Goslings (23)

By: J.D. Beresford
May 10, 2013

HILOBROW is pleased to present the twenty-third and final installment of our serialization of J.D. Beresford’s Goslings (also known as A World of Women).

When a plague kills off most of England’s male population, the proper bourgeois Mr. Gosling abandons his family for a life of lechery. His daughters — who have never been permitted to learn self-reliance — in turn escape London for the countryside, where they find meaningful roles in a female-dominated agricultural commune. That is, until the Goslings’ idyll is threatened by their elders’ prejudices about free love!

J.D. Beresford’s friend the poet and novelist Walter de la Mare consulted on Goslings, which was first published in 1913. In May 2013, HiLoBooks will publish a beautiful new edition of the book. “A fantastic commentary upon life,” wrote W.L. George in The Bookman (1914). “Mr. Beresford possesses the rare gift of divination,” wrote The Living Age (1916). “It is piece of the most vivid imaginative realism, as well as a challenge to our vaunted civilization.” “At once a postapocalyptic adventure, a comedy of manners, and a tract on sexual and social equality, Goslings is by turns funny, horrifying, and politically stirring,” says Benjamin Kunkel in a blurb for HiLoBooks. “Most remarkable of all may be that it has not yet been recognized as a classic.”

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ALL EXCERPTS: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23

***

3

In the south-west the clear line had been wiped out and what looked like mist was sweeping towards them.

“There’s a shower coming,” said Thrale.

They stood quietly and let the sharp spatter of rain beat in their faces, and then the shadow of the storm moved on and the horizon line was clear again.

“That’s a queer cloud out there,” said Eileen. “Is it another shower?”

She pointed to a tiny blur on the far rim of the sea.

steamer

“It is queer,” said Thrale. “It’s so precisely like the smoke of a steamer.”

For a few seconds they gazed in intent silence.

“It’s getting bigger,” broke out Eileen, suddenly excited. “What is it, Jasper?”

“I don’t know. I can’t make it out,” he said. He moved away from her and shaded his eyes from the glare of the momentarily cloudless sky.

“I can’t make it out,” he repeated mechanically.

The blur was widening into a grey-black smudge, into a vaguely diffused smear with a darker centre.

“With the wind blowing towards us —” said Jasper, and broke off.

“Yes, yes — what?” asked Eileen, and then as he did not answer, she gripped his arm and repeated importunately. “What? Jasper, what? With the wind blowing towards us?”

“By God it is,” he said in a low voice, disregarding her question. “By God it is,” he repeated, and then a third time, “It is.”

“Oh! what, what? Do answer me! I can’t see!” pleaded Eileen.

But still he did not answer. He stood like a rock and stared without wavering at the growing cloud on the horizon.

And then the cloud began to grow more diffused, to die away, and Eileen could see tiny indentations on the sky line, indentations which pushed up and presently revealed themselves as attached to a little black speck in the remotest distance.

“Oh, Jasper!” she cried, and her eyes filled with inexplicable tears, so that she could see only a misty field of troubled blue.

“It’s a liner,” said Jasper at last, turning to her. He looked puzzled and his eyes stared through her. “And its coming from America. Do you suppose the American women —”

The boat was revealed now. They could see the shape of her, the high deck, the two tall funnels and the three masts. She was passing across, fifteen miles or so to the south of them, making up Channel.

For a moment they felt like shipwrecked sailors on a lonely island, who see a vessel pass beyond hail.

“Oh, Jasper, what can it be?” Eileen besought him.

“It’s a White Star boat,” he said, and he still spoke as if his mind was far away. “Is it possible, is it anyway possible that America has survived? Is it possible that there is traffic between America and Europe, and that they pass us by for fear of infection? How do we know that vessels haven’t been passing up the Channel for months past? Why should we think that this is the first?”

“It is the first,” proclaimed Eileen. “I feel it. Oh, let us hurry. Let us ride and ride as fast as we can to Plymouth or Southampton. I know they’ll be coming to Plymouth or Southampton. Men, Jasper, men! No women would dare to run a boat at that pace. See how fast she is going. Oh hurry, hurry!”

He caught fire then. They ran back to find their bicycles. They ran, and presently they rode in silence, with fierce intensity. They rode at first as if they had but ten miles to go, and the lives of all the women in England depended upon their speed.

And though they slackened after the first few miles they still rode on with such eager determination that they reached Plymouth at sunset.

But they could see no sign of the liner in the waters about Plymouth. They saw only the deserted hulks of a hundred vessels that had ridden there untouched for twelve months, futile battleships and destroyers among them; great, venomous, useless things that had become void of all meaning in the struggle of humanity.

“It’s not here. Let’s go on!” said Eileen.

Jasper shrugged his shoulders. “It’s well over a hundred miles to Southampton,” he said. “Nearer a hundred and fifty, I should say.”

“But we must go on, we must,” urged Eileen.

It was evident that Jasper, too, felt a compelling desire to go on. He stood still with a look of intense concentration on his face. Eileen had seen him look thus, when he had been momentarily frustrated by some problem of mill machinery. She waited expectant for the solution she was sure would presently emerge.

“A motor,” he said, speaking in short disconnected sentences. “If we can find paraffin and petrol and candles — light of some sort. The engines wouldn’t rust, but they’d clog. It must be paraffin. We daren’t clean with petrol by artificial light. It’s possible. Let’s try….”

That night Jasper did not sleep, but Eileen, as she sat beside him in the softly moving motor, soon lost consciousness of the dim streak of road and black river of hedge. The moon, in her third quarter, had risen before midnight, and when they started was riding deep in the sky, half veiled by a vast wing of dappled cirrus. And that, too, merged into her dream. She thought she was driving out into the open sea in a ship which became miraculously winged and soared up towards an ever-approaching but unincreasing moon. She woke with a start to find that it was broad daylight and that a thin misty rain was coming up from the sea.

“The Solent,” said Jasper, pointing to a distant gleam below them.

On the common they stopped and stood up in the car, watching a distant smear of smoke that stained the thin mist.

“She’ll be coming up Southampton Water with the lead going,” said Jasper, trying desperately to be calm.

EPILOGUE
THE GREAT PLAN

On the evening of that day Jasper and Eileen dined on board the “Bombastic,” that latest development of the old trans-Atlantic competition in shipbuilding, the boat that had made her first journey to New York carrying fugitives from England in the days when the threat of the plague grew hourly more imminent. The “Bombastic” had not justified her name, she had fled from Southampton without ceremony, and she had not returned for over a year. The “Apologetic” would have been more apt.

And on this evening of her return, the demeanour of that crowd of quiet serious men in the huge over-decorated saloon, gave no hint of bombast. As they listened intently to the rapid story of their two travel-stained and somewhat ragged guests, there was no hint of brag or boast among them all. They came not as conquerors but as friends.

“But oh, it’s your story we want to hear,” broke in Eileen at last.

She had been strangely quiet so far, she had become suddenly conscious of the defects of her dress. The old associations were swarming about her. Eighteen months ago she had sat in just such another saloon as this, courted and flattered, the daughter of a great aristocrat, a creature on a remote and gorgeous pedestal. Now it seemed that she was neither greater nor less than any man present. She was one of them, not set apart. She looked down at her hands, still oil-stained by her struggles with the motor on the previous night.

Jasper had been more patient. He was not less eager than Eileen to hear the explanation of this wonderful visit, of the resurrection of these twelve hundred men from a dead and silent world. But he had restrained his impatience and told his story first. He knew that so he would be more quickly satisfied. He would be able to listen to men who were not tense with an anxiety to ask questions.

They were sitting now at one end of a long table in the saloon, after eating a meal that had provided once more the longed-for satisfaction of salt.

“Well,” said an American at the head of the table, turning to Eileen in answer to her protest, “we’ve maybe been selfish in putting all these questions but we’re looking ahead. We aren’t forgetting that we’ve a big work to do.”

“But how did you get here?” asked Eileen impetuously. “How is it that you’re all alive?”

sailor

“Well, as to that, you’d better ask the doctor, there,” replied the American. “He’s a countryman of yours, and he’s been in the thick of it and knows the life story of that plague microbe like the history of England.”

The doctor, a bearded, grave-eyed man, looked up and smiled.

“Hardly that,” he said. “We shall never know now, I hope, the history of the plague organism. It was never studied under the microscope — we were too busy — and now we trust that the bacillus — if it were a bacillus — has encompassed its own destruction. What interests you, however, is that this sudden, miraculously sudden, development of its deadly power as regards humanity ran through a determinable cycle of evolution. From what you’ve told us, already, it seems clear, I think, that even in England the bacillus was losing what I may call its effectiveness. The men in the West Country you’ve described, probably died from starvation and neglect.”

He paused for a moment and then continued: “Now in America both men and women were attacked. There was certainly a greater percentage of male cases, but I suppose something like half the female population was infected as well. As far as one can judge the bacillus was simply losing power. But for all we know it may have developed, it may be entering on a new stage of evolution, and in some apparently haphazard way now be beneficial to man instead of deadly. Such things may be happening every day below the reach of our knowledge. The little world is hidden from us, even as the great world is hidden….

“However,” he went on more briskly, “the thing we do know is that the symptoms of the new plague in America differed materially from our expectation of them, gathered from the accounts that had reached us from the Old World. In England the paralysis lasted, I believe, some forty-eight hours and ended in death. In America the paralysis rarely ended fatally, but it lasted in some cases for six months. ‘Paresis,’ we called it. The patient was perfectly conscious but practically unable to move hand or foot.”

“That paresis gave us time to do some very clear and consecutive thinking, I may remark,” put in an American. “I had four months to study my ideas of life.”

The doctor nodded thoughtfully. “America is no less changed than England,” he said, “but it is another change. Well, you understand that we did not all get the plague over there; the thing was less deadly in attack and about ten per cent of us were left to look after the patients.”

“And find food,” interpolated one of the listeners.

“That was a time we won’t ever forget,” agreed another.

“Sure thing,” said some one, and a general murmur of assent ran round the table.

“And all the machines were idle, of course,” continued the doctor, “and even when the tide of recovery began to flow we had to turn our attention first to the getting of food.”

“If it hadn’t been for that we’d have been here before this,” said a young man. “I feel we owe England and Europe some kind of an apology, but we just had to get busy on food growing right away. We couldn’t spare a ship’s crew till three weeks ago.”

“And the others are hard at it over there still,” put in another. “This is just a pioneer party.”

“It’s all so comprehensible now,” said Thrale after a silence, “but we had no idea,we never thought there could be any one living in America. We thought that somehow we must have heard. One forgets…”

“We tried to get on to you,” said one of the party, “by cable and wireless. We kept on tapping away for months, but we got no reply. We thought you must be all dead too.”

“Well, we guessed you were having a real bad time anyway,” amended another. “You see we knew the way that plague had taken Europe but we kept hoping and trying to get on to you all the same.”

*

“We’ve got a message for Elsie, after all,” Eileen said to Jasper the next day. “There’s hope for us yet.”

“Yes, there’s hope,” said Jasper.

They had been up at the town railway station assisting a party of Americans to investigate the condition of the rolling stock and the permanent way. Neither could be pronounced satisfactory. A few women had come in from the neighbouring country that morning attracted by the sight of an inexplicable pillar of smoke, and their report of local conditions had been equally uninspiring. They had spoken of famine and failure, but their faces had been lit by a new brightness at the sight of this miraculous little army of men. There had been hope in the faces and bearing of these toil-worn women, faith in the promise of support and succour.

Now Jasper and Eileen stood looking down towards the harbour. The tide was creeping in to efface the repulsive ugliness of the mud flats, and the sluggish water rippled faintly against the foul sloping sides of small boats that had lain anchored there for more than twelve months. Behind them, across the line, was a row of unsightly houses, hung with weather-slating.

“Oh, there’s hope,” repeated Jasper.

He was thinking of all the work that lay before them, and yet he had faith that a new and better civilization would arise. “We must get things going again,” had been the Americans’ phrase, and they apparently faced the future without a qualm.

But Jasper’s mind was perplexed with the detail of the mechanical work that must be faced, detail so intricate and confused that he was bewildered by its complexity. It appeared to him that the crux of the whole problem lay in the North, in the counties of coal and iron. Coal and steel were the first essentials, he thought. They must begin there in however small a way, and America must send out more men, continually more men. To-morrow he was going back in the motor, with two experts, to the cable hut in Sennen Cove. They were going to test the cable and hoped to re-establish communication with America, and then more ships would come and more men, ever more men.

And, even so, they could do little at first, and beyond lay the whole of Europe and still further the whole of Asia. Were women there, also, maintaining the terrible fight against Nature in the awful struggle to find food? Steel and coal we must have, was the burden of his thought, and in his imagination he pictured the waking of factories and mines, he had a vision of little engines running….

Eileen’s thought had flown ahead. With one magnificent leap she had passed from the contemplation of present necessity to a realization of the dim future. And her thought found words.

“Hope, lots of hope,” she said. “Hope of a new clean world. We’ve got such a chance to begin all over again, and do it better. No more sweated labour, Jasper, and no more living on the work of others. We’ve just got to pull together and work for each other. If we can get enough food, and we can now with all these dear men come to help us, we can do such wonderful things afterwards. There’ll be lots of children growing up in a few years’ time, and we shall teach them the things we’ve had to learn by the force of necessity. They’ll begin so differently because, although we have had the experience of all history, we sha’n’t be bound by all the foolish conventions that grew out of it. Such a silly incongruous growth, wasn’t it? But I suppose it couldn’t be helped in one way. We were so penned in. We all had our rotten little places to keep and that took all our time. We never had a chance to consider the broad issues, the real fundamental things. But you’ve got to consider the fundamental things when you start clean away from a new beginning.

women working

“And, oh! Jasper, surely we have all learnt certain things to avoid, haven’t we? I mean class distinctions and sex distinctions, and things like that. Women won’t trouble any more about titles and all that rot now, and anyway there aren’t any left to trouble about. And social conditions will be so different now that there won’t be any more marriage. Marriage was a man’s prerogative; he wanted to keep his woman to himself, and keep his property for his children. It never really protected women, and anyway they were capable of protecting themselves if they’d been given a chance. I know the children were a difficulty in the old days, but they won’t be now. It’ll be everybody’s business to see that the children get looked after, and a woman won’t starve just because she hasn’t got a husband to keep her. She’ll get better wages than that. The women who have children will be the most precious things we shall have. They’ll live healthier lives, too, and they won’t be incapacitated as they used to be. They’ll work and be strong instead of spending all their time either in doing nothing or pottering about the house in an eternal round of cleaning the stupid, ugly things we used. We shall have to have all new houses, Jasper, when we get things going again.

“Oh, it will be splendid,” she broke out in a great burst of enthusiasm, “and we begin to-day. We have begun.”

Jasper nodded. “It’s a wonderful opportunity,” he said.

“Wonderful, wonderful,” repeated Eileen. “We all, men and women, start level again. Equality, Jasper, It’s a beautiful word —Equality. Of course I know how unequal we all are from one point of view, and there must come a sort of aristocracy of intellect and efficiency. But underneath there will be a true equality for all that, and we shall see to it that no man or woman can abuse their powers by making slaves again. What a world of slaves it used to be, and we weren’t even slaves to intellect and efficiency, only to wealth and to money, and to some foolish idea of position and power.”

“Well, we’ve got our work to do, here and now,” said Jasper after a long pause.

“Work? Of course, and I love it,” returned Eileen, “and while we work we’ve got to think and teach.”

The tide was coming in steadily, and near them an old boat that had been lying on the mud was now afloat once more and had taken on some of its old dignity.

Eileen pointed to it. “We’re afloat again,” she remarked.

“Embarked on the greatest plan the world has ever known,” added Jasper.

“Oh, it’s all part of the great plan,” concluded Eileen.

THE END

***

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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.

HILOBOOKS: The mission of HiLoBooks is to serialize novels on HiLobrow; and also, as of 2012, operating as an imprint of Richard Nash’s Cursor, to reissue Radium Age science fiction in beautiful new print editions. So far, we have published 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’s The People of the Ruins, William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land, and J.D. Beresford’s Goslings. Forthcoming: 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.

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.”

ORIGINAL FICTION: HILOBROW has serialized three novels: James Parker’s The Ballad of Cocky The Fox (“a proof-of-concept that serialization can work on the Internet” — The Atlantic); Karinne Keithley Syers’s Linda Linda Linda (which includes original music); and Robert Waldron’s roman à clef The School on the Fens. We also publish original stories and comics. These include: Matthew Battles’s stories “Gita Nova“, “Makes the Man,” “Imago,” “Camera Lucida,” “A Simple Message”, “Children of the Volcano”, “The Gnomon”, “Billable Memories”, “For Provisional Description of Superficial Features”, “The Dogs in the Trees”, “The Sovereignties of Invention”, and “Survivor: The Island of Dr. Moreau”; several of these later appeared in the collection The Sovereignties of Invention | Peggy Nelson’s “Mood Indigo“, “Top Kill Fail“, and “Mercerism” | Annalee Newitz’s “The Great Oxygen Race” | Flourish Klink’s Star Trek fanfic “Conference Comms” | Charlie Mitchell’s “A Fantasy Land” | Charlie Mitchell’s “Sentinels” | Joshua Glenn’s “The Lawless One”, and the mashup story “Zarathustra vs. Swamp Thing” | Adam McGovern and Paolo Leandri’s Idoru Jones comics | John Holbo’s “Sugarplum Squeampunk” | “Another Corporate Death” (1) and “Another Corporate Death” (2) by Mike Fleisch | Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer and Frank Fiorentino’s graphic novel “The Song of Otto” (excerpt) | John Holbo’s graphic novel On Beyond Zarathustra (excerpt) | “Manoj” and “Josh” by Vijay Balakrishnan | “Verge” by Chris Rossi, and his audio novel Low Priority Hero | EPIC WINS: THE ILIAD (1.408-415) by Flourish Klink | EPIC WINS: THE KALEVALA (3.1-278) by James Parker | EPIC WINS: THE ARGONAUTICA (2.815-834) by Joshua Glenn | EPIC WINS: THE MYTH OF THE ELK by Matthew Battles | TROUBLED SUPERHUMAN CONTEST: Charles Pappas, “The Law” | CATASTROPHE CONTEST: Timothy Raymond, “Hem and the Flood” | TELEPATHY CONTEST: Rachel Ellis Adams, “Fatima, Can You Hear Me?” | OIL SPILL CONTEST: A.E. Smith, “Sound Thinking | LITTLE NEMO CAPTION CONTEST: Joe Lyons, “Necronomicon” | SPOOKY-KOOKY CONTEST: Tucker Cummings, “Well Marbled” | INVENT-A-HERO CONTEST: TG Gibbon, “The Firefly” | FANFICTION CONTEST: Lyette Mercier’s “Sex and the Single Superhero”

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