The Fugitives (13)
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!
Gwen might well say Clare would have a fit when she learned of the escape of her lover from Pretoria, for when her sister got away from Sybil Middleton’s clutches and went up to her with the news, Clare turned red and white and red and white again, and finally fell with a theatrical and most self-conscious thump right into the embraces of the sofa-cushions.
“Oh, how has he escaped?” she cried. “Do you really mean it?”
“Yes, I do,” said Gwen, who was in a high state of delight. She of course took it for granted that both Hardy and Blake were safely at Delagoa Bay. Hardy, in his haste, had quite forgotten that this was the natural and inevitable construction of his cable message. “Yes, of course I mean it. He’s out of Pretoria and so is Mr. Hardy!”
Clare looked up.
“Mr. Hardy, what Mr. Hardy?” she cried in astonishment.
“Why, Gordon Hardy, of course,” exclaimed Gwen. “What other Hardy do you think?”
She stopped and looked thunderstruck.
“Oh, dear, I forgot! I never told you, Clarry. I sent him to get Ned Blake out. And he’s done it, he’s done it! It’s fine, isn’t it?”
“Will he come home?” asked Clare.
“Of course he will, he must,” said Gwen.
And then Clare burst into tears.
“What’s the matter?” asked her sister. “Oh, what a cry-baby you are. But of course you cry. I’d like to, but I can’t. I think Gordon Hardy must be just standing on his head. I feel as if I am. Hurrah for him and Ned!”
She pirouetted about the room in the highest state of glee.
“I really don’t care a hang now about the Demon,” she declared. “But, Clarry, Clarry, don’t you want to know how it was done?”
Clare stanched her tears and feebly demanded the details.
“It was this way,” said Gwen; “he asked me if I wanted him out ——”
“Why, Gordon, of course,” said Gwen; “who else could it be? And I said, ‘Yes,’ and that if Ned stayed there you would die, and he said, ‘I’ll do it for you’ — for her I mean — that is, of course, for you. And he just went off and did it without any fuss. And isn’t it fine of him?”
“Ye-e-s,” said Clare. “But, oh, I have such a headache. Leave me alone a little. I must think of it by myself.”
“And she never asks a word about Gordon,” thought Gwen. She put her nose in the air and marched out. “I do think she might just have turned round and said, ‘Gwen, I do believe you and Mr. Hardy are more than friends.’ I’ll write to Millicent.”
She went to her own room and wrote a long letter to the “innocent and confiding child,” who was, as she knew very well, as sharp, keen, and utterly intelligent a girl of her age as ever modern conditions brought into full flower.
“Oh, your mother’s letter, dear; it was awful, Milly. Was she very terrible? Is her mind clothed in stiff silk and bombazine? I don’t know what bombazine is, but I know it’s hard and haughty, and I know she is so rigid, just as rigid as starch. She said you were ‘innocent and confiding’! and she hurled denunciations at me about you. And I’m afraid she won’t let us be friends any more. She said I was carrying on a most scandalous liaison! Milly, I think your mother must be very hard to get on with. My stepmother gives me beans, I can tell you. And then she goes for me, when I kick, about my not being ladylike. I think it’s very hard to be ladylike when one has a stepmothery stepmother and when one’s father looks on one as a domestic detail. Now I must tell you all about it.”
And she made a fine, glowing, inaccurate, ex parte statement about Gordon Hardy and his doings in South Africa.
But while she wrote it Clare was behaving in the most extraordinary and inexplicable way in the seclusion of her own room. Her headache was one of those articles for domestic wear which can be put on and off like a wrapper. Without exactly lying, she could make herself believe that she had one just as easily as she could get rid of it when it became inconvenient. And now she forgot all about it and marched up and down the room almost robustly.
“Oh, I can’t,” she said; “he mustn’t. What does Gwen mean by interfering? What shall I do if he comes home? Was ever any girl in such misery as I am?”
She sank in a chair in front of her mirror and examined her dark misery and her white skin with equal satisfaction.
“I won’t do anything,” she said at last. “What can I do? What is anyone to do when two wretched men want to marry her? I wish, I wish —” and here she sobbed — “I wish I hadn’t been engaged to Ned!”
But still she never faced what little truth there was in her. Had Ned Blake come back that instant, she would have shrieked and fallen on his neck. But had Jim Carruthers met her in the lane outside and said ferociously and like a buccaneer, “You are mine,” she would have climbed into his arms and asked him to gallop beyond the sunset. It was sad to think that Jim Carruthers was not a pirate and had no intuition.
“He’s a fool,” said Clare. “If I hadn’t been engaged — but then I’m not engaged. They said they wouldn’t let me be, and so I’m not. But will he come home? What does Gwen mean by interfering?”
She came back to this perpetually. Knowing that she should be angry with herself, she had yet too much gross self-pity to be justly severe on her delicate self. She looked for a substitute and whipped Gwen. Her morbid love of romance, which, as with so many of her stamp, must be a nice, clean, and easy romance, with all the dirt and difficulty done in paint on a theatrical cloth, made her ready to remain faithful to the man she was supposed to love. But her striking suggestibility of character made her inclined to fall into the arms of the unromantic and unresponsive Jim. If her passions were of the weakest, what stood her in place of them was a morbid emotionality that was to be roused at a word. And he that was nearest was the most desirable after all. His difficulty in approaching her (and Jim Carruthers always pretended that he accepted the position of the rejected lover) was in itself romantic. She perceived great possibilities in the situation. She was ready to do wrong. It would be something even more striking than marrying an escaped prisoner from Pretoria, if she jilted so popular a kind of character and married his silent rival. And yet she did not say so to herself. Such women do not think in words, or acknowledge any reality that is within them, any more than they can really act. Their chief claim to spurious glory is that they are so very weak, and they excuse their weakness by declaring that Fate is strong.
To any one who really knew her it was obvious that if any of her lukewarm likings could be dignified with the name of love, she now loved Jim Carruthers. Her cheap affection for poor Blake was bred of khaki in the first enthusiasm of the war. She could have only kept up her enthusiasm for him by his continuing to be heroic. It was a slap in the face for her when she discovered that her temporary hero was not only in prison, but had gone there without being wounded. He might have rehabilitated himself by escaping without assistance. That he should escape by the help sent him by Gwen reduced him to the level of the commonest humanity.
And now he was quite safe! Such heroism as this was bathos. She now perceived that she was expected to act like the most usual heroine. She revolted against following in the path thus laid down for her. Ned Blake would come home and claim her in the common fashion. He would be clad in tweed and a round hat, and would have missed all the fighting. Her people would give in when she insisted (and she foresaw she would insist), and she would be married — and done for. The very ceasing of resistance to her wishes would rob her of the last wish to marry him.
And Gwen was here with ruddy cheeks, taking it for granted that she would, at a word, rush off to South Africa or to Mars to marry him. Gwen understood nothing. She was commonplace to her finger-tips, and had no subtlety of character, no appreciation of difficulties. Gwen had a robust body and no soul worth speaking of.
“She always does what one would expect,” said Clare spitefully, “and expects others to do it too.”
This was the only clear and sharply defined conclusion she came to in her long and morbid cogitations.
“She is so selfish,” said Clare.
But by now the selfish Gwen, having relieved her mind by her letter to Mrs. Doughty’s innocent and confiding child, was engaged in wondering what Hardy would do, and what would happen to Ned Blake.
“If he’s not ill he will go back to his regiment. But if he is ill, they may send him home. I should think any man would be ill after three months in jail. And the poor dears must have had a bad time in getting back to Delagoa Bay. The last one who escaped had an awful time. Oh, it was brave of Gordon. I wonder how he and Clarry will get on. I am sure he thought her a poor thing. But then poor Clarry has never really been strong.”
She was so happy at the wonderful luck which Hardy had had in doing what he said he would do with such marvellous ease and swiftness, that she was ready to forgive her stepmother for any worry she might have caused her. And being happy and ready to forgive made Gwen see the polite Demon in more pleasant colors.
“After all, I suppose it is natural she should want us to make good marriages,” said Gwen, “and I do believe she is fond of the governor and of Tom. But when Ned comes home she will see there is nothing to be done. And after we have gone she will be able to grow onions and other stupid things on the home farm with an easy mind.”
But “after we have gone” was a bold, prophetic leap. It made Gwen catch her breath as she said it.
“Oh, dear,” she cried. “I — oh, dear!”
For Gordon Hardy would soon be back. Whatever happened to Ned Blake there was no reason why his deliverer should stay in South Africa. He might even now be on a steamer returning to England to ask her a question, this time more openly. And about her answer, what doubt could he have? Had he seen Gwen that moment he would have asked her nothing and would have acted like a pirate. He would have taken her in his arms and taken her consent for granted.
Next morning all her castles in the air fell to the hard and bitter ground with a shock, and she stared open-eyed and white-lipped at the paper. For Reuter’s man at Lourenço Marques telegraphed something about an “attempted escape” from Pretoria, and below it, dated a few hours later, was another cable saying that a Captain Blake had really escaped, but that his recapture was only a matter of hours, as every avenue was watched most closely.
Gwen saw in a moment that the date of her cable message was only a few hours before that of Reuter’s man.
“It must have been sent down to Delagoa Bay by some friend of his,” she said, “and it only meant escaped from Pretoria, not out of the Transvaal. Oh, dear, oh, dear!”
And then Clare read the news and promptly burst into tears at the breakfast-table. She forgot all about Jim Carruthers, and fell back into the arms of Ned Blake, who was now being chased and harried by the Boers across the great plains of South Africa and promised to be a newspaper hero for at least ten days.
Gwen forgot her own troubles and spent half the day holding her sister in her arms.
“Cheer up, Clarry, I tell you it’s all right. I know it is all right. They will come out somewhere, and you will be happy yet.”
“No, no,” said Clare, “it is not my fate to be happy. Some are chosen for unhappiness, and I see plainly that I am one of them.”
“You shan’t be,” cried Gwen. “You shall marry Ned, dear, if I have to take you out to Africa myself and introduce you to the President. But I tell you they will escape. I know Gordon Hardy.”
But Clare did not, and she resented his being in the imbroglio at all.
“No, they are all against me, and fate is against us,” she said. “And I shouldn’t have the strength to go out. I should die.”
“It would do you good,” replied Gwen.
“Oh, how can you say so?” asked Clare fretfully. “How often have I told you I should be ill?”
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”