[Editor: This is a chapter from The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia (1895) by Kenneth Mackay.]
A close shave.
Four days before the attack on Point Parker, Ted Johnson drove Edith and her mother from Isis Downs to Cloncurry, where he had business.
Thoroughly alarmed by his visit to Fort Mallarraway, Cameron had suggested on his return that Mrs. Enson and her daughter should visit Brisbane, urging among other reasons that it was absolutely necessary in face of Edith’s approaching marriage. To this arrangement the older lady was only too ready to agree, but when Cameron spoke to Heather about accompanying them, he was met by an absolute refusal, nor could any arguments alter the girl’s determination. Filled with the liveliest apprehension for the future, the old squatter used every means in his power to alter his daughter’s resolve. But Heather remained immovable; she would wait, she said, and keep house for him until everything was prepared, and then they could go down together to be present at the wedding.
Driven to desperation, her father pointed out the possible dangers to which she might expose herself by remaining with him, but this only the more fixed her in her desire to stay. Besides, as she argued, might there not be even greater risks in Brisbane? At last, won over by her loving entreaties, Cameron, with a heart full of misgiving, gave his consent, and Johnson drove off without her.
As Ted stood with the two women on the Cloncurry railway-station, waiting for the train that was to carry them South, Edith, in wistful, strangely tender words, begged him not to long delay his coming. But sweet as her request sounded to the lover, long accustomed to her changeful humours, it at the same time filled him with a sense of future evil. To Mrs. Enson, who, strong in her fealty to the Count, scouted all thoughts of danger, the trip held out nothing except pleasant possibilities. But Johnson could see both in Edith’s regrets for the absence of Heather, and in a certain reluctance to go, which now began to possess her, that her mind was, like his own, oppressed by a sense of impending disaster. As he said good-bye at the carriage-door, the girl hesitated for a moment, then, leaning forward, kissed him passionately on the lips. A fat man sitting in the corner noted with languid interest the tear-dimmed eyes, and bent a little forward, but the shriek of the whistle deafened his curious ears, and only her lover heard the faint ‘God guard you, Ted!’ that came from the red, trembling lips.
Walking back to his hotel, Johnson was struck, as he had never been before, by the preponderance of coolie labour. Everywhere an alien tongue fell on his ears. In the past, ‘John’ had often been a fruitful subject for amusement and chaff, but to-night each stolid, expressionless face filled him with aversion and distrust. As obedient slaves their worth was undoubted, but as men to defend the result of their toil they appeared to the manager beneath contempt.
Walking into the telegraph-office after dinner, Johnson noticed one of Zenski’s Kalmuck overseers reading a message. As the man thrust it into his pocket, it by some mischance fell to the floor. Glancing at it insensibly, Ted noticed that the message was both long and written in cipher.
Trivial as the incident was, the manager could not dismiss it from his mind, and even in his broken, dream-disturbed sleep, the man’s cunning, half-fearful glance, as he picked up the telegram, lowered on him with startling distinctness.
Just as the dawn was breaking, Johnson got his four-in-hand hooked to, and drove out of Cloncurry. Reaching the railway gates, he found them closed against him, and cursing the stupidity of the keeper, he was about to open them himself, when the rumble of a train coming from the North warned him to get his Bush horses into clear ground. Wheeling his leaders, he moved back about a hundred yards and waited. Presently the train came in sight. Occupied at first with his horses, Johnson had no time to watch its approach, but just as it flashed past he looked up. In front of the engine, mounted on a platform, was a machine-gun of some kind, and round it stood three or four men in uniform. In a moment it was gone, and then truck after truck, packed with armed, savage-looking troops, moved past the thunder-struck watcher. Suddenly the cipher message recalled itself to his mind, already prepared for all that was most unexpected. ‘The Russians!’ he gasped; then, as he looked again, a certain resemblance to another race struck him with irresistible force, and he exclaimed: ‘No, by heaven! they’re Chinamen of some sort.’
As he uttered the words, the thought of Edith rose before him. ‘Thank heaven, she’s on the Government line by now,’ he murmured. ‘But what of those left at Isis Downs?’ He realized that he must warn them without a moment’s delay. What if the train to Hughenden was, even as he sat idly there, hurrying down on his friends another horde of savages?
Gathering up his team, he again drove towards the gate, but even as he did so, a volley of musketry rang out in the direction of the station, followed in quick succession by a dread chorus of yells and screams of fear and despair.
‘Open the gate!’ shouted Ted, as the man in charge came forward and leant over the bar; but the fellow only shook his head and grinned. ‘Curse you! are you deaf? open the gate!’ repeated Ted.
In the distance he could hear another train. ‘I’m trapped,’ he muttered, as he once more turned his horses’ heads. Filled as the one which had preceded it, the second train rushed by, some of its occupants taking flying shots at Johnson. In the distance he could see a crowd of coolies running after a man; stabbed in the back, he fell in the dusty road. Now they caught sight of the waggonette, and, yelling like fiends, ran towards it. In less than five minutes they would be on him. ‘I must jump the gate, or I’m a gone coon,’ muttered Johnson.
Springing to the ground, he whipped off his near leaders’ collar and harness, then, cutting the reins short with his knife, jumped on his back. Now the coolies were not twenty yards behind him, and guessing his object, the gate-keeper stood waving his arms in the crossing. Taking hold of his horse’s head, Johnson drove his heels into his ribs, and sent him at the bars.
Balked by the keeper’s gesticulating, the leader, good jumper as he was, began to waver, but giving a yell that made the man spring aside, Ted drove his knife into his horse’s ribs. Mad with pain, the leader rose in the air, and pulling him almost on his haunches as he landed, his rider sent him at the farther gate. With a crash and a scramble he got over, and working himself into his seat, Johnson galloped on without looking back — to spread the dread news that the spoiler had come, and that Cloncurry and Point Parker were given over to demons of blood and lust.
Kenneth Mackay, The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia, London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1895, pages 246-250