Book 4, chapter 5 [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 V.

The news is carried south.

On the afternoon which saw the streets of Point Parker full of armed and hostile soldiers, Frank McLean sat reading in the wide veranda of the old house at Cape York. Beside him lay two books, ‘The Nomadic Hordes of Central Asia’ and ‘The Eastern Question in Australia.’ Having led an isolated life for years, his mind had naturally turned to the questions rising in the near future. After doing his full share of pioneering and adventure, he had arrived at that stage of life when a vigorous, wholesome-minded man naturally uses his brains more than his muscles. Still, in fertility of resource and contempt for danger, he was the same youth who, twenty years before, had carried out a daring journey from the head of the Burdekin to the north-eastern extremity of Australia, through an unknown and difficult country swarming with hostile savages. Barefooted and in rags, he and his brother, accompanied by a few young fellows of the right stamp, and a group of black boys with no better weapons than the guns slung on their backs and the tomahawks held in their hands, had conquered the manifold horrors of that drear ‘no man’s land.’

Since that day pearlshelling among the coral reefs, scrub-shooting, and rambling through the islands and coast country, had found him work, and had enabled him to acquire a large knowledge of the savage races and the fauna and flora of the Pacific. Yet, though generally living alone, Frank was no misanthrope. Whenever a mail-steamer rounded the Point at Somerset, the eight-pounder before the old veranda belched out its salute, and whoever landed got a hearty old-time Australian welcome. This afternoon his mind ran upon the contents of the books beside him, in connection with the endless contradictory war rumours which filled the colonial papers.

Suddenly the gate flew open, and a little man rushed on to the veranda.

‘Well, Archie, what’s up?’ inquired McLean, looking his visitor over with calm surprise.

‘The wire’s cut!’ gasped Archie.

‘Cut, is it?’ grunted the veteran pioneer; ‘mend it, then!’

For answer, the little man stamped with vexation.

‘Why, you little beggar, don’t you bring yourself to an anchor, and get back your wind,’ suggested McLean coolly.

Archie Scrimour was an ill-formed, excitable dwarf in appearance, but, like many another manikin, he possessed both brain and heart enough for a gallant cavalier. He was at present agent for the Somerset Station, and being very fond of McLean, he had come to consult him with regard to his discovery.

‘Look here!’ said his placid host, pouring out a stiff dram of Uam Var, ‘swallow this physic, and then you’ll be able to tell what you’ve got to say.’

Watching his patient swallow the dose, Frank started him with:

‘Well then, Mr. Scrimour, reel it off.’

‘The wire was cut two hours ago. I’m not surprised; for my suspicions have been awakened by many things that have come to me in a way I need not explain. I’ve been tapping for cipher correspondence the last two days, and I have just worked it out. Look here, you know something of cryptograms. Well, it comes to this, that a force is at this moment landing at the Gulf. My reading of the cipher is confirmed by the very last wire that came from Thursday Island. A pearlsheller reports that he saw, three days ago, a flotilla of steamers steering south, near Cape Arnheim. I believe that by this time every wire, both on the coast and inland as far as Cooktown and Charleville, is silent.’

McLean was a good listener, but he was not given to unnecessary speech. Blowing a silver whistle, a gray-headed black boy answered his signal.

‘Eulah,’ said his master, ‘send the boys at once to yard the horses, and ask Mr. Walker to get up steam in the launch, and then come to me.’

As Walker, the engineer, came in to report himself, McLean looked up from the ciphers.

‘I am not a bit surprised, Archie,’ said he. ‘Walker, I’ll be ready to start in three hours. I will take a couple of black boys. Get what Kanakas you need for stokers. Help yourself to whisky.’

As the engineer walked away, McLean said:

‘There is not much time to arrange, Archie; but I was actually brooding over what was likely to happen when you came in, and I think I’ve the right plan in my head. It is this: You will go straight along the line, mending the wire and forwarding letters to the right people on your road; I will send Eulah with you, and a young active boy, and will give you what horses you need. Finch, McDonald, Herbert and Fraser, will all help you with horses and messengers. Of course you will leave your assistant here to keep up communication; meantime, I shall go full steam to Cooktown, and start things there. Now I’ll dictate the letters, and you write them.’

By two in the morning the letters were written, Archie with the black boys was off to mend the line and raise the country, and McLean’s launch was steering South, cutting the smooth waters of the Darrier Channel with impatient prow.

Kenneth Mackay, The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia, London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1895, pages 242-245

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