The Fugitives (4)
May 19, 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!
Hardy found his voyage to Delagoa Bay three weeks of a nightmare and at once a farce and a tragedy. In all his travels he had never set foot among such a heterogeneous and ill-assorted crowd as that which littered the decks of the Gironde. His fellow-passengers were French, German, Irish, American, Portuguese, and Boers. They talked of the war in all languages under the sun, and cursed the English in every key of the human voice from high falsetto to the deepest bass. He found it impossible to hide the dreadful fact that he was an Englishman, and, when this was discovered, his knowledge of foreign languages, which was extensive if not accurate, made his life a burden. Had he not possessed great self-control and a sense of humor he would have felt obliged to challenge half that ship’s company of strange and futile and foolish adventurers.
“These ‘sacred’ English!” said the French every time they passed him. “He is a spy, but soon we shall throw them into the sea.”
And Hardy whistled blandly. He found a decent German and a Portuguese to talk to. The German was going out to Lourenço Marques on business and cared as much about the war as he did about the Pyramids.
“You spik Sherman? Ya, aber not gut! I spik English gut, yes! I go out apout mashins.”
“About what?” asked Hardy, who was always curious to learn.
“About mashins — machinery. I go not for fight — I do not care apout dese leetle gountries. They are joost de same as peeznesses, nicht wahr? De leetle peezness fail, go bankrupt; dat is so. Why should Shermans trupple apout de Boers? We haf hat our Schleswig, and Russia has hat Vinland, and France has hat her leetle grab in Nizza and in Madagascar. It is all one. We all schwallow each oder by and by. Nicht wahr?”
Hardy found the Portuguese were almost as unpopular with the adventurers as he was. There was a general suspicion among them that Portugal and England had put their heads together for some terrible purpose. What that purpose was, no one could say. But it was certain that Delagoa Bay was really English, and that Portugal was going to get something for it which would show up England in her true colors, even to those who still maintained she was not the universal pirate pictured by the Paris and German newspapers.
“Oh, Lord,” said Hardy, who was rapidly coming to the conclusion that he, too, was a pirate and a ruffian and a thief and a spy, and was quite capable of murder, arson, and outrages of all and every description. “If they say much more I shall have no morals left.”
But in the Suez Canal he put on fresh courage. To be in Egypt was almost as good as being in England. The Frenchmen danced on the upper deck as they considered the matter. But when a Frenchman talks of Egypt he becomes like the ancient foiled villain of a melodrama and says —
“Ha! ha! the time will come!”
“Let it come!” said Hardy. “We are here first!”
The days of the Red Sea tried him, even though the season was cool.
“Let me get to work,” he said. How long the coast of Africa was, as they steamed past Guardafui and the rocky coast of high Sokotra. Then came blazing, malodorous Zanzibar.
“Here we are again, we cussed English,” said Hardy to the German.
“Dat is zo,” said the man of “mashins.” “But we haf the mainland, ya! Haf you ever dealt in orchilla? No? It is a gut trade zumtimes. Aber, now I am only in mashins and zumtimes in guns, ya!”
The Frenchmen plucked up great heart at Mayotta, and one of the most decent of them pointed out its beauties to Hardy.
“We too have some islands,” said a Frenchman proudly.
“And you have Madagascar,” assented Hardy. “It is a very rich country, is it not?”
“Monsieur,” said the Frenchman, “it is undoubtedly the very richest country in the world. And the climate is like Paradise, n’est-ce pas?”
“So I have read,” said Hardy. And indeed he had read it in a French newspaper before the Madagascar war. And his new friend nodded so graciously that Hardy could not find it in his heart to ask if there was such a thing as very bad malaria in Madagascar, and, if not, of what the French troops had died.
At last the Gironde came to Delagoa Bay and Lourenço Marques itself. There was much occasion for scowling on the part of all the foreigners at four English warships which were lying at anchor inside Inyack Island. Hardy could not refrain from pointing them out to a friend or two.
“And there are a lot more round the corner,” he suggested. And if he meant the Cape when he said “the corner,” he was undoubtedly correct.
“But now I have to begin,” he told himself. “I suspect that Gwen has set me a hard task.”
It was late in the afternoon when he reached the town, and though he was one of the first off the ship, he found great difficulty in getting accommodation. The sink of East Africa was crowded; it was full to the very edge of ruffians, refugees, spies, and Boer detectives. Many of these lived in tents and roughly built shacks which offered no real shelter from the heavy rains which were now due any day. The air was hot and steamy, like an ill-ventilated Turkish bath, and full of miasma as the evening fell. The mixed and turbulent population came out into the streets and sat at restaurants or drank at bars. All the nations of the world had sent representatives to this parliament of the Mozambique; no type predominated; there were all shades of color from the deep black of a pure Zulu to the brown, and again from brown to white. And among the whites were many pallid faces. Malaria stalked the streets and hung upon the hot and heavy winds; typhoid was raging, and by the yellow flags Hardy knew smallpox was once more claiming its victims.
He had rushed ashore as fast as he could in order to get a room. The old traveller is known by his never hurrying except for the purpose of getting something first. The young one hurries because he is excited. But Hardy found no rest for the sole of his foot. He could hardly get leave to plant his bag in a safe place while he went hunting for a room.
Just as he was engaged in vilifying the whole Mozambique and especially Lourenço Marques, he saw someone come along the street with the air of owning half Africa.
“By Jove!” said Hardy. “I wonder — no — yes— it is!”
He marched across the road and planted himself in front of the especially fine specimen of a Portuguese officer who had attracted his attention. He was dressed in white from head to foot and carried a palm-leaf fan. His face was a clear healthy brown, just like Hardy’s. His eyes were oval and dark; and though he was well over thirty his moustache was as small as that of a dandy of twenty-five. He stared at the stranger in front of him with some surprise at his audacity, and moved slightly to avoid him.
Then Hardy laughed.
“Good-day, Capitan Silvio da Costa!” he cried, and the officer stopped.
“I don’t remember you,” said he, “you will excuse me——”
“So I will,” cried Hardy, “but before I do we must have something to drink and you must let me ask you whether you ever remember singing ‘Funicoli—Funicola!’ with an Englishman coming from Bombay to Suez. Now do you?”
“Dio santo!” said the Portuguese, “but it is the young tenor on the Indus.”
He held out his hand and shook Hardy’s cordially.
“When did you come, and where are you staying?” he asked.
“This afternoon, in the Gironde,” said Hardy, “and at present I am staying in the street. Perhaps you can tell me where I can put up. Do your police allow me to camp anywhere?”
Da Costa laughed.
“Oh, those were fine musical times when I came home from Goa,” he cried, “and I will not allow the only singing Englishman I ever met to stay anywhere but with me. Come, my friend, come; I have a piano; we will sing this afternoon.”
Half an hour later Hardy was installed in Da Costa’s quarters.
“By Jove, I’m in luck after all. When those Johnnies off the ship see me with the Commandant of the Port they will be certain that I am an agent of the English Government.”
He dressed in linen and stepped into the other room.
“Come,” cried Da Costa, who was at the piano, “we will sing ‘Santa Lucia’ for the sake of the old time upon the Indus, and then we shall have some drinks and you shall tell me why you have come to Lourenço Marques. By that time the sun will have set and we shall eat. Come now, sing!”
But the concert did not last long. Hardy was anxious to settle his method of action, for by now he began to wonder, not whether he could get to Pretoria, but whether he could get away when he once reached it. So far he had relied upon the letters he carried. They had, he felt sure, been given him in good faith. And yet, how could he know for certain what attitude the authorities at Pretoria might take. His safe-conduct was hardly worth the paper it was written on if the character of his mission was in any way suspected. The Pretoria people might say, reasonably enough, “Why didn’t this Englishman send these papers?” “What is his reason for putting his head in the lion’s mouth?” And for a minute Hardy really thought it would be best to send his letters to Pretoria by some Dutch messenger.
“And they will be pigeon-holed!” he said the next minute. “I’ll ask Da Costa.”
When the little concert was over and the Portuguese had ceased humming “Ed io for la sentinella,” Hardy opened his heart. He did it gradually.
“How do you find these Transvaalers, my friend?”
“I prefer Zulus,” said Da Costa. “Ta-ra-ra, they are terribly rough! No good colla bella, my friend? What do you think, eh? But by and by your troops will clean the place out — when they have learned the way.”
Hardy winced a little.
“Well, they are learning.”
He leaned his elbows on the table.
“I want to go up to Pretoria, Da Costa.”
Da Costa took a guitar from the wall.
“Do you, my friend? There our tastes differ. I do not desire to go to Pretoria. And just now it will be unhealthy — for Englishman — eh?”
He sang softly —
“Lesti, lesti, via montiani sulla.”
“I have letters and a safe-conduct,” said Hardy.
Da Costa thrummed his guitar softly.
“Stay here, Hardy mio, do not go to Pretoria prisons. Stay here and we will enjoy. I have very few friends and it is dull as Cintra in winter for me. Stay, and you shall have whiskey and soda, and I will introduce you all the ladies, and you shall sing tenor outside, and they will fling you roses, and your life shall be, for so many months as you desire, all delightful and from care free. ‘Via montiani.’”
If it had been three years before, Hardy would have stayed, even in the bay of the swampy land, but now — no!
“Why do you want to go to Krugerland, Hardy mio?”
Hardy dreamed a little while, and then answered under the influence of the thrumming guitar, and the suavities of song (which recalled to him the Bay of Naples), and the hot and heavy air.
“Go on and sing,” he said, “and I will tell you. And then you will understand why I cannot stay and drink your whiskey and soda, or even your Collares ——”
“Ah me,” said the Portuguese. “But I have no Collares, vino tinto, — no, nor the white wine either.”
“— and why neither the white ladies nor the brown, nor any intombi of the Zulus can keep me,” said Hardy, as he sat at the window looking on the town and the bay. “For some one else calls me. And yet she does not call. She sends me to Pretoria!”
“Alas! for her hard heart!” intoned Da Costa, improvising in a minor key.
“And her sister’s lover lies in prison up yonder, Silvio. And I have promised to fetch him for her ere she dies.”
“Dio caro! but what of you? Alas! my friend, you will indeed sing ‘Funicoli—Funicola!’ Go home, back to her cold heart, and tell her that you have gone to the gates and have been turned back. Ah, for you will be turned back, I think. They will not let you past Ressano Garcia, and at the Kunali Bridge they will turn you back if you are lucky. And if not, they will take hold of you, one on each side, and you will indeed go to Krugerland and be eaten. And it will be long times till your Commander Chief comes and knocks at the door and asks to be let in.”
“And you think I shan’t do anything that way?” asked Hardy. For all Da Costa’s light frivolity he knew he had brains and great experience of life and of the borderland between Portuguese territory and the Transvaal.
Da Costa struck a chord upon his guitar.
“Look, Hardy, we travel much, both of us, and Englishmen I like, and presently the English will be all along. Some day I think you people will buy all the Mozambique. Well, I don’t mind, you can have it. You and I have travelled and sung. You stay here, it is what you call ‘rot’ to go west. There will nothing be done. By and by your Chief-Commander come up to Pretoria and take out your man, and you can take him home and say to the young lady, ‘Here you are.’ But without an army — no!”
Hardy leaned his elbows on the window-sill.
“Stay, Da Costa, I am going. I am going, anyhow. If I can’t get him out by asking and by these letters, I will bribe someone and have him out that way.”
Da Costa put the guitar on the table and came and stood behind his guest.
“That is more sense,” he said. “Money can do in Pretoria anything, so they say. But if you go up and give in your letters, what then? The President — oh, what a President! — he will snort, as you call it, and if he likes you he will put you back to Ressano Garcia, and if he likes you not, he will snort, as you say it, and you go to prison too. And you are there — as you say. Is it not so? You are there!”
“Yes, there you are!” said Hardy, “and, by Jove, I believe you are right!”
Da Costa bowed and was pleased.
“Oh, you see I am soldier — but politician too. I have to know, that is why I talk English and French perfectly and also Spanish and Zulu, some of it, and a little what they call Dutch. And I know them and the President. It is as I say.”
“By Jove!” cried Hardy — and then he stopped.
“You say ——”
Hardy stood up.
“I’ll go up to Pretoria as secretly as if I were escaping and coming the other way!”
“Ah,” said the Portuguese. “Well, perhaps, that you get there. But suppose they catch you?”
“Then I am caught.”
Da Costa put his hand on Hardy’s throat and made a queer little click.
“Suppose they say you are a spy and hang you?”
“Nonsense,” said Hardy, though the idea was unpleasant. “I shall have my letters to show what my business was, and I have friends there.”
“Stay here and do not die. It will be uncomfortable,” said Da Costa. “But if you must, you must. I know the English. I think the English like to die, in great heaps if they can. If not they will die alone. The Boers think that not good. When one dies they say, ‘That is enough — for the time — eh!’ and so I too think it good to be alive. While one is alive one can sing, and one can drink, and one can make love. And what you want with countries so many? — that is the surprise. For what good? Some day I think Portugal will be large enough for me — ah, yes!”
“To-morrow I’ll go,” said Hardy. “But tonight is yours. Come, shall we drink or sing, or go and see the people, or shall we do all?”
“Bravo!” said Da Costa. “We shall do everything, — at least I will, and you can do — what you call, damn please — eh?”
But as Da Costa sang and mixed whiskey and sodas with trade champagne which would have wrecked the constitution of a six-inch howitzer, Hardy’s mind worked in his task of to-morrow and the long, long days to follow.
“I think it can be done,” he said, “and — I think I can do it!”
And that is what Gwen said. But she was not so sure as he was, and the hours were long indeed until she heard.
* “Lesti, lesti, via montiani sulla.” — a slightly garbled version of a line from “Funiculì, Funiculà,” an Italian song (mentioned earlier in the chapter) which first became popular in the 1880s.
* “nor any intombi of the Zulus” — intombi is Zulu for “girl” or “lass.”
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”