[Editor: This is a chapter from The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia (1895) by Kenneth Mackay.]
In the palace garden.
Mrs. Enson and her daughter had gone out to spend the afternoon at the house of an old Queensland friend who was giving a garden-party as a sort of welcome to the Northern contingent.
Pleading woman’s safest excuse when she wants to avoid any social function, Heather had remained at the Australia to battle with a ‘sick headache.’
After a time the girl dressed herself for the street, and, coming downstairs, started to walk briskly towards the Palace Garden.
Restless and memory-haunted, the room, with its heavy hangings and colourless outlook into the narrow house-walled street, had grown hateful; she wanted to be alone, but not with such surroundings. The sunlight, the flowers, and the pulseless waters shining through fronded stems and rich tropical foliage, all were kind; so she went to them as one goes to a trusted friend — one with whom all secrets are safe, all sorrows sacred.
Reaching the gates watched over by the bronze statue of old Sir Richard Bourke, and guarded by two Russian cannons now loaded to their muzzles with the orange-peel of an irreverent, if rising, generation, Heather entered the Palace Garden, walked down the broad pathway flanked with isles of scarlet and purple and gold set in seas of green, and halted above the basin where the marble boxers frown fiercely on each other. On her left, above the battlements of Government House, the Union Jack hung listless about its staff; away to the right the avenue of Moreton Bay figs rose like a rampart, glimpses of the old Domain showing through their stout gnarled boles; while above their crests the pinnacles of St. Mary’s shot into the clear, translucent air. In front lay the gardens, bathing their feet in the blue Pacific.
For a little while Heather stood watching ’twixt sea and shore; then she passed on, down the roadway where the statues stand, to the great flight of steps. At their base she turned aside, and seeing an empty seat set close against a leafless trunk, sat down upon it and looked over the tree-heads out towards the sea.
We all live two lives. One a dim, uncertain existence, its failures and weaknesses lit up here and there by a pure thought, a noble inspiration. Its mission is to keep us from becoming utterly material, repellently brutish. The other — our everyday life, needs no explanation; as a rule, it is all that the mystic, the hidden life would teach us to abhor.
The woman sitting under the tree possessed, in common with her fellows, a dual existence; but, through no fault of her own, what lay hidden must never be revealed to the world, nor could she look on it herself with any feeling but one akin to utter despair.
In the days which had followed Harden’s murder and Orloff s escape, memory, unchained by the hypnotist’s death, came back to her. For long she lay in her cabin in the grief of a horror that had to be faced alone.
To her fellow-passengers, to her father himself, it was but the natural distress of a young girl suddenly brought face to face with the utter badness of a man she had favoured, if not actually loved, coupled with regret for the terrible end of another who appeared to have also awakened a certain interest in her.
To the child tossing in her narrow berth it was the death of all things bright and pure, the sudden rending of a veil white and spotless, the quick revealing of a gulf, its black, unfathomable depths unrelieved by a single ray of hope. The man she hated with a strength that a few days past her childless soul had been incapable of creating was dead, but the evil he had wrought would live for ever, for evil is immortal. The man she knew she loved was also dead — if not to life, at least to her; but his love would live, to be a crown of sorrow, yet to save her, for love, too, is immortal.
Thus Orloff rescued his twin-soul after all, and she rose up a woman pure in heart and determined to walk worthy of the man who would be to her for all time, not a murderer, but a judge; not an impossible ideal, but one who had smeared his hands with blood only that he might wipe away a stain from her own life. For though no word was spoken, no message ever sent by him, Heather felt that Orloff knew all, and that he understood. And in his keeping she realized her secret was safe; nay, felt a certain sad, indescribable joy that he should have the guarding of it. Further, something told her they would meet again, where or when she knew not, and that when he came he would want her for himself, whether in earth or heaven.
So she did not die; not that she cared to live, but because she knew the manner of her death would have seemed unworthy of him, and might part them for ever. She lived, and as time moved on grew in some sort to love life once more and face the world bravely, for with the years her latent strength of character expanded, and she took up her cross with firm hands and marched on with the rest. Now for six years she had lived this dual life, taking her part in the world’s joys and sorrows as other women take theirs, but always keeping her heart for the coming of her hero, and to-day he seemed very near her, and so she sat alone gazing out upon the sea. Zenski had met them at the theatre the night before, and had introduced Dromeroff. In doing so, the old Russian had chanced to say, ‘Possibly my friend may know some friends of yours, Miss Cameron; he has been a great traveller.’ In face of the fact that Heather had been wandering half over Europe during the past six years, her father having yielded to her wishes and again set off a few months after their arrival in the Genoa, Zenski’s supposition was natural enough.
To Heather, however, it seemed to conceal a deeper meaning. Knowing the friendship that existed between the Count and Orloff, she held a settled conviction that the Russian knew far more than he chose to tell of her lover’s escape. Why she had arrived at this conclusion she could not have logically explained. Zenski never mentioned the subject of his own free will, and, if it was forced upon him, always professed to be as mystified as the rest. Still, the girl held, woman-like, to her own opinion, and now began to build strange, half-fearful hopes on the flimsy foundation of a diplomat’s chance remark.
As she sat thus in a day-dream, Dick Hatten, searching for her, and duly admiring feminine comeliness wherever found, caught sight of a figure which seemed to warrant the exertion of a closer inspection.
Reaching the foot of the stairs, Dick thanked his possession of an eye for a pretty woman fervently, for now that he had rounded the flank of her sunshade, he discovered that he had found the woman he sought.
Moving noiselessly over the thick grass, he stood beside her before she was aware of his presence.
‘A penny for your thoughts, Miss Cameron,’ said he.
To his surprise, she rose to her feet with an exclamation, then, meeting his laughing eyes, sank back with a faint sigh of disappointment.
‘You startled me out of a day-dream,’ she said, somewhat sadly, it seemed to him.
‘And I was not the prince you expected, I fear,’ he replied a little bitterly.
‘Well, no, you were not,’ she answered with a frankness that argued ill for Dick. ‘But then, you know, he only comes in dreams. Where have you left Mr. Johnson?’
‘Oh, he trotted off to Mrs. Manson’s,’ said Dick, seating himself beside her.
‘And why didn’t you?’
‘Well, you see, as Edith is there, he has a sort of duty to perform, which does not apply in my case, so when I found out from the clerk that you had gone for a walk, I thought I’d do a bit of tracking.’
‘Why? did you think I’d get bushed?’
‘Hardly that,’ replied Dick uneasily; ‘only I felt a bit unsettled, and I wanted to have a talk to a — well, to a friend.’
Ignoring his hesitation, she answered with kindly interest:
‘I suppose you are anxious about to-morrow; how did you find Io this morning?’
‘She’s all right, thanks.’
‘I do hope for your sake she’ll win,’ said Heather heartily.
‘Then you do take a little interest in me — I mean in the mare?’ asked Dick.
‘Of course I take a lot of interest in both of you,’ replied Heather, adding unconsciously, but cruelly, ‘I’d be a poor Queenslander if I didn’t.’
‘Then it’s only for the sake of the colony you want her to win?’ replied Dick ruefully.
‘Far from it; I admit I do want dear old Bananaland to be in front; but beyond that, I know all you have risked on the race, and how your heart is set on winning, and so, as your friend, I wish for your success from the bottom of my heart.’
That was the cruel part of it; as a friend she always was ready with her sympathy and good wishes, but Dick was keen enough to see that her feelings towards him never strayed over that cold, definite border-line.
‘I have many friends,’ he answered sadly. ‘Heather, can you never be towards me all they are and something more? Forgive me if I say what had better have been left unsaid, but I must speak. All my life has been an aimless wandering — a weak, unworthy seeking after some new thing only found to be cast aside; I have been that most useless of human beings, a man without an object — that most hopeless of drifters, a sailor without a star. Now you have come into my life, and with you to guide me, I feel that there is a future yet to live for.’
As he spoke in low, disjointed, yet passionate accents, the woman at his side listened with growing pity to his words. And as his confession fell upon her ears, she could not help comparing it with the words spoken by Orloff the last time she ever heard his voice. Both men, she knew, were physically brave, but there comparisons ended.
Orloff had said, ‘You are in need of a strong arm to defend and guide you; let it be mine.’ The man beside her confessed his weaknesses, and asked her practically to defend him from himself and to guide him to a nobler life.
For a little she was silent, realizing how much she might be able to do, and further feeling that the man, for all his weakness, was worth it. She yet could hold out no hope. For one thing, could she in honour take the place he suggested? But why trouble about that? she was another’s for all time; and that other was braver and stronger and more worthy of her love than this suppliant could ever be.
At last she said quietly, as one who fears to wound, yet firmly, as one who would not be misunderstood:
‘To pretend to misunderstand you would be unworthy of both of us. I know what answer you would wish me to give, and I am sorry, sorry from my heart, that you ever put me in a position to refuse to give it. In all other things I will help you, and if a woman’s good wishes are worth having, mine are always yours. Heaven knows I have yearned for such help before to-day. I know you will hate me for talking like this; but I must. I cannot love you, but let us be friends, Dick.’
While she spoke, Hatten sat looking out over the bay. From the decks of the warships the masts rose dark and slender, crossed by the tapering yards; a yacht with graceful lines floated like a water-nymph near the shore, while midway between the tower of Fort Denison and the garden parapet the oars of a man-of-war’s boat flashed in the sunlight as they rose with measured swing. All these things he saw, and yet he remembered nothing save the hideous shear-legs that rose like a ghastly red scaffold above Garden Island. This he never forgot, nor the fact that he experienced a keen desire to hang its erectors on a string from its triangular summit.
It was a defeat, he fully realized; nay, more, the rout of hopes massed up behind the bastions of his heart for many a day; and yet, so reluctantly do we surrender a cherished desire, the man rallied his broken forces round one word. She had called him ‘Dick.’
‘I have been too precipitate,’ he muttered brokenly. ‘For the present I accept your offer to be my own familiar friend.’
Feeling it would be both prudish and unkind to cavil at his conditional bargain at such a time, she made no demur, and thus from very kindness undid all that which had cost so much effort but a moment before.
‘May I see you back to the hotel?’ said Hatten, subdued, but full of fresh aspirations.
‘Yes,’ she answered, rising, and looking away past the tall figure before her into that land of dreams among whose filmy mists another figure seemed to stand and beckon.
‘What are you looking at?’ he asked in wonder — ‘that ghastly gallows?’
With a shiver, she answered:
‘No; at that which lies beyond.’
Kenneth Mackay, The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia, London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1895, pages 59-67