The Fugitives (6)
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!
“Very well, indeed,” said Captain Silvio da Costa, “if you must, you shall, to be sure. But I am sorry for your troubles, and the Boer people are also not always gentlemanly in their manners. If they take you a prisoner I shall be sorry even more. If you like I will go with you to Ressano Garcia, as I can have business there when I choose.”
And Hardy shook hands with the amiable commandant.
“Right you are!” he cried, “you’re a good chap, Da Costa, and when we meet in England or perhaps at Lisbon we will have a concert again. But I won’t worry you to come to Ressano. I’ll get there right enough.”
“You have it all fix-up?” asked Da Costa.
“I have it fixed up,” said Hardy. “I shall step off the train just outside Ressano, and I’ll scramble on again into a truck.”
“It will be hard, and not pleasant, eh?”
But that Gordon Hardy knew well enough.
“It won’t be a picnic,” he declared, and when he found himself in the train climbing up from the swampy fever-lands of the low-lying coast, like most human beings who have started on the absurd and difficult, he came to the conclusion that he was a fool. But when a game has begun it is difficult to rise from the table. His credit with himself was involved. It might be easy enough to convince Gwen that he had run straight upon the impossible. But it was only impossible to the cautious. Hardy had never been of that order. All things were possible with luck.
And from the very first luck seemed against him. At the station where the train started he turned round suddenly and found himself being inspected with much interest by a man whom he felt to be a Boer detective. With him was a man who had been his fellow-passenger in the Gironde.
“All right,” said Hardy, “I knew it would fall out so. We must see what will happen. Perhaps I am as clever as you, my friend. If I am not, I have a pass to Pretoria signed by the Mischief-Maker. You can’t make me out a spy with that!”
He got into the train and settled down. One of his fellow-passengers was the detective.
“Bless you,” said Hardy, “but we shall see!”
And the train ran out across the low-lying land and across the river into the foot-hills. When it struck the heavy gradients, night had fallen suddenly. Hardy took out his cigar case.
“Now, if I offer one to the scoundrel opposite, he will try to get into conversation,” he thought. “I think it will be best to be a little sleepy.”
He pulled his cap over his eyes and fell to considering his folly.
“They will be keenest at Ressano Garcia and at Komati Poort,” he said, “on this side of the frontier and just across it. But at Ressano they will only watch me, of course. At Komati they will arrest me, if I am to be arrested. It is possible that even there they will say nothing. If they arrest me I shall have to go to Pretoria in any case. I have half a mind to risk it.”
But on the other hand ——
“If they arrest me at Komati, or only when we reach Pretoria, I can’t escape, and I shall just have to try the letters. If they fail I shall be put across the frontier and shall have it all to do again; and as I shall be known, if I go back I shall have no excuse. But if I get off at Ressano and lie low and go on by the next train, I shall reach Pretoria and have a chance all round. I wonder what Wertheimer will say if I turn up at his house!”
It was, indeed, a matter for speculation. Hermann Wertheimer, a Jew and a journalist, was a naturalized burgher and in the confidence of the President, as far as that individual allowed anyone to be in his confidence. Hardy had known him for some four years, and had indeed often dined at his house in Pretoria.
“He’s a good sort, and I don’t think he will give me away,” said Hardy. “After all, I am there with their Ambassador’s permission, and I can’t do them any harm. I am only asking them to do a kindly act, with a view to removing some of the prejudices now existing in England. Oh, he can’t give me away, unless it is to save his own skin. Like all Jews, he is hospitable, and I shall throw myself on his mercy. I’ll engage that Mrs. Wertheimer will stand my friend; she’s a good little sort.”
And so it fell out that the plan he had first constructed was the one he adhered to. The few things he really needed were not in his bag, which was over his head, and was ostentatiously marked “Pretoria.” After all, he really wanted nothing but his papers, his money, and a tooth-brush. That would have been hard, indeed, to part with. The rest of his things he sacrificed without regret. It was possible that he might some day find them again. If not, they mattered nothing.
At last the train came to Ressano Garcia. The night was dark, for some heavy clouds hung low upon the hills and there were few lights. Hardy yawned, rose, took off his travelling-cap, which he placed upon his seat, and took his usual out-of-doors head-gear, which was as ordinary a slouch hat as any Boer of the veldt would use. He lighted another cigar and dropped upon the platform, where he walked to and fro.
“Shall I stay and waste twenty-four hours?” he asked himself. And then he decided that promptness was the essence of the game. He knew the detective was keeping his eye on him, as he went forward toward the engine where there was least light, and where most of the merchandise trucks were.
“Very well, my friend, we shall see,” he said. “I know you can spot me now in this Cimmerian darkness by my cigar. Where is the best breeze?”
He looked over into the Komati Valley, down which a strong wind blew, and stood in the shelter of a telegraph-post. He knocked off the ash of his cigar and laid it on the high rail just where the breeze caught it and made it glow.
“This is Me,” he said, and then the bell rang. Hardy stooped, ran across the platform in the darkest shadow, leaped upon the end of a truck, cut a lashing, and dropped inside among machinery and pretended drums of oil.
“Most likely Mauser cartridges,” he said, and as he lay he worked a spare bit of cord through the eyelet-hole of the tarpaulin, and with some difficulty got it through the ring on the truck. He pulled it taut.
“Now it is obvious I can’t be here,” he said. The next moment the train moved. “The gentle detective has lost me. I hope and believe he thinks I am left behind. If I know humanity he is at present engaged in an official investigation of my bag. Much good may it do him.”
The train climbed up the hill, and soon, by the hollow reverberation, Hardy knew he was upon the bridge which crosses the deep valley of the roaring Komati River. Presently the engine struck the rack-and-pinion section, where the gradient was at its steepest. There the permanent way was hewn out of the solid rock, and ran, as it were, in a shelf over an abyss.
“If our people had had any real enterprise,” thought Hardy, “they would have sent a small flying column through Zululand at the very beginning of the war to blow up that bridge and wrench up this section of the rail. That would have made Pretoria very sick.”
A few minutes later the train pulled up at Komati Poort, the eastern gate of the Transvaal. He heard men pass him and caught some words in Dutch, or rather in the taal, — that “kitchen Dutch” of the Boer which is almost unintelligible to the Hollander. Though the train stayed no great time, considering that this was the frontier and customs station, every minute dragged out to hours, and time crawled with unutterable slowness. Hardy found his quarters more and more uncomfortable. In the small of his back was a cogged wheel, and under his legs the sharp edges of the innocent-looking oil-drums that he believed were full of cartridges. Every movement that he made seemed to rattle the whole cargo on board the truck, and yet he had to move or die. A cramp caught him in the foot, and then it crawled up and knotted the muscles of his calf till he could have yelled with agony. He gritted his teeth and bore the pain till it was absolutely unendurable, and then he kicked out and caught a drum with his heel. It sounded to his over-excited nerves as though he had struck an empty boiler with a hammer.
“Now I’m done,” he said, “they’ll haul me out! What a mean devil I shall look!”
But in truth the sound could not have been heard three yards away, and no one imagined — not even the detective — that any man would take such trouble to get to Pretoria. To get away from it was another thing, and there were many who would have envied Hardy had he but been going east instead of west.
After days and years, as Hardy declared, the engine whistled and drew ahead with a jerk which half broke his neck. It might not now stop till it reached Joubertshoop.
“I’ll have a little air,” he said. He let go his cord, and, pulling up the tarpaulin, allowed the cool night breeze out of the hills to enter the truck. He was dripping with perspiration, and yet in a minute his teeth began to chatter. He shut himself up again, for to check the perspiration now might well mean an attack of Delagoa Bay fever, even though he had carefully prepared himself for it by taking big doses of quinine as a precaution.
” I am an ass,” said Hardy. “If adventures are to the adventurous, idiocy comes natural to an idiot. When anyone asks me in future what my idea of a fool is, I shall be able to define it with examples.”
He curled up into the smallest space he could pack himself into and tried to go to sleep. But he found himself staring into the black darkness with wide-open eyes. There seemed no sleep in the world. He wanted to get up and move; every muscle in him asked for exercise. He threw the tarpaulin back again and looked once more upon the night.
“Middlesburg coal, of course,” he said, as he saw the engine throw up burning cinders through its smokestack, like ineffective Roman candles. “By and by one of them will drop here and burn me out! Oh, how cold it is!”
He fastened the cover down once more and finally fell into a sleep which was nothing but a series of disjointed scenes in a ghastly nightmare. He was a prisoner and was being tortured by President Kruger and the Transvaal Legate; and then Leyds became Hoffman, and Hoffman was the hangman at Pretoria whose duty it was to execute spies in Church Square. Just as Hardy was being hanged he woke up to find that his collar was choking him. He took out the stud and fell asleep again. How long he slept he did not know, but before he woke he was talking Dutch with a Boer, who was engaged in proving that if two and two did not make five when the Volksraad said so, he was a Hollander or a rooinek.
And when Hardy did wake he found someone talking Dutch within a yard of him.
“Almighty!” said a big bass voice, “what is Oom Paul waiting for? Is not the sea big enough to drive these English into?”
“You wait, Hans,” replied another. “Oom Paul is waiting. When all the English are here he will then be able to drown them at once. And then we shall take London and also Australia.”
“It is a good country for horses,” said the first man. “But where is it?”
“In India, Hans, or so I think, or north of the Zambesi; but it is all one, is it not?”
And Hardy choked down a dusty laugh.
“I wonder where I am,” he thought. “I suppose this is Coelzee.”
But until the Dutchmen went and the train started again he did not dare to light a match to find out the time. When he did he knew he had slept longer than he had imagined, and that they were now not so far from Middlesburg. An hour later he knew by the number of points that the train passed over that he was in that town, where most of the Transvaal coal comes from.
“I must be black enough to pass for a nigger,” said Hardy, as they came to a standstill. “Now, does my truck stay here or go on to Pretoria? By the machinery I should guess it stayed here.”
He was now naturally very much depressed, and of course imagined the worst. After such a night it seemed impossible to hope for any luck. He had come to the hour of the morning when hope is at its lowest ebb: he had to draw upon his two-o’clock-in-the-morning courage.
“Upon my soul, I think a good stretch in a prison cell would not come amiss. I’ve half a mind to get out and walk now.”
The engine snatched at the couplings and brought his head with a jolt against a solid piece of iron. He saw many stars and swore under his breath.
“Oh! are we going on?”
Then the engine backed and shook him up again. They ran backward for a hundred yards, and once more the locomotive gave the cars a kick that almost loosened his teeth. It seemed to him that they were in a siding, as, indeed, his part of the train was, and suddenly it brought up against other cars with a loud crash.
“Here! thank you,” said Hardy, “I think I’ll get out!”
He loosened his cord and peered cautiously into the night. Just then a man ran alongside, swung a lantern, and jumped upon the brake-handle. Hardy disappeared.
In another ten minutes he knew that his own particular private carriage was bound for Pretoria. But he was black and blue with bruises; he had driven a tooth into his lip and was bleeding fast; the cork had come out of his water-bottle; and he almost wished he were dead.
“All right, Gwen,” he said, ” I think you really owe me one, even if I don’t bring Ned Blake back for Clarry. It will take me a year or two to get ready for any other folly if I come back out of this with my head on.”
But then there are many men, fortunately for England, who do not inquire whether any particular task is a mad one until the folly of turning back seems even greater than the folly of going forward. And to this class Gordon Hardy certainly belonged.
It was almost dawn when at the risk of his life he dropped from the moving train, which went on toward the capital city lying deep in its valley. He found a culvert under the railway track and crawled into it out of sight of man. With a bundle of grass for a pillow he lay down, and before the red wonder of the rising day illumined the veldt he was fast asleep.
When the dark came again he set out for Pretoria, which was now only five miles away.
* “I must be black enough to pass for a nigger,” said Hardy. — Sorry, readers.
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
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”