Book 4, chapter 15 [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 XV.

‘Who are you, Philip?’.

Through Orloff’s veins the blood surged for a moment, then rushed back to his heart, while his hands trembled, not with the enervating ecstasy of desire, but because his whole body had become suddenly charged with subtle magnetic thrills.

Rising from beneath the grosser materialism which had crushed down his other and better self for years, the divine spirit of his one pure passion now came forth to greet its long-lost alter ego.

As he looked into the girl’s eyes, he became conscious of something gone from him only to be replaced by a purer quantity newly come, and, bending his head, Philip Orloff placed his lips reverently on those of the woman who lay in his arms.

Over the pallid whiteness of Heather’s face warm-tinted shadows waxed and waned. Then, in the supreme moment when the current of love’s twin forces became united by actual contact, both became conscious of a coming together of vital essences. For as in chemistry the particles of two bodies, impelled by the irresistible law of affinity, unite and blend, so is it in the human organism.

Women fair as Heather had moved with alluring reluctance across the stage of Philip Orloff’s life. A man in many things more noble than he had sued with passionate devotion for Heather’s love. But wanting each other, these two could be satisfied with nothing less.

Impelled by an attraction founded on the innermost chemical properties of their own beings, and proceeding from the same sources as the organic processes of life itself, this man and woman, formed by nature for the reproduction of life in its highest form, could no more unite with any foreign entity than nitrogen can with platinum — could no more remain apart now that circumstances had brought them together than oxygen and potassium.

Goethe expresses in a single word this essence of love. It is Wahlvermandtschaft, or elective affinity.

But of all this Philip Orloff was ignorant. He knew he loved Heather; her own words proved that she reciprocated his passion. Still, the question in his mind was, Will she be prepared, when she knows all, to hold fast not only to Philip Orloff, but also to his dual self, General Leroy, the leader of a host of demons, from which he, in the guise of his original being, has just rescued her?

In Heather’s mind a sense of restored possession dominated all else. Accustomed to view the coming of her hero from one standpoint only, she for the moment utterly failed to connect her lover with his surroundings. The words he had spoken to the Kalmuck were unintelligible to her, and the latter’s death, if it told anything, pointed to the fact that Orloff came in the character not only of a saviour, but also of an avenger.

Rising, Orloff lifted her to her feet. The Fort was now a mass of ruins, showing dimly out of the drifting clouds of smoke, while in the distance an occasional rifle-shot woke dull echoes. Through the riven palisades masses of Mongols poured, intent on plunder, but where the two stood all was silent. Realizing the nearness of their peril, the girl caught Orloff’s arm.

‘Let us go, Philip,’ said she; ‘these wretches will see us, and’ — glancing at the dead Kalmuck — ‘then even you will be powerless.’

‘There is nothing to fear,’ he began, and stopped. Dare he reveal himself? Not yet, he decided. ‘You are right, darling,’ he continued, in the tones of a man doubtful of his words. ‘You are knocked up, so I will put you on my horse, and we will get out of their sight.’

Lifting her on to the back of the charger, who had waited with trained intelligence beside his master, Orloff handed Heather the reins, and, pointing to a clump of scrub that rose about a hundred yards from where they stood, he walked on beside his horse. As they moved towards the cover neither spoke. In moments of extreme peril thought takes the place of speech. The fact that he was beside her was enough for Heather — at least for the present — while the falseness of his position made Orloff only too glad to avoid by silence the risk of an explanation which, inevitable as it was, he still feared to anticipate. As they rounded the corner of the scrub-belt, Orloff’ s quick eye fell on the body of a man lying under the meagre shadow. Taking hold of the bridle, he sought to turn his charger’s head, but Heather had already seen; and now, filled with apprehensions which each moment helped to develop into certainties, she slipped off her horse and ran towards the body.

Roused by her cry of recognition, the wounded man rolled over on his back. Already his eyes were dim, and sweat-drops, which gather when Death has his grip on men of strong vitality, hung about his forehead.

‘Father!’ cried the girl, dropping on her knees; ‘you are not wounded, you are only tired! Philip, help me to lift him, and he can ride in place of me.’

Orloff knew she was deceiving herself; still, he bent down and placed his arm under Cameron’s head.

‘I can’t see you, dearie,’ gasped the old man; ‘but it’s your voice. Who is with you, child?’

While he was speaking, Orloff drew a flask from his sabretache, and, raising the dying man, poured a mouthful of brandy down his throat.

‘It’s Philip — Philip Orloff, father,’ answered Heather. ‘Now will you come with us?’

Revived by the spirit, Cameron stared at the man who knelt beside him. Glazed though his vision had become, he saw that he was in uniform of some kind. Unable to distinguish it, Cameron, like his daughter, at once concluded that reinforcements from the South had arrived.

Deceived by her father’s manner, Heather began to feel some real hope.

‘Philip has saved me, father,’ she said caressingly. ‘Let us get you away before these murderers come back.’

‘I am past all that, darling,’ whispered Cameron huskily. Then, with sudden energy: ‘Go before the savages murder you; before they can reach me I will be past even their vengeance!’

Heedless of his commands, the girl knelt beside him, kissing his hot, clammy hands, and murmuring passionate words of love.

On the other side, Orloff, conscience-stung, still held up the wounded man’s head, and, in response to the latter’s gesture, again put the flask to the old man’s lips.

Then Cameron, rousing himself with a supreme effort of will, said:

‘Philip Orloff, I am going to give a charge into your hands. Heather has always loved you. You have killed a man, and so —— But let that pass, I have no time for explanation. The man I would have asked to guard her is gone — dead, for all I know. You have saved my darling’s life. Promise me before I die that you will be to her, in the terrible days which lie before you both, what I would have tried to be.’

Laying his hand on Heather’s shoulder, Orloff was silent for a moment, then he began in a broken voice:

‘Sir, I swear.’

‘I am content,’ gasped the old man; ‘your word is enough. Kiss me, child — I am going!’

Even as her mouth rested on his own, Cameron’s eyes grew fixed, one long shiver shook his limbs, a crimson tide stained Heather’s lips, and her father was dead.

With one common impulse both rose, and stood looking down on the dead man.

Then, walking to her side, Orloff took the girl in his arms. Resting her head on his shoulder with a gesture alike of sorrow for the father she had lost and trust in the love she had found, Heather sobbed with all the bitterness of one who has lost something which can never be exactly replaced, no matter how long the loser may search for its counterpart.

Filled with a strange dull wonder with all things, Orloff stared into the face of the man who had unwittingly handed the thing he loved best on earth into the keeping of his slayer’s leader.

Suddenly a sound of galloping hoofs recalled both to a sense of their surroundings. Turning her head, Heather saw a troop of Kalmucks racing towards them. With a gesture of fear she clung to Orloff. Then, with that supreme self-abnegation which makes certain women divine, she moved in front of both her father and her lover.

With a yell of triumph the Kalmucks rode straight at the pair.

‘We are lost, Philip!’ whispered Heather.

‘I may be, darling,’ he answered with terrible intenseness. Then, stepping past her, he held up his hand with an imperious gesture.

Without waiting for the word, the troop pulled their horses on their haunches, and, jumping from his reeking charger, their leader came towards Orloff.

Saluting, he said: ‘Pardon, Monsieur le Général.’

Struck by the effect of Philip’s presence, and now able to understand the officer’s words, Heather turned to her lover a face full of puzzled wonder not unmixed with doubt.

Face to face with the inevitable, Orloff determined to meet it alone.

‘You will ride round to the camp,’ said he, ‘and bring back a horse for this lady, also a stretcher. Allons!

Saluting, the officer again mounted, and, wheeling his troop to the right, galloped away.

‘What have you to do with these men, Philip?’ asked Heather, her mind now full of terrible possibilities.

‘I am not the man you once knew, and loved!’ he answered hoarsely.

‘Not Philip Orloff?’ she exclaimed, looking into his face, and now noting with a feeling akin to pity that it bore the impress of an act done years ago in her service. ‘Then who are you, Philip?’

For answer he looked into her eyes, took her hands, then dropped them, and said in a voice of bitter, yet proud self-contempt: ‘I am General Leroy, the leader of the Mongols.’

Lifting her hands as if to ward off a blow, the woman stepped back.

‘Hate me, kill me, if you would do your country a service!’ exclaimed Orloff, drawing a revolver from his belt and offering it to her; ‘but, for God’s sake! don’t look at me like that!’

For a moment it seemed as if she would take him at his word, for, glancing at her dead father, she took the offered weapon.

Standing in front of her, Orloff waited. Half raising the revolver, Heather looked on its shining barrel. Her father’s death, her friends’ slaughter, the ruin of her country — all alike cried out for vengeance; but a passion stronger than any one of these — ay, more powerful than all other human forces combined — rose to confront her first stern impulse, and, throwing the weapon on the ground, she exclaimed, ‘I dare not kill the man I love!’ and fell at his feet.

Kenneth Mackay, The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia, London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1895, pages 336-343

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