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!
Without doubt Hermann Wertheimer had some reason to feel not a little sore with the astounding and intrusive Hardy, who had rushed his hospitality, and, by throwing himself on his friend’s good faith, had really secured it. The situation was not without its dangers, for in Pretoria no one had confidence in his neighbor; there was a perpetual undercurrent of distrust in every conversation; even those recruits from Europe who professed their willingness to die in an attempt to injure England were only really trusted when they were dead on the field of battle. Every one of them might be a spy. The usual jealousy among the Transvaalers and the imported Hollanders was not less because of the war, but rather more. And the amount of love between the Boer and the Free Stater was not startling. Though they were all combined in an attack on England, none of them forgot that, after success, there must be a struggle among themselves. Even the last good news of the retreat of the English across the Tugela was not likely to banish fear and suspicion of each other. Wertheimer knew well enough that he had enemies who would be only too glad to pull him down and discredit him with the President. What made him angriest with Gordon Hardy was that, even if he were to do his duty and denounce him to the authorities, those very authorities might be inclined to disbelieve his good faith.
“Yes,” said Wertheimer as he went into town, “they would say, ‘Why did he go to you at all, and why didn’t you send for the police last night?’ It would be enough to ruin me. I must do what I can.”
He had a very busy morning at the office of his paper, which only came out bi-weekly during the war. Every ten minutes or so he was interrupted by someone bringing a new kind of foreigner to be interpreted for. Hermann, though said to be a Bavarian, came from nowhere in particular, and, having been everywhere, was general interpreter to all European strays who desired to enlist in the armies of the Republic. He was a good linguist as regards some half-dozen languages, all of which he spoke like a native, and he could talk fluently and ungrammatically in a dozen others, including Russian, Roumanian, and Turkish. It was no uncommon thing now for him to use six different tongues in the morning. Pretoria was the sink of all Europe and of not a little of Asia.
“And some of them are English spies, I know,” said Hermann. He gave the English Intelligence Office credit for intelligence.
It was late in the afternoon before he got away from his work and went down to the President’s house. He found him sitting, as usual, on his stoep, facing the hideous new Dopper Church which had entirely spoiled a once pretty view of the hills that surround the town. His Honor was drinking coffee and smoking. Unless special despatches came in, his work was over. As Hermann went up the steps between the two celebrated lions, the Under-Secretary of State was just going.
“Good news, Herr Wertheimer!” said the Under-Secretary.
“It is indeed,” cried Hermann with fervor. He saluted the President, who pointed to a seat with the stem of his pipe. He accentuated his invitation with a grunt. His Honor’s conversation consisted of various sounds that are mostly signs of dissent. After the grunt His Honor addressed himself to the spittoon and then drank some coffee. He made a gesture and uttered another sound which Wertheimer interpreted as an invitation to take some too.
“Thank you,” said Hermann. And the President’s military servant ordered it.
The old gentleman, or rather old peasant, whose ambition had set the whole African veldt on fire, was clad in greasy black and wore an ancient high hat that might have dated from the Great Trek. His once powerful figure was sunken and old. His eyes now glared through dark spectacles: his reddened eyelids were everted. His hands were dark and toil-worn. But he was still strong; still as set in his mind as he had been for a long generation.
“Ach, well, what have you to say?” he grunted after a long pause.
“I came to congratulate Your Honor on the latest success of the Federal arms,” said Wertheimer.
“Humph!” said the President.
“And I wished to show you a letter from Brussels, from the Legate, and one from Delagoa Bay.”
“So,” said Kruger, after a triple puff at his pipe.
“It is about one of the English prisoners, President. He recommends that one of them should be paroled.”
The President looked up with a half-glazed eye, and again used the spittoon. He smoked for a minute.
“Why?” he asked with a mumble.
Wertheimer could not help feeling that he was on a fool’s errand.
“It appears, Herr President, that this particular officer’s friends wish him to be released for a time in order that he may see someone who is dying.”
The President gave a guttural growl. He pointed to the east with his pipe-stem.
“Ah, plenty die in Natal. Why should we let him go?”
“It might have a good effect in Europe, President.”
The President spat. It might have seemed he wished to defile Europe.
“Ya,” he said. “No, I will not. These English will not exchange.”
He brought his hand down upon his knee.
“Nein, nein, I will not. That is enough. But read the letter.”
Hermann read it.
“Yes,” said the President, “but the circumstances are that I will not do it. It is settled. Those are the circumstances.”
And Wertheimer knew that it was settled indeed. He took his leave ten minutes later. During that ten minutes the President said nothing at all, unless a series of noises meant that he was greatly dissatisfied with Europe in general and with the Ambassador in Brussels in particular.
That, at any rate, is how the journalist interpreted them as he went home to tea.
“Where is he?” he asked, when he got to his house.
“In his room,” said his wife. “Did you see the President?”
“Yes,” grunted Hermann, “and he was as stubborn as a mule. But why shouldn’t he be? He rules the country with a rod of iron, and is emperor, king, and sultan in one.”
He spoke the absolute truth, though his wife was a little surprised to hear him declare it. The President of the Transvaal Republic was practically as absolute as the Sultan. He held power over all things and had to be approached directly or indirectly. No one else could be powerful except by way of influence; and, as in Turkey, there could be no certainty that the man with influence to-day might have any to-morrow.
“Then he won’t?” asked Mrs. Wertheimer.
“Of course he won’t,” said Hermann.
He walked up and down the room.
“Look here, my dear, Hardy must go!”
His wife nodded.
“I suppose so — but, Hermann ——”
“He says he won’t go till he hears from this Captain Blake.”
Hermann laughed rather unpleasantly.
“He won’t! Won’t? Well, I will see about that. Doesn’t he know the position he is in? He must go to-night.”
Mrs. Wertheimer looked very unhappy.
“Oh, Hermann, let him stay a little while. And perhaps you could get Reitz to give him a pass to see this Blake and have a talk with him.”
“Nonsense,” said Hermann. “I’m not going to risk my position and the little remaining influence I have with the President by fooling with edged tools to please any wandering idiot of an Englishman. I think I’ll go and see him.”
“No, let him come down,” said his wife, who foresaw that in her husband’s present temper a solitary conversation with Gordon Hardy would end in a row of some kind. “There’s no harm in his coming down. I’ll call him.”
He came in smiling and looking quite fresh in a shirt of Wertheimer’s.
“Good man!” he said. “Did you see His Honor the Emperor of all the Africas?”
“And he’ll do nothing?”
“There, what a sensible chap I turn out to be,” he cried lightly. “If I had used my pass and come up openly they would have sent me to the frontier this very night, and I should have lost my best chance.”
Hermann jumped up.
“But you must go this very night, Hardy.”
“Oh, Hermann,” said his wife.
“Be quiet,” cried Hermann; “you don’t think you can stay?”
Hardy did think so, and, what is more, he meant to do it.
“Why not? You don’t think I would take all this trouble and then go without hearing a word about the man I came to help?”
Hermann found it almost impossible to fathom a mind of this order. He himself did not care to risk his skin in rash enterprises, even when they promised great rewards. And here Hardy was apparently desirous of running the greatest risks for a merely sentimental reason.
“You’ve tried to help him and you can’t do it,” he said sharply, “and now you must go.”
“I’m sure you don’t mean it,” said Hardy.
“Don’t I?” replied Wertheimer. “But I’m sure I do. You had better go to-night and get on the train. Your pass will probably take you across the frontier.”
“I very much doubt if it will without some indorsement from the folks here,” said Hardy, who quite saw that his host was in earnest. “And I’m not going to risk it; when I go, I’ll go the way I came. When I’m across the border I guess I shall have got there without showing a pass which was only good really for getting here.”
Hermann paced the room and grew visibly hot. The perspiration stood in beads upon his forehead.
“I don’t want to be inhospitable,” he said, — “but you can’t stay.”
“Oh, Hermann,” said his wife, “do let us try to hear from his friend.”
“Be quiet,” cried Hermann. “You ought to know what a position this is. No, I don’t want to be inhospitable, but ——”
“My dear chap,” said Hardy, “I’m not going to let you do hurt to your finer feelings. I’m here on what I believe to be my duty, and you will have to keep me for another day or two till I find out whether I can do it or not.”
Hermann stared at him.
“But if I tell you to go?”
Hardy sat down.
“I tell you frankly that I won’t go.”
Hardy shrugged his shoulders, and then jumped up.
“It’s a hard thing to say. But I swear you can call the police if you like (and I know you won’t like and would rather die than do it), and I will stay to receive them.”
“Why — damn ——” he began.
“Oh, yes,” said Hardy, with sudden sulkiness. “I want to see Blake or communicate with him. And I’m going to do it. Look here, Hermann Wertheimer, you are really a good chap, and your wife is the nicest and best woman in Pretoria — oh — I say, damn it — make it a bit easier by asking me to stay. I’d do it for you.”
There was something so extraordinarily boyish about this sudden appeal of Hardy’s that Hermann was really almost touched. And Mrs. Wertheimer burst into tears.
“Oh, do stay, Mr. Hardy, please do,” she sobbed. “Hermann, you ask him to stay, or I’ll never forgive you.”
Her husband thrust his hands into his pockets.
“Very well, stay, and we’ll all go to prison. Damn!” — and with this explosion he marched out of the room.
“Oh, Mr. Hardy, it is so difficult in Pretoria,” said his hostess.
“I know it is, I know it is,” replied Hardy. “Forgive me, my dear Mrs. Wertheimer, I’m an awful brute.”
But she denied that with tears, and Hardy soon went away and found Hermann smoking his extra large pipe with his strongest tobacco in it. Hardy smoked too, and after five minutes’ silence he said:
“You do see the position, don’t you, Hermann?”
Hermann was especially dry.
“Yes, I thought I had been trying to explain it,” he said.
And there was another period of silence, which was rather awkward.
As Hardy cast about for some indifferent subject of conversation he saw a twelve-pounder shell standing in the fireplace.
“How did you get that trophy?” he asked.
Hermann explained that it had been sent to him by the correspondent of the Johannesburg Standard after the battle of Glencoe.
“Is it a plugged shell?” asked Hardy.
“Yes,” said Wertheimer.
“May I look at it?”
Wertheimer nodded, and Hardy picked up the shell and looked at its base.
“Plugged be hanged,” he cried; “it’s a filled shell all right, only it didn’t explode!”
Hermann thrust his chair back.
“Is it dangerous?” he asked in alarm.
“No,” said Hardy, “not so long as it isn’t fooled with. But I shouldn’t keep it here. I’ll put it into the garden for you. By and by you can get someone to render it harmless.”
“What an ass that Foster must have been to send it,” said Hermann angrily. “But I always thought he was a fool from the way he wrote.”
When it grew dark Hardy took the shell and placed it in the middle of a flower-bed in the garden at the rear of the house. As he laid it down he saw the electric light at the State School prison flare up like a great meteor. A sudden but vague idea came into his mind as he saw it.
“I seem to think,” he said — “now — what is it?”
And as he walked back to the house he really caught hold of a plan.
“If that light went out suddenly,” he said, “there might be developments, provided Blake knew it was going out.”
He turned round and looked back at the flowerbed.
“By Jove! I wonder if I have it!” he cried.
That night about two o’clock Hardy crawled out of his ground-floor room and crossed the three gardens which separated the Wertheimer house from the School. The thick foliage rendered his task easy, and the only risk he ran was when he came out into the comparatively open ground against the rear wall of the School. But what he looked for, he found. And what he looked for was the electric cable which had been put in temporarily to supply the great light while the place was a prison. The cable was probably guarded on the inside, but on the outside it ran in a boarded culvert.
When he got back to his room he wrote a letter to Gwen, which he meant Wertheimer to send with his own down to Lourenço Marques. “I believe there is a chance of doing it, dear,” he wrote. “Tell Clarry to keep a stiff upper lip.”
* “sitting, as usual, on his stoep” — Afrikaans for “verandah”
* “the hideous new Dopper Church” — In the South African Dutch Reformed Church in Transvaal, the separatism of the Doppers, expressed in the severity of their doctrine, the austere puritanism of their worship, and even in their distinctive dress and speech, made them symbolic of resistance to all things English in South Africa. It was within this denomination that Paul Kruger (“Oom Paul”) arose. Above: The Dopper Church in Pretoria, shortly after its construction.
* “The old gentleman, or rather old peasant, whose ambition had set the whole African veldt on fire, was clad in greasy black and wore an ancient high hat that might have dated from the Great Trek.” Paul Kruger pictured above. PS: Note that in 1898 Morley Roberts once interviewed Kruger on his stoep. Excerpt: “If few of our caricaturists have done Mr Kruger justice, they have seldom been entirely unjust. He is heavy and ungainly, and though his face is strong it is utterly uncultivated. He wears dark spectacles, and smokes a long pipe, and uses a great spittoon, and in using it does not always attain that accuracy of marksmanship supposed to be characteristic of the Boer. His whiskers are untrimmed, his hands are not quite clean; his clothes were probably never intended to fit him. And yet, in spite of everything, he has some of that dignity which comes from strength and a long habit of getting his own way.”
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 | 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”