[Editor: This is a chapter from The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia (1895) by Kenneth Mackay.]
Count Zenski and Philip Orloff.
Punctual to time, Colonel Redski rode up to the Mitylene Palace.
In the streets, the shrieks of women and the despairing curses of men had given place to the measured tramp of feet and the dull rumble of wheels. The masters of yesterday were dead, or in full flight, and McLoskie’s cheap alien labourers were now at work on the batteries, or engaged in transferring baggage and warlike stores from the wharves and warehouses to the Mongol camp. In the yards built to receive drafts of remounts prior to shipment to the East, the Kalmuck cavalrymen were already handling the chargers which were to bear them on their march to the South, while the three squadrons who had brought their horses were patrolling the streets and driving cattle into the camp.
Pulling up among a group of orderlies who were holding staff-officers’ chargers, Redski dismounted, and, throwing his reins to the Kalmuck who accompanied him, ran up the steps and entered. Pushing his way through the crowd who filled the reception-room, Redski, after a moment’s parley with the sentry, entered Spero’s cabinet.
At a table covered with papers sat three officers writing, while, walking up and down the room, Leroy, now dressed in uniform, dictated orders with practical speed and conciseness. Looking up as his chief-of-staff entered, the General said sharply: ‘You are punctual, Redski.’
‘Your orders were that I was to be here within two hours, General,’ replied the Colonel simply.
‘Good! And your report?’
‘Major Hoffman, with a battalion of infantry, two machine batteries, and a squadron of dismounted cavalry, has started for Charleville. Trains following will drop troops of cavalry at all stations where horses are collected, and these, with automatic guns mounted on trucks and propelled by engines, are instructed to hold communication clear between Charleville and our base.’
‘The line must be held at all costs,’ muttered Leroy, glancing at a map. ‘Hoffman can’t hold Charleville long without reinforcements.’
‘Nearly all the workmen are aliens, and they will turn on their masters as they did here,’ replied Redski confidently.
‘Admitted; still, help will come from the direction of Brisbane.’
‘If Dromeroff has as little trouble as we have had, a part of his force should be able to form a junction with us at Cloncurry to-morrow.’
‘True, and from what Zenski says, he can’t possibly fail. Keep pouring men into Charleville as fast as the train service will allow,’ said Leroy. ‘I will leave for Cloncurry to-morrow.’
Bowing, Colonel Redski retired as the chief of the Commissariat Department entered.
‘Well?’ demanded Leroy.
‘Everything is as Count Zenski promised,’ replied the officer. ‘Cattle are plentiful, and I have organized an admirable camp service from the coolies and other scum.’
‘Are they obedient?’
‘Most,’ grinned the Commissary-General. ‘I had occasion to shoot a few, and while I regret the waste of powder, I have to report that the effect has been excellent.’
All day long the work of disembarkation went on, and so perfect had been the preparations of Zenski and his colleagues, that at nightfall the Mongols were encamped beyond the town, ready on the morrow for a forward movement. While the streets still echoed to the tramp of hostile feet, the dining-hall of the Mitylene Palace was filled with guests, but to-night Mammon had given place to Mars. The smug and peaceful apostles of wealth had gone, and in their stead sat the directors of a destructive force soon to sweep away for ever their boasted thrift and hoarded capital. McLoskie, their great magician, had waved his wand, and, in response, land-grant railways and dusky slaves had risen to fill his followers’ coffers and swell their dividends. Heedless of the disappearance of their race before the spread of a helot population, the votaries of capital seized with insatiable greed acre after acre, never reckoning who should defend their heritage did the spoiler come. Blinded with the conceit of riches, the plutocracy said in their hearts: ‘Soul, thou hast much corn laid up for many years; eat, drink, and be merry.’ But an outraged God woke suddenly, and made answer: ‘Thou fool! this night thy soul shall be required of thee.’
The firm of Spero, Aloysius and Co. were banqueting General Leroy and his colleague, Commissioner Wang. In place of the sombre black of commerce, glittering uniforms reflected the glow of the lamps, and echoes of war filled an atmosphere long saturated with the dull jargon of trade.
When the dinner was over, leaving Spero and his partner to escort Wang to his apartments, Leroy and Zenski turned into the cabinet where so many schemes had been matured.
‘The compact made on board the Genoa has been fulfilled at last, Philip,’ said the older man, offering his case.
Taking it, Philip Orloff carefully chose a cigar, and lit it before he spoke. When he did, there was a certain bitter ring in his voice as he replied:
‘I never dreamt that it was to be kept under such conditions.’
‘What matter? the object is the same.’
‘It is the means I dislike. These men are savages.’
‘Russian or Mongol, it is all the same, mon ami,’ retorted Zenski. ‘Is it not better to be the commander of a Chinese army than a brigade-major in a Russian? If you win, the ball is at your feet; you can be what you make yourself.’
‘You forget that I have a colleague, or, to be frank with you, a spy, in Commissioner Wang; I am to take the risk, the Marquis Ching Tu the glory, of this enterprise.’
‘If you are fool enough to allow it, mon brave,’ laughed Zenski. ‘But that I know you are not.’
‘Not if I can prevent it, I admit,’ replied Orloff.
Well knowing that when Zenski smuggled him on board a Russian warship in the harbour of Colombo he saved his neck from the hangman, Philip had always retained a strong friendship for the old diplomatist. The fact that in return for his services Zenski had demanded the betrayal of his country had long since faded from Orloff’s memory; for though born in Australia, he was in reality a Russian. Thanks to Zenski’s influence, he had received nothing but kindness from the General into whose service he had been admitted after his escape. Fortunately for Orloff, his new commander was a man quick to discern the stuff of which good leaders are made, and so Philip’s future had not been marred by want of opportunity. Speaking their language, and full of the same blood as the men among whom he had found a refuge, it would have been strange if Orloff had not become one of them. This was what had really taken place, and now in all things save place of birth Philip Orloff was a subject of the Czar.
Thanks to the outbreak of hostilities between China and Japan over the Corean difficulty, Orloff had an opportunity for seeing active service within a few months of his escape from the Genoa. For when in their extremity the Chinese authorities were forced to call in the aid of European soldiers of fortune to reorganize their military system, the Russian General under whose command Orloff found himself promptly picked out the young Australian as the man for the hour.
So it happened that Philip offered his services to the Mongol Emperor, ostensibly as an American freelance, but in reality as a servant of the Czar, free to fight for China so long as the Dragon throne wanted his sword, but, at the same time, sworn never to forget that Russian interests must take precedence of all others, and that his first duty was to carry on that subtle Russianizing process by which his leaders hoped yet to permeate even the impassive Mongolians.
During both the war and internal rebellion, Orloff did such good service for his new masters that for the past three years he had held the highest military position in China possible of attainment by an alien.
Still, while given up to ambition, and clearly realizing the splendid possibilities which lay ahead of his present adventure, he felt more and more that he would willingly surrender his chances to know that the army which lay outside the town fought under the Eagle standard. Savage as the Russian soldiery were, they were not all barbarians, and Orloff’s soul revolted at the thought of the butcheries which he knew must accompany the march of these Mongol invaders.
While afar off he had stilled his conscience by the thought that it was, after all, for the glory of the Czar. Now that he stood once more on the land that had given him birth, and saw in the rapine of the morning a pretaste of the scourge he was letting loose, a strange feeling of kinship awoke in him and filled his soul with shame. Crushing it back, he again called ambition to his aid, and now with a certain feeling of relief he began in a guarded fashion to discuss possibilities with his old friend. Personally Zenski was both ready and willing to fall in with his plans, for, as he reasoned with himself, he was far more likely to reap rewards under Orloff’s rule than under that of a Chinaman, who, judging from his spy, was just as likely to behead his tools when done with as not.
Far into the night the two men talked, for, apart from his own personal designs, Leroy had much to question the Count upon. As regards his enterprise, Zenski’s report was most favourable. Leroy’s own line of march until he reached Charleville could not, according to the Count, be seriously opposed, and, when Dromeroff had sacked Normanton, there was nothing to stay his advance until he reached the high stony tableland at the head of the Flinders Valley.
‘Where are we to find the enemy, Zenski?’ laughed Leroy.
‘Pardieu! you will come to him in due time,’ grinned Zenski. ‘And Dromeroff may have brushes after he leaves Hughenden; but, after all, the real fighting must take place at Charleville or beyond.’
‘Not before?’ queried Leroy.
‘No; you cannot call this an enemy’s country,’ replied the Count, pointing to the map. ‘Thanks to McLoskie’s policy, there are no settlers left for at least two hundred miles. Colonization has ceased, mon ami. This country is either in our hands or held by Melbourne and London corporations. Both classes of property are worked on the tributary system through labour contractors in Macao and Hong Kong. Cheap labour grew too popular for McLoskie’s promise to be kept, that aliens were only to be used for fieldwork on the plantations, and now the sweepings of Chinese prisons are brought up wholesale, landed at the Gulf, and sent to their destinations under Kalmuck overseers.’
‘The people would not have stood it in my time!’ exclaimed Leroy.
‘As there is no white population, and no press except our own, there is no fuss,’ replied Zenski. ‘Besides, the bosses and managers know how to keep things quiet in their own way.’
‘They have given themselves bound into my hand!’ exclaimed the General exultantly.
‘You have but to advance, mon brave,’ chuckled Zenski. ‘The railway-lines are open, and the few officials and managers who wait for you can easily be disposed of. Our Intelligence Department, as your Commissary-General informed you, has arranged for the wants of the imperial forces, and horses and cattle are ready mustered all along both lines of railway.’
As Zenski finished speaking, there was a pause. Instinctively the Count knew what was in his companion’s mind; in fact, he had been waiting all the evening for the question which Leroy appeared to hesitate to put.
Rising at last, the General leant his hand on the mantelshelf.
‘Where is Heather Cameron?’ he said slowly.
‘At Isis Downs.’
‘Ah, it will be in our line of march.’
‘Hardly; still, the cavalry are sure to loot it,’ replied Zenski. ‘But doubtless the Camerons will seek refuge in Fort Mallarraway.’
‘Seek death, you mean!’ exclaimed Leroy. ‘Zenski, they must never be allowed to get there, or God help them.’
‘God help them if they do not!’ retorted the Count.
For a little the General stood thinking. In all the years that had passed, he had never forgotten the love for which he had risked so much, for though he had worshipped at the shrine of ambition, he had admitted no mistress to find a shelter in his breast in the name of love. In the days that followed his escape he had decided, with the egotism of a strong-willed man, to put this fair picture far from him. Between Heather and his mental sight a veil of blood arose, rendering the vision of his lost love shadowy and indistinct, for, justify himself how he would, he felt that Harden’s death had raised up a barrier between him and his heart’s idol. Arguing thus, he had decided that, even could he return acquitted in the eyes of men, he yet could never dare to dim the whiteness of Heather’s life with a companionship such as his. For a time Orloff held to his determination, aided by the excitements of escape and the manifold promptings of military ambition; but such aids are of little avail when the object of a man’s affection remains pure in his own eyes. To a man betrayed, ambition has before to-day become a paramount passion; to Orloff it grew daily less effective, just as a powerful specific loses its potency before the advance of an incurable disease. Marching over desert steppes, or watching in the face of a wakeful enemy, the memory of Heather never left him, and at last the very force with which he had sought to kill his passion suggested the means by which he might again make of it a living reality. A soldier’s life under semi-barbaric conditions had gradually produced a mental deterioration in Orloff. War at its best is a return to primeval conditions, and so its disciples insensibly grow to regard all things from a less exalted standard than other men. Through Zenski Orloff learned that Heather was still unmarried. Knowing what he did, this would once have appeared only the inevitable condition of a woman such as he held Heather to be, but now it came to him clothed with a subtle significance. She still loved and was waiting for him. Subject to be hanged for murder, even although his act had been that of a judge, he could never hope to meet her as Philip Orloff; but as General Leroy what boundless possibilities might he not offer at the feet of his queen! So, by a strange freak of fate, Heather’s influence became the chief propelling force which urged Philip Orloff to undertake the conquest of his and her native land. Rousing himself from his reverie, Leroy stepped to the table and began to look over the map that lay on it.
‘How far is Isis Downs from Cloncurry?’ he asked.
‘About two hundred miles.’
‘Why the devil didn’t you get Cameron to take his daughter South?’ exclaimed the General.
‘I am not his keeper,’ retorted Zenski. ‘And even so, I thought you wanted her in your own hands.’
‘To save her, yes — and now it must be done. I will start a troop under an officer I can trust to secure them before they get into that cursed fort; well-mounted men should be able to reach Isis Downs from Cloncurry in twenty-four hours.’
‘Possibly,’ assented Zenski. Then, remembering that Hatten had called him a spy, a title to which the Count strongly objected, and further anxious, if possible, to wean Leroy from a pursuit which he felt was full of possible dangers to the expedition, he added: ‘You may rest easy with regard to Miss Cameron, for, if I mistake not, she will be well cared for.’
‘What can her father do if these savages come on them?’
‘Little, I admit; but her cavalier servente is not wanting in resource.’
‘What do you mean?’ exclaimed Leroy in a low, fierce voice. ‘By God! be careful, Zenski; remember I love this woman.’
‘So does Dick Hatten. Pardon if I expressed myself badly,’ added the Count, seeing he had gone too far.
‘If we are to remain friends, make better choice of your similes,’ retorted Leroy. ‘Who is this Hatten?’
‘He was once in your troop in Brisbane, I understand.’
‘Ah, I remember; so he is my rival?’
‘Pardieu! he would like to be, at any rate.’
‘Then, Heather does not love him,’ said Leroy confidently.
‘She has not made me her confidant,’ retorted the Count. ‘Ma foi! I have had other matters to attend to. Why not let this woman marry whom she will, Philip? Once already she has brought you ill-luck; why tempt fortune again for her sake?’
‘Because I still love her.’
‘Bah! you talk like a schoolboy,’ exclaimed Zenski impatiently.
In this infatuation he foresaw the possible wreck of the whole enterprise; for, knowing Orloff, he realized that once under the thraldom of this woman’s presence, its leader was no longer to be relied upon.
‘Why should this matter trouble you?’ said Leroy coldly. ‘I have not asked your advice, nor do I need it.’
‘You were glad of it once, Philip.’
‘Pardon my ingratitude, Zenski!’ cried Leroy, dropping his hand on the Count’s shoulder. ‘I have not forgotten; but in this affair I will not be guided. Call it fate, folly, what you will, I must go on.’
‘Then I will say no more,’ muttered Zenski, shrugging his shoulders irritably. ‘If this woman brings you to ruin, she will have only lived up to the traditions of her charming sex.’
‘You have forgotten the history of many women,’ laughed Leroy.
‘If so, I have remembered that of one man,’ retorted Zenski cynically.
‘Ma foi! no; Mark Antony, mon Général.’
When at last the two parted, Leroy rode back to the camp; a soldier himself, he always lived among the men he led, sharing their hardships, and often joining in their rough amusements. Physically superior to most men, and always as ready to reward a gallant action as to visit with relentless hand an act of cowardice, he exercised a potent sway over the half-savage soldiery who fought under his banner. To-night, late as it was, he rode round all the outposts, and after that sat for awhile smoking in his tent. Then, remembering that he had to start for Cloncurry at daybreak, he threw himself, dressed as he was, on his stretcher, and, with a soldier’s economy of time, fell asleep.
Kenneth Mackay, The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia, London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1895, pages 229-241