Book 4, chapter 3 [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 III.

Count Zenski welcomes General Leroy.

Some revellers staggering through the deserted streets caught gleams of fire moving over the surface of the sea. In the dull, gray light it seemed to their uncertain eyes that constellations of suns were rising out of the depths, but the watchers on the roof of the Mitylene Palace saw in the advancing flashes the lightning that presages storm and death.

Tossing his cigar over the parapet, Zenski rose.

‘Come, mes amis,’ said he gaily, ‘our distinguished visitors are here; let us live up to Australian tradition, and give them welcome.’

As he spoke, his two companions walked to his side, Spero calm and anxious, Bourouskie trembling with a half-fearful unrest.

‘God help us if these savages get out of hand!’ the latter muttered.

Pardieu!’ sneered Zenski, ‘we are between the devil and the deep sea if they do; but fear not, Leroy is an admirable wild-beast tamer.’

Just then a stream of fire rushed through the gloom, followed by the dull boom of a cannon. Reverberating over the water, it woke the echoes with its dull thunder.

‘Leroy’s signal!’ exclaimed the Count. ‘Come, the landing has begun.’

As the three men hurried towards the pier, a motley and excited mass began to fill the streets and pour down towards the water. Here and there a white, scared face stood out for a moment among the dusky, gesticulating crowd, then disappeared for ever.

Surrounded by a bodyguard, the Russians at last reached the pier. As they did so, the sun, rising above the horizon, shot flaming rays skyward and seaward, and there, standing out against the blazing background, floated the Chinese fleet, the Dragon standard waving from each peak. Already rafts packed with men began to move shoreward, and in answer to the Mongols, the crowds who lined the bay sent up a dread, inhuman yell.

Staggering through the press, a half-drunken planter pushed aside a powerful coolie with an impatient curse. Suddenly drawing his knife, the Chinaman drove it into his assailant’s chest. As the man fell back, a stream of blood spurted out of the wound into the face of his murderer, and, moved by one common impulse of slaughter, the hybrid, downtrodden slaves became brutal avengers.

Rushing back into the streets, they began to kill with the indiscriminate hate of wild beasts, and, drunk with slaughter, dared to stain with their bloody feet the piazza of the Mitylene Palace. On its marble pavement stood three machine guns, trained to sweep the approaches, backed up by a detachment of heavily-armed Kalmucks. Zenski knew his men, and had instructed Spero to collect all the townsfolk worth saving over-night, and also to get up the guns, and provide a sufficient force to hold the palace against possible assault. Awed by the armed force, the mob hesitated for a moment, then, impelled by the demon of greed, rushed on. Waiting until the compact mass was within fifteen paces of the muzzles, the officer gave the word. No sound drowned the coolies’ wild yells, no smoke hid their outstretched bloody knives; but when the watchers on the roof again turned their fearful eyes down on the square, it was littered with the dead and dying.

Terrified by the voiceless reaper, the mob rolled back into the narrow streets, uttering fierce cries of rage, while the Kalmucks, rushing from behind the guns, bayoneted with wanton devilry the wounded wretches writhing on the slippery pavement.

Recognising that defence was impossible, many of the inhabitants had fled at the first alarm; but so sudden was it all, that the majority opened their eyes only to gaze into the faces of devils mad with lust and carnage, and sworn to offer up womanly purity, prattling babyhood and helpless age on the altar of a blind, unreasoning revenge.

While these scenes were being enacted in the streets and houses of Point Parker, a launch left the side of the Admiral’s ship, and, steaming rapidly through the heavily-laden rafts, approached the pier. Sheltered by a silken canopy sat Leroy, dressed in the magnificent costume of a military mandarin of the highest class. Round him stood his staff, all, like himself, soldiers of fortune ready to stake their lives against the prizes of the game of war. On the right of the General sat Commissioner Wang, a mandarin of the first grade, and one deep in the confidence of the Marquis Ching Tu. Dressed in a yellow silk coat heavily bordered with fur, and with a chain of priceless pearls hanging over his breast, the Commissioner rivalled Leroy in the splendour of his costume. From under his red-buttoned hat looked a face stolid as that of a sphinx, save for the scarce veiled cunning that lurked in his oblique, half-closed eyes.

Ostensibly Leroy’s civil colleague, Wang was in reality a spy sent to watch over Ching Tu’s interest. From the first the General had fathomed his mission, but, while fully meaning to blow his brains out the first time he dared to interfere with his plans, he had decided to pay all due respect to Wang while he remained passive.

The infantry, forming with machine-like precision as they landed, now stood drawn up under their different standards ready to salute the commander-in-chief.

As Leroy’s barge reached the stairs, the guns on the cruisers rang out their dread applause, and the warriors on the rafts and transports took up the fierce paean.

Startled by the thunder of the artillery, the coolies in the distant streets paused in their work of rapine, and the fugitives struggling in the mangrove-swamps forced their way with nerveless hands deeper into their dark, noisome depths.

Obedient to Redski’s command, the troops already formed presented arms, and at a sign from their officer the Kalmucks watching from the roof of the Mitylene Palace ran up the Dragon standard as, followed by his staff, and greeted alike with shouts of triumph and shrill cries of despair, General Leroy sprang up the steps and stood on the pier.

Stepping forward, Zenski held out his hand:

‘Welcome, mon Général,’ said he gaily, adding, too low for those behind to hear: ‘Welcome home once more, Philip.’

At the words Leroy started, and a dark flush tinged his cheek; but, recovering himself, he grasped the Count’s outstretched hand heartily.

‘Thanks, Count. Allow me to present you to my colleague, his Highness Commissioner Wang.’

Then, turning to Redski, his chief of staff, he asked if the railway-station, public buildings and batteries were occupied.

‘All has been attended to, General,’ replied the officer.

‘Signal the transports with the artillery and staff horses to come alongside the pier, and see that the artillery and stores lying in the warehouses are transported to the railway-station at once. The battalion for Charleville must leave within an hour.’

Saluting, Redski stepped back.

‘How about the transport trains, Count?’ asked Leroy.

‘Four can be ready at five minutes’ notice.’

‘Good! Let platforms mounted with automatic guns be attached to the front of each engine.’

‘They are prepared,’ interrupted Zenski.

‘How about the horses?’

‘Five hundred are here for shipment,’ grinned the Count. ‘Doubtless, however, you will take the lot. Others are ready along the line.’

‘Let the squadrons who have horses be mounted as soon as the chargers are disembarked,’ ordered Leroy, ‘and with them round up these coolie dogs I see prowling about.’

‘Yes, sire,’ replied a squat Kalmuck cavalry officer.

‘Put them to work on the batteries, and shoot down any hound you catch with blood on him,’ exclaimed Leroy sternly.

Pardieu! General, you will have no workmen left,’ sneered Zenski.

‘Ah, I am right,’ said Leroy; ‘these scoundrels have broken loose already.’

Peste! what did you expect?’ retorted the Count with a shrug; ‘has Asiatic war so changed since Scobeleff’s campaign?’

‘I will have no massacre of women,’ replied Leroy, ‘and I will hang any man who either allows or takes part in such barbarity. These are my wishes; see that they are obeyed.’

Glancing at his staff so fiercely that the incredulous smile faded away on their lips, Leroy turned on his heel. ‘I will expect your report, Redski, in two hours at the Mitylene Palace,’ he said. ‘Now, Zenski, I am at your service.’

Stepping into a carriage that was waiting, the party drove off.

The General has grown tender-hearted suddenly,’ muttered one officer to another.

‘Bah!’ laughed his comrade; ‘if he carries out his orders he will shoot more of us than the enemy. Believe me, he will soon learn neither to hear nor to see; our tigers are tireless killers.’

‘But bad discriminators,’ grinned the first speaker.

Kenneth Mackay, The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia, London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1895, pages 222-228

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