moving among them, Afghan hawkers and Chinese fruit and cigarette sellers supplied the local colour of an Eastern picture.

Standing on the approach, the two men looked out along the pier. Turning and waving his hand towards the wretched hovels that clustered round the warehouses, Zenski said in French:

‘The foreground is already of the East.’

‘So is the middle distance,’ replied Spero, as they walked past a mob of scarlet-turbaned hawkers.

‘With luck Leroy should be able to provide an admirable background before morning,’ sneered Zenski.

‘Yes, this is the twenty-fifth of September; if Jansen has made no mistake, the flotilla is due,’ said Spero in a low, anxious tone.

Peste, how could he mistake? — his message reads distinctly: “Both flotillas past all danger; should form junction at latitude 12°, longitude 140°; look out for me to-morrow night.”’

While they were speaking they neared the end of the pier, and, standing against the railing, looked silently out into the dark, moonless night. As they watched a light rose faintly out of the gloom.

‘Some fishermen,’ muttered Spero.

‘Not so, mon ami,’ returned Zenski, as the light grew rapidly brighter.

Then, as they waited, their eyes caught a phosphorescent gleam on either side of the advancing beacon.

‘It is Jansen,’ whispered Spero; and as he spoke the Professor’s yacht ran up beside the pier, and the man of science climbed up the steps and stood peering into their faces from behind his glasses.

Galvanized into some amount of interest by the arrival of a strange boat, the people on the pier began to crowd round the three men; but recognising that further pretence was useless, Zenski and Spero followed Jansen back into his cabin.

‘Well?’ exclaimed the Count, as they entered.

‘I have come direct from Leroy,’ replied Jansen; the wing which came round the north of New Guinea ran through Torres Strait safely, and I believe unseen.’

‘Thanks to electricity and slate-coloured paint,’ grinned Zenski.

‘At the point agreed on the two flotillas joined. Making allowance for the extra speed of my yacht, Leroy should be off Point Parker before daylight.’

‘Had they any trouble getting through?’ asked Spero.

‘None. As you know, Leroy had concentrated twenty thousand men at Port Arthur, with which, in conjunction with a powerful fleet, he was supposed to be about to operate against the Russian forces in maritime Manchuria, while Ching Tu was massing a formidable army to defend the Southern ports. A week before war was officially declared, the Russo-French fleets made a demonstration before Hong Kong, which practically drew off the British squadron. As soon as the coast was clear, the Chinese fleet shipped Leroy’s column and ran out to sea. A day or so later, the allied fleets having drawn the English squadron into the Gulf of Siam, Dromeroff, with ten thousand of Ching Tu’s picked Kalmuck cavalry, slipped out of the Southern ports. The massacre of the English and attack by Ching Tu on Hong Kong were to follow, but of these Leroy has no information.’

‘Then neither of the fleets met any opposition?’

‘None worth the name.’

‘The English squadron must have had its hands full,’ muttered Zenski.

‘Doubtless,’ retorted Jansen. ‘Still, you must not forget that our transports are built for speed; under equal conditions they can outpace the unwieldy English ironclads. In this case they have had a long start as well.’

Pardieu! the fates fight for us,’ laughed the Count. ‘Now, even if they do come, we can give them a warm reception from the batteries I am building for my good friend Sir Peter.’

‘Are they nearly completed?’

‘Yes; the guns are here ready for mounting, and our merchant prince is even now entertaining the distinguished engineer who is about to take over the work.’

‘Leroy should indeed be obliged,’ sneered Jansen; ‘not only do you build him batteries, but you provide him with a skilled officer to pass them.’

Ma foi! had we not better return?’ said Zenski. ‘Bourouskie may get drunk himself in trying to bring our gallant Colonel to a similar condition.’

‘He dare not,’ muttered Spero. ‘Still, we have much to do between now and daybreak. Do you come with us, Jansen?’

‘No, I have other work to do.’

‘Doubtless the cables are seen to?’ said Zenski.

‘All are cut except that from Noumea,’ replied the Professor. ‘I myself sent the last message from Port Darwin.’

‘What was its import, mon brave?’

‘War declared; be prepared for Russian or French attack on capitals.’

‘What chivalry!’ laughed Zenski. ‘You deserve hanging for your devotion to Sir Peter, Professor. Adieu; we will be ready to welcome Monsieur le Général and his Mongols.’

Kenneth Mackay, The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia, London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1895, pages 209-212

Speak Your Mind