The Fugitives (1)
April 28, 2014
HiLoBooks is pleased to serialize Morley Roberts’s 1900 novel The Fugitives, an adventure set against the backdrop of the Second Boer War (1899–1902). The author was once known for his novel The Private Life of Henry Maitland (1912), but he quickly passed into obscurity. How obscure? In a 1966 story about plagiarism (“The Longest Science-Fiction Story Ever Told”), Arthur C. Clarke attributed an 1898 sci-fi story of Roberts’s (“The Anticipator”) about the same topic to H.G. Wells; in a 1967 guest editorial in If (“Herbert George Morley Roberts Wells, Esq.”), a contrite Clarke noted that not a single Morley fan had emerged to point out this error. HiLoBooks — in conjunction with the Save the Adventure book club, which under the editorship of HiLobrow’s Joshua Glenn is issuing The Fugitives as an e-book — is rectifying this situation. Enjoy!
“Now, just understand once for all, Gwen,” said Mr. Middleton, “that any quarrels between you and your stepmother about anything whatever — either about this man Blake and your sister, or about high art, or socks, or philosophy, or the conduct of the cook — are just as much domestic matters as if the house was on fire. I won’t be bothered with them. The house and the gardens and all that therein is are your domain, the three of you. So just shut up, my dear. I’m not going to play Supreme Court at my time of life — so there!”
And with this John Toller Middleton put his pipe in his mouth, called to Tip, the fox terrier, who was trying to work up a belief that a rat was in a two-inch waste pipe, and strode off for the stables.
“What a pity there is no book called ‘Wife-Breaking for Husbands,’” said Gwen Middleton. “The governor’s way of making out that he is not a slave is to surrender everything to her, pretending he doesn’t want it. But give me liberty or give me death, as the sensible American said. And poor Clare hasn’t any more spirit than father. If it wasn’t for me, Mrs. Middleton might sit on the tower and sing that she was monarch of all she surveyed!”
She walked round by the drive to the front of the house, and stood by the steps leading to the terrace.
“I wish there was a rose to pick on this bush,” said Gwen to herself. “It would annoy her. And the very, very worst of it is that she won’t be annoyed, but will be perfectly sweet. Of all the horrible things in the world, a perfectly sweet stepmother, who never loses her temper, and never has anything but the loveliest complexion combined with a natural tyranny which would do credit to a German emperor, is really the most exasperating!”
Gwen Middleton was twenty-one and had just the figure which looks perfect in a riding-habit. Perhaps her healthy pallor made her envious of the second Mrs. Middleton’s complexion, but, even so, she had no real reason to be jealous, unless indeed white roses may envy red ones. She was tall and as strong as a whalebone whip, and, as her brother said, as lithe as a ferret and just as cunning. But her cunning was without vice: she looked the world, including her stepmother, full in the face.
“Bar accidents and one’s parents getting married to people whom one can’t even look down on,” said Gwen, “it’s a very good world so far as I know. At any rate, I don’t want a better one, if She was eliminated.”
In reality, until the last new conflict, Mrs. Middleton Number Two, who had been the belle of the county, was but the garlic to her salad — the clove to the pudding. For Gwen was never averse to a quarrel, never cried when she was beaten, and was never so greatly defeated as not to retire in fair order.
But now there was really something to quarrel about, and Gwen thought very justly that her father ought to interfere. Clare, the elder of the two girls by eighteen months, was Gwen without her backbone or her physical strength, and Mrs. Middleton, who was anxious to have the place to herself, had now got the whole force of her disposition on marrying Clare to someone whom the girl did not like.
Gwen walked into the house and went to her sister’s room.
“Just let her go to — thunder,” said Gwen.
“Oh, I can’t, I can’t,” cried Clare.
“She will not be rude,” said Gwen.
“No, and that’s the worst,” said her sister, “and oh, Gwen, I’m so weak. I do like Jim all right. He’s a nice chap, I know, and she works on me all the time, so that I begin to think I shall go mad and that one morning I shall come down and find I’m going to be married, and it will break my heart. And poor, poor Ned is in Pretoria!”
“You ought to be shaken,” said Gwen contemptuously. “You’re in love with Ned, you say, and yet you’re afraid of marrying Jim Carruthers. I’d hate to be you!”
And yet deep in her mind she understood what ceaseless pressure meant when exercised on a character like her sister’s. Mrs. Middleton influenced everyone within reach of her except Gwen. She was utterly reasonable, cheerful, and quite cold and dominating. Clare was half hypnotized and fascinated by the qualities of so strange a mind, and yet was just as much in revolt as any bird can be against a tree-snake. Her instinct told her that she was weak and would hereafter repent if she did not hold out. And the struggle was telling on her health.
“Tonics!” said Gwen angrily; “she doesn’t want tonics; she wants tenderness.”
After all she was really the elder sister.
“I know I shall marry Jim Carruthers,” said Clare, crying.
“You shan’t,” said Gwen. “It would be a triumph for her, and I’ll see you don’t. She’s taken away our father, and even our oldest servants, who were here when mother lived, think she’s all she should be. And Tom thinks she’s not such a bad sort. Only you and I don’t like her. She shan’t do what she likes with either of us. I’ll tell Jim Carruthers that if he comes worrying you any more I’ll throw something at him!”
“Oh, poor Jim, he really does love me,” said Clare.
“Boo,” cried Gwen. “If I didn’t think heaps of Ned Blake, who is a really fine man, I’d not help you a bit. You are a weak willow-tit-willow woman, like a boned haddock. But I do believe men like girls with extracted backbones, after all. You are a sofa-cushion, Clare. Do buck up and help me to help you!”
But by now Clare was crying on a sofa-cushion and could give no help.
“What a pity — what a pity it is,” said Gwen, “that Ned should have been taken prisoner in Natal! If he’d only been shot ——”
“Oh!” said Clare.
“Just a little, you know, and sent home. I’d have had you married before now. To tell the truth, Clarry, I’m tired of your willowy ways; you hamper my operations against the enemy. Whatever face I put on things, this clever general always turns my flank by getting round on your side. And everything I do against her is hampered by political considerations as to your welfare. Oh, dear! it’s a siege! How long do you think you can hold out?”
But, as Clare did not answer, Gwen went over to her, kissed her, and left the room.
“Don’t you be down,” she said as she went. “These two republics — you and I — are not going to be put down!”
And she marched off to her own room, whistling as she went. “‘Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,’” she said. (The last book she had dipped into was a volume on American oratory.)
She had no real troubles of her own. Before the sickness of love comes upon the healthy there is no need to worry, and Gwen walked her bright garden of imagination fancy-free. It was a very good thing to be alive, and even her stepmother could not destroy that fact. But nevertheless Gwen had had lovers. That is, young men had come and seen and been conquered. She annexed no one, however, and soon cured most.
“Oh, yes, men are all right,” said Gwen. But she said it in a way to show that so far none of those she had met was quite satisfactory.
“I don’t want perfection, but I want — something else,” she said. For any man could be brave, of course, and khaki did not prove it. There were other things than courage, — brains for instance, and a little ambition, which meant doing things out of a man’s inside. To get into Parliament was often enough merely a matter of a balance at the Bank. Her lover (as he walked, a bright ghost of man, across her garden) must be something a little out of the common. Just now soldiers and courage were plentiful enough, and, to speak truly, it was not so sure that they showed great ability, even in the highest ranks.
“I don’t care who he is, as long as I like him,” she declared. And when she said this she was well aware that the one man she had met who pleased her mind and eye together was no one in particular, and was, as she imagined, spoiling his life by doing nothing whatever.
She had only met Gordon Hardy once, when her brother Tom brought him to the house for a night on the way to Scotland, where they were going fishing.
“Hardy is popular with everyone,” Tom had written.
But so was Mrs. Middleton. Gwen, of course, made up her mind to dislike the man. But she failed lamentably, as he was at once simple and impertinently friendly in a way she had never thought possible. In less than an hour he told her she was pretty and had a good figure, and that he was ready to bet she could ride anything, and she did not seem to mind his making these statements.
“They are only mental notes after all,” said Hardy, “and if I make pleasant mental notes about people I like to tell them. If my conclusions are disagreeable I keep them to myself.”
This, at any rate, was original, and though Gwen gasped a little she did not see that there was any reason for complaint. Hardy was utterly without self-consciousness and appeared to do all he did because it came natural to him. Walking down a lane near the house, they came to a pool in the road, and while Gwen hesitated he put his hands to her waist, lifted her over, put her down, and walked on quietly.
“Oh!” cried Gwen.
“I am rather strong,” said Hardy simply. “I can lift pretty heavy weights. I should think you weigh just nine stone.”
“So I do,” said Gwen, and after a silent hundred yards she spoke:
“How do you like my stepmother?”
He looked into her bright hazel eyes with a glance of frank humor.
“I agree with you!” he said, — and that was all.
“Yes, I like him,” she told her brother.
“He’s an odd fish,” said Tom Middleton, “and ought to be a thought-reader in public. Then he might at any rate make money. As it is, he’s living on five hundred a year of his own and has done nothing since he was twenty-five.”
“What did he do before?”
“He travelled all over Asia and Africa. He disappears for three months in the year and comes back without any one remarking his absence. During that time he has been some ten thousand miles or so.”
“He ought to be made to do something. Does he write?” asked Gwen.
“I don’t think so,” said Tom. Next day the two went north. Since then Gwen had often recalled Hardy with some amusement. He really was interesting. She wondered whether he had gone to South Africa for the war. He seemed just the sort of man to go, and yet she could not be sure. He had confided in her that he did not like revisiting places, and he was just as likely as not to be somewhere or anywhere else.
As she sat down by her window and looked out on the wintry landscape she thought of him. She could see the very pool he had lifted her over. It was now covered with ice. But out in Africa the world was all dust. Perhaps Hardy was loafing in London.
“Of course he could fight if it was necessary,” said Gwen, “but he may be lazy. And poor Ned Blake is shut up in Pretoria while Clarry breaks her heart for him and the Demon downstairs rejoices that he is out of the way. What can I do? Oh, I wish I was a man, and I’d get out of Kruger’s prison or die in the attempt. But I suppose it can’t be done. There’s only one who has escaped, and since then they must look after them.”
But when she went downstairs to lunch she found the newspaper on the hall table. One of the columns was headed —
The telegram from Lourenço Marques went on to say that the names of the fugitives were not known. So far they had eluded recapture, and it was supposed that they were trying to reach Mafeking. But the Pretoria people asserted they would not get twenty miles without being taken.
“That remains to be seen,” said Gwen. “I wish it was Ned and that he would come home. The Demon would be ill, I’m sure, or at least lose her temper. Oh, if she only would!”
But such joy was hardly likely to fall in Gwen’s way.
Properly speaking, there were never any rows at Cowley House. What might have happened had John Middleton come to the conclusion — which some might have deemed a fair one — that his eldest daughter’s health and happiness were really domestic matters that concerned him, it is impossible to say. As it was, the warfare between the girls and their stepmother was usually discreet and quite according to the best models. Sybil Middleton always had a smile for every one, and did not gratify Gwen by refusing one to her. She offered her one now as she entered the dining-room, and Gwen disdained to return it as she sat down at the table. Clare remained in her bedroom with a headache.
“Three more officers have escaped,” said Gwen presently. “I wonder if one of them is Ned Blake.”
“If they are not recaptured we shall soon learn,” said Sybil graciously.
“Will he be able to come home, father?” asked Gwen.
“Of course not,” said her stepmother; “he would have to go back to his regiment.”
That was true, and it annoyed Gwen to think of it. But then, considering how many officers were in that State school, it was hardly likely that Blake was one of the lucky ones. She sat in a brown study, wondering if anything could be done.
“If I were Clare,” she said to herself, “I would get my things packed, and I’d escape from this prison and our Madam Kruger, and I’d go to Pretoria myself. Yes, I would.”
She crumbled her bread as she thought, and shook her head every time anything was offered to her.
“Some more bread?” said Sybil, and Gwen awoke.
“No, thank you,” she replied tartly. “Don’t you see what I have done with this?”
“I see,” said Sybil, “and I thought you might like some more.”
Mr. Middleton rose.
“By the way, Gwen,” he said, as he left the room, “Tom is coming down from town, and is going to bring his friend Hardy, who was here for a night two years ago. If you want something to do, you might drive the cart to meet them. I want Simons myself.”
“Ah — yes — of course,” she said. “Are they coming by the three o’clock train?”
“What other is there?” asked Sybil. “My dear, why do you not think before you speak?”
“I make up for not doing that, sometimes, by refraining from saying what I think,” said Gwen angrily. “Why don’t you leave Clarry alone? You are making her ill.”
But Mrs. Middleton did not answer, even though there was no one else in the room. There was no necessity to reply, and she was quite convinced that to allow Clare to marry a captain would be nothing less than a social crime. She was sure that the girl’s idea of love was ridiculous, and even doubted whether it was not mere obstinacy. In any case, victory was what she desired. The fact that her husband would take no side was to take sides against his daughter. She meant to do her duty. Perhaps the fact that before she married she had been half inclined to marry Carruthers, who had then been altogether inclined to marry her, made her desire to give him what he appeared to want now. She always called him “poor Jim.”
“I shall tell Mr. Carruthers that I think he is a cad for pestering Clarry when he knows she is practically engaged,” said Gwen.
“I am quite sure you will do no such thing, Gwendoline,” said her stepmother. “Let me remind you that your father and I arranged there should be no engagement.”
“You!” said Gwen.
“Your father and I ——”
And again Mrs. Middleton returned to the charge.
“We arranged there should be no engagement, and Clarry and Captain Blake agreed. And, as you know, Mr. Carruthers is very much in love with her. I am convinced you will not do anything to hurt his feelings.”
“Hurt his fiddlesticks,” said Gwen. “Isn’t it hurting Garry’s feelings to pester her like this? He’s a great gawky, and if he had any pluck he would have taken a troop of yeomanry to South Africa. Instead of that he hunts foxes and a girl who doesn’t like him.”
“You are quite mistaken,” said Mrs. Middleton; “she likes him very much and has admitted it to me. If it had not been for this unhappy war, which brought soldiers so much into this neighborhood, she would have been very pleased with his affection for her. And I am convinced that this affair with poor Captain Blake will blow over.”
“It won’t,” said Gwen, “and, what’s more, I hope it won’t. Blake is a man, and Jim Carruthers hasn’t any affections — he will dangle anywhere.”
She did not mind being unjust if she could be offensive, and for once her stepmother told her so.
“You like him yourself,” she said.
“Oh, well, he wouldn’t be so bad if he wasn’t such a fool,” admitted Gwen. “But I shall speak to him.”
“I am sure — quite sure — you won’t.”
“I’ll do something, anyhow,” cried Gwen, and with this she turned away.
“I wonder what I can do,” she said as she drove to the station. “Tom is no good. I’ll ask Mr. Hardy — why not? At any rate he doesn’t like the Demon, — he as good as told me that. And he has more brains to the inch than any one down here to the acre.”
Which saying was certainly unjust to Mrs. Middleton.
The day was brisk and very cold, but the wind, which had been northerly for days, was now light. As Gwen drove along the iron road to Cowley Station, which was four miles from the house and two from Cowley village, her spirits rose.
“Cheer up, Clarry,” she cried. “Oh, dear, why are some people so — so eviscerated, so to speak. That is Tom’s polite word. But I’m all right!”
The color in her face was witness to what she said. Her rough-shod horse trotted rapidly, and she felt that it was almost quite right with the world.
“If the Demon would become religious and retire into a convent, — which is the last place she would think of retiring into, — we should all do very well,” said Gwen. “As it is, I defy her! Cheer up, Clarry!”
And she drove into the station-yard ten minutes in advance of time.
* “And poor, poor Ned is in Pretoria!” — Pretoria Central Prison is a notorious prison in Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa.
* “that Ned should have been taken prisoner in Natal” — Natal was a British colony in south-eastern Africa. In 1910 Natal combined with three other colonies to form the Union of South Africa, as one of its provinces. It is now the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa.
* The telegram from Lourenço Marques — the capital of Mozambique, now called Maputo.
* Kruger’s prison — Paul Kruger, affectionately known as Uncle Paul (Afrikaans: “Oom Paul”), was State President of the South African Republic (Transvaal). He gained international renown as the face of Boer resistance against the British during the South African or Second Boer War (1899–1902).
RADIUM AGE SCIENCE FICTION: “Radium Age” is HiLobrow’s name for the 1904–33 era, which saw the discovery of radioactivity, the revelation that matter itself is constantly in movement — a fitting metaphor for the first decades of the 20th century, during which old scientific, religious, political, and social certainties were shattered. This era also saw the publication of genre-shattering writing by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Sax Rohmer, E.E. “Doc” Smith, Jack London, Arthur Conan Doyle, Aldous Huxley, Olaf Stapledon, Karel Čapek, H.P. Lovecraft, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Yevgeny Zamyatin, Philip Gordon Wylie, and other pioneers of post-Verne/Wells, pre-Golden Age “science fiction.” More info here.
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SERIALIZED BY HILOBOOKS: Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague | Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail (and “As Easy as A.B.C.”) | Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt | H. Rider Haggard’s When the World Shook | Edward Shanks’ The People of the Ruins | William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land | J.D. Beresford’s Goslings | E.V. Odle’s The Clockwork Man | Cicely Hamilton’s Theodore Savage | Muriel Jaeger’s The Man With Six Senses | Jack London’s “The Red One” | Philip Francis Nowlan’s Armageddon 2419 A.D. | Homer Eon Flint’s The Devolutionist | W.E.B. DuBois’s “The Comet” | Edgar Rice Burroughs’s The Moon Men | Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland | Sax Rohmer’s “The Zayat Kiss” | Eimar O’Duffy’s King Goshawk and the Birds | Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Lost Prince | Morley Roberts’s The Fugitives | Helen MacInnes’s The Unconquerable |
Geoffrey Household’s Watcher in the Shadows | William Haggard’s The High Wire | Hammond Innes’s Air Bridge | James Branch Cabell’s Jurgen | John Buchan’s “No Man’s Land” | John Russell’s “The Fourth Man” | E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops” | John Buchan’s Huntingtower | Arthur Conan Doyle’s When the World Screamed | Victor Bridges’ A Rogue By Compulsion
ORIGINAL FICTION: HiLobrow has serialized three novels: James Parker’s The Ballad of Cocky The Fox (“a proof-of-concept that serialization can work on the Internet” — The Atlantic); Karinne Keithley Syers’s Linda Linda Linda (which includes original music); and Robert Waldron’s roman à clef The School on the Fens. We also publish original stories and comics. These include: Matthew Battles’s stories “Gita Nova“, “Makes the Man,” “Imago,” “Camera Lucida,” “A Simple Message”, “Children of the Volcano”, “The Gnomon”, “Billable Memories”, “For Provisional Description of Superficial Features”, “The Dogs in the Trees”, “The Sovereignties of Invention”, and “Survivor: The Island of Dr. Moreau”; several of these later appeared in the collection The Sovereignties of Invention | Peggy Nelson’s “Mood Indigo“, “Top Kill Fail“, and “Mercerism” | Annalee Newitz’s “The Great Oxygen Race” | Charlie Mitchell’s “A Fantasy Land” | Joshua Glenn’s “The Lawless One”, and the mashup story “Zarathustra vs. Swamp Thing” | Adam McGovern and Paolo Leandri’s Idoru Jones comics | John Holbo’s “Sugarplum Squeampunk” | “Another Corporate Death” (1) and “Another Corporate Death” (2) by Mike Fleisch | Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer and Frank Fiorentino’s graphic novel “The Song of Otto” (excerpt) | “Manoj” and “Josh” by Vijay Balakrishnan | “Verge” by Chris Rossi, and his audio novel Low Priority Hero | EPIC WINS: THE ILIAD (1.408-415) by Flourish Klink | EPIC WINS: THE KALEVALA (3.1-278) by James Parker | EPIC WINS: THE ARGONAUTICA (2.815-834) by Joshua Glenn | EPIC WINS: THE MYTH OF THE ELK by Matthew Battles | TROUBLED SUPERHUMAN CONTEST: Charles Pappas, “The Law” | CATASTROPHE CONTEST: Timothy Raymond, “Hem and the Flood” | TELEPATHY CONTEST: Rachel Ellis Adams, “Fatima, Can You Hear Me?” | OIL SPILL CONTEST: A.E. Smith, “Sound Thinking | LITTLE NEMO CAPTION CONTEST: Joe Lyons, “Necronomicon” | SPOOKY-KOOKY CONTEST: Tucker Cummings, “Well Marbled” | INVENT-A-HERO CONTEST: TG Gibbon, “The Firefly” | FANFICTION CONTEST: Lyette Mercier’s “Sex and the Single Superhero”