THE MAN WHO LOST HIMSELF (21)
July 17, 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.
Jones, after the magic draught administered by Simms, entered into a blissful condition of twilight sleep, half sleep, half drowsiness, absolute indifference. He walked with assistance to the hall door and entered a motor car, it did not matter to him what he entered or where he went, he did not want to be disturbed.
He roused himself during a long journey to take a drink of something held to his lips by someone, and sank back, tucking sleep around him like a warm blanket.
In all his life he had never had such a gorgeous sleep as that, his weary and harassed brain revelled in moments of semi-consciousness, and then sank back into the last abysms of oblivion.
He awoke a new man, physically and mentally, and with an absolutely clear memory and understanding. He awoke in a bed-room, a cheerful bed-room, lit by the morning sun, a bed-room with an open window through which came the songs of birds and the whisper of foliage.
A young man dressed in a black morning coat was seated in an armchair by the window, reading a book. He looked like a superior sort of servant.
Jones looked at this young man, who had not yet noticed the awakening of the sleeper, and Jones, as he looked at him, put facts together.
Simms, Cavendish, the fact that he had been doped, the place where he was, and the young man. He had been taken here in that conveyance, whatever it was; they had thought him mad — they had carted him off to a mad-house, this was a mad-house, that guy in the chair was an attendant. He recognized these probabilities very clearly, but he felt no anger and little surprise. His mind, absolutely set up and almost renewed by profound slumber, saw everything clearly and in a true light.
It was quite logical that, believing him mad, they had put him in a mad-house, and he had no fear at all of the result simply because he knew that he was sane. The situation was amusing, it was also one to get free from — but there was plenty of time, and there was no room for making mistakes.
Curiously enough, now, the passionate or almost passionate desire to recover his own personality had vanished, or at least, was no longer active in his mind; his brain, renewed by that tremendous sleep, was no longer tainted by that vague dread, no longer troubled by that curious craving to have others believe in his story and to have others recognize him as Jones.
No, it did not matter to him just now whether he recovered his personality in the eyes of others; what did matter to him was the recovery of his bodily freedom. Meanwhile, caution. Like Brer Rabbit, he determined to “lie low.”
“Say,” said Jones.
The young man by the window started slightly, rose, and came to the bedside.
“What o’clock?” said the patient.
“It has just gone half past eight, sir,” replied the other. “I hope you have slept well.”
Jones noticed that this person did not “my Lord” him.
“Not a wink,” said he, “tossed and tumbled all night — oh, say — what do you think —”
The young man looked puzzled.
“And would you like anything now, sir?”
“Yes — my pants. I want to get up.”
“Certainly, sir, your bath is quite ready,” replied the other.
He went to the fire-place and touched an electric button, then he bustled about the room getting Jones’ garments together.
The bed-room had two doors, one leading to a sitting-room, one to a bath-room; in a minute the bath-room door opened and a voice queried, “Hot or cold?”
“Hot,” said Jones.
“Hot,” said the attendant.
“Hot,” said the unseen person in the bath-room, as if registering the order in his mind. Then came the fizzling of water and in a couple of minutes the voice:
“Gentleman’s bath ready.”
Jones bathed, and though the door of the bath-room had been shut upon him and there was no person present, he felt all the time that someone was watching him. When he was fully dressed, the attendant opened the other door, and ushered him into the sitting-room, where breakfast was laid on a small table by the window. He had the choice between eggs and bacon and sausages, he chose the former and whilst waiting, attracted by the pleasant summery sound of croquet balls knocking together, he looked out of the window.
Two gentlemen in white flannels were playing croquet; stout elderly gentlemen they were. And on a garden seat a young man in flannel trousers and a grey tweed coat was seated watching the game and smoking cigarettes.
He guessed these people to be fellow prisoners. They looked happy enough, and having noticed this fact he sat down to breakfast.
He noted that the knife accompanying his fork was blunt and of very poor quality — of the sort warranted not to cut throats, but he did not heed much. He had other things to think of. The men in flannels had given him a shock. Instinctively he knew them to be “inmates.” He had never considered the question of lunatics and lunatic asylums before. Vague recollections of Edgar Allan Poe and the works of Charles Reade had surrounded the term lunatic asylum with an atmosphere of feather beds and brutality; the word lunatic conjured up in his mind the idea of a man obviously insane. The fact that this place was a house quite ordinary and pleasant in appearance, and these sane looking gentlemen lunatics, gave him a grue.
The fact that an apparently sane individual can be held as a prisoner was beginning to steal upon him, that a man might be able to play croquet and laugh and talk and take an intelligent interest in life and yet, just because of some illusion, be held as a prisoner.
He did not fully realise this yet, but it was dawning upon him. But he did fully realise that he had lost his liberty.
Before he had finished his eggs and bacon this recognition became acute.
The fear of losing his own personality had vanished utterly; all that haunting dread was gone. If he could escape now, so he told himself, he would go right back to the States. He had eight thousand pounds in the National Provincial Bank; no one knew that it was there. He could seize it with a clear conscience and take it to Philadelphia. The shadow of Rochester — oh, that was a thing gone forever, dissipated by this actual fact of lost liberty — so he told himself.
A servant brought up the Times and he opened it, and lit a cigarette.
Then as he looked casually over the news and the doings of the day, an extraordinary feeling came upon him; all this printed matter was relative to the doings and ideas of free men, men who could walk down the street, if the fancy pleased them. It was like looking at the world through bars. He got up and paced the floor, the breakfast things had been removed, and the attendant had left the room and was in the bed-room adjoining.
Jones walked softly to the door through which the servant had carried away the things, and opened it gently and without noise. A corridor lay outside, and he was just entering it when a voice from behind made him turn.
“Do you require anything, sir?”
It was the attendant.
“Nothing,” said Jones. “I was just looking to see where this place led to.” He came back into the room.
He knew now that every movement of his was watched, and he accepted the fact without comment. He sat down and took up the Times whilst the attendant went back to the bed-room.
He had said to himself on awaking, that a sane man, held as insane, could always win free just by his sanity. He was taking up the line of reasoning now and casting about him for a method.
He was not long in finding one. The brilliancy of the idea that had all at once struck him made him cast the paper from his knees to the floor. Then, having smoked a cigarette and consolidated his plan, he called the attendant.
“I want to see the gentleman who runs this place.”
“Dr. Hoover, sir?”
“Certainly, sir, I will ring and have him sent for.”
He rang the bell, a servant answered and went off with the message.
Jones took up the paper again and resumed his cigarette. Five minutes passed and then the door opened and a gentleman entered.
A pleasant faced, clean-shaven man of fifty, dressed in blue serge and with a rose in his button-hole, such was Doctor Hoover. But the eye of the man held him apart from others; a blue grey eye, keen, sharp, hard, for all the smile upon the pleasant face.
Jones rose up.
“Dr. Hoover, I think,” said he.
“Good morning,” said the other in a hearty voice. “Fine day, isn’t it? Well, how are we this morning?”
“Oh, I’m all right,” said Jones. “I want to have a little talk with you.” He went to the bed-room door, which was slightly ajar, and closed it.
“For your sake,” said Jones, “it’s just as well we have no one listening, the attendant is in there — you are sure he cannot hear what we say, even with the door shut?”
“Quite,” said Hoover, with a benign smile.
He was used to things like this, profoundly confidential communications concerning claims to crowns and principalities, or grumbles about food.
He did not expect what followed.
“I am not going to grumble at your having me here,” said Jones; “it’s my fault for playing practical jokes. I didn’t think they’d go the length of doping me and locking me up under the name I gave them.”
“And what name was that?” asked Hoover kindly.
“Oh, and now tell me, if you are not Mr. Jones, who are you?”
“Who am I? Well, I can excuse the question. I’m the Earl of Rochester.”
This was a nasty one for Hoover, but that gentleman’s face shewed nothing.
“Indeed,” said he, “then why did you call yourself Jones?”
“For a joke. I slung them a yarn and they took it in. Then they gave me a draught to compose my nerves, they thought really that I was dotty, and I drank it — you must have seen the condition I was in when I got here.”
“Hum, hum,” said Hoover. He was used to the extremely cunning ways of gentlemen off their balance, and he had a profound belief in Simms and Cavendish, whose names endorsed the certificate of lunacy he had received with the newcomer. He was also a man just as cunning as Jones.
“Well,” he said, with an air of absolute frankness, “this takes me by surprise; a practical joke, but why did you play such a practical joke?”
“I know,” said Jones, “it was stupid, just a piece of tom-foolery — but you see how I am landed.”
Dr. Hoover ignored this evasion whilst noting it.
Then he began to ask all sorts of little questions seemingly irrelevant enough. Did Jones think that he was morally justified in carrying out such a practical joke? Why did he not say at once it was a practical joke after the affair had reached a certain point? Was his memory as good as of old? Was he sure in his own mind that he was the Earl of Rochester? Was he sure that as the Earl of Rochester he could hold that title against a claim that he was not the Earl? Give details and so forth?
“Now suppose,” said Dr. Hoover, “I were to contest the title with you and say ‘you are Mr. Jones and I am the Earl of Rochester,’ how would you establish your claim. I am simply asking, to find out whether what you consider to be a practical joke was in fact a slight lapse of memory on your part, a slight mind disturbance such as is easily caused by fatigue or even work, and which often leaves effects lasting some weeks or months.
“Now I must point out to you that, as — practical joke or not — you came here calling yourself Mr. Jones, I would be justified in asking you for proof that you are not Mr. Jones. See my point?”
“Well, then, prove your case,” said the physician jovially.
“How can I?”
“Well, if you are the Earl of Rochester, let me test your memory. Who is your banker?”
Hoover did not know who the Earl of Rochester’s banker might be, but the promptness of the reply satisfied him of its truth, the promptness was also an index of sanity. He passed at a venture to a subject on which he was acquainted.
“And how many brothers and sisters have you?”
That was fatal.
Jones’ eye fell under the pressure of Hoover’s.
“There is no use in going on with these absurd questions,” said he, “a thing everyone knows.”
“But I just want to prove to you,” said Hoover, gently, “that your mind, which in a week from now, will have quite recovered, is still a little bit shaky — now how long is it since you succeeded to the title? It’s just a test memory question.”
Jones did not know. He saw that he was lost. He had also gained an appreciation of Hoover. Beside the fat Simms and the cadaverous Cavendish, Hoover seemed a man of keen common sense.
Jones recognized that the new position into which he had strayed was a blind alley. If he were detained until his memory could answer questions of which his mind knew nothing, he would be detained forever. He came to the grand determination to try back.
“Look here,” said he, “let’s be straight with one another. I can’t answer your questions. Now if you are a man of sense, as I take you to be, and not a man like those others, who think everyone but themselves is mad, you will recognize why I can’t answer your questions. I’m not Rochester. I thought I’d get out of here by pretending that I’d played a practical joke on those guys; it was a false move, I acknowledge it, but when I fixed on the idea, I didn’t know the man I had to deal with. If you will listen to my story, I will tell you in a few words how all this business came about.”
“Go on,” said Hoover.
Jones told, and Hoover listened and when the tale was over, at the end of a quarter of an hour or so, Jones scarcely believed it himself. It sounded crazy. Much more crazy than when he had told it to the Duke of Melford and the reason of this difference was Hoover. There was something in Hoover’s eye, something in his make up and personality, something veiled and critical, that destroyed confidence.
“I have asked them to make enquiries,” finished Jones, “if they will only do that everything will be cleared up.”
“And you may rest content we will,” said Hoover.
“Now for another thing,” said Jones. “Till I leave this place, which will be soon, I hope, may I ask you to tell that confounded attendant not to be always watching me. I don’t know whether you think me mad or sane, think me mad if you like, but take it from me, I’m not going to do anything foolish, but if anything would drive me crazy, it would be feeling that I am always watched like a child.”
Hoover paused a moment. He had a large experience of mental cases. Then he said:
“You will be perfectly free here. You can come downstairs and do as you like. We have some very nice men staying here and you are free to amuse yourself. I’ll just ask you this, not to go outside the grounds till your health is perfectly established. This is not a prison, it’s a sanatorium. Colonel Hawker is here for gout and Major Barstowe for neuritis, got it in India. You will like them. There are several others who make up my household — you can come on down with me now — are you a billiard player?”
“Yes, I can play — but, see here, before we go down, where is this place? — I don’t even know what part of the country it’s in.”
“Sandbourne-on-sea,” replied Hoover, leading the way from the room.
Now in London on the night before, something had happened. Dr. Simms, at a dinner-party, given by Doctor Took of Bethlem Hospital had, relative to the imagination of lunatics, given an instance:
“Only to-day,” said Simms, “I had a case in point. A man gave me as his supposed address, one thousand one hundred and ninety one, Walnut Street, Philadelphia.”
“But there is a Walnut Street, Philadelphia,” said Took, “and it’s ten miles long, and the numbers run up well towards that.”
Half an hour later, Simms got into his carriage.
“Savoy Hotel, Strand,” said he to the coachman.
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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