The Fugitives (3)
May 12, 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!
Like most men who are full to the lips of energy, Gordon Hardy believed he was lazy, and that against laziness, as a besetting sin, it was his clear duty to fight. It was only the turning of a hair that had prevented his going to South Africa the moment he set foot in England after one of his three-months’ journeys, taken, in the interests of an engineer, over the wildest parts of Syria. A very natural desire for a little rest, combined with the belief, so unduly prevalent in England, that the war was going to be more or less a walk-over, kept him where he was, and finally sent him down to Cowley to see the girl whose face had so continuously haunted him during the past two years. How far he had spoken the truth when he told Gwen that he had meant to ask her to marry him from the very moment he had valiantly set hands to her and lifted her over a pool of muddy water, it was now impossible for him to say. As the train took him back to London it seemed to him that he had meant, and that he had been meant, to marry her from the very beginning of time. All he could do to set a seal upon the good intentions of Fate should be done. She was strong, and brave, and beautiful, and most inspiring.
“God bless her,” said Gordon, half sadly and half cheerfully, “I’ll give her the sun, moon, and stars if she wants them.”
He felt quite strong enough to wreck the solar system on her behalf. And if he was so strong as that, what were obstacles? Like obstacles in warfare, they were only hindrances to incapacity, and opportunities for the able.
He wrote her a note on a leaf of his pocket-book as he went to town:
“Wire an answer to this at once, dear, to the Poste Restante, Brussels. Of course I must write to you continually, and it occurs to me that Her Ladyship may bother you about my letters. Send me an address to which I may write in some security that you will get what I send. A friend of yours in London will do. If you can’t manage that, I will send them to a friend of mine, with orders to let you have them covered in his own handwriting. It is the foreign stamps which will attract her attention. I am going straight over to Brussels to see the Transvaal Legate as soon as I can get a letter to him from a Boer I know in London. I was going out by the Cape, but I think it will be better to go down the east coast of Africa direct to Delagoa Bay. The French and German mail boats go there regularly, but our service from the Cape side is irregular, and those coming that way will be more likely to attract attention of an unfavorable kind. Cheer up, dear; I am posting this at Rugby, and the train is slackening for it now.
“Yours always and for ever,
He slipped this note into an envelope, dropped it into the letter-box, and, to occupy the five minutes’ stay, sent a telegram to his rooms, telling his landlord to pack his bag. Another despatch went to Peter Hoffman, Hotel Piedmont:
“Write me a letter of introduction to the Mischief-Maker at Brussels at once, and bring it to my rooms at six this evening. I am to see him on private business of importance. Back it up with any other letters you can get.”
And then he went on to town, which he reached at half-past five. He found his bags packed.
“I am leaving to-night,” he told his landlord. “Get me a chop in half an hour, and when Mr. Hoffman comes, send him up.”
The food and the Dutchman came up together. Hardy shook hands with the man, whom he had originally met in Cape Town.
“Sit down. Have you eaten? Well, have a drink. There’s some of your tobacco, prime Macaliesburg, and a new corn-cob pipe. Have you brought the letters?”
Hoffman extracted them from his pocket.
“What do you want with the Devil at Brussels?” he asked. “Here’s one from me, and one from young Krogh.”
“Let me look at them,” said Hardy, with his mouth full. He read them rapidly, for he was a fair linguist and they were both written in Dutch, not the taal.
“I wish I could speak it,” said Hardy. “For then I might pass myself off as a Dutchman of sorts.”
The letters were brief, but to the point. They introduced Hardy as an Englishman who had business of importance.
“You see,” said Hoffman slowly, “we don’t look on you as so much of an enemy as most ——”
He indicated the English world at large with a wide gesture.
“—— and so don’t do us any harm.”
“My dear boy,” cried Hardy, “it will take a bigger army than we have out there yet to do you much hurt.”
“What is your business?” asked the Boer.
“Hoffman, did I ever ask you yours?”
“I have none,” said Hoffman. “I was here when the war broke out and ——”
But Hardy knew he was the Transvaal Legate’s agent.
“And — yes,” said Hardy. “My business is practically private. So is yours. Let us end it there. You won’t hurt England, and I will promise not to remove the Transvaal. All I ask is that you won’t send another letter to Brussels telling His Excellency, the Mischief-Maker, to do nothing for me.”
Hoffman smiled in his turn.
“And now, tell me, what is his weak point?” asked Hardy.
“Trust you for discovering it,” said Hoffman. “It would be a pity to tell you.”
“But what is it, in your idea?”
“Look,” said Hoffman, “I don’t like him; you know that. And why? Because he takes no advice. He is vain.”
So much Hardy guessed. That he did not take advice from a man of Hoffman’s stamp was easily understood.
“But if you flatter him, he turns over like a little cat,” said Hoffman, spitting. “But I do not like him.”
“Yes,” said Hardy, “that’s good. But does he know if he’s being flattered?”
“I think — I think he knows.”
“Yes?” said Hardy. “Then I shall understand him.”
He rose from the table.
“I’ve got to get a check cashed, Hoffman. If you like to stay and smoke, do. I shall be back by seven, and shall catch the nine o’clock train for the Ostend boat. I shall be in Brussels at half- past five to-morrow, and shall see His Excellency as early as possible. In the meantime ——”
And he was gone.
“What devils these English are,” said Hoffman, when he awoke to the fact that he was alone. “They are always in a hurry. Almighty! they choke themselves, trying to swallow a continent!”
But before he had smoked three pipes Hardy was back. He had succeeded in raising two hundred and fifty pounds, owing to the fact that he found his bank, where the bank-manager lived, still blazing with light and fuming with irritated clerks who were trying madly to discover what had become of a halfpenny.
“My luck’s in,” said Hardy. “It’s an ill odd halfpenny that brings no one luck.”
And at nine o’clock he started for Brussels. He travelled second-class.
“I may want every penny,” he said. For the same reason he put up at a third-class hotel, where he slept till nearly nine o’clock. Before ten he was at the Transvaal Legation, and discovered that it was a kind of Magersfontein, not to be attacked directly.
“His Excellency can see no one,” said a gorgeous person in livery.
But five francs got him past the flunkey and found him face to face with another entrenchment in the shape of a courteous person in black.
“His Excellency is engaged.”
“I have letters for him,” said Hardy, “and they must be delivered personally.”
“I regret to find it impossible,” said the Frenchman, — for Frenchman he was, as Hardy knew by his accent.
Hardy smiled and then grew serious.
“I do not find it in the least impossible,” he retorted, “and I am perfectly willing to wait.”
He sat down in the most comfortable chair he could find. He knew he was in the ante-room. Beyond those folding doors the Transvaal Legate might even now be at work.
A traditional Frenchman (and they are all remarkably like the current tradition of them in that respect) finds two things in an Englishman which finally overcome him. Persistent coolness carried to its extreme convinces him that the Englishman means to starve for ever rather than retreat from the most absurd position. He has to be humored. If it should happen that phlegm does not carry the day, there is only one real resort. It is necessary to be as excitable as a Frenchman. That becomes alarming. Hardy was prepared to try both methods, but he tried coolness first.
He sat down and took out a biscuit, which he began to eat with much deliberation.
“He eats,” said the Frenchman in alarm. “He positively eats!”
“I will wait,” said Hardy.
And his opponent looked at him with curiosity, with a certain dread, and finally with some interest.
“Well, Monsieur, if you will give me your letters,” he began.
“Thank you,” said Hardy, “but they have to be delivered personally.”
He began another biscuit.
“Il mange toujours,” said the Frenchman, “c’est très interessant!”
He looked at the folding doors.
“Well, Monsieur, I will speak to His Excellency.”
“I am infinitely obliged for your exceeding courtesy,” said Hardy, with a bow.
“But I cannot undertake ——”
“I know you will do your best,” said Hardy. “I have come in the greatest hurry from England.”
And the Frenchman disappeared. He returned in a minute.
“His Excellency cannot see you, Monsieur.”
“Ah, then I will wait,” said Hardy.
“But he will see your letters.”
“I regret infinitely that I cannot avail myself of your kind help,” said Hardy, who knew that his only chance was a personal interview. “I can wait till to-morrow. Tell His Excellency I can wait.”
The clerk, or head butler to the Transvaal dignitary, again left the room. Hardy put his ear to the folding doors and thereby learned that he was an extraordinary, typical, persevering, brazen Englishman who had furnished himself with “sanvich and visky” and was prepared to die in the anteroom if need be.
“Oh, let him enter,” said His Excellency. And Hardy resumed his seat just as the folding doors were opened by two footmen.
“His Excellency will see you,” said the one who had explained Hardy’s nature to Dr. Leyds. Then the doors closed and he was left face to face with the man he had come to see, and about whom he had heard so much.
“So this is the Mischief-Maker,” said Hardy, as he stepped up to the table and bowed.
The Boer Legate was a short and rather heavily built man dressed perfectly in black. His skin was so dark as to suggest even more forcibly than years in a tropical climate some ancestry, remote or otherwise, which was not originally European. His eyes were dark, full, and piercing. His intellect might not be so great, but it was alert; he had imagination, insight, quickness. He was a man to lose no chances. Rather would he make them. Whatever game he played, he would play well. If he did not succeed it would be the fault of the cards, not the fault of the player. The Transvaal and the Transvaal’s President could have had no better servant so long as his employer’s interests and his own coincided.
“Sir?” said the Legate.
It was a question, and at the same time it formulated a method of answering it. It was a monosyllabic request that no time should be wasted. Hardy cut none to waste.
“I have letters for Your Excellency from Peter Hoffman and from Johann Krogh,” he said, as he handed them across the table.
“What can I do for you?” asked the Doctor, after reading them.
“First,” said Hardy, “I want Your Excellency’s concurrence in a request that one of the officers now at Pretoria should be paroled and permitted to come to Europe. And I wish you to give me a pass to Pretoria and back.”
“On what grounds do you want this officer’s release? And what rank is he?”
“A captain,” said Hardy, answering the last question first, “and I ask his release because the lady he is engaged to is dying and wishes to see him.”
He told the truth as nearly as possible. He knew it was not feasible to concoct anything better, and the truth was much easier to tell with this man’s eyes upon him.
“And why do you want a pass?”
“To be sure that the request reaches Pretoria, and to use my influence there as well. I have the honor of knowing His Honor the President.”
“Such requests hardly come with grace from an Englishman,” said the Legate, abruptly. “According to your papers we are all savages.”
He spoke with very visible acerbity. Hoffman was right. The man was vain, and, if vain, was accessible.
“I have travelled in the Transvaal and been for a year in Pretoria, and I know better,” said Hardy. “Our lower papers pander to the mob, and there is no means of controlling them. So far as in me lies, T have done my best to counteract their influence.”
“You are a journalist?”
“I sometimes write for newspapers,” said Hardy.
“Not as our friend?”
“As a fair enemy, I hope,” replied Hardy. “I have no prejudice against the Transvaal, nor, I may add, against Your Excellency, or I should have listened to those who said I might as well ask the solar system for an act of personal consideration.”
“Humph,” said the Legate. “But I don’t see how it can be done.”
“Might I suggest,” replied Hardy, “that it would be an act of policy which can do you nothing but good. A paroled man — and the parole can be as strict as you like — will be useless to us. But the act will be nothing but useful to you, both in England and in Europe.”
“Ah!” said the Legate, “but it will not depend on me.”
“Pardon me,” said Hardy, “but there is a very general opinion abroad that your advice is usually followed. You will get the credit of it.”
“And yet you said they think in England that I am a brute.”
“I imagine they can be convinced that this is not so,” said Hardy. “I will undertake to do my part.”
The Legate smiled.
“Oh,” said Hardy, purposely misunderstanding the smile, “a single friend or fair enemy is not to be despised.”
“No, no,” said the Legate, “I do not despise him. I have been most unjustly treated by the English press. I have been bespattered, my character has been assailed, my motives impugned.”
“The attacks measure the importance of Your Excellency,” said Hardy. “The papers hardly condescend to attack some of the Transvaal agents in England. You must do us the credit to admit that no other country would leave Mr. Speight, or even my friend Hoffman, at entire liberty, — such liberty, indeed, as permits them to attend meetings and write what they desire to the papers.”
So much it was impossible to deny, and the representative of the Republics did not attempt to deny it.
“I venture to think,” said Hardy, “that Your Excellency could visit England without a safe-conduct.”
“I doubt it,” said His Excellency, with a dry smile. “But you will write about this interview, Mr. Hardy?”
“I undertake to put Your Excellency in the most favorable light,” replied Hardy, with fervor.
The Legate drew a sheet of paper in front of him. Hardy’s heart leaped, and then it sank, for the man thrust the paper away again.
“But your Government won’t even let a private message of my own go over the cables,” he cried suddenly.
Hardy was bold and laughed.
“Oh, Your Excellency, how many messages of ours would you pass if you owned the cables? And it cuts both ways.”
“It frees you from inept interference at the other end of the cable,” said Hardy shrewdly.
“You have evidently been in Pretoria,” said the Ambassador dryly. And he wrote rapidly upon a sheet of paper.
“The officer’s name and regiment?”
“Captain Edward Blake, Rutland Fusiliers,” said Hardy.
“Subject to any circumstances occurring in Pretoria of which I have no cognizance I recommend the release, on strict parole, of Captain Edward Blake, Rutland Fusiliers, now a prisoner in the State School!”
He signed it and pushed it across the table.
“You intend to take no part in the war?” he asked.
“I have no intention of doing so,” said Hardy. “If I succeed at Pretoria I hope to get work as a correspondent.”
The Legate took another sheet of paper.
“Pass the bearer to and from Pretoria.”
He signed that, too.
“I thank Your Excellency. Are there any private or personal messages I could take to Pretoria for you?”
“Thanks,” said the Legate. “But so far as letters are concerned I have no difficulty. What I write now would be in Pretoria before you.”
Hardy did not smile. But he said to himself, “Your messenger must travel fast.”
He added aloud:
“I am sincerely grateful, and so I am sure all this officer’s friends will be. I will take care that the British public is acquainted with this act of generosity to a foe.”
And the next moment Hardy found himself in the street. It was then only eleven o’clock, and he had two hours to waste till the express left for Paris. He had determined to go to Marseilles and would just catch the Messageries boat for East Africa. He went first of all to the telegraph office at the Poste and found a telegram from Gwen:
“Write care of Miss Doughty, 100 Portman Square.”
And he wrote at once.
“I am teaching her to be deceitful,” said Hardy, with regret, “but it is the fault of Mrs. Middleton. Why the deuce does the woman behave like a stepmother? Properly treated, such a position should be most graceful, and as it is I —— thank you, Miss Doughty, whoever you may be, for your kindly and accommodating disposition!”
He reached the Gare du Nord at Paris at six o’clock and drove straight across the city to the Gare de Lyons without stopping.
La Ville Lumière was anything but a City of Light that chill and miserable day when winter trampled heavily upon autumn and was already a conqueror. And when Paris is miserable it is miserable indeed. As Hardy drove in his wretched fiacre through the streets to the south of the muddy Seine, he was in anything but a cheerful mood. The pall that hung low upon the gloomy streets covered his soul. For a long half-hour he found it impossible to be cheerful. He almost wished to stop and run into a brasserie to drink some dreadful consommation, a concoction of the devil. If all cities have their own peculiar nerve-shatterers, Paris has the worst. And then to be in Paris when all the Parisian world was rejoicing to believe that England had found Sedan at Ladysmith, and its Bourbaki in the English commander on the Tugela, was in itself sickening. The gamins who sold papers were still full of badly printed matter concerning Natal. They avenged Fashoda every hour.
“But there is summer south of us yet,” said Hardy, as he waited at the Gare de Lyons and had some dinner in the vast salle-à-manger. At twenty-five minutes past eight he was in a first-class carriage of the Marseilles Rapide. He made himself as comfortable as possible.
“Un oreiller, monsieur,” said the girls on the platform, “un franc pour un oreiller.”
Hardy paid his franc, got his little square white pillow, and five minutes later was on his way to the south.
He awoke at Laroche, and ate some supper at Dijon an hour past midnight, by which time he was beginning to get sulky, after the manner of travellers who cannot or will not afford a sleeper, and then slept uneasily till Lyons was reached. He took a wash in the lavatory, lighted a cigar, and was awake for good.
Between Livron and Avignon the late, clear dawn arose, and at Tarascon it was brilliant day.
“Good; I feel at home when the sun shines,” said Hardy. “Why, what a nightmare Paris was!”
He was dreaming and knew it. But when the train stayed its long southward flight at the platform of St. Charles at Marseilles he dreamed harder still. Once again, after four long full years, he drove down the busy, blatant Cannebière, and saw Marseilles blaze and burn and palpitate. For the Marseillais are busy in word and deed and gesture; their streets clang for ever, and business never ceases; the wharves and blocked ways are alike strident; human life is as tense as a harp-string or a telegraph wire in a great wind. The polyglot mixed population of that Mediterranean port are like the peoples of ancient Tyre and Sidon; they speak Italian, meridional French, Greek, and Spanish; and in the crowd stand Northmen, sailors from far Norway, from England, from the Baltic seas, and among them many who have entered the inland sea through the way of the Dardanelles.
Hardy drove to the Hotel Louvre and got some breakfast under the veranda in the sounding court covered with glass. His ears were deafened with the Cannebière’s noise as the human torrent ran outside in spume. His eyes ached with the sudden southern glare. Oh, where was peace? He thought of Cowley among its elms, where the only noise was the peaceful ancient clamor of rooks on the bare boughs high above the smoking chimneys of that solitary home. And the Horton Road, with the frost! How far away it was, and yet not a thousand miles. And he had been there — when? It seemed long, long years. Oh, Gwen! many years indeed! And when will he return? For this is only the beginning, and there is much to do and many things to be endured upon the great continent far to the south of the burning zones of sun and sand, and who indeed shall say that he will return?
And that afternoon he sailed for Port Said in the steamer Gironde.
* written in Dutch, not the taal — an official language of South Africa, developed out of the speech of 17th-century settlers from Holland and still very like Dutch.
* Magersfontein — In 1899, British forces in the Cape colony were advancing north along the railway line from the Cape in order to relieve the Siege of Kimberley, but their path was blocked at Magersfontein by a Boer force that was entrenched in the surrounding hills.
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.
READ GORGEOUS PAPERBACKS: HiLoBooks has reissued the following 10 obscure but amazing Radium Age science fiction novels in beautiful print editions: 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, and Muriel Jaeger’s The Man with Six Senses. For more information, visit the HiLoBooks homepage.
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”