Book 4, chapter 7 [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 VII.

‘Hatten’s ringers’.

When once convinced by President Musgrave that the danger of attack from the Gulf was not only possible but probable, Cameron had thrown himself heart and soul into the question of defence. Hearing on his return from the Fort that McLoskie was expected at Longreach, he made it his business to meet him, and, while avoiding all reference to Zenski’s possible treachery — as a useless waste of argument likely to defeat his object with the Minister — the squatter placed before the Premier the absolute want of organization in the North in the event of a Russian landing.

As white labour had become superseded both in the townships and on the stations, the various volunteer companies, both horse and foot, had gradually dwindled away, until now, what with migration and that inability to stick to anything which forms so strong a characteristic in the modern Australian, the defence force of the North was little better than a name. Aware that all this was both known and disregarded by McLoskie, who, now that he had no unions to intimidate, looked on the volunteer forces as a useless expense, Cameron decided to make a personal matter of his request. Though politically opposed to Sir Peter, in private life they were still friends, and, being a wealthy man with undoubted influence, Cameron knew that he could ask a favour with fair chances of its being granted. Approaching the subject from a billet-seeker’s standpoint only, the squatter described how Hatten, a protégé of his own, had lost his station, and was now without work of any kind. Then, touching lightly on war possibilities, rather as a joke than otherwise, he reminded McLoskie that Dick had already held a commission in the Mounted Rifles. Being an Australian politician, the Premier rather admired Cameron’s cool advocacy of his friend’s claims to loot the Treasury.

‘Then you think the Northern Mounted Infantry want reorganizing, eh, Cameron?’ said he.

‘Most undoubtedly.’

‘And Mr. Hatten seems to you the right man to do it?’ chuckled the Premier.

‘I know of no one better fitted; and, besides, it will not be a bad move politically to give an Australian a show in the service.’

‘My dear Cameron,’ replied McLoskie with dignity, ‘I, as you should know, am actuated by a man’s merits, not his nationality.’

‘Of that we have had ample proof,’ replied Cameron. ‘Still, in this case I think you will have little trouble in deciding.’

‘None, my dear fellow,’ said the Premier graciously. ‘It is, I assure you, a pleasure to oblige any friend of yours.’

So it happened that Dick Hatten was appointed Staff-Adjutant to the Northern Mounted Infantry.

Throwing all the weight of his personal popularity into the scale, Captain Hatten began his work of reorganization, only to find how well-nigh hopeless a task lay before him. Many of the best men were gone, and of those who still had their names on the roll, the greater part were utterly disheartened by the apathy and neglect of the Government.

Backed by Cameron’s offer of horses, Hatten, however, succeeded in enlisting a troop of cavalry from among the managers and men still left in the Isis Downs district, and, through Cameron’s influence, their services as volunteers were accepted.

When, however, Hatten sent in a requisition for fifty sabres, he was informed that there was not a spare sword in the colony, and that he must wait until they were ordered from England.

Apprised of the state of affairs through a paragraph which had slipped into one of the papers, a speculative Jew, who had bought up a collection of old Waterloo swords, came forward and offered to do business. But of this Dick heard nothing until a few months later, when the Government were glad to secure them at famine prices.

How to arm his men puzzled Hatten, and still to let them disband was not to be thought of. At last an inspiration seized him, as he sat furbishing up his old sabre, the only weapon of offence in the whole troop.

‘I’ll make ’em lancers and chance it!’ he exclaimed.

‘Where are you going to get the lances from?’ asked Ewan Cameron slowly.

‘Never you mind, Ewan!’ retorted Dick. ‘I’m going to do it in spite of the infernal fools down in Brisbane.’

‘Mallee sticks pointed and hardened in the fire,’ laughed Ewan incredulously.

‘No,’ answered Dick; ‘any straight sticks I can lay hands on, with shear blades riveted on their ends.’

At the next parade Hatten put the situation before his men.

‘The authorities are unable to send us a sword under four months,’ said he; ‘if I am right in my reckoning, we will have to fight in less than two. Will you sit idly waiting, or will you arm yourselves?’

After a pause, one of the men said: ‘We are willing enough, but how can it be done?’

‘There is only one way that I know of,’ replied Hatten. ‘There are cases of old shears in the stores at Hughenden, and odd packets lying about most of the stations. Now that the machines have taken their place, the store-keepers will, I dare say, let us have them for the asking. Let each man get a pair, break off one blade, and level down the shoulder so that it will offer no resistance when being withdrawn, then sharpen the back and rivet the handle on to a strong, light shaft of wood, and he will have an Australian lance, not as well finished, certainly, as an English one, but quite as reliable as most of them.’

Struck by the originality of the idea, the men took it up on the spot.

‘Let each man carry the second blade in case of a break,’ said their officer, as he dismissed them.

‘My oath! we’ll tomahawk ’em like blooming ringers,’ shouted Billy the Kid, as Dick rode away.

And so the Isis Downs troop won the name of ‘Hatten’s Ringers.’

Putting in the night at a friend’s diggings, Hatten started before sunrise for Isis Downs, intending to reach Hughenden the same evening. Making good use of the morning, he and Billy rode up to the horse-paddock at about breakfast-time. Leaving the trainer to shut the gate, Hatten jogged slowly on. Heather’s refusal to go South had caused him as deep concern as Cameron, for while admiring the filial love which impelled her to stay by her father’s side in the time of peril, he wished with his whole soul that the old squatter had insisted on her departure with the rest. In his mind visions rose of the woman he loved given over to the unspeakable barbarities of brutal Cossacks, or at best slain by some friendly hand. For all that he knew, his might be the very hand marked out for this gruesome act of mercy. A clatter of hoofs woke him from his reverie, and glancing over his shoulder, he saw a man racing up the track. Something in the appearance both of horse and rider seemed familiar, and turning his horse, Hatten waited. Leaving a cloud of dust behind his flying hoofs, the horse passed Billy like a flash. As he did, his rider shouted something to the trainer, who now also put spurs to his mount. Now he was within a hundred yards of Dick, and, with a feeling akin to fear, the Adjutant recognised in the reeking horse one of his trooper’s chargers, and in his wild, ragged rider, Ted Johnson.

Waving his arm, Johnson shouted hoarsely:

‘They’ve landed.’

‘What — the Russians!’ exclaimed Dick as Ted pulled up.

‘No. — Chinamen!’ gasped Ted.

‘How did you hear? There must be a mistake.’

‘I didn’t hear; I saw them myself, man.’

‘Where?’ asked Hatten, beginning to think his chum had ‘gone off his head.’

‘Coming into Cloncurry yesterday morning.’

‘My God! you don’t mean that, Ted!’ exclaimed Hatten.

Then Johnson told him how he had got Edith and her mother away, and described what he saw next morning at the railway gates; how he had ridden bare back all that day and night to bring the news, and how his gallant horse had dropped dead close to the very house which Hatten had left a few hours ago.

‘Ferguson lent me his to come on with,’ concluded Ted; ‘now, what’s to be done?’

‘You’re a brick, old man!’ said Dick admiringly; ‘go and have a sleep, and then rouse the boys. I must push on to Hughenden. God only knows if another batch of these devils may not be down upon the town already.’

‘Sleep be hanged!’ growled Johnson; ‘wait while I have a drink of tea, and I’m with you.’

‘No,’ said Hatten after a moment’s thought; ‘I can’t afford the time, and you can do better work by remaining.’

‘You are my superior officer,’ replied Johnson, who now held a commission in the Isis Downs troop; ‘only, for God’s sake, let me do something!’

‘Get the other waggonette and a team ready for a start at a moment’s notice, and explain matters to Cameron,’ said Dick. ‘Then ride out and tell all the men on this side to muster at Isis Downs to-morrow with the best arms they can rake up. I will warn Musgrave as I go past, and will send Billy back to-night with final orders.’

Putting his horse into a brisk canter, Hatten rode past the house, followed by Billy, while Johnson rode up to the stable to tell his news and obey his chief’s commands.

Kenneth Mackay, The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia, London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1895, pages 251-257

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