The Fugitives (8)
June 23, 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!
“Gordon Hardy in there? Here? In Pretoria?” asked Hermann, aghast. “Oh, nonsense, what do you mean?”
“I mean it,” said his wife. “And, Hermann, the poor fellow is quite worn out. He knocked at the window and I let him in, and he is quite black and was nearly dying of thirst. He said, ‘I have such a story to tell you,’ and then his head dropped on the table and he fell asleep!”
“Almighty!” said Hermann, using the common Boer exclamation, “this is a nice business —— why ——”
He stared at her and shook his head.
“It mayn’t be nice for us.”
Then he walked into the sitting-room.
“Oh, don’t wake him, Hermann,” pleaded his wife. “He is dead beat.”
“How did he get here?”
“He didn’t say.”
“Well, I’m damned,” said Hermann. “I really must wake him up. He can’t stay like that all night.”
He shook Hardy by the shoulder. Had the visitor been shaken thus when asleep in the railway culvert he would have been wide awake in an instant. But now he knew, even in his sleep, that he was in a place of safety, and all the sign he gave of being alive was a heavy snore of fatigue.
“Humph!” said Hermann, half in anger and half in comic despair. “If you won’t wake up I think I’d better have supper and think what’s to be done with you. Why, Addie, my girl, this is very like harboring a spy!”
His wife stared at him in alarm.
“Oh, but it’s Mr. Hardy, Hermann.”
“That’s all very well,” growled Hermann, “but his being Mr. Hardy won’t make any difference to the others outside. Come, I’ll wake him up.”
He shook Hardy again.
“All right,” said the sleeper.
Hermann shook him again.
“I’m all right,” grunted Hardy, with a snore.
“Pull yourself together,” said the German sharply.
“Oh, yes,” snored Hardy. And then he woke.
“Eh, what?” he said. “Oh, it’s you, Wertheimer, yes ——”
His head dropped again. Hermann shook him once more, and finally Hardy got on his feet.
“Where am I?” he asked stupidly.
“In Pretoria, confound it,” said Hermann. “And what the devil are you doing here?”
“Oh, yes, so I am,” said Hardy. He ground his grimy knuckles into his eyes and redistributed the dirt. “So I am. Well, old man, it’s you! Look here, give me a whiskey and soda or some thing to drink, and I’ll tell you —— Oh, is that food? I wish you’d give me some.”
“Why, he’s not awake yet,” groaned Hermann.
“No, I’m not, I know,” said Hardy, with a yawn, “but I shall be in a minute. Let me see! I’m in Pretoria, so I am, and I’ve come from Delagoa Bay. That’s it.”
And very gradually he came back to himself. When he was really awake he fancied that Hermann eyed him with rather less friendliness than he desired to see. When he recognized this, his mental alertness returned.
“Oh, thank you,” he said, “how good you both are! You are the city of refuge; I throw myself upon your hospitality. Give me bread and salt.”
He knew that Hermann Wertheimer had lived in the Orient before he came to Africa, and, like all who have done so, the Jew was tinged with Oriental superstitions. After all, the Hebrews are Orientals in their blood, however long they have been among Western nations.
“Sit down and eat,” said Hermann courteously, if without effusion. “But, Hardy, I think you have put me in a very awkward situation.”
Hardy shook his head.
“Wait till I tell you my story and show you my papers. Is it a million years since I sat at your hospitable table?”
And then he ate like a famished hound. He apologized at intervals.
“I didn’t think I was so hungry, Hermann. I’ll tell you all about it directly. Do I look very awful?”
“You look like a coal-miner,” grumbled Wertheimer.
“I feel like a rogue and vagabond, I know that,” said Hardy. “Do you think I am in fit condition to impress our friend, His Honor the President, so much as to get a favor out of him?”
Hermann lifted his hands.
“Why, the man is mad!” he cried.
But Hardy had quite recovered by now.
“Do you mean your respected Kruger?”
“No — you!” said Hermann. “What do you want here?”
Hardy thrust away his plate and took out his pipe.
“May I smoke, Mrs. Wertheimer?”
“Of course; oh, of course,” she said.
“Look here, I’ll tell you, Wertheimer; I’ll tell you both all about it, and then you can decide to help me or put me into the street.”
“Never,” said his friend’s wife, and Hardy thanked her.
“Well, let’s hear it,” grumbled Wertheimer.
And Hardy told his story from the beginning with all the effect and all the exaggeration of the born narrator. In it Clarry Middleton became the patient and heroic figure of romance which she imagined herself to be. She was, now lying at death’s door, and the only thing which kept her alive was the hope of seeing her lover once again. It seemed possible, according to a number of doctors who were quoted by Hardy with exactness, that she might really recover if this Blake managed to return to England. Her sister, to whom (in this story) Hardy himself had been engaged for a long time, had implored him on her knees to do something to get the man out of prison, and he, relying greatly on Wertheimer’s well-known influence with the President, had determined to do what she asked or perish in the attempt.
“And these are the letters I got from Leyds, your Mischief-Maker in Europe,” said Hardy. He thrust them across the table to Wertheimer.
“Oh, Mr. Hardy, how very brave of you to come!” said Mrs. Wertheimer. “And how you must have suffered coming up from Komati Poort.”
“It was not pleasant,” said Hardy, who was pleased with his way of telling the story and knew he had his host’s wife on his side at any rate; “but I don’t see that it was brave.”
Hermann Wertheimer banged the table with his fist.
“It was an act of folly,” he said. “Why didn’t you stay down at Lourenço Marques and send me this letter, and I would have gone to the President and done everything that could have been done? As it is, you are here in the position of a spy, if they like to call you such, and I am in the position of harboring you.”
“Oh, Hermann!” cried his wife.
“It’s all very well ——” said Hermann.
But Hardy interrupted.
“After all, I have a pass!”
“Which you didn’t use. You should have used it.”
“And I should have come here as a prisoner, and if I hadn’t succeeded your people would have put me across the frontier,” said Hardy, shrugging his shoulders.
“But what do you want to do?”
“I want to take Blake away,” said Hardy stubbornly, “and I want you to go to the President with Leyds’s letter and see if it can be done.”
It was Wertheimer’s turn to shrug his shoulders.
“Your government won’t exchange, and we won’t parole anyone,” he said.
“But you will try, won’t you, dear?” asked his wife.
Wertheimer was obviously much upset.
“Very well, I’ll try. But it won’t be any good. You must write me a letter covering this one from Leyds, and I will see the old man to-morrow. And if it’s no good you’ll have to quit the way you came.”
Mrs. Wertheimer rose and left the room.
“Mind, I don’t promise to do this,” said the Boer journalist. “I’ll tell you to-morrow.”
“I know you will do your best,” replied Hardy. “After all, I suppose our army will come up here some day, and you might want a favor done for a friend of yours.”
“And you really think any of your people will come here, except as prisoners?” he asked.
“I do,” said Hardy.
“My dear chap,” cried Wertheimer, “you will be disillusioned before long.”
Then Mrs. Wertheimer returned.
“I’m sure Mr. Hardy would like a bath,” she said. “I have got your room ready. We have no servants, not even a Kaffir boy.”
“So much the better for me,” said Hardy. “But I am giving you a deal of trouble.”
His hostess did not think so. She was altogether upon his side, even though her sympathies were now with the land of her adoption. He was not so much an accursed Englishman as a stranger in a far country who had come bravely upon a rash errand of mercy.
“Hermann, do what you can for him,” she said when he had gone. “Poor fellow, it may have been very foolish of him to come, but it’s a kind of foolishness no one but a very good sort of man would have committed.”
And in that Wertheimer agreed with her.
“Still, it’s very awkward for us,” he declared.
“I don’t believe it,” said his wife.
And she, at any rate, made up her mind to do what she could for her guest, for the prisoner who was even then not a hundred yards away, and for the girl in England.
That night Hardy slept with such soundness that a bombardment would not have awakened him. Indeed, Wertheimer bombarded his door at eight o’clock without any effect, and finally had to walk in and sit on the Englishman’s bed. That roused Hardy after a bit. He lay staring at Hermann for half a minute before he remembered where he was.
“By Jove, I’m here after all,” he said.
“And you must stay here,” said Wertheimer, who appeared less disturbed and anxious than he had been the night before. “You mustn’t show yourself about the house. There is no telling who might see you. But dress now, and come to breakfast, and you shall fix me up that letter. This afternoon I’ll see the President and do what I can. Don’t build any hopes upon it, though, for he is as hard as a rock and gets harder every day.”
“Poor old chap!” said Hardy. “All right, I’ll be down in a quarter of an hour.”
And after breakfast he sat at the desk and wrote the desired letter, dating it from Delagoa Bay. It pretended to enclose the Transvaal Legate’s letter recommending the release of Captain Blake on parole, and asked Wertheimer to communicate to the President the fact that urgent private affairs might reasonably be alleged as an excuse for acceding to this particular request.
“Well, I’ll try it,” said Wertheimer as he laid the letter in the bright sunshine to blacken the writing and make the ink look less fresh. “I’ll try it, but, as I said before, don’t build on anything happening. I will try to see the President to-day. If he is very busy I may not get the chance. I really wish you had written, Hardy. I shouldn’t like you to go to prison from my house.”
“I know you wouldn’t, old chap,” said Hardy, “and I won’t go, bless you. Cheer up, don’t look so down. Look at me, I’m quite cheerful!”
“You are an utterly irresponsible devil,” cried Wertheimer, with the first laugh since he had seen Hardy. “The more I see of Englishmen the less I understand them. Now, remember, you are to lie quiet and close.”
“Thank heaven, I want to,” said Hardy. “I’m still as stiff as a biscuit and as tired as an old trek ox, and the colors all over me are just like the colors of that beautiful hall-lamp of yours. Travelling first-class with machinery is no catch.”
When Wertheimer started for his office, Hardy lay down on the sofa in the little sitting-room. When she had done her housework Mrs. Wertheimer came in to see how he was getting on.
“There are plenty of books, Mr. Hardy,” she said.
“I don’t care much about reading,” replied Hardy. “I’m thinking too much. I’m wondering what my sweetheart is doing and what poor Blake’s sweetheart is thinking of.”
“Poor girl,” said Mrs. Wertheimer. “I wonder he has not been one of those who have escaped or tried to escape.”
Hardy sat up.
“I hope he will. How cruel it will be if the President won’t let him go!”
“I’m almost sure he will,” said his hostess. “He’s not half a bad old man, I think. And certainly he’s not unkind in many ways.”
“Ah,” said Hardy, “I’m sure he is not. If he cannot let Captain Blake go, I shall have to try and help him escape.”
He lay back and let the words sink into Mrs. Wertheimer’s mind.
“Help him escape? How?” she asked presently.
“I don’t know how,” said Hardy. “But if you were I, would you come here and go away without doing something for him and for that poor girl in England?”
“No-o-o, I don’t think so,” said Mrs. Wertheimer.
“Do you think there would be any possibility of my getting a letter to him? I mean without its being opened by your Commandant-General. You know that all your husband’s letters to me in England came with the legend ‘Geopend onder Kriegswet’ upon them.”
“Did they?” she asked. “But I think most people send their letters by hand to Delagoa Bay.”
“I wish I could send a letter by hand to poor old Blake,” said Hardy.
There was a minute or two of silence.
“You mean without its being read?” asked his hostess.
“Yes,” said Hardy dryly. “I can’t endure my letters being read by anyone but the person to whom they are addressed.”
“No, of course not,” said Mrs. Wertheimer. “But if the President lets him go there won’t be any need of writing.”
“That’s so. I shall see him then. But if the President doesn’t?”
“Ah, yes,” said Mrs. Wertheimer.
“Who gives the passes to see the prisoners?”
“I believe it is young Wilhelm Reitz now.”
“I think I met him at the Pretoria Club once,” said Hardy. “Do you know him?”
She knew him very well.
“Have you ever seen any of the prisoners?” he asked.
She shook her head.
“Not to speak to. I’ve sent one or two some fruit and flowers, for you see Hermann has had letters from friends in England about some of them.”
“Of course,” said Hardy. “I suppose if you did want to see one you could get permission from Reitz, couldn’t you?”
He waited quite a little time for an answer, and then it was not a direct one.
“Do you think this Miss Middleton will die, Mr. Hardy, if — if things don’t go better?”
Hardy lied without reserve.
“I am sure of it,” he said.
“I must go and look after lunch,” said Mrs. Wertheimer. But as she left the room she whispered nervously: “I think Mr. Reitz would do anything in reason that I asked him, Mr. Hardy.”
* “the Jew was tinged with Oriental superstitions” — an offensive twofer.
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) | John Holbo’s graphic novel On Beyond Zarathustra (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”