THE MAN WHO LOST HIMSELF (19)
July 3, 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.
He was awakened by Mr. Church — one has always to give him the prefix — pulling up the blinds. His first thought was of the task before him.
The mind does a lot of quiet business of its own when the blinds are down and the body is asleep, and during the night, his mind, working in darkness, had cleared up matters, countered and cut off all sorts of fears and objections and drawn up a definite plan.
He would tell her everything that morning. If she would not take his word for the facts, then he would have a meeting of the whole family. He felt absolutely certain that explaining things bit by bit and detail by detail he could convince them of the death of Rochester and his own existence as Jones; absolutely certain that they would not push matters to the point of publicity. He held a trump card in the property he had recovered from Mulhausen, were he to be exposed publicly as an impostor, all about the Plinlimon letters, Voles and Mulhausen would come out. Mulhausen, that very astute practitioner, would not be long in declaring that he had been forced to return the title deeds to protect his daughter’s name. Voles would swear anything, and their case would stand good on the proved fact that he, Jones, was a swindler. No, assuredly the family would not press the matter to publicity.
Having drunk his tea, he arose, bathed, and dressed with a calm mind.
Then he came down stairs.
She was not in the breakfast-room, where only one place was laid, and, concluding that she was breakfasting in her own room, he sat down to table.
After the meal, and with another sheaf of the infernal early post letters in his hand, he crossed to the smoking-room, where he closed the door, put the letters on the table and lit a cigar. Then, having smoked for a few minutes and collected his thoughts, he rang the bell and sent for Mr. Church.
“Church,” said he when that functionary arrived, “will you tell — my wife I want to see her?”
“Her ladyship left last night, your Lordship, she left at ten o’clock, or a little after.”
“Left! where did she go to?”
“She went to the South Kensington Hotel, your Lordship.”
“Good heavens! what made her — why did she go — ah, was it because I did not come back?”
“I think it was, your Lordship.”
Mr. Church spoke gravely and the least bit stiffly. It could easily be seen that as an old servant and faithful retainer he was on the woman’s side in the business.
“I had to go out,” said the other. “I will explain it to her when I see her — It was on a matter of importance — Thanks, that will do, Church.”
Alone again he finished his cigar.
The awful fear of the night before, the fear of negation and the loss of himself had vanished with a brain refreshed by sleep and before this fact.
What a brute he had been! She had come back forgiving him for who knows what, she had taken his part against his traducers, kissed him. She had fancied that all was right and that happiness had returned — and he had coldly discarded her.
It would have been less cruel to have beaten her. She was a good sweet woman. He knew that fact, now, both instinctively and by knowledge. He had not known it fully till this minute.
Would it, after all, have been better to have deceived her and to have played the part of Rochester? That question occurred to him for a moment to be at once flung away. It was not so much personal antagonism to such a course nor the dread of madness owing to his double life that cast it out so violently, but the recognition of the goodness and lovableness of the woman. Leaving everything else aside to carry on such a deception with her, even to think of it, was impossible.
More than ever was he determined to clear this thing up and tell her all, and, to his honour be it said, his main motive now was to do his best by her.
He finished his cigar, and then going into the hall obtained his hat and left the house.
He did not know where the South Kensington Hotel might be, but a taxi solved that question and shortly before ten o’clock he reached his destination.
Yes, Lady Rochester had arrived last night and was staying in the hotel, and whilst the girl in the manager’s office was sending up his name and asking for an interview Jones took his seat in the lounge.
A long time — nearly ten minutes — elapsed, and then a boy brought him her answer in the form of a letter.
He opened it.
“Never again. This is good-bye.”
That was the answer.
He sat with the sheet of paper in his hand, contemplating the shape and make of an armchair of wicker-work opposite him.
What was he to do?
He had received just the answer he might have expected, neither more nor less. It was impossible for him to force an interview with her. He had overthrown Voles, climbed over Mulhausen, but the flight of stairs dividing him now from the private suite of the Countess of Rochester was an obstacle not to be overcome by courage or direct methods, and he knew of no indirect method.
He folded up the paper and put it in his pocket. Then he left the hotel and took his way back to Carlton House Terrace.
If she would not see him she could not refuse to read a letter. He would write to her and explain all. He would write in detail giving the whole business, circumstance by circumstance. It would take him a long while; he guessed that, and ordinary note-paper would not do. He had seen a stack of manuscript paper, however, in one of the drawers of the bureau, and having shut the door and lit a cigarette he took some of the sheets of long foolscap, ruled thirty four lines to the page, and sat down to the business. This is what he said:
“I want you to read what follows carefully and not to form any opinion on the matter till all the details are before you. This document is not a letter in the strict sense of the term, it’s more in the nature of an invoice of the cargo of stupidity and bad luck, which I, the writer, Victor Jones of Philadelphia, have been freighted with by an all-wise Providence for its own incomprehensible ends.”
Providence held him up for a moment. Was Providence neuter or masculine? — he risked it and left it neuter and continued.
When the servant announced luncheon he had covered twenty sheets of paper and had only arrived at the American bar of the Savoy.
He went to luncheon, swallowed a whiting and half a cutlet, and returned.
He sat down, read what he had written, and tore it across.
That would never do. It was like the vast prelude to a begging letter. She would never read it through.
He started again, beginning this time in the American bar of the Savoy, writing very carefully. He had reached, by tea-time, the reading of Rochester’s death in the paper.
Well satisfied with his progress he took afternoon tea, and then sat down comfortably to read what he had written.
He was aghast with the result. The things that had happened to him were believable because they had happened to him, but in cold writing they had an air of falsity. She would never believe this yarn. He tore the sheets across. Then he burned all he had written in the grate, took his seat in the armchair and began to think of the devil.
Surely there was something diabolical in the whole of this business and the manner in which everything and every circumstance headed him off from escape. After dinner he was sitting down to attempt a literary forlorn hope, when a sharp voice in the hall made him pause.
The door opened, and Venetia Birdbrook entered. She wore a new hat that seemed bigger than the one he had last beheld and her manner was wild.
She shut the door, walked to the table, placed her parasol on it and began peeling off a glove.
“She’s gone,” said Venetia.
Jones had risen to his feet.
“Teresa — gone with Maniloff.”
He sat down. Then she blazed out.
“Are you going to do nothing — are you going to sit there and let us all be disgraced? She’s gone — she’s going — to Paris. It was through her maid I learned it; she’s gone from the hotel by this — gone with Maniloff — are you deaf or simply stupid? You must follow her.”
“Follow her now, follow her and get her back, there is just a chance. They are going to the Bristol. The maid told everything — I will go with you. There is a train at nine o’clock from Victoria, you have only just time to catch it.”
“I have no money,” said Jones, feeling in his pockets distractedly, “only about four pounds.”
“I have,” replied she, “and our car is at the door — are you afraid, or is it that you don’t mind?”
“Come on,” said Jones.
He rushed into the hall, seized a hat and overcoat, and next minute was buried in a stuffy limousine with Venetia’s sharp elbow poking him in the side.
He was furious.
There are people who seem born for the express purpose of setting other people by the ears. Venetia was one of them. Despite Voles, Mulhausen, debts and want of balance one might hazard the opinion that it was Venetia who had driven the unfortunate Rochester to his mad act.
The prospect of a journey to Paris with this woman in pursuit of another man’s wife was bad enough, but it was not this prospect that made Jones furious, though assisting. No doubt, it was Venetia herself.
She raised the devil in him, and on the journey to the station, though she said not a word, she managed to raise his exasperation with the world, herself, himself and his vile position to the limit just below the last. — The last was to come.
At the station they walked through the crowd to the booking-office where Venetia bought the tickets. Reminiscences of being taken on journeys as a small boy by his mother flitted across the mind of Jones and did not improve his temper.
He looked at the clock. It wanted twenty minutes of the starting time and he was in the act of evading a barrow of luggage when Venetia arrived with the tickets.
It had come into the mind of Jones that not only was he travelling to Paris with the Hon. Venetia Birdbrook, in pursuit of the wife of another man, but that they were travelling without luggage. If, in Philadelphia, he had dreamt of himself in such a position he would have been disturbed as to the state of his health and the condition of his liver, yet now, in reality, the thing did not seem preposterous, he was concerned as to the fact about the want of luggage.
“Look here,” said he, “what are we to do — I haven’t even a night-suit of pyjamas. I haven’t even a toothbrush. No hotel will take us in.”
“We don’t want an hotel,” said Venetia, “we’ll come back straight if we can save Teresa. If not, if she insists in pursuing her mad course, you had better not come back at all. Come on and let us take our places in the train.”
They moved away and she continued.
“For if she does you will never be able to hold up your head again, everyone knows how you have behaved to her.”
“Oh, stop it,” said he irritably. “I have enough to think about.”
“You ought to.”
Only just those three words, yet they set him off.
“Ought I? Well, what of yourself? She told me last night things about you.”
“About me. What things?”
“But I do,” she stopped and he stopped.
“I mind very much. What things did she tell you?”
“Nothing much, only that you worried the life out of her, and that though I was bad you were worse.”
Venetia sniffed. She was just turning to resume her way to the train when she stopped dead like a pointer.
“That’s them,” she said, in a hard, tense whisper.
A veiled lady accompanied by a bearded man, with a folded umbrella under his arm and following a porter laden with wraps and small luggage, were making their way through the crowd towards the train.
The veil did not hide her from him. He knew at once it was she.
It was then that Venetia’s effect upon him acted as the contents of the white-paper acts when emptied into the tumbler that holds the blue-paper-half of the seidlitz powder.
Venetia saw his face.
“Don’t make a scene,” she cried.
That was the stirring of the spoon.
He rushed up to the bearded man and caught him by the arm. The bearded one turned sharply and pushed him away. He was a big man; he looked a powerful man. Dressed up as a conquering hero he would have played the part to perfection, the sort of man women adore for their “power” and manliness. He had a cigarette between his thick, red, bearded lips.
Jones wasn’t much to look at, but he had practised at odd times at Joe Hennessy’s, otherwise known as Ike Snidebaum, of Spring Garden Street, Philadelphia, and he had the fighting pluck of a badger.
He struck out, missed, got a drum sounder in on the left ribs, right under the uplifted umbrella arm and the raised umbrella — and then — swift as light got in an upper cut on the whiskers under the left side of the jaw.
The umbrella man sat down, as men sit when chairs are pulled from under them, then, shouting for help — that was the humorous and pitiable part of it — scrambled on to his feet instantly to be downed again.
Then he lay on his back with arms out, pretending to be mortally injured.
The whole affair lasted only fifteen seconds.
You can fancy the scene.
Jones looked round. Venetia and the criminal, having seen the display — and at the National Sporting Club you often pay five pounds to see worse — were moving away together through the throng, the floored one with arms still out, was murmuring: “Brandee — brandee,” into the ear of a kneeling porter, and a station policeman was at Jones’ side.
Jones took him apart a few steps.
“I am the Earl of Rochester,” said he, in a half whisper. “That guy has got what he wanted — never mind what he was doing — kick the beast awake and ask him if he wants to prosecute.”
The constable came and stood over the head end of the sufferer, who was now leaning on one arm.
“Do you want to prosecute this gentleman?” asked the constable.
“Nichévo,” murmured the other. “No. Brandee.”
“Thought so,” said Jones. Then he walked away towards the entrance with the constable.
“My address is Carlton House Terrace,” said he. “When you get that chap on his pins you can tell him to come there and I’ll give him another dose. Here’s a sovereign for you.”
“Thanks, your Lordship,” said the guardian of the Peace, “you landed him fine, I will say. I didn’t see the beginning of the scrap, but I saw the knock out — you won’t have any more bother with him.”
“I don’t think so,” said Jones.
He was elated, jubilant, a weight seemed lifted from his mind, all his evil humour had vanished. The feel of those whiskers and the resisting jaw was still with him, he had got one good blow in at circumstance and the world. He could have sung. He was coming out of the station when someone ran up from behind.
It was Venetia. Venetia, delirious and jabbering.
“Teresa is in the car — You have done it now — you have done it now. What made you do this awful thing? Are you mad? Here in the open station — before everyone — you have h-h-heaped this last disgrace on us — on me.”
“Oh, shut up,” said Jones.
He sighted the car, ran to it and opened the door. A whimpering bundle in the corner stretched out hands as if to ward him off.
“Oh! oh! oh!” sighed and murmured the bundle.
Jones caught one of the hands, leaned in and kissed it. Then he turned to Venetia who had followed him.
“Get in,” he said.
She got in. He got in after her and closed the door. Venetia put her head out of the window:
“Home,” cried she to the chauffeur.
Jones said nothing till they had cleared the station precincts. Then he began to talk in the darkness, addressing his remarks to both women in a weird sort of monologue.
“All this is nothing,” said he, “you must both forget it. When you hear what I have to tell you to-morrow you won’t bother to remember all this. No one that counts saw that, they were all strangers and making for the cars — I gave the officer a sovereign. What I have to say is this — I must have a meeting of the whole family to-morrow, to-morrow morning. Not about this affair, about something else, something entirely to do with me. I have been trying to explain all day — tried to write it out but couldn’t. I have to tell you something that will simply knock you all out of time.”
Suddenly the sniffing bundle in the corner became articulate.
“I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t want to do it — I hate him — oh, Ju-Ju, if you had not treated me so last night, I would never have done it, never, never, never.”
“I know,” he replied, “but it was not my fault leaving you like that. I had to go. You will know everything to-morrow — when you hear all you will very likely never speak to me again — though I am innocent enough, Lord knows.”
Then came Venetia’s voice:
“This is new — Heaven knows we have had disgrace enough — what else is going to fall on us — Why put it off till to-morrow — what new thing have you done?”
Before Jones could reply, the warm hearted bundle in the corner ceased sniffing and turned on Venetia.
“No matter what he has done, you are his sister and you have no right to accuse him.”
“Accuse him!” cried the outraged Venetia.
“Yes, accuse him; you don’t say it, but you feel it. I believe you’d be glad in some wicked way if he had done anything really terrible.”
Venetia made a noise like the sound emitted by a choking hen.
Teresa had put her finger on the spot.
Venetia was not a wicked woman, she was something nearly as bad, a Righteous woman, one of the Ever-judges. The finding out of other people’s sins gave her pleasure.
Before she could reply articulately, Jones interposed; an idea had suddenly entered his practical mind.
“Good heavens,” said he, “what has become of your luggage?”
“I don’t know and I don’t care,” replied the roused one, “let it go with the rest.”
The car drew up.
“You will stay with us to-night, I suppose,” said Venetia coldly.
“I suppose so,” replied the other.
Jones got out.
“I will call here to-morrow morning at nine o’clock,” said he. “I want the whole family present.” — Then, to the unfortunate wife of the defunct Rochester — “Don’t worry about what took place this evening. It was all my fault. You will think differently about me when you hear all in the morning.”
She sighed and passed up the steps following Venetia like a woman in a dream. When the door closed on them he took the number of the house, then at the street corner he looked at the name of the street. It was Curzon street. Then he walked home.
Come what might he had done a good evening’s work. More than ever did he feel the charm of this woman, her loyalty, her power of honest love.
What a woman! and what a fate!
It was at this moment, whilst walking home to Carlton House Terrace, that the true character of Rochester appeared before him in a new and lurid light.
Up to this Rochester had appeared to him mad, tricky, irresponsible, but up to this he had not clearly seen the villainy of Rochester. The woman showed it. Rochester had picked up a stranger, because of the mutual likeness, and sent him home to play his part, hoping, no doubt, to have a ghastly hit at his family. What about his wife? He had either never thought of her, or he had not cared.
And such a wife!
“That fellow ought to be dug up and — cremated,” said Jones to himself as he opened the door with his latch key. “He ought, sure. Well, I hope I’ll cremate his reputation to-morrow.”
Having smoked a cigar he went upstairs and to bed.
He had been trying to think of how he would open the business on the morrow, of what he would say to start with — then he gave up the attempt, determining to leave everything to the inspiration of the moment.
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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