The Fugitives (22)
October 25, 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!
When Hardy sent that cable asking Gwen and Clare to come, he had done it in excitement, and when that excitement cooled there remained little hope that they would be able to obey. He knew the strength of convention at home and did not reckon on Gwen’s resisting and overcoming it. Yet, as he stayed by Blake’s bedside and saw how the man, now so sane and quiet, desired the presence of her whom he loved, he hoped again, even though it was against all expectation. Blake had recovered consciousness in the Kimberley Base Hospital and had found Hardy near him. For Hardy, seeing how the staff was pushed and overworked, had volunteered to help them and found satisfaction in the thought that he was doing well, even if doing something that had less glory and excitement in it than the actual struggle on the field.
For a long week the doctors watched Blake with doubt, and then they told Hardy that his friend would recover. And the very day after that the patient showed signs that he was in the grip of typhoid, after escaping inflammation of the brain consequent on the shell wound to his head. The blow struck Gordon Hardy dumb, for he had got to like Blake wonderfully, and he felt a strange and deep responsibility for him. Had he not aided him to escape from Pretoria the man might have been safe. Had they ventured by way of Koomati Poort it might have been well, for since their time others had gone that way. Hardy regretted that he had not tried it too.
As Blake lay ill he wandered in his mind and cried out strange things about the prison. He was perpetually escaping. And again he had escaped and was with Clare. But when at last his senses returned to him and recovery seemed once more possible, he hungered after a mere word from her, and for that reason Hardy sent the cable which Gwen answered in the name of her sister.
“God bless her,” said Blake weakly, as he lay with that false word in his hand. “God bless her. When will she come, Gordon?”
And Hardy told him it would be soon, very soon, and spoke to him cheerfully, for indeed he was now cheerful. Blake was to live after all, and Gwen was coming out, and it was a good bright world in spite of all they had gone through.
Then came a relapse, and the end was very sudden, — so sudden, indeed, that Blake had few words for his friend and could hardly send a message to Clare. His lips moved at the last, and Hardy put that precious telegram into his hand. Then Blake dropped it, and stared at the roof of the hospital, and picked at the bed-covering, and muttered a little and died.
“How shall I tell her, how shall I meet her?” said Hardy, as he stood by Blake’s grave. “And what will Gwen say to me?”
He repeated that a thousand times during the next week, and then the time came when the Dunluce Castle was nearly due at Cape Town. Again Hardy had to decide what to do, and when he made up his mind that, in spite of his duties there, he must go to meet her, it was hard work for him to get away. For he was not naturally selfish, and many of the wounded and sick men had come to love him for his help. Though he was an untrained man he had the natural gifts of a nurse, and the colonel of the Army Medical Corps who was at the head of the hospital did not like to lose him.
“You have been very useful, Mr. Hardy,” he said.
“Thank you, sir,” said Hardy. “I’ve tried to do my best, just as you did for poor Blake. But the girl he was engaged to will be in Cape Town this week, and I have practically promised to meet her.”
So they let him go.
“If possible, and if you want me, I will return,” he said.
And so he went down the line very sorrowfully, with a hospital train of wounded men who were well enough to travel, but not well enough to hope to return to duty. Those very men his sweetheart saw being carried upon the transport, and when she had given up hope of seeing Hardy there at all, she caught sight of him helping to carry a stretcher. He lifted his eyes at the same moment and saw her, and she ran to him.
“Oh, Gwen!” he said, — but he could not offer her his hand or kiss her.
“Gordon!” she murmured, and she stood back while the sick man went on board. Her Gordon was half a stranger and yet much nearer than he had been. His beard was grown, and he was burnt very brown, and he was very thin. But he was her lover, and was in her heart. She saw the hot world through a mist, and when the mist cleared away Tom and Hardy were speaking, and then, without a word, he came up to her and took her in his arms before the quiet crowd, who had seen many such scenes upon that wharf since the war began.
“And Clare,” he said, “how is she?”
“Don’t speak of her,” replied Gwen.
“What?” asked Hardy, “is she ill?”
“She is in England — and did not come.”
The truth was hard to tell, and yet she had to speak it.
“She’s not my sister,” said Gwen, looking away from him and out to sea. “I’m glad Ned Blake is dead! She’s married!”
And Hardy took her hand and held it.
“The telegram!” he said.
“I sent it.”
“You did a good deed,” said Hardy, with tears in his eyes. “Blake died with it in his hand.”
“He never knew,” said Gwen. “I will tell you all about it some day. And, Gordon, you have a story to tell me.”
“Yes,” replied Gordon, “I have a good deal to say to you — soon.”
They were both very quiet, though the crowd surged about them, and outside the cab-drivers yelled, and the Cape “boys” ran to and fro with luggage.
“I shall have done here in half an hour,” said Hardy. “I have taken you three rooms at Sea Point, so you go there and I will pass your luggage through the customs and bring it to you.”
He kissed her again.
“You love me, Gwen? Really?”
“Oh, yes, I love you,” said Gwen.
And he looked her in the eyes and she smiled sadly.
“My darling,” said Hardy. “Go, now — I will be with you very soon.”
She saw him go on board the transport, and then went away with Tom and took the tram to the hotel at Sea Point, and she walked in a dream. Tom talked incessantly, but she answered him absently, except when he spoke of Gordon.
“He’s a fine chap, isn’t he?” said her brother. “But I wonder what I shall do.”
“There must be plenty to do,” answered Gwen. For she saw the pale, sad faces of the wounded once more, and she knew she had no right to be there unless she justified her presence by doing some work. For her own pleasure, and her own love, and her own satisfaction were not justification in the sight of heaven, when war and disease were striking down her kindred over a thousand miles of veldt. That she knew in her heart, and she needed no one to tell her. She prepared to renounce her heart’s desire for a time if need be, and when Hardy came to her and they walked by the side of the sea, she told him what was in her mind.
“You will marry me, Gwen?” he asked.
“Some day,” she said gravely, and he knew she was not playing the coquette.
“And some day soon,” he answered.
“Oh, Gordon,” she said, “how can I when there is so much to do? You have been working in the hospitals; cannot I do the same?”
He knew what the work meant, and, manlike, dreaded it for her.
“There are enough,” he said.
“Then I cannot stay,” cried Gwen. “It is hard enough to see and to know what goes on, even if one were useful, but I can’t stay here and be useless.”
He saw she meant it, and it sobered his ardent mind.
“Gwen, dear, I am glad you feel like it; I will tell you to-morrow.”
They sat down upon a rock and looked out to sea.
“Tell me about Ned,” said Gwen presently. And Hardy told her his story, and as he told it he brightened up and made her smile. As he spoke, she saw Silvio Da Costa.
“He’s a good chap,” said Hardy.
And he drew Hermann Wertheimer for her, and Mrs. Wertheimer.
“When the war is over we must go and see them,” said Gwen, and when she had said it, she blushed.
“Yes,” said Hardy.
And with him and with the dead man she travelled over the vast and burning veldt and lived through their strange adventures.
“But it was all for nothing. He is dead,” said Gordon.
“Ah, no, he is dead, but he escaped the worst,” said Gwen.
“I failed after all, dear, and if we had gone the other way ——”
“I’m glad he’s dead,” cried Gwen. “It is the best. And he was killed by our own men after all. That is bitter.”
“It happens to many in war,” said Gordon.
And they said no more for an hour, though they sat hand in hand by the sounding, wind-blown sea. Then Gwen spoke about Clare.
“She married Jim after all. Poor Jim! And I feel I haven’t any home left.”
Hardy put his arm about her.
“Gwen, where you are is my home. Where is yours?”
“Here,” said Gwen. Then she freed herself and turned face to face with him.
“This is only the third time I have ever seen you!”
“My dear, do not talk nonsense,” said Hardy. “I have known you three years.”
“All the same,” said Gwen, “it is really only the third time. It — it seems wrong.”
Gordon took her hand.
“Is it three times, eh? But how often have we thought of each other, Gwen?”
She did not answer.
“How do you count times, Gwen?” he asked again. “Why, when I first saw you I fell in love with you, and there has not a day passed since that you have not been in my mind; and since we parted at Cowley that frosty morning how many centuries is it? Ah, dear, we have loved each other very, very long!”
“Yes — but ——” said Gwen.
Hardy put his finger on her lip.
“Gwen, if I had met you once a week at Cowley for a year, and if we had liked each other tepidly, and I had got your father’s permission to speak to you, it would have been quite orthodox ——”
Gwen interjected swiftly —
“But you see it wasn’t so. I took you — by force, when I was so impertinent as to take hold of you.”
“Gordon, it was very wrong.”
“So it was,” said Gordon, laughing, “but I don’t care. I’m glad I was wrong. I’d rather be very wrong and win you than be very correct and marry a king’s daughter. Dear, we will be married the day after to-morrow!”
“But, Gordon, you know what I said.”
“I know,” replied Gordon. And he told her of his work up at Kimberley. “You shall help me. Will you help me and others too? Oh, Gwen, I’ve had a very hard time.”
She leaned against him.
“You poor dear, so you have. And, Gordon, I think you were very, very brave.”
“Tut,” said Gordon, “but it was rather a hard job you set me, Gwen. And, after all, it was a failure.”
But Gwen knew better; it was no failure to have proved her lover, since in life as it is mostly lived women have to take the courage of their men on trust.
And yet again courage and the English love of adventure proved a thorn in Gwen’s side, for she had Tom upon her hands. Having induced him to come out with her, she owed him much, and yet she feared to let him go into the war, for, after all, he was her father’s only son, and, as Tom had often ruefully remarked, with only one son in a family which had landed property and an ancient estate there was no allowing for “breakages.” And though his father did look upon his daughters as matters of domestic importance only, his son was in quite another category. This Gwen found that very night, when she received a cable from her father through the steamship agents. It read —
“Tom must return instantly. Urgent.”
She showed it to Gordon first.
“They don’t say I must return,” she said.
“But they mean you to,” replied Gordon, looking at her. “You know it. They would not say so.”
“For fear of what?”
“For fear it might make you obstinate. But Tom must go. It was wrong of him to come.”
Gwen knew that, but both she and Gordon knew that without Tom she would still have been in England.
“Can you persuade him?” asked Gordon.
“I must try,” said Gwen.
Gordon took her hand.
“You will stay, Gwen?”
“Oh, yes, Gordon, if you ask me.”
And they called Tom to them and showed him the cable. His face fell when he read it.
“I won’t,” he cried.
But Gwen implored him to listen, and said she had been wrong to bring him, and that she would never forgive herself if anything happened to him. And Gordon talked to him sympathetically and said that the only reason he had for not being in the war was the fact that he, too, was an only son, and he ended in making Tom feel that the two of them were equally victims of a great misfortune.
“Go home now,” said Gordon, “and use your submission so as to induce your father to let you enter the army. You are still young enough, and we are going to have a bigger army than we ever had. Mark me, old man, you won’t want for fighting. Before three years there will be a general European war, and you will get your chance.”
“Do you think so?” asked Tom.
“I’m sure of it,” said Hardy. “Positive.”
They went to dinner, and during the meal Gordon showed almost conclusively that any one who then enlisted in any of the Colonial forces would necessarily be employed on the lines of communication, or at the best on rebel-hunting, or policing some unsettled district. And at last Tom gave in and promised to go back.
He took Gwen aside after dinner.
“I suppose you and Gordon are going to be married?”
“I suppose so,” said Gwen very meekly, and with a blush.
“Then you must be married at once.”
“At once, of course,” said Tom authoritatively. “You don’t suppose I am going to leave you here if you are not married?”
Gwen supposed nothing of the kind, but was naturally anxious to give in only to the appearance of authority.
“Do you really think so?”
“Of course I think so,” said Tom, “and what is more, I insist on it. Or you must return with me.”
“Well, Tom, if you insist ——”
“I do,” said Tom, with great firmness.
“Then I will do what you say,” answered Gwen. “You are a dear, good brother, Tom.”
And Tom thought so himself when he went to Gordon and informed him of his decision in the matter. He found Gordon peculiarly amenable to suggestion. He raised no obstacles whatever, and wrote a letter for Tom to take back to his father.
“Do you think your old man will be very mad?” asked Gordon.
“He will see it was for the best,” said Tom. “I will explain it to him. Nowadays I have noticed an increasing reluctance to dictate to girls whom they should marry. And even if you are not rich, Hardy, you are a ripping good sort and I shall be proud to have you for a brother-in-law.”
While they talked, Gwen was in her room, and she too wrote to her father, and explained to him with curious affectionate stiffness that she was going to get married to Mr. Gordon Hardy. And Tom approved, she said. She said that three times, in three different ways. She sent her father her love, for now she felt very affectionate to him. She was not only very far from him, but soon she would be in a new world. She was on the verge of the unknown, and turned back with an odd kind of terror to regard the past. She did not speak of Clare. She sealed the letter with a sense of relief. The past was done with: to-morrow was her own. And the time to come was hers and her lover’s.
She leaned out of her window and looked upon the great southern sea. The hotel was full and unpeaceful. She heard music with a sense of utter distaste. Who were these men and women who found life just now so frivolous a thing as to waltz through it to dance music? Cape Town and all its environs were full of idlers, the worst and the unworthiest of silent Johannesburg; the worst and unworthiest from England who had come to see the war as they might see a drama upon a stage of wood. To touch their jaded senses and sensibilities they came to plague the wounded with neurotic and unwelcome attentions. They took flowers to hospitals and culled the most beautiful for themselves: without being useful they hindered the workers and strove to justify themselves in vain before those with hearts and souls.
“I must do something or go away,” said Gwen. “These women make me shiver.”
And under her window she saw Hardy standing.
“Come into the garden. It is not yet ten o’clock.”
She wrapped a cloak about her and went down to him.
“Who are all these people, Gordon?” she asked.
“They are the eleventh plague of our vexed Egypt,” said her lover. “But none of these Miriams will cure wounds. Don’t think of them. There will be something for you and me to do, dear.”
They walked together upon the quiet beach and heard the plash of the sea with infinite content.
“After all, it is a good world, Gwen.”
“Ah, yes!” said Gwen.
“Do you know, Gwen, that your brother is very authoritative?” asked Gordon, as they paused in their walk.
“Ye-es,” said Gwen, “he is — just now.”
“He has been ordering me about as if he were a Chief of the Staff. He says I am to marry you, Gwen.”
“He said I was to marry you, Gordon.”
Gordon pressed her arm.
“Upon the whole, Gwen, I think your brother is a very sensible young man. And as he insists on it I think we must give in and be married the day after to-morrow.”
As Gwen did not answer, Gordon took her in his arms and kissed her. They stood for a long time between the house, that was a house of song and dance, and the great sea that washed both shores of mighty Africa, and as they stood Gordon followed her mind with his as he had done of old. She was very young, but not too young now to see, though half unconsciously, that life was very strange and very serious after all. There was a choice to be made, and for ever another choice. Some who sang and danced had chosen the evil part, and for them the world was well for a time. They lived in a little circle that was the narrowing circle of themselves. But outside was the great world with all its tasks, and the great sea with all its storms and wonders. To live for one’s self only was not to live at all. To work for the world and that which came to one, with all one’s might, was to live in reality. And now in the world of war came many calls to labor, and many calls to those who wished to give themselves to its service.
“I wonder if I can tell you what you are thinking, Gwen?”
“Am I thinking, dear? Then I know I am thinking what you think, Gordon.”
And those who had known her of old would not have known her at all. According to the environment so does the soul grow, and Gwen was not what she had been. And yet she had never been what she seemed. But who knows any woman but her true and destined lover? And who knows any man but the woman who loves and is loved by him?
“Dear,” said Hardy, “what I think, you inspire. Perhaps, indeed, our two hearts make better — far better — music together, than they ever could make alone. But just now I have been thinking that it is too easy to waste one’s life, and too easy not to do what one ought; and to miss doing that is to miss what is best in one’s self. I am not a very religious man, Gwen, but I could take off my hat and thank God and the world and the sun and stars and the sea that it is good to live and good to love and good to work. You do love me, Gwen?”
“Oh, yes!” said Gwen, and she put her hand in his. “But I can’t speak, Gordon.”
“Whether you speak or are silent, I think I understand you, dear,” said her lover, “and if I ever fail to understand, believe that I am trying. You have given me your love and your life. We will do the best, Gwen, the best for both so far as we know how.”
Behind them, in the house, the music ceased, and then again it broke into a careless chord or two and was again silent. But at their feet the sea was never silent. It murmured ceaselessly of far lands and strange peoples and told stories of undiscovered islands. But it told of no place, however far, where there was not true love between Man and Woman, and it told of none where love did not make the world better and its votaries wise with a wisdom as deep as the very sea itself.
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 | Jack London’s The Iron Heel | H. De Vere Stacpoole’s The Man Who Lost Himself | P.G. Wodehouse’s Leave It to Psmith | Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” | Houdini and Lovecraft’s “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs” | Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Sussex Vampire.”
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” | Flourish Klink’s Star Trek fanfic “Conference Comms” | Charlie Mitchell’s “A Fantasy Land” | Charlie Mitchell’s “Sentinels” | 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”