[Editor: This is a chapter from The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia (1895) by Kenneth Mackay.]
Commissioner Wang gets a left-hander.
While Leroy, surrounded by orderlies and accompanied by Dromeroff and other staff-officers, was watching the pursuit of the Australians, a cloud of dust, rising from the direction of Charleville, caught the sharp eyes of a Kalmuck colonel.
Turning his head at the officer’s exclamation, Leroy saw lance-blades glittering above the heads of the horsemen, and, with a gesture of contempt, remarked: ‘Doubtless, gentlemen, his Highness Commissioner Wang.’
Presently the leading files of the escort reached the foot of the rise, and then the group of officers could see that the General was right, for the open carriage which now dashed up the slope contained Count Zenski and Commissioner Wang, the latter magnificent in his costume of a military mandarin.
Riding forward, the staff saluted; but appearing not to notice the arrival, Leroy continued to view the operations through his glasses.
The General was making a rapid mental calculation; he felt that about him glowed all the prestige of a splendid victory, and that the contrast between himself and this effeminate Chinaman could never be more strongly marked in the eyes of the men around than now. All the surroundings urged on his long-cherished desire to, by one bold stroke, reign alone. Insensibly his hand fell on the stock of his revolver, and he half wheeled his horse just in time to see Dromeroff salute his colleague with marked deference. For a moment he hesitated, and as he did Zenski shot a glance full of warning into his face. Dropping his hand to his side, Leroy decided to wait for a more convenient season, and riding forward, he received the Chinaman’s congratulations with an impassive politeness which equalled that of the Commissioner himself.
Leaving his carriage, Wang, with an Asiatic official’s inherent love of cruelty, walked down the slope to where the ground presented all the dread characteristics of a shambles. Here the ambulance had been stationed, and here one of the militia regiments had made a desperate stand in attempting to defend the wounded. Exposed to a raking flanking fire, the loss had been terrific before those gallant fellows melted away, and now their bodies, horribly distorted and mutilated with the Maxim explosive bullets, lay literally in heaps on the dark, clotted ground. As the Commissioner stood watching with critical interest the agonized features of a poor wretch who had been stabbed as he lay by some of the pursuing cavalry, he was joined by Dromeroff.
‘Pardieu! these gentlemen are worth watching,’ muttered Zenski to Leroy. And resting his hand on the General’s horse’s mane, he moved after the Chinaman.
‘Our artillery has been most effective, mon Colonel,’ remarked Wang in French, glancing over the gruesome heap. Then noticing a leg quiver which stuck out from under another man’s body, the Chinaman gave it a contemptuous kick, saying: ‘One devil is still alive; run your sword through this dead gaillard and you will reach him.’
‘Pardon, your Highness,’ began Dromeroff haughtily, when a sudden upheaval made both men step back.
Rising out of the blood-soaked bodies, a figure with hair and moustache matted, and face streaked with the grime of battle, staggered towards the pair. Through his open shirt a bandage, covered with dark-caked fluid, showed in relief against the skin; but despite his wound and the long agony of his late position, his face exhibited more of anger than of weakness.
Making straight for Commissioner Wang, the apparition shouted: ‘Murder me, would you, you d—— Chinaman!’ as he spoke shooting his left fist straight into the astonished Celestial’s face.
Before the well-directed blow Wang fell like a log; but as he did so half a dozen swords were out of their scabbards and pointed at the assailant, who stood looking with grim satisfaction at the prostrate Chinaman.
‘Ted Johnson!’ Zenski had gasped as he heard the Australian’s voice, and in an instant Leroy recognised the name as that of Heather’s friend.
‘Kill him!’ hissed Wang from the ground, and with one accord the sabres flashed upwards; but they never fell, for a voice no man among them had the hardihood to disobey thundered out:
As the swords dropped, Leroy added to one of his staff:
‘Take the prisoner to Charleville; I hold you answerable for his safety.’ Then, with marked politeness: ‘Gentlemen, escort his Highness to his carriage; his life is too valuable to be risked among such scenes.’
No sign on the impassive face told what Wang really thought as he thanked his colleague for his consideration. But Zenski felt that now more than ever one of these two men must kill the other.
Not anxious to court recognition, at any rate for the present, Zenski had turned away after his exclamation. At first foreseeing fresh complications, he regretted having made it; but now Johnson’s presence at Charleville suggested such possibilities to the Count that he blessed the impulse that had unwittingly saved Ted’s life.
In the man who had stood beside Wang Johnson naturally failed to recognise the clean-shaven rival of the Randwick Winter Meeting; nor did Dromeroff dream of connecting the Commissioner’s assailant with the station manager with whose fiancée he had flirted in the saloon of the Barcoo. To Johnson the whole affair was like a dream, for though he could understand their actions, the conversation of his captors, being in French, was wholly unintelligible.
Just as the surgeon had bound up his wound, the position got too hot for the ambulance corps, and almost immediately after Johnson found himself half buried under the bodies of the men who were falling around him. How long he had lain insensible under this ghastly cover he did not know.
When he regained consciousness he heard voices near him, and then Wang’s kick woke him up thoroughly. From under the arm of the corpse which lay above him Ted now caught sight of his assailant, and from the Chinaman’s gestures and expression he guessed at the substance of his words to Dromeroff.
Determined not to wait to be stuck like a pig, Ted made a supreme effort to get free, and to his surprise found that his strength had returned — at any rate, sufficiently for his purpose.
Once up, he went straight for his man, fully expecting to be cut down, but determined to get one good left-hander in first. Then someone called his name, and someone else saved his life; and now Ted found himself in the centre of a troop of Kalmucks riding straight for Charleville.
Kenneth Mackay, The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia, London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1895, pages 404-408