[Editor: This is a chapter from The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia (1895) by Kenneth Mackay.]
Orloff breaks the spell for ever.
Philip Orloff sat in his cabin, waiting.
His black, disordered hair looked strangely dull this morning, and the lines about his mouth and under his heavy eyes were deep as those of an old man, for the devil we all have locked up in us had been struggling to get loose through the long night hours. Orloff had forced him back, but the effort had wearied him. With a strong man’s egotism he thought he had conquered, but the devil did not: he only laughed to himself and waited.
After that glance when hope rolled like a parched-up scroll from before his eyes, his first impulse had been one of instant revenge. But on his road to consummate it, reason regained its sway, and he turned into his own cabin. In the dread vigil that followed he had reviewed the whole situation. Strong in his belief in Heather, he recognised that the guiltless must not suffer in order that he might punish the guilty, and, facing with merciless self-abnegation every possibility, he finally decided to give Harden one chance, and if he declined it, to force him into a duel, which could only have one ending. That he might be the one to fall, he recognised; yet, richly as the man deserved it, he could not bring himself to kill him in cold blood.
Morning came at last, and he rang and ordered his cabin-steward to tell Harden he wished to see him, and tired of all things, angry with God and hating man, he sat and waited. At last he pulled out his watch, only to put it back impatiently. The man he had sent for seldom breakfasted before ten, and it was now only a few minutes past nine.
Listlessly picking up a book that lay near his hand, he began turning over the leaves. What was written on them had no interest for him, he did not even take the trouble to read the words. Still, when he came to an uncut page, habit prompted him to rise and take from the shelf an antique dagger with a blade about six inches long, which he always used as a paper- knife. He had bought it at a curiosity shop in Naples, partly through the importunity of its Jewish vendor, but principally because a powerful magnet let into the hilt caught his fancy. He slipped the blade through the paper, and laid the stiletto down beside him as Harden walked in.
‘What the deuce is up, old chap — off colour, eh?’ inquired the visitor with rather forced gaiety. ‘Some lark on?’
‘No. I merely wished to ask you a question,’ replied Orloff in a hard, dry voice.
‘Devilish small provocation for dragging a fellow down here,’ laughed Harden, dropping into a chair.
‘Well, fire away — what is it?’
For a little Orloff looked at him, then said slowly:
‘Do you intend to marry Miss Cameron?’
At the words a startled look came into the man’s shifting, restless eyes. Then, apparently satisfied, he replied:
‘What business is it of yours, whether I do or not?’
‘I have decided to make it my business, so answer me!’
At first an angry retort trembled on Harden’s lips; then, thinking better of it, he replied:
‘Don’t be absurd, Orloff! If the girl prefers me, surely that is her affair; you heard what she said last night.’
‘You forced her to say it,’ retorted Philip quietly.
‘My dear fellow, what humbug!’ laughed Harden, encouraged by the other’s calm. ‘Women are “kittle cattle”; she happens to prefer me to you — devilish bad taste on her part, I admit, but, still, as I said before, that is her affair.’
‘Admitting what you say to be true, you haven’t answered my question. Do you mean to make her your wife?’
‘Pon my word, I haven’t thought about it.’
‘Haven’t thought of it?’ interposed Orloff savagely.
‘No; you see a fellow must do something to amuse himself on board ship, and she’s a devilish nice little girl and all that. Still, you know, marriage is altogether a different affair. But, d—— it all, Orloff, this has gone far enough.’
‘It has gone too far for you to draw back, like this, you shuffling cur!’ retorted Philip sternly. ‘How dared you, in my presence, force the girl to say she loved you, unless you meant to marry her?’
‘Don’t try me too far,’ replied Harden, his eyes flashing with passion; then, alarmed by the other’s look, he added, ‘I knew you were jealous of the girl, and I only did it for a joke.’
‘Liar!’ retorted Orloff; ‘you admit your power.’
Stung by the epithet, Harden sprang to his feet. ‘You jealous fool!’ he exclaimed; ‘believe what you like, but don’t think I mean to stop here to be bullied by you!’
‘Stop where you are,’ growled Orloff, forcing him back in his seat, ‘and listen to me! Are you prepared to marry Heather Cameron when we reach Colombo? By God, I will have an answer before you leave this chair!’
Silently the two men glared into each other’s eyes. Helpless as a child, Harden suddenly thought of a way of escape.
‘What if I say no?’ he asked, anxious to gain time.
‘You must fight me when we reach land,’ retorted Orloff grimly. ‘And, remember, I will make no mistake if you do.’
As he spoke, Harden saw that he had him in his power. Struggling against the other’s will, Orloff rose erect with an effort.
Still holding him with his eyes, Harden stood before him.
‘Curse you! I’ll do neither!’ he hissed, with malignant triumph; ‘I mean to amuse myself with her till she bores me. Then you can have her, and welcome.’
For an instant Philip seemed to regain command of himself, but, pointing to the couch, Harden commanded him to sit down.
Powerless and inert, Orloff sank back. As he did so, his hand fell on the dagger-hilt that stuck out from between the leaves of the book.
Instinctively clutching it, a magnetic thrill passed through his body, and, springing to his feet, he drove it with the strength of madness into the heart of the hypnotist.
With a weird, inarticulate cry, Harden sank back in his seat.
Staring at the helpless mass that sat huddled in the chair before him, Orloff took no notice of the opening of his door. Stepping noiselessly in, Zenski lifted the head that lolled forward.
‘Ah, Monsieur Harden!’ he exclaimed. ‘Poor devil! what wonderful creatures are the women!’
‘He tried his cursed tricks on me, and I stabbed him,’ said Orloff coldly; and throwing aside the dagger with a gesture of repulsion, he asked: ‘Is he dead?’
‘As mutton, to use the simile of my excellent friend Cameron,’ retorted Zenski, locking the door.
‘What are you doing that for?’ asked Orloff. ‘The doctor must be sent for at once.’
‘It is a useless exertion.’
‘Still, they must take this thing away,’ insisted Philip.
‘All in good time. But first I would have a little chat with you. May I smoke?’
‘Heavens, man, how can you talk of chatting here?’
‘Why not? — our friend will, I am sure, be discretion itself. But to be serious, Philip; we may not have another chance. Why you have killed this man I don’t know. Doubtless your reasons were excellent. But, unfortunately, the pig-headed authorities will fail to recognise them. I hate to be brutal to a man I respect; but, to be brusque, they will hang you.’
At the words the young man’s cheek paled, but he replied firmly: ‘I am prepared to accept the consequences of my act.’
‘What, for a gaillard like that!’ retorted Zenski. ‘But time is short — I would save you from yourself. I was your father’s friend: you are mine. But more than this, you are too useful to dangle from the end of a rope.’
‘It is a degrading death,’ said Orloff bitterly; ‘but it must be faced.’
‘Not so,’ replied the Russian, bending forward and putting a proposition before the other in his own language. ‘Agree to this, and I pledge my honour you shall escape. A Russian warship is in the bay; money will buy your way out of a stouter prison than this; and once free, a servant of the Czar has little to fear in the East. Quick! your answer? A diplomatist may hesitate, not so a soldier.’
‘I will do it,’ said Orloff coldly. ‘I can’t bring myself to die for ridding the world of such a miscreant.’
Picking up a pack of cards, Zenski scattered them over the floor. Then, ringing the bell, he said to the steward: ‘Present Count Zenski’s compliments, and tell the captain he is wanted immediately.’
Sitting on the couch, Philip remained silent. Presently footsteps again approached, and bowing to the officer who now stood in the doorway, Zenski said: ‘At my friend Mr. Orloff’s request, I have to inform you that he has had the ill-fortune to stab Mr. Harden during a dispute over a game of écarté.’
* * * * *
Late that night the mail-steamer entered the harbour of Colombo with Philip Orloff a prisoner in his own cabin.
When, however, on the following morning the officer of the watch made his rounds, he found the sentinel missing from his post and the cabin empty. Both had disappeared, leaving no trace.
Next morning the Genoa sailed for Australia, leaving Harden in the palm-shaded cemetery, powerless and unavenged, for his destroyer had vanished.
‘Where do you think the ruffian has gone, Count?’ remarked Sir John Baggs as the island sank into the sea.’
‘To the devil, mon ami’ retorted Zenski with a weary shrug as he lit a fresh cigar.
Kenneth Mackay, The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia, London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1895, pages 27-33