[Editor: This is a chapter from The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia (1895) by Kenneth Mackay.]
On board the ‘Hi Lung’.
Leaving Charleville the day after his conversation with Count Zenski, the Mongol leader travelled direct to Point Parker, which for the time became his headquarters. Here, in the Mitylene Palace, both Heather and Johnson were now located.
The firm of Spero, Aloysius and Co. still ruled the commercial world of Point Parker, now, however, by reason of the risks attending both the export and import trade, shrunk to less than half its former importance. For all that, the Levantine firm still did an immense business as army contractors for all sorts of warlike supplies, and though both Spero and Bourouskie had sunk for ever below the political horizon, they still in their natural sphere as commercial hucksters reaped a rich harvest.
Naturally anxious to retain the favour of the Commander-in-Chief, Spero had at once placed his house at his disposal. For Heather’s sake the offer was accepted, and, placing Zenski in charge, the General had for the past few days been inspecting the various columns left to hold the conquered North.
Leroy’s desire to throw up the command of the Mongols, which had approached perilously close to a resolve before the battle of Charleville, had since his victory grown less keen, as, after his conversation with Zenski, he had begun to realize more clearly than ever the impracticability of his present position with Heather. The day of his arrival at Point Parker he had fulfilled his promise to the Count, and from the lips of the woman he loved had heard his sentence, and, bitterest stab of all, she had admitted her love, while sadly insisting on its impossibility as regarded any union with him.
Without this woman, for whom he had sinned so much, the thought of inaction became intolerable; and so when at last he promised to let her go, he stepped from the presence of Love again into the arms of Ambition. Not because he loved this wanton mistress, Ambition — he hated her; but because all things were as nothing now, and the harsh music of her voice rang out in unison with his proud despair.
From Heather, Zenski had heard of Leroy’s decision, and in the General’s present actions he recognised a return to his old allegiance; still, as a wise man, he said nothing.
Determined, so soon as he had fulfilled his promise to Heather, to carry on aggressive operations on a larger scale than ever, Leroy now began the work of concentrating every man who could be spared from the North at Charleville. Daily fresh reinforcements were expected from China, and with part of them the Mongol commander now intended to seriously attack Brisbane from the sea, thus placing the capital between two fires. The absence of English men-of-war held out every prospect of success, not only for such an expedition, but for similar attacks later on all the Australian capitals; and recognising that nothing was to be gained, and perhaps much lost by delay, Leroy determined to lose no more time in carrying his plans to their logical conclusion.
Aware that in leaving his present base he must be prepared to subject his commissariat train to an acute strain, the Commander-in-Chief further busied himself in arranging for the forwarding to Charleville of a constant supply of warlike stores and provisions. Beyond the Warrego he was prepared to march through a country stripped of all vestige of vegetable and animal life; but holding, as he did, the immense food-supplies of the North at his disposal, this prospect troubled him not at all. A week after his arrival in Point Parker everything was in train for the combined attack, and now the time had arrived when he must carry out his promise and part with Heather, or break his word and carry her back a prisoner to Charleville. Since that interview in which Heather had wrung from him her liberty, Leroy had not again approached her. Strong as he knew himself to be, he yet dared not risk the all-powerful desire which he knew must arise in her presence, and so on his return he made all the arrangements for her departure without ever even mentioning her name.
His plan for her escape was simple enough, for the reason that no man about him dared question his commands.
Personally he would have wished to send her to some country safe from his Mongol hordes, but Heather thought otherwise, and, in obedience to her entreaties, she was to be landed near Sydney. Ted Johnson was really responsible for her determination in favour of the Southern capital, as he had told her during the journey North that Edith and Mrs. Enson were to go South in the event of Brisbane being threatened. The Hi Lung, an obsolete turret cruiser, now propelled by electricity, happened to be lying at Point Parker on Leroy’s arrival, and as her captain was a man devoted to him, he decided to entrust the two fugitives to his care.
Now that he had decided to devote himself to ambition, the question of how his colleague would regard the escape of Johnson (if he ever heard about it) did not trouble Leroy one whit. Man to man, he recognised that he was more than a match for the Chinaman, and with Zenski at his back, and untrammelled by the presence of Heather, he felt that the future, if lost for Philip Orloff, was still pregnant with possibilities for General Leroy. But now, when everything was ready for Heather’s departure, the strong man’s heart rebelled, and, in opposition to all his instincts as a soldier, he made a compromise with the rebel instead of crushing it. He suddenly determined to visit the defences on Thursday Island before going South, and at the last moment announced to Zenski his intention of going so far in the Hi Lung. Recognising the possible failure of all his plans in this determination, the Count still felt powerless to oppose it in any way, for Leroy was not a man to be turned from his purpose by any argument such as he could bring to bear. So, inwardly cursing the folly of his leader, the old Russian had to silently accept the assurance that he would return by Jansen’s yacht.
In the state-room of the Hi Lung Heather parted from the old diplomat with a feeling so near akin to regret that she was conscious of a vague feeling of self-condemnation. His whole life, so far as she had known it, had been a lie unsoftened by one cloud of remorse, and still, now that she was parting from him for ever, sorrow rather than righteous contempt and loathing filled her eyes with tears. There was a bond between these two — strong and pure where it issued from the noble, unselfish woman’s heart, weak and corroded by self-interest where it clung to the sin-cased organ of the old man. They both after their own fashion regarded Philip Orloff more than any other human being. Bending over Heather’s hand, Count Zenski listened to her words of farewell, and then, lifting the long white fingers to his lips, he kissed them with a gesture in which reluctance at having to part was mingled with a certain suspicion of self-shame. As he walked to the landing-stage, Johnson met him, but the effect of the scene below had already gone, and, nodding, he said with a sneer:
‘Bon voyage, mon ami! Present my compliments to Madame Enson, and express my regrets that her trousseau should grow old-fashioned.’
‘I’ll see you to the devil first, you infernal cad!’ retorted Johnson wrathfully.
‘Till then adieu, mon brave!’ replied Zenski, looking back from the steps with a cynical grin.
Now, so far as his movements were concerned, a perfectly free agent, Ted stayed on deck watching Point Parker sink swiftly into the embrace of the waves. Soon it was gone, and as he stood looking towards the place where it had been, the night began to steal softly out of the East.
To the practical Bushman the events of the last few days had in them more of the unreality of dreams than aught of solid fact, and even now Ted had to rouse himself every now and then to realize that he was thoroughly awake. Personally, he had every reason to congratulate himself, and to thank Heaven that Heather, instead of finding a horrible death, had chanced on so considerate a captor as the Mongol leader. How this had all come about, and who this man really was, were alike mysteries to Johnson. At Orloff’s request, Heather had not disclosed his real personality, and so Ted had to be content with the information that he was a man she had first met when travelling on the Continent.
For all that, Johnson had vague suspicions as to Leroy’s identity, and the more he thought them out the less he was satisfied. Still less was he at rest as to his chum’s chances with Heather should they ever meet again. In the few talks they had had, Hatten’s name never failed for a place on the girl’s lips; but while she never grew weary of speaking of his courage and loyal friendship, even Ted could see that love was as far from her thoughts as ever.
Now with the deepening shadows came other fancies so warm and full of tender imaginings that all else stepped back into the night; and, looking out on the silver streak that coiled and glittered amid the gloom astern, Ted realized that he was homeward bound, and so fell a-thinking of dark eyes set in skin of snow, and coils of blue-black hair where blood-red roses seemed to nestle lovingly.
Beneath his feet who dreamt of Love’s sweet comedy, the tragedy of passion occupied the stage.
In the state-room Heather Cameron sat, clothed in a robe of scarlet, and crowned with a coronal of golden coils. From the dead whiteness of her face her eyes looked down with infinite pity on the man who knelt at her feet. The dress she wore was one that he had given; the jewels which lay beside her were the gems he had showered upon her, but which she had never worn. Just now she had asked him to take them back, and at this most natural request his strength had forsaken him, and now on his knees before her he exclaimed, with all the bitterness of a last despair:
‘I will not let you go!’
Softly, as one that soothes a child, she bade the man remember his promise; and then, as he made no sign, but still knelt there, looking with hungry longings into her eyes, she spoke in a whisper, as one who recalls a holy memory, of the days when first he sought to read Love’s book to her. But still he made no answer.
And now a silence fell on both; for, with the memory of the past around her, how could she taunt this man with all the sin and shame with which he had built a wall, over the bloody sides of which even Love dare not climb?
Rising, Orloff moved towards the door; then, turning, he walked up and down the narrow cabin, and, watching him, Heather’s heart went out towards him with a great — ay, a nigh irresistible — longing. That he would let her go she still did not doubt. The thought that filled her with dismay was the letting him go back to the renegade’s work — the traitor’s hopeless goal.
‘Philip,’ she said — and he started eagerly at the name — ‘you say you love me, and I know you do. For the sake of your love, will you do something for me?’
‘I will do anything but let you go.’
‘I must go,’ she answered simply. ‘But will you go, too?’
‘With you?’ he asked strangely.
‘That is impossible,’ she answered sadly. ‘But will you, for my sake, leave this life of murder and dishonour?’
‘No!’ he interrupted sullenly. Then, again standing before her, he implored her not to leave him to himself. ‘See what your influence has done already,’ he urged. ‘If you will stay with me, I pledge myself that nothing you ask will be refused; that for your sweet sake I will change the face of Asiatic war.’ And so, by every promise which one so powerful as he might make, he entreated this woman who loved him to remain. Then, in his despair, he grew unworthy of even his fallen being.
‘But be my wife, and you will be a queen! Life and death shall be yours to give or take!’ he exclaimed. ‘For you I will conquer both Australian and Mongol, and together we will found a new race of kings. Only be mine, and I will march beside the heroes of old, owning obedience to none but you!’
Silently she let him talk on; but, as he drew picture upon picture of future glory, all having her image in the foreground, the knowledge of how he had wrapped his very heart about her filled her with a vague gladness and a very present fear.
At last he ended, and then her fears took shape; for, sitting beside her, he told her calmly, and with the set face of one who hates himself, but yet has no power to change his resolution, that, even though he broke his word, now that he was face to face with the prospect of her loss, he dared not let her leave him.
There are times when we know a man speaks truth, even though it may be when he is telling us of his resolve to break a former promise. So Heather now realized that Orloff had in his last words uttered a determination not to be shaken.
Back to the Mongol camp she was resolved not to go under any possible conditions, and still his deathless desire for her had something in it which awoke a responsive chord. She knew that, in spite of all, she not only did not hate, but that she loved this renegade; and now, rising above all her natural horror of his present life, came the thought that love such as this might help her to redeem him. Under any circumstances, she recognised that she must not go back with him to a life where such a work must be well-nigh hopeless. On the other hand, did he forsake it for her, she would be doing her country incalculable service; and if he was ready for such a sacrifice, surely it would not be in vain.
‘Philip,’ she said again, but not with all the entreaty of the past, ‘will you let me go?’
‘No!’ he answered. ‘Call me liar, coward, what you will, I will not!’
‘Then,’ she exclaimed, ‘will you leave ambition and power behind, and come with me?’
At first he looked at her as one who has not heard aright; but when she repeated it, he laid his hand on her shoulder, and answered in the deep, tremorless voice of a man who has won back his manhood:
‘Heather, I will go with you to the end of the earth!’
Then she laid her hand in his as a token that she was content; and so, putting all the past aside, she took up without more ado the task of working out this man’s salvation.
Kenneth Mackay, The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia, London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1895, pages 419-428