The Fugitives (12)
July 28, 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!
Though the night seemed dark enough to Gordon Hardy when the gibbous half-moon had gone down beyond the hills, the moment that he went out into it on his perilous errand the sky of stars appeared almost luminous, and the lucid darkness hardly covered him. When his eyes grew accustomed to the night he saw almost as well as if it were day, for excitement enlarged his pupils, and his gray-brown eyes would have shown black to a sudden light. He saw every twig upon the bushes that he crept behind, and noted every crack in the sun-warped fences that he crossed before he came to the way that ran at the back of the School which was now a bitter school of patience to so many ardent and confined spirits. As he went, carrying the heavy shell, he heard his heart beat. And he heard distant sounds too. A dog barked down town; he heard wheels; he heard a man’s voice far away; he caught the sound of some belated German singing “The Watch on the Rhine,” which he perhaps interpreted as the hymn of the Tugela. But above all he heard every sound he made as he moved. The crack of a dried leaf was like the sound of thunder; he shook his head with annoyance at his own clumsiness; and when he cursed below his breath the very sound of his tense breathing appalled him. He had to stop to assure himself that this vague shadow or that was not an armed sentry. He had to tell himself that so far as he could know the guards must be dying of mere weariness and were probably thick-headed with sleep and tobacco. Finally he rested on the very verge of the road, and, seeing the glare of the arc light over the wall, the rest of the world suddenly became dark. He looked out, saw nothing, took the opportunity suddenly, sprang over the fence, and was in the shadow of the long, high wall. The shell for a moment was light and no more a burden. He was standing at the very angle of the grounds over which in ten minutes Blake should come.
“In ten minutes,” said Hardy, “why, it’s a century!”
He crawled down the wall to the other angle and came round to where he had noted the open culvert. He looked for it and could find nothing. He went back and again found nothing. He put the shell down and searched in quick alarm.
“Oh, ten minutes,” he said, “it’s only a second, only a second!”
He crawled upon his hands and knees, and finally, as the sweat ran down into his eyes, he plunged his hand into loose earth.
“Here,” he said, and with his hands he scraped the earth away. The fizzling, crackling arc light on its high support glared in the central space beyond the wall and threw its dark shadow over him as he labored with bleeding fingers to unearth the culvert. He feared now that it might have been bricked, and he had nothing but a knife to break it open. But then his nail touched wood; a splinter ran under a nail. He took it out with his teeth, and got his fingers between two boards. The one he grasped yielded, but it cracked with a sound that he imagined was an explosion. He pulled at it, after a startled pause, with greater caution, and it came up. Then another left its place and some earth tumbled on the cable. He cleared the earth away, and, creeping back, got the shell. He set it with its point on soft earth close to the cable, and then, lifting the cable, put it over the flat of the shell, leaving the space clear where the broken fuse was.
“Now, what time?” he said. It seemed to him that he must have been working an hour; that by now the man whom he desired to rescue must have given him up. He would not have been astonished if the dawn had surprised him. But he took out his watch, and, crawling to the verge of the shadow, held the timepiece up to the light.
It was three minutes since he had crossed the road. There were still seven minutes to waste and to wait till the time had come.
“I hope I shall never be hanged,” said Hardy. “A man could live a thousand years upon the scaffold.”
He took out the little damp case of powder, and moistened it again and worked it in the palm of his hand. With his finger he felt for the insertion of the fuse and then laid the spitfire upon it.
“Now, five minutes,” he said, “I’ll count them out.”
He counted sixty. And then he counted his pulse. It must have been going at a hundred and twenty a minute, but he judged it at a hundred and counted five hundred of his heart-beats. His mind ran swiftly like a torrent, and the process of counting seemed enough to make his hair gray. The night was all alive with sounds of life, the hum of insects, and the strange, incalculable, inexplicable sounds of human multitudes, even though the city was half deserted. He felt suddenly palsied, fixed, and set. His mind grew rigid as he listened. Then he knew it was the very act of listening so intently that caught him. It was as though he was in the first stage of hypnosis. He pinched his arm hard, woke, and was alert as a cat. The clocks were going to strike the half-hour. Though the clock upon the Raadsaal was so far away, he was ready to swear he heard the machinery begin to move that lifted the hammer for the half-hour. He got on his knees, bent over the culvert, and deep down within it struck a match. The light almost blinded him as it fell on his dilated pupils. It seemed a glare equal to the arc light, though it was so feeble. He set it to the tip of the little cone and saw the spark communicated to the damp powder. “Spit, spit, spit,” said the powder, and he extinguished the match as he watched the little shower of sparks from the top of that dreadful little volcano.
“It goes, it goes!” he said, and the noise of it was so great, he thought, that it was a wonder the Boers on the other side of the wall did not put their heads over to see what devilry was going on.
“Phit, phit,” said the volcano, and Hardy crawled away down to the corner. He was convinced in half his mind (though the other half knew the first half was foolish) that ten thousand Boers were quite aware of all that was going on.
“I don’t believe I have the nerve to do this kind of thing,” he said. And he determined, without being aware of his foolishness, that he wouldn’t do anything of the kind again. He said “Never again,” and then remembered that this was the political watchword of those who were determined to annex the Republics after the war. He wondered whether they would get their way, and considered the matter from many points of view, as though it were the chief thing in his thoughts and as if Blake were something like a dream. He never thought of Gwen at all, until he got to the corner where Blake was to come, and then he remembered her as a man in old age might remember his first sweetheart, whose very name he had forgotten.
But all the time, the long and dreadful time, he knew the little spitfire was fizzling away merrily.
“Guy Fawkes, by Jove,” he said, with a half giggle. “Is it going off, now, now, now?”
But it did not go off. It had only burned a minute and a half. He began to go back.
“It must have gone out,” he said with drawn brows. “What a foolish job! I must go back.”
And as he got round the corner he heard vague voices on the other side of the wall.
“Is it some Hans talking to some Wilhelm,” he said, and a stupid suggestion of the quantification of the predicate was in his mind, and he thought of Boole and Hamilton and De Morgan as logicians, which of course was very absurd. But under some conditions a man is absurd after all. And just as he had come to the conclusion that “some” volcanoes were “some” extinct things, the very drum of his ear was split, and he staggered and then was wide awake again and as quiet and fierce as an angry stoat. He ran back to his post and knew that the night was indeed dark, for the shadow of the wall was no longer the shadow of the spitting arc light, but was only the shadow of the stars and the lucid heavens. And as he ran he heard quick cries which were the sounds of waking men, and he heard running feet. And at his corner he heard an English voice say —
And the next moment a dark body fell by him. He seized it and got a man on his feet.
“Come,” said Hardy.
He sprang over the fence into the garden whence he had issued, and the escaped man followed him, none too soon, for the patter of feet was heard in the lane and the inarticulate cries of angry, disturbed men.
“Quick, you devil,” said Hardy, and he went swiftly with the dazed prisoner after him, and in a moment they were back in Wertheimer’s garden.
“Stop,” said Hardy, and they both crouched in the shadow of a bush resembling a thick laurestinus. Now they heard men in the main road. The houses were alarmed, they saw lights. There was a light in Wertheimer’s room.
“Come,” said Hardy, “don’t ask questions.”
But Blake was in no state to ask anything. He followed Hardy like a child. They ran across the garden and came to the windows of Wertheimer’s smoking-room.
“Quick,” said Hardy, and Blake came in. Hardy closed the windows.
“Get under the table,” he said, “and don’t move.”
He himself sat down in the chair and was there when Wertheimer in pyjamas opened the door and came in.
“Oh,” yawned Hardy, “what is it?”
“Didn’t you hear?”
“I believe something woke me,” said Hardy, rubbing his eyes.
Wertheimer looked at him suspiciously.
“I should think it did. There was an explosion. I thought you were gone.”
Hardy looked at his watch. “I was going at one o’clock, and I fell asleep. What was the explosion?”
Hardy’s manner would have disarmed the suspicions of a detective.
“I’m going out to see,” said Wertheimer. “The whole place is roused. It’s a pity you didn’t go before this took place.”
“So it is,” replied Hardy, rubbing his eyes. “But find out what the matter is, and I’ll go as soon as the streets get quiet. I really didn’t expect to see you again, Hermann. I hope Mrs. Wertheimer has not been alarmed.”
“She’s shaking all over,” growled Wertheimer, “and no wonder, seeing how she has been tried the last two days.”
He took the lamp and went out into the garden.
“Lie quiet, Blake,” said Hardy. “This is a very informal introduction. But my name’s Hardy, and your unconscious host is called Wertheimer. We’ll get away from here in an hour. Buck up, old man; are you glad to be out?”
“Rather,” said the man under the table. “But why can’t I come out?”
“Don’t ask questions,” said Hardy. He went to the door and peered into the hall.
It was Mrs. Wertheimer, from the landing above.
“Oh, was that you?” she asked in a shrill, piercing whisper.
“It was,” said Hardy.
“And is it all right?”
“I’m so glad — good night.”
Hermann came in from the garden. When he had shut and locked the outer door he brought the lamp into the smoking-room.
“Is there any great alarm?” asked Hardy from his chair. He had placed it so as to prevent Blake from being seen, though even if Hermann had noticed him it was difficult to see how he could give the man away.
“Yes,” said Hermann dryly. “There is a great alarm. It looks as if an attempt had been made to procure the escape of some prisoners.”
“Ah,” said Hardy, “did any escape?”
“It appears not,” replied Hermann. “But some British sympathizer blew up the electric cable and put the light out. And from the way it was blown up I have far more than a suspicion that you had something to do with it.”
“Well,” said Hardy, “even supposing I had, it appears to have failed. And after to-night I won’t trouble you. If you hadn’t come down you wouldn’t have seen me again.”
“Really you take it all very coolly,” cried Hermann.
“And how the devil do you want me to take it?” asked Hardy, with some irritation. “I’m more or less used to taking things coolly. Even failure like this. Don’t get mad, Hermann; you’re all right, and I have a devil of a time in front of me. Tell me, is there a crowd outside?”
“No, they are going,” said Hermann sulkily. “It’s a good example.”
“All right,” cried Hardy. “Then I’m off. Presently.”
“Why not now?”
“I prefer to wait,” said Hardy. “You go to bed and I’ll quit in a quarter of an hour. Shake hands, and don’t be mad.”
“Good night,” said his unwilling host.
“But won’t you shake hands?”
“Of course.” They shook hands, and Hardy closed the door after Hermann.
“I think you can come out now,” said Hardy, and Blake crawled out. He had recovered his coolness, and that was just as well; for the door opened again, and Hermann entered once more.
“Oh, by the way,” said Hardy, “I think I might just as well introduce Captain Blake.”
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”