The Fugitives (11)
July 17, 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!
It was quite natural that the longer Hardy stayed in the house the less nervous Hermann Wertheimer grew. He saw that should his guest’s presence there be discovered it would be quite easy to declare he had only just come. He went so far as to speak to Hardy on this point.
“If you should be seen and arrested you will of course declare you had only just arrived,” he said.
“Of course,” said Hardy. “But it’s my belief I shan’t be. Are you going to try and find out whether it is possible to see Blake?”
“I won’t promise,” said Hermann.
But Mrs. Wertheimer had practically promised, and she proved as good as she was kind and pretty.
“It might be useful to have done something, however little,” she said to her husband. “And I’m not so sure we shall win this war after all. Are they not sending out more and more men every day?”
“Yes,” said Wertheimer, “they are.”
“Don’t you think I might ask Reitz to let me see this Captain Blake?”
“What for? It will be easy enough to get a letter to him.”
“But you don’t mind if I try? It can’t do any harm. And then Mr. Hardy might be induced to go. No one but Captain Blake can persuade him escape is impossible.”
“That’s so,” said Hermann.
As nothing more was said, Mrs. Wertheimer took it for granted that she was at liberty to play her almost innocent part in the drama. She went to see William Reitz and came away with a pass from the Pretoria Commandant-General, which empowered her to have a conversation with this particular prisoner. When she got back home she called Hardy from his room.
“I’ve got permission to see him, Mr. Hardy,” she declared in triumph. “It wasn’t a bit difficult. You see we don’t treat our prisoners so badly. I can go to-morrow. I will take him some flowers and tell him all about Miss Middleton.”
She knew Hardy’s version of the story by heart.
“I’ve got my letter written,” said Hardy. “Tell me when you are ready to go to-morrow and I’ll give it you.”
“Do tell me what you want him to do,” she said.
Hardy considered the question of telling her for a moment.
“Don’t you think it will be best for you to know nothing?”
“Oh,” said Mrs. Wertheimer, with visible disappointment. “I suppose I ought not to. But — couldn’t I suppose I didn’t?”
“Yes,” said Hardy, “I suppose you could suppose that. But suppose you were asked questions? You see I don’t want to get Hermann into any trouble. I even think it would be best for me not to give you the letter.”
“Then how will he get it?” she asked.
“I was thinking whether I couldn’t tie up the flowers which you are going to give him,” said Hardy. “There could be no harm in your telling him that one of the stems would be of particular interest to him.”
“No,” said Mrs. Wertheimer. “Would you wrap a letter round it?”
“I don’t know but what I might,” replied Hardy. “They won’t examine a bunch of flowers. And when the war is over I will tell you all about everything. Besides, you will be the only person able to piece everything together if we succeed.”
“And if you don’t succeed?”
“Ah, but we will,” said Hardy promptly. “The way to fail is to provide too carefully for failure. All I have provided for failure is a stock of fortitude. To-morrow night I hope not to sleep here. I shall either be in jail or out on the veldt.”
Mrs. Wertheimer looked unhappy.
“Poor man, you will have a time.”
“That will be nothing,” said Hardy. “We shall get through. Nature itself is on our side. The moon sets to-night at twelve o’clock.”
If she had been listening she would have asked what the moon had to do with it. She was thinking what food she could provide, and in her mind she gave him enough to break the backs of half a dozen Kaffirs. When they discussed the matter in the kitchen, Hardy settled that a box of matches, a pound or two of bacon, a pound of coffee, and some hard biscuits were more than enough. As he sat in his bedroom and saw the moon go down over the hills he could not help feeling nervous and anxious about the morrow.
“I suppose it is a devilish foolish proceeding,” he said. “But Gwen will be glad. When shall I see her again?”
He sat at his table and wrote a short letter to Silvio da Costa.
“My Dear Da Costa:
“I won’t put my address on this document, which will come to you by hand, but I’m here in Pretoria and hope to accomplish what I came for. If I pull it off (do it, I mean) we may be down with you in a week or so, provided we get through your way. Of course getting back to Portuguese territory may be too difficult. If it is, we may strike for Mafeking. In any case, if you get this letter it will be a sign that the first part of the job is done, and I want you to cable ‘Escaped’ for me to Miss Middleton, care of Miss Doughty, 100 Portman Square, London. Here’s to you and to the next time we wake the stilly echoes of Inyack Island and all Delagoa Bay!
“Of course,” said Hardy, as he sealed this letter, “I may get Gwen into a bit of a row by the cable. But the news will be compensation. And there is nothing like getting a woman into trouble about one for making her stick to a man like wax.”
For so young a man he knew far too much. But it was intuition, not experience, that made him wise.
He read through his letter to Edward Blake. It was brief, clear, and absolutely to the point:
“Dear Captain Blake:
“At Miss Gwendoline Middleton’s request I undertook to do what I could to procure your release on parole, as she informs me Miss Middleton is ill and desires to see you. My attempts to get you paroled have failed. I take it for granted that you are very anxious to escape, and I have made arrangements to this end. I have inspected the electric cable which supplies the big arc light at your place, and think it can be destroyed without much difficulty. But its mere destruction might not be enough, as I understand guards are now placed all round the inside wall, and I have therefore determined to cause such an alarm as will draw all of them at once to the rear wall of the School. This will occur to-morrow night (the night of the day you receive this letter) at twelve thirty, about fifty minutes after the moon has set. I shall be at the southwest angle of the wall of the exercise ground when the explosion occurs. You and a friend whom you will get to assist you will be ready to rush to that corner. With his assistance you should be able to scale the wall. When you are once outside you will follow me. Trusting to make your acquaintance to-morrow night,
“Yours very sincerely,
“I can’t see why it shouldn’t come off,” said Hardy. “And I believe it will.” But though he believed it his brain was so busy imagining difficulties that it took him hours to get to sleep. And in his dreams he went through the drama of the escape a dozen times. It was a success; it was a failure: it was a failure; it was a success. And finally Hardy woke in a cold sweat and declared that of all the plans which could have been invented his was about the worst. Having thoroughly settled that he was a fool he went to sleep like a child and slept till the sun was hot upon his bed.
How much Hermann Wertheimer knew of, or how far he suspected his plans, Hardy did not greatly trouble to inquire. As a matter of fact the journalist believed that any interchange of communications between his guest and the prisoner Blake must end in Hardy seeing that escape was impossible by reason of the precautions taken since the last affair of the kind. It was due, indeed, to Hermann’s careful explanation of these precautions that Hardy had been able to invent a plan which, though wild enough, promised at least a chance of success. It was only by raising an alarm and seizing the one instant of confusion that anything could have been done, although naturally that alarm was likely to make the course to be taken by any fugitive after his immediate escape, much more difficult. Hardy, however, believed that he could neutralize this danger by the very fact that he was in Wertheimer’s house, without, as he hoped, in any way compromising his host.
At ten o’clock Mrs. Wertheimer came to Hardy.
“I’m ready to go,” she said. “Here are the flowers; you can tie them up.”
Hardy took them and wrapped his letter around the stem of a lily.
“You see,” he said, “there is only one of this kind here.”
He took a green leaf and wrapped that around the letter and tied it with cotton thread.
“Now,” he said, “you will tell him all you can about Miss Middleton, and if you get a chance you will say there is a friend of his who wants to get him out. Ask him if he is ready to try, and tell him he must read the letter as soon as he leaves you.”
“Yes,” said Mrs. Wertheimer, “and then ——”
“You know the chief jailer, don’t you?”
“He will be close there, I imagine,” said Hardy, “and when Blake leaves you, you must stand talking as long as possible, so as to give Blake time to get back inside and read the letter. Then you must appear vexed and say you have forgotten to tell him something. They will fetch Blake again, and you must ask him if he will do what I suggest. You understand?”
“Perfectly,” said Mrs. Wertheimer. “I really believe, Mr. Hardy, that you are a born conspirator. But what am I to ask him the second time, or what am I to tell him? I mean as a blind?”
Hardy turned the palms of his hands up.
“Anything you like! Tell him to write next mail for sure to his mother or his grandmother!”
Mrs. Wertheimer laughed nervously.
“Well, good-by; I feel as if I were going to prison.”
“You are a perfect dear,” said Hardy, “and I shall always owe you one, and always think of you as a heroine.”
She looked over her shoulder at him.
“I’m afraid I’m a traitor, am I not?”
“No, you are a good Samaritan,” cried Hardy. “A prisoner ceases to be an enemy in a war without malice.”
And when she was gone he was alone in the house. He marched to and fro impatiently.
“I hope to the Lord she won’t muck it,” he said. “And I do trust that this Blake is worth the trouble. But I’m sure he must be, or Gwen wouldn’t have liked him as she did. Yet he must be a silly ass to have fallen in love with Clare when Gwen was about.”
It was only an hour until Mrs. Wertheimer returned, but those sixty minutes were long enough to Gordon Hardy. When an energetic man is condemned to inaction and has to entrust important work to others, any period of time multiplies itself like the moments of a nightmare. He prowled from one room to another, took up a hundred books and put them down, went up-stairs and came down again. Then a thought struck him.
“I wonder,” he said, “by Jove, I never thought of it.”
He took a Mauser cartridge out of his pocket, carefully extracted the bullet, and tried to make a little conical “spitfire” with the nitrate powder.
“It doesn’t work like the old stuff,” he declared. He went into Hermann’s den, and, looking in a drawer, discovered some old Martini cartridges which he remembered having seen there when he was first in Pretoria.
“It’s lucky I have such a good memory,” he said to himself as he sat down and cut the cartridges open. Very soon he had half a handful of black powder which he tied up in the corner of his handkerchief.
“Now I’m fixed,” he said. “If I’d only thought to have got a bit of fuse! But then I couldn’t have foreseen this.”
He heard the front gate shut, and sprang to his feet in some alarm lest it should be a stranger. On looking out of the window he saw it was his hostess returning. She came in, pale and excited.
“Yes,” said Hardy, who was excited too, “what is it?”
“Oh, it’s all right, I think,” she said. “But I’m trembling like a leaf.”
“So you are,” cried Hardy. “Sit down and get quiet, and then you shall tell me all about it. Come, I insist on your being calm; I am going to fan you till you are.”
He took a big palm-leaf fan from the sideboard and began to fan her. She remonstrated and then laughed.
“You don’t want to cry by any chance?” asked Hardy. “For if you do, cry away, I won’t mind. There is nothing like crying for relieving tension. If it hadn’t been for tears, woman would have exploded like lyddite shells long ago.”
“No, I don’t want to cry now,” she said, “but I did want to in the prison. It was dreadful seeing so many nice men walking up and down like tigers in a cage. Give me some water and I’ll tell you what happened.”
She threw her hat upon the sofa and drank the water that Hardy gave her.
“When I went in, Mr. Hardy, I was shaking like a leaf. I asked for old Gustave Winter, who is chief warder, and he came out and was very polite. He always is, though, and I showed him my permit to see Captain Blake. And while I was getting it out of my purse I asked him to hold my flowers.”
“That’s the way.”
“And he smelt them and asked me whether they came from my own garden. Then he gave them back to me, and took me inside, and left me in a little room. Five minutes afterwards he brought in Captain Blake.”
“Tell me what he’s like,” said Hardy.
“Oh, I don’t know,” cried Mrs. Wertheimer; “yes, I do. He’s a little taller than you, I should say, and much fairer. He looked thin, but strong, and though he was sad he has blue eyes, which I am sure could be very funny.”
“Of course,” said Hardy, “a blue-eyed Irishman is the very devil for fun. But were you alone?”
“Yes, but the door wasn’t shut and Winter was just outside. I spoke in a low nervous voice to him, but he was very quick at catching what I said. And I know Winter can’t talk English or understand it at all well. So I wasn’t really afraid to speak. He knew in a minute what I meant about the flowers, and when I said that Miss Middleton was ill he caught me by the hand and said, ‘Nothing worse?’ and I said, ‘No, of course not, but did he want to get out?’ And then his blue eyes went quite black, Mr. Hardy, and I thought he was going to shout ‘Yes.’ But instead of that he whispered it, and then he cried, — or at least a tear rolled down his cheek. And I said, ‘I’m going now, and you must get by yourself or with your friends and read the letter at once, and then I’ll ask to see you again.’ And he said, ‘There is no need, I’ll do what your friend and mine says.’ But I said he was to read it, and he said he would, and he kissed my hand, and I cried a little. And then I went out and he went away.”
“You did it beautifully,” said Hardy. “Presently I shall have to ask permission to kiss your hand. And what happened then?”
“I stood with Mr. Winter and talked Dutch to him, and asked him how the prisoners got on. It seems they walk to and fro and sit down, and then walk again and try to keep strong. And suddenly I cried out and said I had forgotten to tell Captain Blake something. And old Winter was very nice, so nice that I was ashamed of what I was doing, though I was glad I was doing it, and he had him brought back to me in the little room. And I said, ‘I forgot to say you were to write to your grandmother about the money.’ You know, Mr. Hardy, that came into my head all at once, and then Captain Blake caught my hand and nearly broke it, and said, ‘Yes, of course, yes, of course,’ and of course he meant ‘yes’ to you.”
Hardy jumped up.
“Oh, thank you, you are a good, brave woman!” he cried.
“I’m doing wrong,” said Mrs. Wertheimer. “You see I belong to the Transvaal, don’t I?”
“The loss of one prisoner won’t hurt any of you,” said Hardy, “and, besides, think of the poor girl in England.”
“That’s what has made me do it,” said his hostess, with a sudden sob. “But do tell me what you are going to do? For I don’t see how you can do anything. It must be dreadful to be in prison and have people all round to see you stay there. Won’t you tell me?”
And Hardy relented so far as to say that whatever was going to be done would be done that night.
“I shall not sleep a moment,” said Mrs. Wertheimer; “it is more exciting than the war.”
“Wait till Pretoria is besieged,” laughed Hardy. And the next moment he was sorry for having said it, and apologized. But at that time no one in the Transvaal looked upon a siege of Pretoria as within the bounds of possibility. On all hands and all around, the English were at a standstill. If Ladysmith and Kimberley still held out, it was as much as they did, and the new English general would probably land to find that they had fallen.
“I mustn’t tell my husband anything?” asked Mrs. Wertheimer, when she had explained that his joke had no point of relevance whatever.
“I don’t think he wants to know,” said Hardy. “But he will be glad to see the last of me.”
“Only under these circumstances,” replied Mrs. Wertheimer. “He likes you very much and is awfully distressed at not seeming hospitable. When the war is over you must come again and see us.”
“I will,” said Hardy, “and I will bring my wife with me!”
“Of course,” cried Mrs. Wertheimer. “And now I’ll get the food packed up for you.”
“Please remember I’m not a mule,” said Hardy, laughing. “Pack just what I said, and pack it as close as you can, in two little parcels that will slip into my pockets. And now I will lie down and go to sleep.”
He went up to his bedroom and really did sleep right through lunch-time and on to four o’clock in the afternoon. Mrs. Wertheimer refused to wake him when her husband came in to lunch at half-past one.
“You went to the prison?” he asked, in the most casual way.
“And saw Captain Blake,” said his wife in an equally detached manner.
“Of course Hardy must see that nothing can be done. I do wish he would go!” said Wertheimer.
“I believe he’ll go to-night, Hermann.”
And, well as she knew her husband, she was really not sure whether he thought anything was in the wind or not. She was enlightened a little before Hermann went back to his office.
“Now understand, Addie,” he said, “you have done all you are to do now.”
“Very well. And of course I have done nothing.”
“Of course you have done nothing,” said Hermann, as he lighted a cigar.
“I shan’t be back to tea,” he said, as he went. “I have to finish my American letter. I’ll be in to supper at half-past eight.”
At tea Hardy gave Mrs. Wertheimer his letter to Da Costa at Lourenço Marques.
“Hermann sends most of his letters by the hand of any convenient friend who goes there, doesn’t he?” he asked.
“Well, I want that to go privately as soon as you feel sure I am not in Pretoria. If you don’t hear any bad news of us by to-morrow night I think it can go.”
“I will send it,” she said. “Which way are you going?”
He shrugged his shoulders.
“I’m not at all sure,” he answered. “You see the way to the Portuguese frontier will be watched when they know a prisoner has escaped. And on this side of the town we are nearest Rustenberg and the western frontier. It might be much easier to get to the northern force trying to relieve Mafeking. Or one might even go down the Vaal and creep through to the Modder. But it all depends.”
He spoke frankly and hopefully, and looked so bright and gallant in his suppressed excitement that Mrs. Wertheimer clapped her hands.
“Oh, I believe you’ll do it!”
“I’ll try,” said Hardy, “but you are my mascotte.”
“After ‘Gwen’! Isn’t that her name? I wonder if I shall ever see her. I should like to see a girl who can get a man to do a thing like this.”
“Oh, nonsense, it’s nothing,” said Hardy, with sudden shyness. “You are so brave yourself.”
He wandered about the house till supper-time.
“Drink Mr. Hardy’s health, Hermann,” said Mrs. Wertheimer when that silent meal was nearly over, “and wish him luck!”
“Of course I will,” said Hermann. “Here’s to our next meeting, Hardy. Don’t come back till the war is over.”
“I won’t,” said Hardy. “You have both been very kind.”
“Oh, no,” said Mrs. Wertheimer, “we have only ——”
“Not done our duty,” interposed Hermann, with a queer smile.
“What is one’s duty, dear?”
“I give it up,” said Hermann.
He smoked a pipe with his guest, but they said nothing.
At eleven o’clock Mrs. Wertheimer came to the smoking-room and shook hands.
“You’ll bring her to London some day, won’t you, Hermann?”
“If things pan out right.”
“Or you will bring her to Pretoria, Mr. Hardy.”
“If things pan out wrong,” said Hardy. “God bless you, dear Mrs. Wertheimer, you are a brick!”
She went away with tears in her eyes.
“Your wife is the best woman in Pretoria, Hermann,” he said, when she was gone.
“So I have often thought,” replied Wertheimer.
And after one more smoke the journalist rose.
“I think I’ll turn in. Good-night and — good-by,” he said.
But Hardy said he could not sleep yet.
When the house was quiet he turned down the light and stepped into the garden. He found Foster’s “plugged” shell, and, bringing it in, set it on the table. With the steel pricker of his knife he worked the broken fuse till he could withdraw it a fraction of an inch. It was in perfect order.
“Why the deuce you didn’t burst I can’t tell,” said Hardy. “But now you will.”
He took his watch and laid it on the table. The half-moon hung low in the dark blue heaven and was near the western hills. He watched the lower limb grow obscure, and then the light sank and left a yellow glow behind for a little while. By the watch it was twelve. He heard the clocks in the low-lying town affirm it. He untied his handkerchief, poured out some black powder, and made a conical spitfire which would burn for some five minutes.
“And the fuse that remains will burn a few seconds longer,” he said.
At twenty minutes past twelve he set the French windows open, and, taking his implements of adventure, went out into the darkness.
* Lyddite shells — Lyddite was a form of high explosive widely used during both the Boer War and First World War, most notably during the latter by the British.
* “you are my mascotte” — Mascot came into English as a borrowing of the French word mascotte.
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.
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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 | Jack London’s The Iron Heel | H. De Vere Stacpoole’s The Man Who Lost Himself.
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”