[Editor: This is a chapter from The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia (1895) by Kenneth Mackay.]
Count Zenski again warns Philip Orloff.
While the various Australian Cabinets, awakened from their long dream of false security by the ring of mailed knuckles on their very gates, were vainly attempting to organize an effective scheme of defence, the invaders went on with their work of concentration almost unopposed.
Three weeks after the Mongol landing at Point Parker, the flotilla had returned, bringing a reinforcement of twenty thousand troops, and every week fresh swarms of Black Flags kept pouring in over the undefended ocean way. With the arrival of the fleet, Leroy learnt that Hong Kong was now in Ching Tu’s hands, that the Russian army, thanks to internal revolution, had forced the Himalayas, and that the English forces, their supplies cut off by thousands of Indian fanatics, must either fight under conditions which rendered victory almost impossible, surrender, or starve. Desperately short of men, the Viceroy had summoned every available ship for the defence of India, and now, as a last resort, every sailor who could be spared was being used for land operations.
Under these circumstances, the road to Australia was of necessity left open, and an unlimited supply of men placed at the command of the Mongol commander. Relieved from all anxiety as to support by this development, Leroy now assumed the offensive on his eastern flank.
Thursday Island, Cooktown, Townsville, and Rockhampton, were successively occupied. In each case the inhabitants did all that men could do, handicapped by want of both organization and ammunition, but at best the defence was a useless waste of brave men’s lives. Driving the ill-armed guerilla bands before them, the Mongols now practically held the whole of Queensland as far as latitude 25°.
Leaving ten thousand regulars, and about an equal number of primitively armed pirates and camp-followers, to hold the conquered districts, Leroy waited with forty thousand splendidly-equipped troops and a horde of picked irregulars, at Charleville, for the enemy to attack him. The country around was admirably adapted for supplies, and, while resting on his own base, he was anxious to fight the enemy as far from theirs as possible.
That the Australians meant to attack him was evidenced by the fact that his cavalry had, within the last few days, come into collision with their outposts. Determined to know exactly what he had to meet, Leroy made a reconnaissance in force. Now, he knew that the enemy, besides being numerically weaker, was, save for a nucleus of infantry, artillery, and cavalry, composed of raw levies, armed with obsolete rifles and ordinary sporting guns, while the brush he had with their advance column told him that the men’s personal bravery, evident as it was, would hardly compensate for the peculiar modes of strategy of some of their officers.
The Australian army had now arrived within striking distance, and so Leroy moved out of camp and took up a position from which he could attack. Holding that men lose self-reliance by lying behind earthworks, he left his entrenchments with a feeling of satisfaction. In common with another celebrated general, his rule was, ‘Always attack; never wait to be attacked.’
This, in the case of Asiatic troops, may seem a risky policy; but Leroy knew his enemy, and recognised that, even supposing the personal dash of his troops to be inferior to that of the Australians, their better arms and discipline more than placed them on an equality with the opposing army.
The night before the battle, Count Zenski sat in the General’s tent. The old diplomatist had observed much during the past three weeks which, in his eyes, more than qualified the outward triumph of his one-time protégé. He had seen this man, about whose future success so many of his own plans centred, staking every prize ambition had poured with such lavish profusion at his feet for the sake of a woman. And so, hopeless as he considered Orloff’s madness to be, he had ridden out from Charleville to-night to make one last effort in that most sacred cause — his own self-interest.
With the present state of affairs, Orloff was as little satisfied as the Count. In the three weeks that had gone by since his revealment to Heather, the man had undergone a process of reincarnation, in which he had become gradually clothed with some of the cast-aside robes of his old nobility. Philip Orloff was still General Leroy in name, but the instincts of the Mongol leader were daily giving place to the reawakening aspirations of the original man.
True to the confession over the body of her father, Heather had found it impossible to banish her love for Orloff. The announcement of his real position had shattered the ideal of her youth with the brutal swiftness of a lightning flash, and, standing amid the ruins of this self-constituted image, she deemed that the substance of love was buried beneath its pieces. But in the days which followed, when, in response to her wish, Cameron was laid at rest beside the love of his youth, and she realized the dread completeness of her loneliness, her heart turned, despite all efforts of will, towards its alter ego, for natural mutual attraction is a law of nature, and not to be thwarted by artificial conditions, be they ever so powerful.
Too proud to attempt to palliate his present position, Orloff had left Heather utterly alone from the first. While travelling in the same train to Charleville, he had never approached her carriage, and on arrival there, while seeing that she had every luxury, and the attendance of some of her own countrywomen, he studiously avoided forcing his presence upon her. In a formal note written before their journey South, he placed the position clearly before her. Wretch, he said, as he must ever appear in her eyes, he still meant to keep his promise to the dead, but in such a way as to inflict as little pain as possible on the living. She had nothing to fear, and all her wishes would be carried into effect where possible; but he would never intrude himself upon her unless she wished it.
At first the girl thanked God for even this mercy, but a time came when she asked him to come to her. A woman’s heart is ever an unknown quantity, and in her solitude many things fought for Philip Orloff. The past was still peopled with the memories of his self-devotion; the present, clouded as it was with his awful sin, held much which she began to wish explained. His tenderness when first he found her, his despair when he had to reveal himself, the delicacy which marked his absolute avoidance of herself, all pointed to the fact that he still loved her. That she loved him, all her self-loathing was powerless to blot out of her mind, and so at last she wrote a note and asked him to come to her. From that hour Philip Orloff began to dominate General Leroy, and in the days which followed, the influence of a new force became evident in the character of the Mongol leader.
It was the knowledge of this, and of the effect it was already beginning to exert on his future plans, which had determined Zenski to speak plainly to-night.
Knowing well the nature of the man with whom he had to deal, Count Zenski made no immediate reference to the real object of his visit. Lighting a cigar, he sat on a camp-stool discussing to-morrow’s chances with his companion, who filled in the pauses by glancing over a rough sketch which lay spread out on his knees. Rising at last, the Count stretched his cramped legs.
‘Your sitting accommodation is execrable, Philip,’ he grumbled. ‘With permission, I will make use of your stretcher.’
As Orloff nodded, Zenski threw himself down on the narrow bed.
‘Pardieu!’ he growled; ‘I wonder you inconvenience yourself with this instrument of penance while dry ground is available.’
‘See what being a railway director may do even for an old soldier,’ laughed Orloff, adding with a sneer: ‘You should have stayed with my colleague, Commissioner Wang; he more affects feather-beds than hard knocks.’
‘I have but just left him,’ retorted Zenski. ‘He is most unobtrusive, and has no desire to interfere with your plans.’
‘Not when danger is ahead,’ interrupted Orloff, with bitter contempt. ‘Later he will doubtless be more in evidence than myself.’
‘If you win, mon brave.’
‘I must win.’
‘You are confident, Philip,’ replied the Count slowly. ‘Remember, these men come of a race who can fight. Their case is desperate, and more than all, their honour will forbid them to yield to Chinamen; already in affairs of outposts your Mongols have found this out.’
‘I admit all that you put forward,’ said Orloff; ‘still, I must rout them. In the Crimea the English won at least one battle without the aid of their officers, but the day when bull-headed courage and cold steel could win battles is long past. The rabble in our front, brave as they doubtless are, will never get close enough to cross bayonets with my Mongols. Badly armed, worse led, and too short of ammunition to be really dangerous under any circumstances, I will sweep them away like flies. Their very heroism will help me to annihilate them.’
‘Pardieu! if what you say is a fact, they are in a bad case; but,’ added Zenski, ‘are you sure of all this?’
‘That most of it is true, you should know yourself,’ retorted Orloff. ‘As to their leadership, a spy just returned from their camp reports that even now the various commandants are squabbling as to who shall assume the chief command.’
‘Then, at what hour may I inform Commissioner Wang that you will expect him to share in the honour of victory?’ asked the Count maliciously.
‘He is jackal enough to discover that without your aid,’ retorted Orloff.
‘You are irritated with our Celestial compatriot, my friend.’
‘I am more than irritated,’ muttered Orloff.
‘The pair of you always remind me of that charming infant legend entitled “The Monkey and the Nuts,”’ murmured Zenski, watching a smoke-ring float towards the roof of the tent.
‘By heaven, you’re about right!’ exclaimed Orloff, a dark flush showing through his sun-tanned skin. ‘But this is the last nut I will pull out of the fire for the yellow hound!’
As he spoke Orloff rose, and stood in the tent-entrance. Zenski had placed the position before him in a manner which he could not gainsay. In point of fact, he had himself already realized it, and late events all combined to strengthen his long-wakened suspicions. Now he understood that others were also aware of the Chinaman’s designs, and, filled with a fierce sense of shame by the thought that his contemptible position was known to outsiders as well as to himself, Orloff became imbued with a savage desire to choke out the life of the barbarian who dared thus to make a cat’s-paw of him.
Watching, Zenski could see his companion’s hands clench with passion. Satisfied with the effect produced, the Count went on smoking. Personally, he rather admired Wang, and in effect had long admitted to himself that, were he in the Chinaman’s position, he would have acted exactly as he was doing. To make use of other people had always been the Count’s motto, and so, as a brother diplomatist, he cordially endorsed Commissioner Wang’s methods. As, however, these methods, admirable as they might be, regarded from the Chinaman’s standpoint, were opposed to the Count’s own designs, the old Russian was now prepared to render them inoperative, even if this demanded the absolute extinction of Wang. In face of what had happened since Heather Cameron’s appearance at Charleville, Zenski fully recognised that, for the safety of his own future plans, either she or the Chinese Commissioner must be removed. Personally, he would sooner have got rid of Heather at once, and Wang at a later stage of the game; but, knowing Orloff, he despaired of accomplishing the first part of his designs, and so to-night his real object was to induce Orloff to sweep Wang out of his path diplomatically.
When at last Orloff turned, his face was set, and the cold look in his eyes appeared to Zenski full of promise.
Seating himself beside the stretcher, the General said quietly:
‘What do you think this Chinaman means to do?’
‘Make use of you till such time as he thinks he can do without you, mon ami, and then remove you,’ replied Zenski frankly.
‘But how?’ asked Orloff, unmoved by the other’s statement. ‘My officers are devoted to me, even the Mongols recognise that I have a use; jackals don’t turn on their feeder.’
‘You are blind, Philip!’ retorted Zenski, a trifle contemptuously; ‘had you followed my advice given in Spero’s cabinet the night you landed, Wang’s designs could have been easily met, and when the time came, you could have hoisted him with his own petard. As it is, you have given the game into his hands — for what?’
‘Well, for what?’ asked Orloff coldly.
‘For a woman!’ retorted Zenski, with a gesture of disdain.
‘No, for an angel.’
‘Bah! why trouble to classify her?’ growled Zenski. ‘You have ruined yourself by bringing her here, and if you fall, a worse fate awaits her than the embrace of the Kalmuck from whose arms you took her to be a curse to all of us.’
‘Zenski, what do you mean?’ demanded Orloff, in a voice, low, but full of concentrated passion.
‘What I say,’ replied the Russian. ‘This woman, by inducing you to save your prisoners, and to punish those barbarities which these Mongols regard as sacred privileges, has alienated their respect and devotion from you. Her beauty — for I admit she is beautiful, Philip — has caused these very officers you trust to cast longing eyes on their General’s leman.’
‘Liar!’ thundered Orloff, stretching out his arms.
‘As they call her,’ Zenski went on. ‘Don’t be a fool, man! can’t you understand these men well enough yet to see how they must interpret the position?’
‘My God, you’re right, Zenski!’ groaned Orloff. ‘Go on.’
‘Quick to see how the wind blows, Wang has made capital of all these things. His agents have sown disaffection among the men; he himself has begun to tamper with the officers, and already not only your position, but the possession of the woman for whose sake you have risked everything, has been offered to another.’
‘The hound!’ growled Orloff through his teeth; ‘I could forgive everything but this last.’
‘I was wrong in that,’ interrupted Zenski; ‘he has not offered Miss Cameron to anyone.’
‘Then what did you mean by a worse fate than the one I saved her from?’ demanded Orloff, his mind full of dread apprehension.
‘He intends to keep her for himself.’
When he asked the question, Orloff knew what the answer would be; yet now that it had come he sat silent. There is an anger which is too deep for words; such a one possessed the man who sat facing Count Zenski.
‘Who told you all this?’ Orloff asked after awhile, and his voice was strangely expressionless.
‘Some of these facts I have gathered in various ways; but Redski, a man you can afford to trust, has confirmed all I have told you,’ replied Zenski.
‘It is too late to do anything now,’ muttered Orloff. ‘Should I happen to fall to-morrow, and —’ he went on bitterly — ‘one of my own men may see that I do ——’
‘No,’ interrupted Zenski, ‘you are safe from them as yet. Pardieu! you are still too useful, mon Général.’
‘That being so,’ exclaimed Orloff coldly, ‘after I have beaten the enemy, I will attend to his Highness Commissioner Wang.’
‘He will want your individual attention,’ retorted Zenski, adding, in the low, earnest tones of a friend, ‘Philip, as one who has some claim on you, let me implore you, for your own, for her sake’ — he omitted to add principally for his own sake — ‘send Heather Cameron into the enemy’s lines. While she remains with you danger must also remain. With her away, you can regain your lost position in a day. And when the time comes, we can attend to Monsieur Wang.’
‘No!’ replied Orloff, in a tone which forbade further argument. He had sacrificed honour, trampled his better nature in the dust, and filled his birthplace with misery and blood, to regain her; and now, even though her presence threatened his own destruction, he dared not let her go. Face to face with the awful products of his infamy, and now reaping in the treachery of his followers the dread results of a sowing such as his must be, he clung to this one woman, content to risk the possibility of her wrecking his dream of ambition so that she saved him from himself.
Recognising the folly of further discussion, Zenski rose, and, shrugging his shoulders, walked to the entrance. Calling the orderly who held his horse, he mounted, and saying, ‘Good-night, Philip; I will return in the morning in time to congratulate you,’ he rode slowly through the lines in the direction of Charleville.
Left alone, for he had early dismissed his staff in consequence of the Count’s visit, Orloff threw himself on his stretcher. For the morrow’s result he had few fears. In everything save the personal courage and dash of his men, he held overwhelming advantages, and, as he had said to Zenski, he had no intention of allowing the Australians to cross bayonets with his troops. Not that the Mongols were cowards, but simply because there was no necessity for the risk of pitting them against a foe fighting alike with the courage of inheritance, pride of nationality, and despair.
It was his course of action after the battle which troubled the Mongol General.
Each day he became less inclined to continue this gruesome leadership, which, in proportion to its success, increased in infamy. Now that he realized the fact that he was surrounded by traitors only waiting a favourable opportunity to wrest even this ignoble pre-eminence from him, Orloff’s mind was divided between a desire to pour out vengeance on his false comrades, and a powerful and hourly-growing longing to cast himself free from the whole honourless mercenary crew who fought under the Dragon banner.
To-night this last impulse, fed by the thoughts of the woman he loved, struggled so strongly for the mastery that the Mongols narrowly escaped having no leader for the impending battle. But military instinct, and the natural repulsion of a soldier to deserting his post in the face of an enemy, fought for them; and so when General Leroy fell asleep, he had determined to stand to his colours, leaving the question of his future action to be decided when the victory was won.
Kenneth Mackay, The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia, London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1895, pages 354-366