[Editor: This is a chapter from The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia (1895) by Kenneth Mackay.]
The coming of the Mongols.
The sea-birds sleeping on the dreary surface of the Gulf rose screeching from their wave-rocked slumber, for fiery-eyed monsters, swift and silent, were moving relentlessly over the waste of water.
At intervals a sharp word of command rang out, spoken in a tongue that was old before the Western world rose out of chaos, and in response men with the broad yellow faces and coarse black hair of those fierce nomads who followed Genghis Khan sprang to obey. The lights, falling on them as they worked, lit up their features with ghastly distinctness. From their cruel lips flowed a song, discordant, fear-compelling, which, as it floated out over the sea, filled all the air with its awful cadences.
For a space the half-wakened birds hung motionless, caught in the thrall of the demon chorus, then, uttering startled cries, fled into the night.
To Jansen, going to meet them in his yacht, a vision of the old blood-limned days arose. From such beings and in some such guise must have rung out the dread Raven’s song. Then, when he remembered who and what they were, he realized that silken-sailed galleys, with glittering shields and triple banks of oars, were not for demons such as these. Such a song should only come from betwixt the folds of bat-like sails, and up out of the bowels of dragon-prowed junks. To-night it rose above the decks of swift, low-lying, smokeless cruisers, armed with the latest weapons of the Western world. It was the battle-cry of Tamerlane shouted by warriors such as his; but, in place of the bow and spear, they held in their relentless, clawlike hands the weapons of a civilization which had risen and marched on while his race stood still. The Mongols, after a sleep of centuries, had awoke at last. Still brave as lions, enduring as dogs, and rapacious as wolves, they had shaken off their death-like stupor and again taken up the glorious traditions of the past. Cunning as foxes and far-sighted as ravens, they had learned by defeat, and now, following out their policy of making use of their enemies, were led by a renegade, who could be destroyed when he had fulfilled their purpose. Strong as ever in their belief in their absolute superiority to all mankind, and armed with the very weapons which in the past had brought about their humiliations, they were coming under the old banners of blood and fire to avenge past insults and win new possessions.
In answer to Jansen’s signal, the leading vessel slowed down. Running alongside, the Finlander spoke for a few minutes in Russian to an officer who had come to one of the ports, then sheered off and disappeared. Walking down into the gun-room, the officer knocked. Absorbed in thoughts that, from his knitted brow, were at best full of anxiety, the only occupant took no notice of the summons. On the table before him lay a map on which he had been marking different routes with a pencil which still lay between his fingers.
The cavalry sabre lying on a chair, and his striking half-Russian, half-Eastern uniform, told that he was a soldier still. Apart from these signs, General Leroy could hardly have been mistaken for a civilian.
Broad-shouldered and deep-chested, with dark eyes that never flinched, either at the ping of bullets or the frown of another, with lips devoid of sensuality, but almost cruel in their firm, close lines, and with a large though delicately-cut nose, he looked essentially a leader of warlike men. His age was always a subject of dispute among his comrades. For while his close-cropped hair was white, his heavy moustache and strongly-marked brows remained black. The lines about his mouth and under his eyes were those of a man who had either lived hard for years or else long in a short space of time; but in all matters of endurance he was still in his prime.
Roused by a second knock, the General called out in the full, strong voice of one accustomed to utter words of command:
Obeying, the officer saluted.
As he did so, Leroy rose, and then his great height became apparent. As a comrade had said to him, ‘He was not only born to command men, but savages.’
‘Well, Redski, what is it?’ he asked.
‘Jansen has returned, General; he wishes me to convey to you that all is ready both at Point Parker and Normanton.’
‘I expected as much; Zenski never fails in detail’
‘Jansen also instructed me to announce, General, that the division for Normanton must leave us in an hour.’
‘Inform the Admiral, and signal Colonel Dromeroff to come on board when the squadron lies to,’ said Leroy, dropping again into his chair, and pulling the map towards him.
Swiftly the slate-coloured monsters glided past Cape Van Diemen, then a signal-light ran up the solitary mast of the Admiral’s ship, and the fleet lay to. Picking up Dromeroff, Leroy’s second in command, Jansen again ran alongside. This time, however, he came on board, and, walking up on the bridge, began to explain certain matters connected with the tides, while Dromeroff hurried down into the General’s cabin.
Dressed in uniform, and now wearing a moustache, the Colonel had thrown aside all semblance of the persecuted civilian who had given the members of the Midas so frank an opinion on the war scare.
‘The time has come for us to part company,’ said Leroy. ‘Is there anything upon which you are not clear?’
‘Nothing, General; everything is prepared for landing the moment our ships drop anchor; and piloted by Jansen, a hitch seems impossible.’
‘See that it is impossible,’ retorted Leroy. ‘I look to you in this matter, Dromeroff.’
‘I accept the responsibility.’
‘And will share the glory of success, my comrade!’ exclaimed the General. ‘I leave all in your hands; only, remember, it is not a question of we may win — we must win, Dromeroff.’
‘I know it. From the enemy we can expect no quarter, and these devils of ours would turn on us like wolves in the hour of defeat.’
‘Possibly!’ muttered Leroy. ‘Still, I doubt it; nevertheless, let us not give them the chance,’ said the General. ‘Are your rafts and landing bridges ready?’
‘They are now putting them together.’
‘Dromeroff, I know these men,’ said Leroy. ‘How cruel and brutish they are when the lust of blood is on them!’
‘Are not all men alike?’ sneered the Colonel.
Disregarding the question, Leroy continued:
‘About the men it would be folly to trouble. They will give no quarter, so they can expect none; but I command you — and remember I will be obeyed — save the women and children.’
‘I can but do my best,’ growled Dromeroff. ‘But how can I be everywhere?’
Recognising the truth of his officer’s remark, Leroy replied:
‘I leave our honour in your keeping, my comrade; and now, bon voyage.’
Clasping each other’s hands, the two men stood looking into each other’s eyes. Both felt they were standing on the edge of an unknown abyss, in whose depths lay hidden the elements of disgrace and fame. Both were soldiers of fortune, men reckless of most things, and yet, as the Mongols’ devilish chorus floated down from above, a sense of the awful scourge they were about to let loose fell upon them.
Then, realizing the madness of such thoughts at this eleventh hour, Leroy caught up his sword, and, striding to the door, exclaimed:
‘To your ship, Colonel; are we not the servants of the Czar?’
Standing on the bridge beside Admiral Frampton, a thick-set American, who had originally been a midshipman in the United States navy, Leroy watched the Normanton flotilla, led by Jansen, disappear. As the last light merged into the darkness, he turned to the pilot who stood beside him:
‘When should we be off Point Parker?’
‘In a couple of hours, General,’ the man replied.
‘Won’t you have to slacken down when we get on the coast?’ asked Frampton anxiously.
‘I have reckoned on that,’ said the pilot; ‘but we can run up to twenty till we are off the harbour.’
On board each transport the work of preparation went on. Directed by officers claiming every nationality, but among whom Russians predominated, the Celestial warriors toiled with that dogged endurance which has made their race hated, and was yet to make it feared.
Rafts which, when loaded with infantry, could be towed ashore by steam-launches, and floating-bridges on which to land artillery and the staff-horses, were being transferred from the holds and laid in sections on the decks with a mathematical exactness which told of perfect preparation.
Forward the different detachments were forming for a final inspection. Armed with the latest types of rifle, some of them capable of discharging a hundred rounds per minute, and provided with light, bullet-proof uniforms, a dress long known to the Chinese, but now brought to a high state of perfection by Western skill in Eastern pay, the men, both in physique and discipline, utterly belied the popular idea of Chinese soldiery. With the miserable market-gardener and the fossiker known to Australia these warriors had little in common. They were Mongols, possessing the same physical strength and capacity for endurance that made their ancestors the most formidable soldiery in the world, and Kalmucks, who had revived the old Manchu saying that ‘A man’s sole duty is to ride a horse and to bend a bow.’
Realizing that the institution of trade relations with their neighbours must mean in one form or another the loss of those territories which at present admitted the sway of the Bogdo Khan up to the Pamir and the Karakoram, the Conservative party at Pekin had at last decided that the only chance of retaining them lay in taking one side or the other in the coming struggle between Russia and England. Led by Ching Tu, and saturated by that potent Russianizing process with which the Muscovite seems able to influence even the most hostile of Asiatic peoples, the younger Chinese party threw all their weight on the side of Russia. Fanned by Leroy and other secret agents, hostility to England grew more intense, while the accounts of Australia brought back by the Chinese themselves not only filled their countrymen with a feeling of revenge, but also with the more potent desire for conquest. Still, as befitted the most subtle diplomatists of Asia, even when a Russian policy was agreed upon, its ends were jealously hidden from the world. Until the day the flotilla sailed, Russia and China professed to be preparing to spring at each other’s throats, and, with consummate trickery, Leroy was placed under arrest on the ground that, although an American soldier of fortune and instructor to the Chinese forces, he had once served in the Russian army.
Standing on the bridge, General Leroy looked down on the men he was about to hurl on a continent upon whose vast expanse they would be but a speck. Still, this troubled him little; he well knew that in its colossal limits lay its impotency, and that once the barriers were forced, numberless thousands were ready to rush in through the opened breach. That many of these would never see the promised land he well knew; but even if a few thousands left their bones to pave the narrow waterway, there were plenty to take their places. Then the thought arose, But what if England cuts off all further reinforcements? Casting it aside as unlikely, at any rate, for the present, Leroy conjured up another picture. Ambition was his god, and now it seemed to him that this deity held out a prize worthy for a soldier to grasp at, even if Death sat in the other scale.
Ching Tu, he well knew, aimed at becoming vice-roy of this new world, did victory crown his arms; but now that no fealty to Russia stood in his way, Leroy, backed by the brain-power without which this huge engine of destruction must go to pieces, felt that in his hands Australia’s destinies lay. Other chiefs of the Mongols had become kings of the lands their swords had won; why not he? Absorbed in his dream, the wild, barbaric chant of the workers below fell all unheeded, when suddenly a cry rang out, which as it rose swelled into a roar, wolf-like in its fierce desire. Starting, he looked ahead, and there, shining through the darkness, gleamed the lights of Point Parker.
Kenneth Mackay, The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia, London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1895, pages 213-221