THE MAN WHO LOST HIMSELF (16)
June 11, 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.
At five o’clock that day the transference of the property was made out and signed by Marcus Mulhausen in Mortimer Collins’ office, and the Glanafwyn lands became again the property of the Earl of Rochester — “for the sum of five thousand pounds received and herewith acknowledged,” said the document.
Needless to say no five thousand pounds passed hands. Collins, mystified, asked no questions in the presence of Mulhausen. When the latter had taken his departure, however, he turned to Jones.
“Did you pay him five thousand?” asked the lawyer.
“Not a cent,” replied the other.
“Well, how have you worked the miracle, then?”
“You see how I had them coopered,” finished he. “Well, just as I was going to grab the kitty he played the ace of spades, produced an old document he held against me.”
“I pondered for a moment — then I came to a swift conclusion — took the doc from him and ate it.”
“You ate the document?”
Jones rubbed his stomach and laughed.
“Well, well,” said the solicitor with curious acquiescence and want of astonishment after the first momentary start caused by this surprising statement, “we have the property back, that’s the main thing.”
“You remember,” said Jones, “I talked to you about letting that place.”
“Carlton House Terrace?”
“Yes — well, that’s off. I’ve made good. Do you see?”
“M — yes,” replied Collins.
“I’ll have enough money now to pay off the mortgages and things.”
“Undoubtedly,” said Collins, “but, now, don’t you think it would be a good thing if you were to tie this property up, so that mischance can’t touch it. You have no children, it is true, but one never knows. Honestly, I think you would be well advised if you were to take precautions.”
“Don’t worry,” said Jones brightly. “I’ll give the whole lot to — my wife — when I can come to terms with her.”
“That’s good hearing,” replied the other. Then Jones took his departure, leaving the precious documents in the hands of the lawyer.
He was elated. He had proved the facts which he had only guessed by instinct up to this, that a rogue is the weakest person in the world before a plain dealer, if the plain dealer has a weapon in his hand. The almost instantaneous collapse of Voles and Mulhausen was due to the fact that they stood on rotten foundations. He told himself now as he walked along homeward that he need not have eaten that document. Mulhausen would never have used it. If he had just gone out and called in a policeman, Mulhausen, seeing him in earnest, would have collapsed.
However the thing was eaten and done with and there was no use in troubling any more on the matter. He had other things to think of. He had made good. He had saved the Rochester name and estates, he had recaptured one million, eight thousand pounds, reckoning that the coal bearing lands were worth a million, and, more than that; he was a sane man, able to look after what he had recaptured.
The Rochester family, if they knew, would have no cause to grumble at the interloper and the substitution of new brains and push in the place of decadence, craziness and sloth. The day when he had changed places with Rochester was the best day that had ever dawned for them.
He was thinking this when all of a sudden that horrible, unreal feeling he had suffered from once before, came upon him again. This time it was not a question of losing his identity, it was a shuffle of his own taxed brain between two identities. Rochester — Jones — Jones — Rochester. It seemed to him for the space of a couple of seconds that he could not tell which of those two individuals he was, then the feeling passed and he resumed his way, reaching Carlton House Terrace shortly after six.
He gave his hat and cane and gloves to the flunkey who opened the door for him — He had obtained a latch-key from Church that morning but forgot to use it — and was crossing the hall when a strain of music brought him to a halt. The tones of a piano came from a door on the right. Someone was playing Chaminade’s “Valse Tendre” and playing it to perfection.
Jones turned to the man-servant.
“Who is that?” he asked.
“It is her ladyship, my Lord, she arrived half an hour ago. Her luggage has gone upstairs.”
Jones thrown off his balance hesitated for a moment, what ladyship could it be. Not, surely, that awful mother!
He crossed to the door, opened it, found a music-room, and there, seated at a piano, the girl of the Victoria.
She was in out-door dress and had not removed her hat.
She looked over her shoulder at him as he came in, her face wore a half smile, but she did not stop playing. Anything more fascinating, more lovely, more distracting than that picture it would be hard to imagine.
As he crossed the room she suddenly ceased playing and twirled round on the music-stool.
“I’ve come back,” said she. “Ju-ju, I couldn’t stand it. You are bad but you are a lot, lot better than your mother — and Venetia. I’m going to try and put up with you a bit longer — Ju-Ju, what makes you look so stiff and funny?”
“I don’t know,” said Jones, passing his hand across his forehead. “I’ve had a hard day.” She looked at him curiously for a moment, then pityingly, then kindly.
Then she jumped up, made him sit down on a big couch by the wall, and took her seat beside him.
Then she took his hand.
“Ju-Ju — why will you be such a fool?”
“I don’t know,” said Jones.
The caress of the little jewelled hand destroyed his mental powers. He dared not look at her, just sat staring before him.
“They told me all about the coal mine,” she went on, “at least Venetia did, and how they all bully-ragged you — Venetia was great on that. Venetia waggled that awful gobbly-Jick head of hers while she was telling me — they’re mad over the loss of that coal thing — oh, Ju-Ju, I’m so glad you lost it. It’s wicked, I suppose, but I’m glad. That’s what made me come back, the way they went on about you. I listened and listened and then I broke out. I said all I’ve wanted to say for the last six months to Venetia. You know she told me how you came home the other night. I said nothing then, just listened and stored it up. Then, last night, when they all got together about the coal mine I went on listening and storing it up. Blunders was there as well as your mother and Venetia. Blunders said he had called you an ass and that you were. Then I broke out. I said a whole lot of things — well, there it is. So I came back — there were other reasons as well. I don’t want to be alone. I want to be cared for — I want to be cared for — when I saw you in Bond Street, yesterday — I — I — I — Ju-Ju, do you care for me?”
“Yes,” said Jones.
“I want to confess — I want to tell you something.”
“If you didn’t care for me — if I felt you didn’t, I’d —”
“Kick right over the traces. I would. I couldn’t go on as I have been going, lonely, like a lost dog.”
She raised his fingers and rubbed them along her lips.
“You will not be lonely,” said the unfortunate man in a muted voice. “You need not be afraid of that.” The utter inadequacy of the remark came to him like one of those nightmare recognitions encountered as a rule only in Dreamland. Yet she seemed to find it sufficient, her mind perhaps being engaged elsewhere.
“What would you have said if I had run away from you for good?” asked she. “Would you have been sorry?”
“Yes — dreadfully.”
“Are you glad I’ve come back?”
“Truthfully, really, honestly glad?”
“Well, so am I,” said she. She released his hand.
“Now go and play me something. I want something soothing after Venetia — play me Chopin’s “Spianato” — we used to be fond of that.”
Now the only thing that Jones had ever played in his life was the “Star Spangled Banner” and that with one finger — Chopin’s “Spianato”!
“No,” he said. “I’d rather talk.”
“Well, talk then — mercy! There’s the first gong.”
A faint and far away sound invaded the room, throbbed and ceased. She rose, picked up her gloves, which she had cast on a chair, and then peeped at herself in a mirror by the piano.
“You have never kissed me,” said she, speaking as it were half to herself and half to him, seeming to be more engaged in a momentary piercing criticism of the hat she was wearing than in thoughts of kisses. He came towards her like a schoolboy, then, as she held up her face he imprinted a chaste kiss upon her right cheek bone.
Then the most delightful thing that ever happened to mortal man happened to him. Two warm palms suddenly took his face between them and two moist lips met his own.
Then she was gone.
He took his seat on the music stool, dazed, dazzled, delighted, shocked, frightened, triumphant.
The position was terrific.
Jones was no Lothario. He was a straight, plain, common-sensical man with a high respect for women, and the position of leading character in a bad French comedy was not for him. Jones would just as soon have thought of kissing another man’s wife as of standing on his head in the middle of Broadway.
To personate another man and to kiss the other man’s wife under that disguise would have seemed to him the meanest act any two-legged creature could perform.
And he had just done it. And the other man’s wife had — heu! his face still burned.
She had done it because of his deception.
He found himself suddenly face to face with the barrier that Fate had been cunningly constructing and had now placed straight before him.
There was no getting over it or under it, he would have to declare his position at once — and what a position to declare!
She loved Rochester.
All at once that terrific fact appeared before him in its true proportions and its true meaning.
She loved Rochester.
He had to tell her the truth. Yet to tell her the truth he would have to tell her that the man she loved was dead.
Then she would want proofs.
He would have to bring up the Savoy Hotel people, fetch folk from America — disinter Rochester. Horror! He had never thought of that. What had become of Rochester? Up to this he had never thought once of what had become of the mortal remains of the defunct jester, nor had he cared a button — why should he?
But the woman who loved Rochester would care. And he, Jones, would become in her eyes a ghoul, a monstrosity, a horror.
He felt a tinge of that feeling towards himself now. Up to this Rochester had been for him a mechanical figure, an abstraction, but the fact of this woman’s love had suddenly converted the abstraction into a human being.
He could not possibly tell her that he had left the remains of this human being, this man she loved, in the hands of unknown strangers, callously, as though it were the remains of an animal.
He could tell her nothing.
The game was up, he would have to quit. Either that, or to continue the masquerade which was impossible; or to tell her all, which was equally impossible.
Yet to quit would be to hit her cruelly. She loved Rochester.
Rochester, despite all his wickedness, frivolity, shiftlessness and general unworthiness — or perhaps because of these things — had been able to make this woman love him, take his part against his family and return to him.
To go away and leave her now would be the cruelest act. Cruel to her and just as cruel to himself, fascinated and held by her as he was. Yet there was no other course open to him. So he told himself — so he tried to tell himself, knowing full well that the only course open to him as a man of honour was a full confession of the facts of the case.
To sneak away would be the act of a coward; to impose himself on her as Rochester, the act of a villain; to tell her the truth, the act of a man.
The result would be terrific, yet only by facing that result could he come clear out of this business. For half an hour he sat, scarcely moving. He was up against that most insuperable obstacle, his own character. Had he been a crook, everything would have been easy; being a fairly straight man, everything was impossible.
He had got to this bed-rock fact when the door opened and a servant made his appearance.
“Dinner is served, my Lord.”
He rose up and came into the hall. Standing there for a moment, undecided, he heard a laugh and looked up. She was standing in evening dress looking over the balustrade of the first landing.
“Why, you are not dressed!” she said.
“I — I forgot,” he answered.
Something fell at his feet, it was a rose. She had cast it to him and now she was coming down the stairway towards him, where he stood, the rose in his hand and distraction at his heart.
“It is perfectly disgraceful of you,” said she, looking him up and down and taking the rose from him, “and there is no time to dress now; you usen’t to be as careless as that,” she put the rose in his coat. “I suppose it’s from living alone for a fortnight with Venetia — what would a month have done!” She pressed the rose flat with her little palm.
Then she slipped her fingers through the crook of his elbow and led him to the breakfast-room door.
She entered and he followed her.
The breakfast table had been reduced in size and they dined facing one another across a bowl of blush roses.
That dinner was not a conversational success on the part of Jones, a fact which she scarcely perceived, being in high spirits and full of information she was eager to impart.
It did not seem to matter to her in the least whether the flunkeys in waiting were listening or not, she talked of the family, of “your mater” and “Blunders” and “V” and other people, touching, it seemed on the most intimate matters and all with a lightness of tone and spirit that would have been delightful, no doubt, had he known the discussed ones more intimately, and had his mind been open to receive pleasurable impressions.
He would have to tell her directly after dinner the whole of his terrible story. It was as though Fate were saying to him, “You will have to kill her directly after dinner.”
All that light-hearted chatter and new found contentment, all that brightness would die. Grief for the man she loved, hatred of the man who had supplanted him, anguish, perplexity, terror, would take their places.
When the terrible meal was over, she ordered coffee to be served in the music-room. He lingered behind for a moment, fiddling with a cigarette. Then, when he came into the hall with the sweat standing in beads upon his forehead, he heard the notes of the piano.
It was a Mazurka of Chopin’s, played with gaiety and brilliancy, yet no funeral march ever sounded more fatefully in the ears of mortal.
He could not do it. Then — he turned the handle of the music-room door and entered.
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.