The Fugitives (5)
By: Morley Roberts | Categories: Adventure, Serial Fiction

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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!

ALL INSTALLMENTS

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Chapter V: MRS. MIDDLETON’S PROBLEM

As Gordon Hardy was sailing upon the seas for the East Coast of Africa, it was more or less obvious to keen eyes at Cowley that something had happened to Gwen. Her father noticed nothing, but then he never saw anything that had to be looked for. He could spot the entirely obvious with the fine dexterity of a trained critic, but when it came to observing the moods of anything feminine he acknowledged, in the manner of the very best male models, that the thing was beyond him. But, if he saw nothing, Mrs. Middleton saw a good deal, and Clarry, for all her preoccupation in Ned Blake, and for all her fear of finding herself married suddenly to Jim Carruthers, saw a great deal more.

Mrs. Middleton, of course, had not the faintest inkling of the truth. That it was possible for a well-brought-up girl to fall in love, or even to be about to fall in love, with a man whom she had seen twice, would have always been incredible to her. It was nothing that she herself had done the inconceivable. If she had been asked a year before she married John Middleton whether she could ever marry a widower with two daughters not ten years her junior, she would have looked on the notion as tropical madness. And yet she had done it. More oddly still, she had not altogether repented. She might have married more money and a younger man without the undesirable encumbrances of a family. But — and this is the truth — she was very fond of her husband for all her vanity, and her great desire was to get him entirely to herself. The two girls were in the way. The only plan to get rid of them was to marry them. But they must, of course, marry in a manner to do credit to the family with which her interests were now one. Of course Clare could not marry a wretched captain, who not only had no money to speak of, but was idiot enough to get to Pretoria in the wrong way. And when Clare was disposed of, Gwen was to be taken in hand.

But what was wrong with the girl now? For Gwen had suddenly become very silent and had quite lost her combativeness. For a young woman who up to this time had rejoiced in nothing so much as inviting her stepmother “to tread on the tail of her coat,” like the Irishman at the traditional fair, this was remarkable enough. But she became more solitary, she ceased to ride, and was often seen sitting at her own bedroom window in a regular brown study.

“Are you not well, Gwendoline?” asked her stepmother.

“There’s nothing the matter with me that I know of,” returned Gwen. She not only spoke with an indifferent air, but really spoke with indifference.

“Now, I will tell her to see the doctor,” said Mrs. Middleton to herself, “and if she doesn’t fly out there is something wrong.”

“I think you had better see Dr. James,” she said aloud. They were the last two at the breakfast-table, and Gwen, as usual, was crumbling a piece of bread.

“Why?” she asked half absently.

“Because I don’t think you are well,” said her stepmother. “I desire you to see him to-day.”

And to her utter astonishment Gwen looked up with a sigh and said, “I don’t care; if you want me to, I will,” she said. “But I’m all right.”

“Far from it,” thought her stepmother. “But what is it?”

And good Dr. James advised Gwen to take an interest in things, and gave her something which was both bitter and sweet at once. This pharmaceutical preparation Gwen tried on a geranium without doing the flower any harm; but she did not take any great interest in things which were now astoundingly uninteresting. The doctor told Mrs. Middleton that the girl wanted a tonic and that he had given her one. He could see as far into a brick wall as most men. And then Mrs. Middleton went to the elder sister.

“What’s the matter with Gwendoline, Clare?”

She spoke sympathetically, and Clare did not revolt against her. She was a girl who would take sympathy where she could get it; even from her stepmother or, to some extent, from the very man she was supposed to hate. Her methods of hating lacked vigor to such a degree that Mrs. Middleton was perhaps justified in imagining that a hate like that could be turned into an equally bloodless affection. She told Jim Carruthers so, and he believed it.

“Oh, I don’t know,” said Clare. “Is there anything the matter with her?”

“You must have noticed it.”

Now, as a matter of fact, Clare had noticed it, and, indeed, had rallied Gwen faintly on the subject of being in love. But, like most weak characters, she was either over-reticent or over-confiding. She had a certain pleasure in deceit, and if she could deceive her stepmother ever so slightly it made her feel stronger. She lived in an atmosphere of morbid self, and all the hours of her waking life she wove ridiculous romances in which she was the enduring and persecuted heroine. Life, indeed, had no reality for her: her lover in Pretoria and the squire of Haslewood were both fictitious. She balanced one against the other and walked between the two with all the airs of an anaemic operatic Lucy.

“Such women should be shaken,” said her stepmother. Indeed, real pain of the sharpest sort is the best cure for such diseases.

“No, I have noticed nothing,” replied Clare. “Oh, how can I notice anything?”

The dominant lady of Cowley might indeed have been pardoned if she had shaken Clare until she could not see.

“Nonsense,” declared Mrs. Middleton, rather too sharply. For with some softness this sensitive plant might have opened. Now she shut up tightly, like a night-flower surprised by the sun. She was being persecuted and abused: such things had happened to maidens since Romance walked the earth. She was in the right line of descent from martyrs in the arena.

“Oh, Ned, Ned!” she sobbed.

And Mrs. Middleton held her exasperation in until she reached the corridor.

“I prefer Gwen,” she said through her teeth.

But all the same she meant to do her duty. That duty was to run Cowley, and rule John Middleton, and marry these two girls in the station to which heaven had obviously called them. There was a good deal to be said for Mrs. Middleton, even if Gwen did actively resent her being at Cowley at all.

“I want to see Clare married and with children to look after,” she said. “Then there may be some hope of her. Thank heaven that this Blake is shut up safely.”

As she pondered, illumination of a sort came to her. There was probably nothing the matter with the younger girl. But she was just at the stage of mental development when she might fall in love.

“That’s it,” said Sybil Middleton, “and so much the better. I’ll see she has someone to like. I mean to do my duty; now, whom can I ask here?”

She pondered over the county’s eligibles and groaned to find that most of them were in South Africa. It was an alarming state of things for many more than the ruler of Cowley. Such alarm, indeed, accounted for the great numbers of eminent women who had found it necessary to go to South Africa or had hastened to acquaint the War Office with their desire to nurse a few officers. If they did not acquaint the War Office with their desire that such invalids would be the more welcome if they were bachelors and well-to-do, they built much on hope and were ready to take their chance.

“At any rate, Jim Carruthers hasn’t gone,” said Sybil. “I wonder who would suit Gwen?”

And in the meantime Gwen, who lived in a dream and saw the world with vacant eyes that glared with no speculation, was tolerably satisfied that she was already suited. With all the interest in the war natural to one so young and patriotic, she now turned first of all to telegrams from Pretoria and from Delagoa Bay even more eagerly than Clare did. Though heart-breaking anxiety about the perpetually renewed fighting in Natal touched her, as it touched all the British world, her eyes followed Hardy in his venture. And now she wished she had not helped to send him. Why had she done it? Had his life not been hard enough? Little as she knew of it, she was aware from Tom’s talk about his friend that even as a boy in India with his father he had seen what war was like. And he had been on the Niger, and had fought at Nupe when another kingdom in the Dark Continent fell to England. And for what had he gone? For Clare! She turned against Clare now, and was naturally (being a woman) indignant that her sister’s weakness jeopardized her own happiness. If she had been able to read Clare’s mind with half the clearness that her stepmother read it, she might have been angrier still. But she did not know that Clare tried to be what others thought her, provided they showed any sympathy. She wept about Ned to Gwen. She wept to Sybil about the unhappy fact that Jim Carruthers was so unfortunate as to love her. When she was alone she played to an audience of one, and that was the ill-used, romantic heroine she believed herself to be.

But Gwen’s anger with her was really more or less selfish. It was not based on knowledge of her sister, though it was certainly aggravated by partial knowledge.

“She is an incredible fool after all,” said Gwen, “and ought to be whipped. But one can’t whip such a jelly-fish. And I wish I didn’t feel responsible for her. I’ll really speak to Jim.”

She took the first opportunity of doing it. She went so straight to the point that Jim Carruthers was nonplussed. At no time was he very ready, but when Gwen first opened fire upon him he wanted to run. It might be folly to want to marry Clare, especially when Clare was supposed to want to marry someone else; but Gwen had not arrived at the point of experience in life which shows plainly that the matter of marrying has nothing whatever to do with brains. In that respect the affections are often set the task of humbling the pride of intellect.

“I wish you wouldn’t come so often,” said Gwen boldly, as she met Jim riding to the house.

It was astounding and unlooked-for rudeness, and Jim, who was a very big, red-faced man of thirty, nearly fell from his horse.

“Eh, what?” he cried.

“Eh, what?” repeated Gwen, with some asperity. “I said I wished you wouldn’t come so often.”

Jim scratched his cheek with the butt of his riding-whip, and opened his mouth.

“Don’t,” said Gwen. “I wish you wouldn’t.”

(She meant just then that she wished he would not look so aghast.)

“But — but — why not?” asked Carruthers. And then the absurdity of the thing opened to him. He burst into laughter, and Gwen shook her head irritably.

“There is nothing to laugh at,” she cried. “You are only worrying Clare, and you know it.”

“Not at all,” said Carruthers. “I suppose you 
mean about ——”

“Yes, I mean about Captain Blake.”

Carruthers stroked his horse’s shoulder with the whip.

“My dear Gwen,” he said, “don’t you think you had better not interfere in matters which you don’t understand.”

There can be no more irritating reply, and Gwen was naturally furious.

“Oh, I don’t understand,” she said. “Well, I understand this. You are worrying my sister, who is practically engaged to another man, and if he was not in prison nearly ten thousand miles away you wouldn’t do it. I understand that, I quite understand that. And when Ned Blake comes back, perhaps he will make you understand it too.”

Carruthers flushed scarlet and looked so angry that Gwen for a moment almost flinched. But he did not speak. Instead of that he gave his horse a cut and went on to Cowley at a gallop.

“There! I’ve done it now,” said Gwen, “and I’m glad!”

Half an hour later she was not so glad.

“I wonder how the Demon will take it. Will he tell her?”

And an hour later she was sorry, and not a little ashamed.

“Perhaps he is fond of her, really,” said Gwen. And if she had known that Jim Carruthers believed, on the authority of Mrs. Middleton, that Clare was only worrying herself because she felt it impossible to break entirely with the man at Pretoria, she might have gone home and had it out with Clare. But even if she had done so Clare would have denied it with sobs. And after half an hour’s tears, Gwen, who could not cry, and had hardly wept even when a child, would have been even more convinced than ever that her stepmother was the hardest and wickedest woman in the whole county. Looking at it all round, there was a good deal to say for Mrs. Middleton. From her point of view she was doing her best. But of course Gwen could not believe it. She sat down and relieved her mind in a letter to Gordon Hardy which was so unlikely to reach him that she did not send it. And before she burnt it she made a postscript which she would not have had him see for worlds. She almost cried as she wrote it. And next day she got a letter from him, written at Suez, which was forwarded to her by Millicent Doughty. She slept with it under her pillow, of course.

NEXT INSTALLMENT | ALL INSTALLMENTS

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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.

REDISCOVERED 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 | John Buchan’s Huntingtower

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”

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Morley Roberts (1857–1942) was an English novelist perhaps best remembered for The Private Life of Henry Maitland (1912). He also write science fiction (e.g., "The Anticipator"), and adventure. HiLoBooks is serializing his 1900 adventure novel The Fugitives, which will also be published as an e-book by the Save the Adventure adventure book club.