THE MAN WHO LOST HIMSELF (22)

By: H. De Vere Stacpoole
July 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.

ALL INSTALLMENTS SO FAR

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CHAPTER XXII: AN INTERLUDE

Simms in his electric brougham passed through the gas-lit streets in the direction of the Strand, glancing at the night pageant of London, but seeing nothing.

I love to linger over Simms, but what pages of description could adequately describe him; buxom, sedate, plump and soothing, with the appearance of having been born and bred in a frock-coat, above all things discreet; you can fancy him stepping out of his brougham, passing into the hall of the hotel and presenting his card to the clerk with a request for an interview with the manager. The manager being away, his deputy supplied his place.

“Yes, an American gentleman of the name of Jones had stayed in the hotel and on the night of the first of June had met with ‘an accident’ on the underground railway. The police had taken charge of the business. What address had he given when booking his room? An address in Philadelphia. Walnut Street, Philadelphia.”

“Thanks,” said Simms, “I came to enquire because a patient of mine fancied, seeing the report, that it might be a relative. She must have been mistaken, for her relative resides in the city of New York. Thank you — quite so — good evening.”

In the hall Simms hesitated for a moment, then he asked a page boy for the American bar, found it and ordered a glass of soda water.

There were only one or two men in the bar and as Simms paid for his drink he had a word with the bar tender.

“Did he remember some days ago seeing two gentlemen in the bar who were very much alike?”

The bar tender did, and as an indication how in huge hotels dramatic happenings may pass unknown to the staff not immediately concerned, he had never connected Jones with the American gentleman of whose unhappy demise he had read in the papers.

He was quite free in his talk. The likeness had struck him forcibly, never seen two gentlemen so like one another, dressed differently, but still like. His assistant had seen them too.

“Quite so,” said Simms; “they are friends of mine and I hoped to see them again here this evening — perhaps they are waiting in the lounge.”

He finished his soda water and walked off. He sought the telephone office and rang up Curzon Street.

The Duke of Melford had dined at home but had gone out. He was at the Buffs’ Club in Piccadilly.

Simms drove to the Club.

The Duke was in the library.

His Grace had literary leanings. His History of the Siege of Bundlecund, of which seven hundred copies of the first edition remained unsold, had not deterred him from attempting the Siege of Jutjutpore. He wrote a good deal in the library of the club, and to-night he was in the act of taking down some notes on the character of Fooze Ali, the leader of the besiegers, when Simms was announced.

The library was deserted by all save the historian, and getting together into a cosy corner, the two men talked.

“Your Grace,” said Simms, “we have made a mistake. Your nephew is dead and that man we have placed with Dr. Hoover is what he announced himself to be.”

“What! What! What!” cried the Duke.

“There can be no doubt at all,” said Simms. “I have made enquiries.”

He gave details. The Duke listened, his narrow brain incensed at this monstrous statement that had suddenly risen up to confront it.

“I don’t believe a word of it,” said he, when the recital was over, “and what’s more, I won’t believe it. Do you mean to tell me I don’t know my own nephew?”

“It’s not a question of that,” said Simms. “It’s just a question of the facts of the case. There is no doubt at all that a man exactly like the late — your nephew, in fact, stayed at this hotel, that he there met the — your nephew. There is no doubt that this man gave the address to the hotel people he gave to us, and there is no doubt in my mind that he could make out a very good case if he were free. That there would be a very great scandal — a world scandal. Even if he were not to prove his case, the character of — your nephew — would be held up for inspection. Then again, he would have very powerful backers. Now you told me of this man Mulhausen. How would that property stand were this man to prove his claim and prove that Lord Rochester was dead when the transfer of the property was made to him? I am not thinking of my reputation,” finished the ingenuous Simms, “but of your interests, and I tell you quite plainly, your Grace, that were this man to escape we would all be in a very unpleasant predicament.”

“Well, he won’t escape,” said the Duke. “I’ll see to that.”

“Quite so, but there is another matter. The Commissioners in Lunacy.”

“Well, what about them?”

“It is the habit of the Commissioners to visit every establishment registered under the act and unfortunately, they are men — I mean of course that, fortunately, they are men of the most absolute probity, but given to over-riding, sometimes, the considered opinion of those in close touch with the cases they are brought in contact with. They would undoubtedly make strict enquiries into the truth of the story that Lord Rochester has just put up, and the result — I can quite see it — would drift us into one of those exposés, those painful and interminable lawsuits, destructive alike to property, to dignity, and that ease of mind inseparable from health and the enjoyment of those positions to which my labours and your Grace’s lineage entitle us.”

“Damn the Commissioners,” suddenly broke out his Grace. “Do you mean to say they would doubt my word?”

“Unfortunately, it is not a question of that,” said Simms. “It is a question of what they call the liberty of the subject.”

“Damn the liberty of the subject — liberty of the subject. When a man’s mad what right has he to liberty — liberty to cut people’s throats maybe. Look at that fool Arthur, liberty! Look at the use he made of his liberty when he had it. Look what he did to Langwathby: sent a telegram leading him to believe that his wife had broken out again — you know how she drinks — and had been gaoled in Carlisle. And the thing was so artfully constructed, it said almost nothing. You couldn’t touch him on it. Simply said, ‘Go at once to police court Carlisle.’ See the art of it? Never mentioned the woman’s name. There was no libel. Langwathby, to prosecute, would have to explain all about his wife. He went. What happened! You know his temper. He went to Langwathby Castle before going to the police court, and the first person he saw was his wife. Before all the servants. Before all the servants, mind you, he said to her, ‘So they have let you out of prison and now you’d better get out of my house.’ You know her temper. Before all the servants. Before all the servants, mind you, she accused him of that disgraceful affair in Pont Street when he was turned out in his pyjamas — and they half ripped off him — by Lord Tango’s brother. Tango never knew anything of it. Never would, but he knows now, for Lucy Jerningham was at Langwathby when the scene occurred and she’s told him. The result is poor Langwathby will find himself in the D. C. Liberty! What right has a man like that to talk of liberty?”

“Quite so,” said Simms, utterly despairing of pressing home the truth of the horrible situation upon this brain in blinkers. “Quite so. But facts are facts and the fact remains that this man — I mean — er — Lord Rochester, possesses on your own shewing great craft and subtlety. And he will use that with the Commissioners in Lunacy when they call.”

“When do they call?”

“Ah, that’s just it. They visit asylums and registered houses at their own will, and the element of surprise is one of their methods. They may arrive at Hoover’s any time. I say, literally, any time. Sometimes they arrive at a house in the middle of the night; they may leave an asylum unvisited for a month and then come twice in one week, and they hold everyone concerned literally in the hollows of their hands. If denied admittance they would not hesitate to break the doors down. Their power is absolute.”

“But, good God, sir,” cried the Duke, “what you tell me is monstrous. It’s un-English. Break into a man’s house, spy upon him in the middle of the night! Why, such powers vested in a body of men make for terrorisation. This must be seen to. I will speak about it in the House.”

“Quite so, but, meanwhile, there is the danger, and it must be faced.”

“I’ll take him away from Hoover’s.”

“Ah,” said Simms.

“I’ll put him somewhere where these fellows won’t be able to interfere. How about my place at Skibo?”

Simms shook his head.

“He is under a certificate,” said he. “The Commissioners call at Hoover’s, inspect the books, find that Lord Rochester has been there, find him gone, find you have taken him away. They will simply call upon you to produce him.”

“How about my yacht?” asked the other.

“A long sea voyage for his health?”

“Ah,” said Simms, “that’s better, but voyages come to an end.”

“How about my villa at Naples? Properly looked after there he will be safe enough.”

“Of course,” said Simms, “that will mean he will always have to be there — always.”

“Of course, always. D’you think now I have got him in safety I will let him out?”

Simms sighed. The business was drifting into very dangerous waters. He knew for a matter of fact and also by intuition that Jones was Jones and that Rochester was dead and his unfortunate position was like this:

  1. If Jones escaped from Hoover’s unsoothed and furious he might find his way to the American Consul or, horror! to some newspaper office. Then the band would begin to play.
  2. If Jones were transferred on board the Duke’s yacht and sequestrated, the matter at once became criminal, and the prospect of long years of mental distress and dread lest the agile Jones should break free stood before him like a nightmare.
  3. It was impossible to make the Duke believe that Jones was Jones and that Rochester was dead.

The only thing to be done was to release Jones, soothe him, bribe him and implore of him to get back to America as quick as possible.

This being clear before the mind of Simms, he at once proceeded to act.

“It is not so much the question of your letting him out,” he said, “as of his escaping. And now I must say this. My professional reputation is at stake and I must ask you to come with me to Curzon Street and put the whole matter before the family. I wish to have a full consultation.”

The Duke demurred for a moment. Then he agreed and the two men left the club.

At Curzon Street they found the Dowager Countess and Venetia Birdbrook about to retire for the night. Teresa, Countess of Rochester, had already retired, and, though invited to the conference, refused to leave her room.

Then, in the drawing-room with closed doors, Simms, relying on the intelligence of the women as a support, began, for the second time, his tale.

He convinced the women, and by one o’clock in the morning, still standing by his guns after the fashion of the defenders of Bundlecund, the Duke had to confess that he had no more ammunition. Surrendered in fact.

“But what is to be done?” asked the distracted mother of the defunct. “What will this terrible man do if we release him?”

“Do,” shouted the Duke. “Do — why the impostor may well ask what will we do to him.”

“We can do nothing,” said Venetia. “How can we? How can we expose all this before the servants — and the public? It is all entirely Teresa’s fault. If she had treated Arthur properly none of this would ever have happened. She laughed and made light of his wickedness, she —”

“Quite so,” said Simms, “but, my dear lady, what we have to think of now is the man, Jones. We must remember that whilst being an extremely astute person, inasmuch as he recovered for you that large property from the man Mulhausen, he seems honest. Indeed, yes, it is quite evident that he is honest. I would suggest his release to-morrow and the tendering to him of an adequate sum, say one thousand pounds, on the condition that he retires to the States. Then, later, we can think of some means to account for the demise of the late Earl of Rochester or simply leave it that he has disappeared.”

The rest of this weird conclave remains unreported, Simms, however, carrying his point and departing next day, after having seen his patients, for Sandbourne-on-Sea, where he arrived late in the afternoon.

When the hired fly that carried him from Sandbourne Station arrived at the Hoover establishment, it found the gate wide open, and at the gate one of the attendants standing in an expectant attitude glancing up and down the road as though he were looking for something, or waiting for somebody.

NEXT INSTALLMENT | ALL INSTALLMENTS SO FAR

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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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