The Fugitives (14)
August 11, 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!
Jews are very often witty, but they are certainly not notoriously humorous, and Hermann Wertheimer was no exception to the general rule of his race. And yet, and in spite of his annoyance, the element of the unexpected, the surprising, and the grotesque in the sudden introduction of his second guest, hardly emerged from beneath the table, took hold of him and made him laugh against his will. But though he saw the ridiculous side of the affair, his laughter was angry, and the conflict of emotions contorted his face. In some circumstances such laughter might have been dangerous, for when a really angry man laughs he is often on the verge of violence. The consciousness of this made Hardy anxious.
“Oh, don’t,” he said, and then he added hurriedly, “I beg your pardon, Wertheimer. It can’t be helped. Shall we go at once?”
He opened the window.
“Stop,” said Wertheimer, “do you want me to go to jail too? I think you have presumed on my hospitality, Hardy.”
“Faith, and so have I,” said Blake, opening his mouth for the first time. “But, upon my soul, I can’t help it.”
He spoke with that faint suspicion of an Irish brogue which gives richness to the English tongue in the mouth of an educated Irishman of the better class.
“No, of course you can’t,” replied Wertheimer, who was once more solidly serious. “Where is your hat?”
“Lord knows,” said Blake, feeling his head. “Oh, I remember, I came out without it — in my hurry. You see I thought that I might lose it getting over the wall, and that would be a dead give-away.”
“Wertheimer, find him one at once,” said Hardy, “there’s a good chap, and we will relieve you of our presence.”
Wertheimer opened his mouth to reply, but thought better of it, and, leaving the room, came back in a few minutes with a slouch hat of a very ancient and Boer-like appearance.
“I’m indebted to you, sir,” said Blake; “our heads are the same size at any rate.”
He crammed the hat on nervously and looked at Hardy.
“What’s the next move?” he asked.
“If our friend will tell us how the streets are, I think we will quit,” said Hardy.
But Wertheimer was thinking.
“You had better go out at the back of the garden,” he said half-sulkily, “and cross the plot of ground there, and then you will be right on the road.”
“The western road?” asked Hardy.
“I think the place is quieter now,” he said. “I’ll say ‘good night.’”
Blake was wild with excitement.
“Shake hands, won’t you?” he asked.
And Wertheimer shook hands.
“Upon my soul, I’m sorry,” cried Hardy. “You’re a good chap, Hermann. Our compliments to Mrs. Wertheimer. We’ll go now, and you can lock the door.”
He opened the window and stepped out into the night. Blake followed him. Wertheimer called to Hardy in a low voice:
“Remember, if you are caught, that you know no one in Pretoria.”
“Not a soul,” said the shadow in the garden. And then the two shadows were lost.
“And what about their footmarks?” said Hermann. “If they track them in the morning they will follow them here.”
He stood thinking, and then acted suddenly. Taking a book he smashed the window from the outside with it so that the fragments of the pane fell in the room.
“That looks as if they did it to get in and hide,” he said. “I wish to God the war was over.”
It was trouble enough for him. And then he thought of the two fugitives.
“Poor devils,” he cried. “They will be back again in less than no time.”
And that was what Hardy and Blake thought for the next hour or so, as they walked through the outskirts of Pretoria and made each other’s acquaintance as they went. They talked in undertones, and Hardy instructed the escaped prisoner as to what he was to do.
“I’ve thought it out as far as I could,” said Gordon. “Now I suppose you can’t talk German?”
“Devil a word,” answered Blake. “But do tell me about Clare. Do you know her?”
“Tut, tut,” said Hardy. “Man alive, I’ll tell you by and by. But if you can’t talk German, you can talk Irish. Then I tell you to talk it as thick as you can if we get bailed up. You are an Irish recruit for the Boer army, do you understand?”
Blake shook his head indignantly.
“What do you take me for?” he asked. “Do you think I’ll pretend to be a damned renegade?”
Hardy blasphemed softly.
“Yes, my good chap, I do think it. Or do you want to turn round and go back to jail? I tell you, you are an Irishman just come up to serve, and I’m a German on the same lay.”
“Oh, very well,” said Blake indignantly. “If I’ve swapped jailers I suppose I must do what I’m told.”
“Of course you must,” retorted Hardy, fuming. “I believe you want to get back to England to see ——”
Blake caught him by the arm.
“So I do, to be sure. Right you are, I’m the worst sort of Irishman. Oh, Hardy, how is she?”
He spoke with intense feeling.
“She’s all right,” said Hardy encouragingly; “only she’s awfully sick at your being here. When she learns you are out, she’ll pick up. But look here, you’ve only to be an Irishman of the worst kind till we get out of this town. After that we shall have to run and hide, and hide and crawl. But let’s hurry, man. There’s only a little more than an hour of real darkness.”
For the first mile they never met a soul, and then they saw two men come out of a side street.
“Shall we hide or go on?” said Blake, who was now ready to blaspheme the whole British Empire if it brought him nearer to liberty.
“No, we can’t, they may see us,” said Hardy. “Straight on! If they stop, I’ll talk. If they don’t, I’ll say ‘good night’ in German. I daresay no one has discovered you are missing yet.”
He broke out into nervous song and sang —
“Im koelen keller sitz ich hier” —
— and to his relief the two men who passed them joined in the chorus —
“Reich mir das glas” —
— and then said “Gut nacht,” which he returned.
“I believe every soldier of fortune in Europe is in this infernal country,” said Hardy, as he wiped the cold sweat from his forehead. “Come now, leg it along. We’re almost out of the town.”
“And which way are we going?” asked Blake breathlessly.
Prison had not improved his wind.
“So far, west,” said Hardy. “When we get outside and find a hiding-place we’ll discuss which is the right way to go. Just now, what we want is the nearest hole in a rock somewhere on the veldt. The kind of place that is full of scorpions and snakes.”
The houses now got fewer and fewer, and the road began to climb out of the Aapies valley.
“Suppose we are stopped,” said Blake, “are we to fight for it?”
“If there is a chance,” replied Hardy, “but without any killing, I think.”
“Faith,” cried Blake, “I don’t see how I’m to kill anyone unless I strangle him. Have you any weapon?”
Hardy showed his Mauser pistol.
“But it will be futile to use it, unless one has to.”
As he spoke he heard horses on the road ahead of them.
“Hide,” he said, and they both dropped into the ditch at the side of the road. Two mounted Boers, with their rifles slung over their shoulders, passed them, going at an easy pace, in less than a minute.
“Patrols, I suppose,” said Blake, as he scrambled into the road again.
“Or some coming in from Mafeking,” suggested Hardy.
“What news of Mafeking?” asked Blake.
And Hardy told him the news that was no news. And then they spoke of the war in Natal. Blake told his companion how he had been caught.
“All within ten days of the declaration of war,” he said with a groan. “And I’ve seen nothing, done nothing.”
They saw the road on ahead of them wind around a hill. Blake stopped.
“Do you know this road?”
Hardy shook his head.
“If they have a fort about here, it should be on that hill,” said Blake. And they decided to leave the road, and cut southwest toward a little nek, or pass, in the low ranges surrounding the town. They found a footpath which led through some scrub past the last houses, and followed it till there was the faintest glimmer of dawn in the east.
“The day,” said Hardy. “They’ll begin to wake soon.”
But Blake shook his head.
“This is the hour when everyone sleeps hardest. I know that about three, ‘Tommy,’ who is a typical human being, takes kicking to get him up. We should be safe for another hour, even if it is light, except from someone really on the watch.”
“When will they find out you have escaped?” asked Hardy. “Will they muster the lot of you?”
“They will,” said Blake. “I’m thinking they have done it already. But you haven’t told me how you raised that infernal noise?”
Hardy told him, and Blake was hard put to it not to roar with laughter.
“I must say you are a boy,” he declared. “And I’ve never thanked you!”
Hardy, of course, did not want to be thanked. He waved Blake’s thanks away.
“I couldn’t do anything else when Gwen ——”
“Oh, she’s a darling,” said Blake. “She’s neat and complete and plucky. Might I ask now ——”
In the dawn Hardy saw his sky-blue eye ask for him.
“Oh, yes, I suppose so,” said Gordon hastily.
“Shake hands!” cried Blake; “we’ll be brothers-in-law then. Oh, my poor Clare!”
But he had little time to spend in thinking of anything but the work in front.
“Devils, but you are a worker,” he cried, as he stopped exhausted at the foot of a hill which overlooked the city, now beginning to show like a photograph in the developer. The big Raadzaal showed up first, and then the churches.
“Come, you’ve got no time to be tired,” said Hardy; “keep low and take cover, and work up to the nek.”
“By Jove, you are leading me,” cried Blake, and he set his teeth and climbed.
“Damn, — the day will be on us,” thought Hardy. “And by daylight they will be searching the country. If we could only have got away on the train before they knew. Now it’s too late.”
He saw that the road to the Portuguese frontier would be infinitely difficult until the Boers came to the belief that the escaped prisoner had really got across it. What a pity it was that he had not asked Silvio Da Costa to get a telegram sent back to Pretoria to say that Captain Blake had arrived at Lourenço Marques. He consoled himself by thinking that no one could be altogether wise. And supposing it had been done, and they had been taken after all, the false news might have caused infinite harm at home.
“Oh, we’ll get out,” he said.
But the hateful day grew like a weed, like a magic and mischievous plant; it came up like a tide over a dam, and stood against the eastern earth as the sea stands against a sea wall. In another moment, so it seemed, the torrent of day would pour across the red-hot world of the barren, burning veldt. Strange colors grew in the east, purple and lavender and all shades of red, some hard, some oily, some tender, like the petals of a rose. And in between the ruddy glows, portending day, were bands of amethyst and olive till the dawn sky was like a very wonderful polished agate.
For they were now in a long barren hollow which from the fort — if fort indeed there were — would have been “dead ground.” They ran across it now. For Hardy inspired Blake with strength which was almost unnatural. He no longer felt weary. He said he had his “second wind,” but indeed it was Gordon Hardy’s strength of body and purpose that had entered into him. Hardy was that same fount of strength and inspiration that the pack is to one wearied hound. In that moment Blake felt as he had felt in the first great fight in Natal. He was not himself, but something more.
“By the powers, this man is a leader,” said Blake. “It’s a pity he isn’t a soldier.”
But then Blake fell into the error so common in his class. Hardy was a soldier by nature. And now he was fighting hard and thinking hard, and suddenly came to a resolution.
“You see the fort,” he said, as he lay flat beside the panting Blake.
“I see it.”
“And here is a dip in the ground and a little donga,” said Hardy. “See, we’ll stay here till night comes again.”
He slipped over the ground like a serpent, and Blake followed him. They lost the outline of the fort, which ran easily into the hill contours, and then they came to the donga. Hardy dropped into it, and Blake followed, and sat there breathing fiercely.
Then the tide of day burst over the earth, and the far-flung shadows of the kopjes, each like a pyramid, ran across the summer veldt. The ruddy colors of dawn melted in intense gold, and the day was even now warm and threatened heat that might be awful.
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) | “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”