THE MAN WHO LOST HIMSELF (28)

By: H. De Vere Stacpoole
September 23, 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 XXVIII: PEBBLEMARSH

At five o’clock next day, Jones, re-dressed by Kellerman in a morning coat rather the worse for wear — a coat that had been left behind at the bungalow by one of Kellerman’s friends — and a dark cloth cap, took his departure from the bungalow. His appearance was frankly abominable, but quite distinct from the appearance of a man dressed in a grey flannel tennis coat and wearing a Panama — and that was the main point.

Kellerman had also worked up a history and personality for the newly attired one.

“You are Mr. Isaacson,” said he.

“Here’s the card of a Mr. Isaacson who called some time ago, put it in your pocket. I will write you a couple of fake letters to back the card, you are in the watch trade. Pebblemarsh is the nearest town, only five miles down the road; there’s a station there, but you’d better avoid that. There’s a garage. You could get a car to London. If they nail you, scream like an excited Jew, produce your credentials, and if the worst comes to the worst refer to me and come back here. I would love that interview. Country policeman, lunatic asylum man, Mr. Isaacson highly excited, and myself.”

He sat down to write the fake letters addressed to Mr. Isaacson by his uncle Julius Goldberg and his partner Marcus Cohen. As he wrote he talked over his shoulder on the subject of disguises, alleging that the only really impenetrable disguise was that of a nigger minstrel.

“You see, all black faces are pretty much the same,” said he. “Their predominant expression is black, but I haven’t got the fixings nor the coloured pants and things, to say nothing of a banjo, so I reckon you’ll just have to be Mr. Isaacson, and you may thank the God of the Hebrews I haven’t made you an old clothes man — watches are respectable. Here are your letters, they are short but credible. Have you enough money?”

“Lots,” said Jones, “and I don’t know in the least how to thank you for what you have done. I’d have been had, sure, wearing that hat and coat — well, maybe we’ll meet again.”

They parted at the gate, the hunted one taking the white, dusty road in the direction of Pebblemarsh, Kellerman watching till a bend hid him from view.

Kellerman had in some mysterious way added a touch of the footlights to this business. This confounded Kellerman who thought in terms of reels and situations, had managed to inspire Jones with the feeling that he was moving on the screen, and that any moment the hedgerows might give up an army of pursuers to the delight of a hidden audience.

However, the hedgerows of the Pebblemarsh road gave up nothing but the odours of briar and woodbine, nothing pursued him but the twitter of birds and the songs of larks above the summer-drowsy fields.

There is nothing much better to live in the memory than a real old English country road on a perfect summer afternoon, no pleasanter companion.

Pebblemarsh is a town of some four thousand souls. It possesses a dye factory. It once possessed the only really good trout stream in this part of the country, with the inevitable result, for in England when a really good trout stream is discovered a dye factory is always erected upon its banks. Pebblemarsh now only possesses a dye factory.

The main street runs north and south, and as Jones passed up it he might have fancied himself in Sandbourne or Northbourne, so much alike are these three towns.

Half way up and opposite the post office, an archway disclosed itself with, above it, the magic word,

“GARAGE”

He entered the place. There were no signs of cars, nothing of a movable description in that yard, with the exception of a stout man in leggings and shirtsleeves, who, seeing the stranger, came forward to receive him.

“Have you a car?” asked Jones.

“They’re all out except a Ford,” said the stout man. “Did you want to go for a drive?”

“No. I want to run up to London in a hurry — what’s the mileage from here?”

“We reckon it sixty three miles from here to London — that is to say the Old Kent Road.”

“That’s near enough,” said Jones. “What’s the price?”

“A shilling a mile to take you, and a sixpence a mile for the car coming back.”

“What’s the total?”

The proprietor figured in his head for a moment. “Four, fifteen and six,” said he.

“I’ll take the car,” said Jones, “and I’ll pay you now. Can I have it at once?”

The proprietor went to a door and opened it. “Jim,” cried he, “are you there? Gentleman wants the Ford taken to London, get her out and get yourself ready.”

He turned to Jones.

“She’ll be ready inside ten minutes if that will do?”

“That’ll do,” said Jones, “and here’s the money.” He produced the chamois leather bag, paid the five sovereigns, and received five and sixpence change — and also a receipt which he put in his pocket. Then Jim appeared, an inconspicuous looking man, wriggling into a driving coat that had seen better days, the Ford was taken from its den, the tyres examined, and the petrol tank filled.

“Haven’t you an overcoat?” asked the proprietor. “It’ll be chilly after sundown.”

“No,” said Jones. “I came down without one, the weather was so fine — It won’t hurt.”

“Better have a coat,” said the proprietor. “I’ll lend you one. Jim will fetch it back.” He went off, and returned with a heavy coat on his arm.

“That’s good of you,” said Jones. “Thanks — I’ll put it on now to save trouble.” Then a bright idea struck him. “What I’m afraid of most is my eyes, the wind tries them. Have you any goggles?”

“I believe there’s an old pair in the office,” said the proprietor, “hold on a minute.” He went off and returned with the goggles. Jones thanked him, put them on, and got into the car.

“Pleasant journey to you,” said the proprietor.

Then they started.

They turned up the street and along the road by which Jones had come. Then they struck into the road where the “Lucknows” and “Cawnpores” hinted of old Indian Colonels.

They passed the gates of the Hoover establishment. It was open, and an attendant was gazing up and down the street. He looked at the car but he did not recognize the occupant, then several more residential roads were left behind, a highly respectable cemetery, a tin chapel, and the car, taking a hill as Fords know how, dropped Sandbourne-on-Sea to invisibility and surrounded itself with vast stretches of green and sun warmed country, June scented, and hazy with the warmth of summer.

They passed hop gardens and hamlets, broad meadows and grazing cattle, bosky woods and park lands.

Jones, though he had taken the goggles off, saw little of the beauty around him. He was recognising facts, and asking questions of himself.

If Hoover or the police were to call at the garage, what would happen? Knowing the route of the car could they telegraph to towns on the way and have him arrested? How did the English law stand as regards escaped gentlemen with hallucinations? Could they be arrested like criminals? Surely not — and yet as regards the law, who could be sure of anything? Jim, the speechless driver, could tell him nothing on these points.

Towards dusk they reached a fairly big town, and in the very centre of the main street, Jim stopped the car to light the headlamps. A policeman, passing on his beat, paused to inspect the operation and then moved on, and the car resumed its way, driving into a world of twilight and scented hedges, where the glowworms were lighting up, and over which the sky was showing a silvery sprinkle of stars.

Two more towns they passed unhindered, and then came the fringe of London, a maze of lights and ways and houses, tram lines, and then an endless road, half road, half street, lines of shops, lines of old houses and semi gardens.

Jim turned in his seat. “This here’s the Kent Road,” said he. “We’re about the middle of it, which part did you want?”

“This will do,” said Jones, “pull her up.”

He got out, took the four and sixpence from his pocket, and gave Jim two shillings for a tip.

“Going all the way back to-night?” asked he, as he wriggled out of the coat, and handed it over with the goggles.

“No,” said Jim. “I’ll stop at the last pub we passed for the night. There ain’t no use over taxin’ a car.”

“Well, good night to you,” said Jones. He watched the car turning and vanishing, then, with a feeling of freedom he had never before experienced, he pushed on London-wards.

With only two and sixpence in his pocket, he would have to wander about all night, or sit on the embankment. He had several times seen the outcasts on the embankment seats at night, and pitied them; he did not pity them now. They were free men and women.

The wind had died away and the night was sultry, much pleasanter out of doors than in, a general term that did not apply to the Old Kent Road.

The old road leading down to Kent was once, no doubt, a pleasant enough place, but pleasure had long forsaken it, and cleanliness. It was here that David Copperfield sold his jacket, and the old clothiers’ shops are so antiquated that any of them might have been the scene of the purchase. To-night the old Kent Road was swarming, and the further Jones advanced towards the river the thicker seemed the throng.

At a flaring public house, and for the price of a shilling, he obtained enough food in the way of sausages and mashed potatoes, to satisfy his hunger, a half pint tankard of beer completed the satisfaction of his inner man, and having bought a couple of packets of navy cut cigarettes and a box of matches, he left the place and pursued his way towards the river.

He had exactly tenpence in his pocket, and he fell to thinking as he walked, of the extraordinary monetary fluctuations he had experienced in this city of London. At the Savoy that fatal day he had less than ten pounds, next morning, though robed as a Lord, he had only a penny, the penny had been reduced to a halfpenny by the purchase of a newspaper, the halfpenny swelled to five pounds by Rochester’s gift, the five pounds sprang in five minutes to eight thousand, owing to Voles, the eight thousand to a million eight thousand, owing to Mulhausen, Simms and Cavendish had stripped him of his last cent, the Smithers affair had given him five pounds, now he had only ten pence, and to-morrow at nine o’clock he would have eight thousand.

It will be noted that he did not consider that eight thousand his, till it was safe in his pocket in the form of notes — he had learned by bitter experience to put his trust in nothing but the tangible. He reached the river and the great bridge that spans it here, and on the bridge he paused, leaning his elbow on the parapet, and looking down stream.

The waning moon had risen, painting the water with silver; barge lights and the lights of tugs and police boats shewed points of orange and dribbles of ruffled gold, whilst away down stream to the right, the airy fairy tracery of the Houses of Parliament fretted the sky.

It was a nocturne after the heart of Whistler, and Jones, as he gazed at it, felt for the first time the magic of this wonderful half revealed city with its million yellow eyes. He passed on, crossing to the right bank, and found the Strand. Here in a bar, and for the price of half a pint of beer, he sat for some twenty minutes watching the customers and killing Time, then, with his worldly wealth reduced to eightpence, he wandered off westward, passing the Savoy, and pausing for a moment to peep down the great archway at the gaily lit hotel.

At midnight he had gravitated to the embankment, and found a seat not overcrowded.

Here he fell in with a gentleman, derelict like himself, a free spoken individual, whose conversation wiled away an hour.

NEXT INSTALLMENT | ALL INSTALLMENTS SO FAR

* There are some particularly egregious racial and ethnic slurs in this chapter; we’re sorry.

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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.

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.

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