THE MAN WHO LOST HIMSELF (9)

By: H. De Vere Stacpoole
April 14, 2018

This year marks the 100th anniversary of a forgotten Avenger/Artful Dodger-type adventure novel, The Man Who Lost Himself. A man down on his luck wakes up after a drunken night in London only to discover… that he has somehow slipped into the identity of a wealthy aristocrat! HiLoBooks is pleased to serialize this funny, thrilling yarn by H. De Vere Stacpoole — best known as author of The Blue Lagoon — here at HILOBROW.

ALL INSTALLMENTS SO FAR

***

CHAPTER IX: MORE INTRUDERS

The little glass that had held the fin champagne stood on the table, the door was shut, Voles was gone, and the incident was ended.

Jones, for the first time in his life, felt the faintness that comes after supreme exertion. He could never have imagined that a thing like that would have so upset him. He was unconscious during the whole of the business that he was putting out more energy than ordinary, he knew it now as he contemplated the magnitude of his victory, sitting exhausted in the big saddle-bag chair on the left of the fire place and facing the door.

He had crushed the greatest rogue in London, taken from him eight thousand pounds of ill gotten money, and freed himself of an incubus that would have made his position untenable.

Rochester could have done just the same, had he possessed daring, and energy, and courage enough. He hadn’t, and there was an end of it.

At this moment a knock came to the door, and a flunkey — a new one — appeared.

“Dinner is served, my Lord.”

Jones sat up in his chair.

“Dinner,” said he. “I’m not ready for it yet. Fetch me a whisky and soda — look here, tell Mr. Church I want to see him.”

“Yes, my Lord.”

Jones, as stated before, possessed that very rare attitude — an eye for men. It was quite unknown to him; up to this he had been condemned to take men as he found them; the pressure of circumstances alone had made him a business partner with Aaron Stringer. He had never trusted Stringer. Now, being in a position of command, he began to use this precious gift, and he selected Church for a first officer. He wanted a henchman.

The whisky and soda arrived, and, almost immediately on it, Church.

Jones, placing the half empty glass on the table, nodded to him.

“Come in,” said he, “and shut the door.”

Church closed the door and stood at attention. This admirable man’s face was constructed not with a view to the easy interpretation of emotions. I doubt if an earthquake in Carlton House Terrace and the vicinity could have altered the expression of it.

He stood as if listening.

Jones began: “I want you to go to-morrow at eight o’clock to No. 12B Jermyn Street to get some documents for me. They will be handed to you by A. S. Voles.”

“Yes, my Lord.”

“You will bring them back to me here.”

“Yes, my Lord.”

“I have just seen the gentleman, and I’ve just dealt with him. He is a very great rogue and I had to call an officer — a constable in. I settled him.”

Mr. Church opened his mouth as though he were going to speak. Then he shut it again.

“Go on,” said Jones. “What were you going to say?”

“Well, your Lordship, I was going to say that I am very glad to hear that. When you told me four months ago, in confidence, what Voles was having out of you, you will remember what advice I gave your Lordship. ‘Don’t be squeezed,’ I said. ‘Squeeze him.’ Your Lordship’s solicitor, Mr. Mortimer Collins, I believe, told you the same.”

“I have taken your advice. I find it so good that I am going to ask your advice often again — Do you see any difference in me, Mr. Church?”

“Yes, my Lord, you have changed. If your Lordship will excuse me for saying so.”

“How?”

“You have grown younger, my Lord, and more yourself, and you speak different — sharper, so to say.”

These words were Balm of Gilead to Jones. He had received no opinion of himself from others till now; he had vaguely mistrusted his voice, unable to estimate in how much it differed from Rochester’s. The perfectly frank declaration of Church put his mind at rest. He spoke sharper — that was all.

“Well,” said he. “Things are going to be different all round; better too.”

He turned away towards the bureau, and Church opened the door.

“You don’t want me any longer, my Lord?”

“Not just now.”

He opened Kelly’s directory, and looked up the solicitors, till he came to the name he wanted.

Mortimer Collins, 10, Sergeant’s Inn, Fleet Street.

“That’s my man,” said he to himself, “and to-morrow I will see him.” He closed the book and left the room.

He did not know the position of the dining room, nor did he want to. A servant seeing him, and taking it for granted that at this late hour he did not want to dress, opened a door.

Next minute he was seated alone at a large table, stared at by defunct Rochesters and their wives, and spreading his table napkin on his knees.

The dinner was excellent, though simple enough. English society has drifted a long way from the days when Lord Palmerston sat himself down to devour two helpings of turtle soup, the same of cod and oyster sauce, a huge plateful of York ham, a cut from the joint, a liberal supply of roast pheasant, to say nothing of kickshaws and sweets; the days when the inside of a nobleman after dinner was a provision store floating in sherry, hock, champagne, old port, and punch.

Nothing acts more quickly upon the nervous system than food; before the roast chicken and salad were served, Jones found himself enjoying his dinner, and, more than that, enjoying his position.

The awful position of the morning had lost its terrors, the fog that had surrounded him was breaking. Wrecked on this strange, luxuriant, yet hostile coast, he had met the natives, fed with them, fought them, and measured their strength and cunning.

He was not afraid of them now. The members of the Senior Conservative Club Camp had left him unimpressed, and the wild beast Voles had bequeathed to him a lively contempt for the mental powers of the man he had succeeded.

Rightly or wrongly, all Lords caught a tinge of the lurid light that shewed up Rochester’s want of vim and mental hitting power.

But he did not feel a contempt for Lords as such. He was longing to appreciate the fact that to be a Lord was to be a very great thing. Even a Lord who had let his estates run to ruin — like himself.

A single glass of iced champagne — he allowed himself only one — established this conviction in his mind, also the recognition that the flunkeys no longer oppressed him, they rather pleased him. They knew their work and performed it perfectly, they hung on his every word and movement.

Yesterday, sitting where he was, he would have been feeling out of place, and irritable and awkward. Even a few hours ago he would have felt oppressed and wanting to escape somewhere by himself. What lent him this new magic of assurance and sense of mastery of his position? Undoubtedly it was his battle with Voles.

Coffee was served to him in the smoking room, and there, sitting alone with a cigar, he began clearly and for the first time to envisage his plans for the future.

He could drop everything and run. Book a passage for the United States, enter New York as Lord Rochester, just as a diver enters the sea, and emerge as Jones. He could keep the eight thousand pounds with a clear conscience — or couldn’t he?

This point seemed a bit obscure.

He did not worry about it much. The main question had not to do with money. The main question was simply this, shall I be Victor Jones for the future, or shall I be the Earl of Rochester? The twenty-first Earl of Rochester?

Shall I clear out, or stick to my guns? Remain boss of this show and try and make something of the wreckage, or sneak off with nothing to show for the most amazing experience man ever underwent?

Rochester had sneaked off. He was a quitter. Jones had once read a story in the Popular Magazine, in which a Railway Manager had cast scorn on a ne’er-do-well. “God does surely hate a quitter,” said the manager.

These words always remained with him. They had crystallised his sentiments in this respect: the quitter ranked in his mind almost with the sharper.

All the same the temptation to quit was strong, even though the temptation to stay was growing.

A loophole remained open to him. It was not necessary to decide at once; he could throw down his cards at any moment and rise from the table if the game was getting too much for him, or if he grew tired of it.

He saw difficult times ahead for him in the mess in which Rochester had left his affairs — that was, perhaps, his strongest incentive to remain.

He was roused from his reverie by voices in the hall. Loud cheery voices.

A knock came to the door and a servant announced: “Sir Hugh Spicer and Captain Stark to see you, my Lord.” Jones sat up in his chair. “Show them in,” said he.

The servant went out and returned ushering in a short bibulous looking young man in evening dress covered with a long fawn coloured overcoat; this gentleman was followed by a half bald, evil looking man of fifty or so, also in evening attire.

This latter wore a monocle in what Jones afterwards mentally called, “his twisted face.”

“Look at him!” cried the young man, “sitting in his blessed arm chair and not dressed. Look at him!”

He lurched slightly as he spoke, and brought up at the table where he hit the inkstand with the cane he was carrying, sending inkpot and pens flying. Jones looked at him.

This was Hughie. Pillar of the Criterion bar, President of the Rag Tag Club, baronet and detrimental — and all at twenty three.

“Leave it alone, Hughie,” said Stark, going to the silver cigar box and helping himself. “Less of that blessed cane, Hughie — why, Jollops, what ails you?”

He stared at Jones as he lit a cigar. Jones looked at him.

This was Spencer Stark, late Captain in His Majesty’s Black Hussars, gambler, penniless, always well dressed, and always well fed — Terrible. Just as beetles are beetles, whether dressed in tropical splendour or the funereal black of the English type, so are detrimentals detrimentals. Jones knew his men.

“I beg your pardon,” said he, “did you mean that name for me?”

He rose as he spoke, and crossing to the bell rang it. They thought he was speaking in jest and ringing for drinks; they laughed, and Hughie began to yell, yell, and slash the table with his cane in time to what he was yelling.

This beast, who was never happy unless smashing glasses, making a noise or tormenting his neighbours, who had never been really sober for the space of some five years, who had destroyed a fine estate, and broken his mother’s heart, seemed now endeavouring to break his wanghee cane on the table.

The noise was terrific.

The door opened and calves appeared.

“Throw that ruffian out,” said Jones.

“Out with him,” cried Hughie, throwing away his cane at this joke. “Come on, Stark, let’s shove old Jollops out of doors.”

He advanced to the merry attack, and Stark, livened up by the other, closed in, receiving a blow on the midriff that seated him in the fender.

The next moment Hughie found himself caught by a firm hand, that had somehow managed to insert itself between the back of his collar and his neck, gripping the collar.

Choking and crowing he was rushed out of the room and across the hall to the front door, a running footman preceding him. The door was opened and he was flung into the street.

The ejection of Stark was an easier matter. The hats and coats were flung out and the door shut finally.

“If either of those guys comes here again,” said Jones to the acolyte, “call an officer — I mean a constable.”

“Yes, my Lord.”

“I wonder how many more people I will have to fling out of this house,” said he to himself, as he returned to the smoking room. “My God, what a mess that chap Rochester must have made all round. Bar bummers like those! Heu!”

He ordered the ink to be cleared up, and then he sent for Mr. Church. He was excited.

“Church,” said he. “I’ve shot out two more of that carrion. You know all the men I have been fool enough to know. If they come here again tell the servants not to let them in.”

But he had another object in sending for Church. “Where’s my cheque book?” he asked.

Church went to the bureau and opened a lower drawer.

“I think you placed it here, my Lord.” He produced it.

When he was gone Jones opened the book; it was one of Coutt’s.

He knew his banker now as well as his solicitor. Then he sat down, and taking Rochester’s note from his pocket began to study the handwriting and signature.

He made a hundred imitations of the signature, and found for the first time in his life that he was not bad at that sort of work.

Then he burnt the sheets of paper he had been using, put the cheque book away and looked at the clock; it pointed to eleven.

He switched out the lights and left the room, taking his way upstairs.

He felt sure of being able to find the bed-room he had left that morning, and coming along the softly lit corridor he had no difficulty in locating it. He had half dreaded that the agile valet in the sleeved jacket might be there waiting to tuck him up, but to his relief the room was vacant.

He shut the door, and going to the nearest window pulled the blind up for a moment.

The moon was rising over London, and casting her light upon the Green Park. A huge summer moon. The sort of moon that conjures up ideas about guitars and balconies.

Jones undressed, and putting on the silk pyjamas that were laid out for him, got into bed, leaving only the light burning by the bedside.

He tried to recall the details of that wonderful day, failed utterly, switched out the light, and went to sleep.

NEXT INSTALLMENT | ALL INSTALLMENTS SO FAR

***

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”.

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.

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