The Fugitives (7)
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!
The season, which was that of the heavy rains, helped Hardy in his difficult and dangerous walk into Pretoria; for, though rain was not falling, the sky was covered with clouds and the night was very dark. When he crawled out of his culvert and reconnoitred the bare surrounding veldt, he knew, as far as he could judge, that he was some four miles from the enemy’s city, and that it was due west of where he stood. But that four miles cost him hours of labor. He took out his Mauser pistol and saw that it was ready loaded. But he knew that the weapon would hardly help him; it might, indeed, make danger more dangerous. He had determined not to resist under any circumstances which were likely to occur. If, after all, he succeeded in procuring Blake’s escape it would be time enough to fight for the liberty of both. Till then it would be vain and might undoubtedly lead to his own death. But the feeling of having the pistol encouraged him; it was always possible that he might need it in a case where no time would be given for thought.
For the first mile toward the town he made his way along the line of the railway, but at a little distance from it. If it should by any chance be patrolled he would thus avoid dangerous interrogations. But as he picked his way he saw and heard nothing for more than half an hour. Then he heard wheels, and instantly lay down by an old ant-heap. A “spider” or high-wheeled light cart affected by the richer Boers passed him at a few yards’ distance. So far as he could observe it was driven by an old Dutch vrouw.
“I’ve just half a mind to put her on the veldt and drive straight into the town,” said Hardy “and if I was sure she would not yell sufficiently to wake the dead, I would.”
But when she was past him he rose and crawled onward. He advanced as carefully as if he were a Boer on a battlefield, and all his senses were on the alert; his nerves were tense; as he stayed he heard his heart beat. Just so long as he was where no one was likely to be, he was in the greatest danger. When he should have reached the outskirts of the town the most risky part of the work was done. But as he walked and crawled and peered into the gloom ahead of him he began to wonder if Wertheimer was in Pretoria. If he was not, it would be a little difficult to say what his next step must be. Hardy saw now that he had risked a great deal too much on that one point.
“I shall have to go straight to the President,” he said, “and deliver my letters. The old gentleman will be so taken aback that I may get what I want!”
The picture of the President reading these precious documents was almost too much for Hardy’s self-control.
“And then, if I’m not in prison myself, I shall be back with Da Costa. And he will sing and I shall look like a fool.”
But he was really too well and strong and young to be depressed when anything had to be done. Though he ached in every limb from his long uncomfortable ride in the train, he made progress and finally reached a point whence he could look down and see the wide-spread lights of Pretoria. He had it under him like a map, and soon made out where the river Aapies ran, and which was Church Square, where stood the great Raadzaal, then in darkness.
“I’ve got to cross half the town,” he said, “and just there must be Wertheimer’s place. I must be close to a fort.”
He was far too close to one, and he dropped flat when he heard voices. The fort was built as all forts should be. It took advantage of the natural formation of the ground, and was so little distinguished from the ordinary contours of the little hill on which it stood that it was barely visible as a fort at all.
“A little more and I should have been trapped,” said Hardy. “I thank the gentlemen for warning me.”
He crept away to the left, and was once more within a few yards of the railway line and at the back of the fort. After all, there was no great reason for the Boers being particularly on the alert so far from the actual theatre of war, thought Hardy. And the very fact that he thought so showed how fatigued and strained he was. Just as a man gets clumsier from fatigue, so does his mind. He may think he sees clearly, but he does not see half that he saw before. Heroism is very often a particular case of brain fatigue. It was lucky for Gordon Hardy that he happened to be right, for during the next hour he made much more noise than he imagined as he came down to the town.
But he reached the main Middlesburg road at last, and lay in the ditch to recover his breath and his coolness. The rest of the way to Wertheimer’s was tolerably plain to him, and it had to be walked openly and boldly. It was then very late, and the town lights were beginning to go out. Had it been earlier and with more people about, there would have been less danger. The fewer there were, the more likelihood there was of some he met being police. He caught his breath, saw the road was clear, and crossed the fence.
“Now for Hermann Wertheimer,” he said, “and the Lord send that he or his good wife is at home. If they’ve commandeered him for the front it will make me as sick as he is!”
He walked in the middle of the road and did not attempt to avoid any of the passers-by. The light from one “spider” lamp fell upon him, and he looked up boldly, rather wondering why the driver did not say “good-night.” But the reason was that the man in the cart took him for a Kaffir. Though Hardy did not know it, his face was almost as black as coal. The next man he passed was on foot, and in the darkness did not see the stranger’s color. He said “Gut naacht,” and Hardy replied boldly.
“Now if I am held up by any single Johnny, what am I to do?” he thought. “I think I shall talk to him in pure German. He won’t understand it, and yet won’t be suspicious of it.”
But not a soul stopped him, and he walked straight across Church Square without being challenged. The hideous building which did honor to heaven in the name of the Dutch Reformed Church, and dishonor to its builder in the name of architecture, was surrounded by a very laager of wagons, in which no doubt many families were sleeping. Though the door of the Grand Hotel was shut, the interior was still lighted, and when Hardy saw the place, where he had once stayed, an almost irresistible and foolish desire came over him for a whiskey and soda. In truth he was parched; his very tongue was dry, and his lips were cracking. He gave a half-humorous groan and walked on.
“Two hundred pounds in my pocket and a bar handy!” he said, as he turned up a street lined with Pretoria’s characteristic weeping-willow trees. “Was there ever such luck?”
As he walked he remembered suddenly that he had once spent an evening with a member of the Volksraad in this very street. That was soon after the Raid, which had been such a sign and symptom of the great war to follow. In spite of the strong race feeling existing, Piet Marais had made an excellent host, and the evening had been a pleasant one.
“I wonder what’s become of Piet,” said Hardy. “I think this was the house.”
He stopped and looked into the garden. The parlor in which they had all sat so long ago was still lighted and the blinds were not drawn down. The war came right home to Hardy then. He saw Mrs. Marais inside at the table, reading; she was dressed in black.
“Poor fat old Piet,” said Hardy, “I wonder if he has gone. How would she take it if I served her as I propose to serve Hermann Wertheimer?”
He lifted his hat to the solitary mourner inside and walked onward till he came to a very big Australian gum-tree which marked the turning he was looking for.
“Now for it,” he said. And as he walked up the wide and solitary road he was aware of a light far down it which shone like a great moon through the heavy and sad foliage of the willows. What was it? And suddenly it flashed upon him that this was the State School in which Ned Blake and all his unlucky companions were confined. The light, of course, was to aid the guard in keeping watch upon the prisoners of war.
“It looks a likely job that I’m upon,” said Hardy, who knew that Wertheimer’s house was just about three houses on the other side of that crackling and fizzing arc light. “Shall I pass it or not?”
Suddenly he knew he had no choice, for he saw two men coming toward him. It would not now do to turn back and get round the other way. He pulled his hat straight and marched ahead boldly, whistling the tune of the old Lutheran hymn —
“Ein feste burg ist unser Gott,”
— like a good Christian of the fighting sort that the Boers love. As the two men neared him he saw they were guards going off duty, and carrying their rifles in the sling across their shoulders.
“Maybe they’re tired,” said Hardy, and the next moment they passed him without a word. By their speech he knew they were of the Hollander breed who had really brought about the war. Then he came into the glare of the light and saw his shadow surrounded by a halo upon the ground, and about it danced the shadows of leaves in a wonderful blue color, like some strange patina upon old bronze. Inside the railings were three burghers, and one called to him in a friendly voice, “Gut naacht, Hans!” and Hardy’s heart leaped as he lifted his hand in answer.
“I wonder what your other name is, Hans,” he said, as he went into the deep shadows beyond the reach of the electric light. “I think your other name, my Hans, must be ‘mad Englishman,’ or something equivalent.”
And then he saw Wertheimer’s house and knew it, even after four long years, by the fact that the journalist had a great taste for Oriental lamps. Hardy saw that they were now alight in the hall and in the big room on the left where the Wertheimers usually sat. For though the main blinds were down the windows were triple, and through the side windows Hardy saw the shadowy glint of green and purple mixed. Through the glass of the hall door he saw another lamp of the same kind, of which Wertheimer was especially proud. It probably contained more different kinds of crude color than any other lamp in the world, and made everyone within range of it more like a discolored bruise than a mere human being. But no more welcome light ever greeted a wanderer from across the seas.
“It’s like raising the Lizard after a weary time abroad,” said Hardy, as he stood against the gate and reconnoitred the country. Above all things he did not wish to get Wertheimer into any trouble, and he was doubtful whether it would be wise to go in deliberately and knock at the door. Besides, was Wertheimer really at home? It occurred to Hardy with a shiver that it was possible for someone else to have taken over his house, — stock, lock, and barrel.
“I’ll look into the window,” he said, and, opening the gate quietly, he walked into the garden, removed his shoes, and stepped out of the heavy tree shadows into the shadow of the balcony by the side window. Going on tip-toe he looked in and at first saw no one. Then he became aware that there was a woman in a rocking-chair, with her back to him.
“Oh, turn round and let me have a look at you,” said Hardy irritably. “Turn round, my dear, and let me see your nice face.”
That very moment she turned.
“Thank Heaven,” said Hardy to himself, “you are the one I want to see.”
For it was Mrs. Wertheimer after all.
“I wish that it was Hermann,” said Hardy. “I suppose I shall scare the wits out of her if I knock at the window. And yet I must.”
He knew it was foolish to waste any time, so he tapped lightly on the pane. The woman inside turned sharply, listened, and then resumed her former attitude. Hardy tapped louder and she sprang to her feet.
“Who is that?” she cried. She was obviously nervous.
“Poor girl,” said Hardy. And then he knocked more loudly, and, putting his hand to the window, slid it up an inch or two.
“Mrs. Wertheimer!” he said, and then the journalist’s wife sank back on the sofa.
“I hope to heaven she won’t faint,” he thought. And then he opened the window wider.
“Mrs. Wertheimer!” he repeated.
“Oh, yes, who is it?” said Mrs. Wertheimer, gasping, “who are you?”
“Where is Wertheimer?” asked Hardy hurriedly.
“In the town. Who are you?”
“You remember an Englishman named Gordon Hardy, don’t you?” asked Hardy.
“Yes,” said the young woman.
“Then I’m he,” whispered Hardy. “I want you to let me in. I must see you and Hermann. Go round to the door, please. And don’t be alarmed, I am rather black to look at.”
“Oh,” said Mrs. Wertheimer, “are you sure you are Mr. Hardy? What are you doing in Pretoria?”
“Let me in and I’ll tell you,” said Hardy with some impatience. And with that he walked to the front door. In another minute Mrs. Wertheimer opened it for him, and then gave a little shriek.
“Oh!” she said.
“Don’t,” said Hardy. “That’s all right.”
And he walked inside.
“Shut the door, please,” he said. “May I come in?”
Without waiting for her permission he went into the sitting-room. Mrs. Wertheimer, after closing the front door, followed him with open eyes, as if she were in a state of walking catalepsy. Certainly Hardy was enough to cause alarm in any decent household. His face was almost black, but it was a striped and patched and mottled black. The Middlesburg coal-dust grimed every feature, and with it was oil from the machinery in the truck which had brought him from Lourenço Marques. On top of that was the red dust of the veldt, and his rough gray suit was red. Some thorns had scratched his face and hands, and though the dried blood was not visible as blood, it made palpable ridges for the coal-dust to lie in. His lips were cracked and blood was visible upon them.
“Oh!” said Mrs. Wertheimer, “are you really Mr. Hardy?”
“I am,” said Hardy hoarsely; “but can’t you give me a drink, — water or anything? I’m nearly dying of thirst. Oh, I’ve a story to tell you, — such a story!”
He sat down, for by now he was reeling with fatigue. Whoever and whatever he was, Mrs. Wertheimer saw that he was not to be feared. The man was completely done: a child could have pushed him from his chair. She ran and brought him a carafe of water. He did not wait for a glass, but drained the last drop of liquid before she could bring one. His head swam and he almost fell. Mrs. Wertheimer caught his shoulder.
“Oh, thanks,” said Hardy, “what a kind girl you are!”
“Have you been a prisoner, and have you escaped?” she asked, and Hardy shook his head feebly.
“No, but I may be one soon, if anyone finds I am here. You won’t give me away?”
He knew she would not, but asking the question made her at once indignant and pitiful.
“Oh, my poor boy, what have you been doing?”
“I’ll tell you directly,” said Hardy. “When will Hermann be back?”
“Any moment,” said she.
“Ah,” said Hardy stupidly, “I’ll wait till he comes.”
So saying, his head dropped on the table and he went to sleep without another word.
“What is it all about?” said Mrs. Wertheimer. But even as she spoke she drew down the blinds.
“What will Hermann say?” she cried, and she looked at Hardy in wonderment. “How did he get here? And what has he come for? Poor boy, he is tired. How thirsty he was, and he will be hungry. Where is Hermann?”
She ran to the front door and looked out. Her nerves were all of a shake. The war had tried them, for she never knew at any moment that her husband might not be sent to the front. Had it not been for the fact that Hermann Wertheimer was the most useful journalist they possessed in Pretoria, he would have gone there long ago. Even as it was, he not only wrote anti-English literature of the journalistic sort for American and German newspapers, but spent any time that could be spared from his own desk at that of a government official who was then in Natal. Working hands were short in Pretoria, and Wertheimer had brains too. As his wife knew, he might not be back till after midnight. She ran again into the room and found her unexpected guest still fast asleep. To occupy the time till Hermann returned she laid supper, and as she moved swiftly and quietly she still asked —
“What is the story he has to tell?”
It was four years ago since Hermann had brought him in to dinner first. As she worked she began to remember him more vividly. He had a pleasant voice and told little stories of adventures very pithily. As Hermann was really a Bavarian and as she was originally English, they did not mind his sarcasms about the Boers and the Hollanders. He had come in often enough after that first day, and had been something of a companion for Hermann, who found so few in Pretoria who were really educated. Then she saw him quite vividly the day he had left for England. What could he be doing here again? And what would the authorities do if they knew he was here?
Then she heard the gate open, and knew her husband had returned. She ran out and opened the door.
“Is there any news?” she asked.
“Yes,” said Hermann. “The English have gone back across the Tugela again.”
He spoke without exultation, for, though he was a naturalized burgher, he was, after all, a Jew; and though a Jew in a really settled country often attains to a quality of patriotism, in an unsettled one like the Transvaal it was not so easy to become identified with it.
“And I have news,” she said nervously.
“What, my dear?” he asked, without any anxiety.
“Do you remember Mr. Hardy?” she asked.
“Gordon Hardy? of course,” said Hermann. “What of him?”
His wife caught him by the arm and pointed to the sitting-room.
“He’s inside there, fast asleep!”
* “driven by an old Dutch vrouw” — vrouw is Dutch for “married woman.”
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”