THE MAN WHO LOST HIMSELF (10)
April 21, 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.
The most curious thing in the whole of Jones’ extraordinary experiences was the way in which things affecting Rochester affected him. The coldness of the club members was an instance in point. He knew that their coldness had nothing to do with him, yet he resented it practically just as much as though it had.
Then again, the case of Voles. What had made him fight Voles with such vigour? It did not matter to him in the least whether Voles gave Rochester away or not, yet he had fought Voles with all the feeling of the man who is attacked, not of the man who is defending another man from attack.
The attitude of Spicer and the other scamp had roused his ire on account of its want of respect for him, the supposed Earl of Rochester. Rochester’s folly had inspired that want of respect, why should he, Jones, bother about it? He did. It hit him just as much as though it were levelled against himself. He had found, as yet to a limited degree, but still he had found that anything that would hurt Rochester would hurt him, that his sensibility was just as acute under his new guise, and, wonder of wonders, his dignity as a Lord just as sensitive as his dignity as a man.
If you had told Jones in Philadelphia that a day would come when he would be angry if a servant did not address him as “my Lord,” he would have thought you mad. Yet that day had come, or was coming, and that change in him was not in the least the result of snobbishness, it was the result of the knowledge of what was due to Rochester, Arthur Coningsby Delamere, 21st Earl of, from whom he could not disentangle himself whilst acting his part.
He was awakened by Mr. Church pulling up his window blinds.
He had been dreaming of the boarding-house in Philadelphia where he used to live, of Miss Wybrow, the proprietress, and the other guests, Miss Sparrow, Mr. Moese — born Moses — Mr. Hoffman, the part proprietor of Sharpes’ Drug Store, Mrs. Bertine, and the rest.
He watched whilst Mr. Church passed to the door, received the morning tea tray from the servant outside, and, placing it by the bed, withdrew. This was the only menial service which Mr. Church ever seemed to perform, with the exception of the stately carrying in of papers and letters at breakfast time.
Jones drank his tea. Then he got up, went to the window, looked out at the sunlit Green Park, and then rang his bell. He was not depressed nor nervous this morning. He felt extraordinarily fit. The powerful good spirits natural to him, a heritage better than a fortune, were his again. Life seemed wonderfully well worth living, and the game before him the only game worth playing.
Then the Mechanism came into the room and began to act. James was the name of this individual. Dumb and serious and active as an insect, this man always filled Jones’ mind with wonderment; he seemed less a man than a machine. But at least he was a perfect machine.
Fully dressed now, he was preparing to go down when a knock came to the door and Mr. Church came in with a big envelope on a salver.
“This is what you requested me to fetch from Jermyn Street, my Lord.”
“Oh, you’ve been to Jermyn Street?”
“Yes, my Lord, directly I had served your tea at quarter to eight, I took a taxi.”
“Good!” said Jones.
He took the envelope, and, Church and the Mechanism having withdrawn, he sat down by the window to have a look at the contents.
The envelope contained letters.
Letters from a man to a woman. Letters from the Earl of Rochester to Sapphira Plinlimon. The most odiously and awfully stupid collection of love letters ever written by a fool to be read by a wigged counsel in a divorce court.
They covered three months, and had been written two years ago.
They were passionate, idealistic in parts, drivelling. He called her his “Ickle teeny weeny treasure.” Baby language — Jones almost blushed as he read.
“He sure was moulting,” said he, as he dropped letter after letter on the floor. “And he paid eight thousand to hold these things back — well, I don’t know, maybe I’d have done the same myself. I can’t fancy seeing myself in the Philadelphia Ledger with this stuff tacked on to the end of my name.”
He collected the incriminating documents, placed them in the envelope, and came downstairs with it in his hand.
Breakfast was an almost exact replica of the meal of yesterday; the pile of letters brought in by Church was rather smaller, however.
These letters were a new difficulty, they would all have to be answered, the ones of yesterday, and the ones of to-day.
He would have to secure the services of a typist and a typewriter: that could be arranged later on. He placed them aside and opened a newspaper. He was accustomed enough now to his situation to be able to take an interest in the news of the day. At any moment his environment might split to admit of a new Voles or Spicer, or perhaps some more dangerous spectre engendered from the dubious past of Rochester; but he scarcely thought of this, he had gone beyond fear, he was up to the neck in the business.
He glanced at the news of the day, reading as he ate. Then he pushed the paper aside. The thought had just occurred to him that Rochester had paid that eight thousand not to shield a woman’s name but to shield his own. To prevent that gibberish being read out against him in court.
This thought dimmed what had seemed a brighter side of Rochester, that obscure thing which Jones was condemned to unveil little by little and bit by bit. He pushed his plate away, and at this moment Mr. Church entered the breakfast room.
He came to the table and, speaking in half lowered voice said:
“Lady Plinlimon to see you, your Lordship.”
“Yes, your Lordship. I have shown her into the smoking room.”
Jones had finished breakfast. He rose from the table, gathered the letters together, and with them in his hand followed Church from the breakfast room to the smoking room. A big woman in a big hat was seated in the arm chair facing the door.
She was forty if an hour. She had a large unpleasant face. A dominating face, fat featured, selfish, and made up by art.
“Oh, here you are,” said she as he entered and closed the door. “You see I’m out early.”
Jones nodded, went to the cigarette box, took a cigarette and lit it.
The woman got up and did likewise. She blew the cigarette smoke through her nostrils, and Jones, as he watched, knew that he detested her. Then she sat down again. She seemed nervous.
“Is it true what I hear, that your sister has left you and gone to live with your mother?”
“Yes,” said Jones, remembering the bird woman of yesterday morning.
“Well, you’ll have some peace now, unless you let her back — but I haven’t come to talk of her. It’s just this, I’m in a tight place.”
“A very tight place. I’ve got to have some money — I’ve got to have it to-day.”
“Yes. I ought to have had it yesterday, but a deal I had on fell through. You’ve got to help me, Arthur.”
“How much do you want?”
“Fifteen hundred. I’ll pay it back soon.”
“Fifteen hundred pounds?”
“Yes, of course.”
A great white light, cold and clear as the dawn of Truth, began to steal across the mind of Jones. Why had this woman come to him this morning so quickly after the defeat of Voles who held her letters? How had Voles obtained those letters? This question had occurred to him before, and this question seemed to his practical mind pregnant now with possibilities.
“What do you want the money for?” asked he.
“Good heavens, what a question, what does a woman want money for? I want it, that’s enough — What else will you ask?”
“What was the deal you expected money from yesterday?”
“A stock exchange business.”
“What sort of business?”
She crimsoned with anger.
“I haven’t come to talk of that. I came as a friend to ask you for help. If you refuse, well, there that ends it.”
“Oh, no, it doesn’t,” said he. “I want to ask you a question.”
“Well, ask it.”
“It’s just a simple question.”
“You expected to receive fifteen hundred pounds yesterday?”
“Did you expect to receive it from Mr. A. S. Voles?”
He saw at once that she was guilty. She half rose from her chair, then she sat down again.
“What on earth do you mean?” she cried.
“You know quite well what I mean,” replied he, “you would have had fifteen hundred of Voles’ takings on those letters. You heard last night I had refused to part. He was only your agent. There’s no use in denying it. He told me all.”
Her face had turned terrible, white as death, with the rouge showing on the white.
“It is all untrue,” she stuttered. “It is all untrue.” She rose staggering. He did not want to pursue the painful business, the pursuit of a woman was not in his line. He went to the door and opened it for her.
“It is all untrue. I’ll write to you about this — untrue.”
She uttered the words as she passed out. He reckoned she knew the way to the hall door, and, shutting the door of the room, he turned to the fire place.
He was not elated. He was shocked. It seemed to him that he had never touched and handled wickedness before, and this was a woman in the highest ranks of life!
She had trapped Rochester into making love to her, and used Voles to extort eight thousand pounds from him on account of his letters.
She had hypnotized Rochester like a fowl. She was that sort. Held the divorce court over him as a threat — could Humanity descend lower? He went to Who’s Who and turned up the P’s till he found the man he wanted.
Plinlimon: 3rd Baron, created 1831, Albert James, b. March 10th 1862. O. S. of second Baron and Julia d. of J. H. Thompson, of Clifton, m. Sapphira. d. of Marcus Mulhausen, educ. privately. Address The Roost, Tite Street, Chelsea.
Thus spake, Who’s Who.
“I bet my bottom dollar that chap’s been in it as well as she,” said Jones, referring to Plinlimon, Albert James. Then a flash of humour lit the situation. Voles had returned eight thousand pounds; as an agent he had received twenty five per cent., say, therefore, he stood to lose at least six thousand. This pleased Jones more even than his victory. He had a racial, radical, soul-rooted antipathy to Voles. Not an anger against him, just an antipathy. “Now,” said he, as he placed Who’s Who back on the bureau, “let’s get off and see Mortimer Collins.”
He left the house, and, calling a taxi cab, ordered the driver to take him to Sergeant’s Inn. He had no plan of campaign as regards Collins. He simply wanted to explore and find out about himself. Knowledge to him in his extraordinary position was armour, and he wanted all the armour he could get, fighting, as he was, not only the living present, but also another man’s past — and another man’s character, or want of character.
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.
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