HiLobrow is pleased to present the fourth installment of our serialization of J.D. Beresford’s Goslings (also known as A World of Women). New installments will appear each Friday for 23 weeks.
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.”
In the taxicab Groves talked of nothing but the lack of originality in invention in reference to aeroplanes. He seemed to take it as a personal affront that no workable adaptation of the aeroplane had been made to short-distance passenger traffic.
Indeed, it was not till after “tea”— in Groves’ case an euphemism for whisky and soda — that he would approach the subject of Thrale’s visit.
“The fact is, my dear fellow,” he said, “that our campaign hasn’t caught on. I’m going to let it down gently and drop it after to-day’s edition. You see, we’ve got to get the Government out this session, and I’m going to start a new campaign. Can’t give you any particulars yet, but you’ll see the beginning of it next Monday.” Like Maxwell, Groves differentiated between the uses of the singular and plural pronouns in speaking of his work. There was a distinction to be inferred between the initiation and responsibilities of the editor and those of his proprietors.
Groves was not at all impressed by any earnestness or forebodings. He seemed to think that a touch of the plague in London might be rather a good thing in some ways. People wanted waking up — especially to the importance of getting rid of the present Government.
It appeared that Thrale’s articles on other subjects would be acceptable to the readers of the Evening Chronicle, but there was no suggestion that he should go out to Russia as a special commissioner.
Grant Lacey, of The Times, listened seriously to Thrale’s exposition, and then, in a finely delivered speech which lasted twenty minutes, proved to his own complete satisfaction that Thrale’s premisses, deductions, and whole argument were thoroughly unsound. Lacey, however, was greatly interested in the condition of Russia, and promised Thrale magnificent terms if he would tour St Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev, Warsaw — and then return and contribute a special series of articles. References to the new plague would not be prohibited in the series if Thrale still found any cause for alarm.
In all, Thrale had interviews with the editors of nine important journals; the other six developed on the general lines already indicated — either he was not taken seriously or was told that the danger was greatly exaggerated. The real causes of his failure were two:— first, the critical position of the Government; second, the precocious campaign of the Evening Chronicle— the latter had taken the wind out of the sails of less enterprising journals.
Thrale’s next step was to obtain introductions to Ministers and prominent members of the Opposition; but from them he received even less attention — he did not obtain interviews on many occasions — and, if possible, less encouragement. The President of the Local Government Board informed him that the matter was already engaging that department’s energies; the others were all manifestly preoccupied with more immediate interests.
But little less than a fortnight after the initiation of his campaign Thrale received a special message from the editor of the Daily Post. It was nearly midnight, and the messenger was waiting with a taxicab.
The message ran: “Received through news agency report of three cases of plague in Berlin. Can you come down at once?—Maxwell.”
MR BARKER’S FLAIR
Jasper Thrale, in the partial exposition of his philosophy (if that description is not too large for such vague imaginings), had included very definite reference to certain “higher forces” to which he had attributed peculiar powers of interference in humanity’s management of its own concerns. Doubtless these powers had control of various instruments, and were able to exercise their influence in any direction and by any means. In the present case it would seem that they were working in devious and subtle ways — and in this at least they differed not at all from the methods attributable to that we have called Providence, or the Laws of Nature; any assumed guide or irrefragible, incomprehensible ordination. It is a common characteristic of these forces that they seem able to control the inconceivably great and the inconceivably small with equal certitude.
Not that George Gosling touched any limits. He was moderately large in body and small in intellect, but neither the physical excess nor the mental deficiency marked him out from his fellow men. In the office, indeed, he was regarded by the firm and his colleagues as a capable man of business whose embonpoint was quite consistent with his employment by a firm of wholesale provision merchants.
On the Thursday morning that saw the announcement in the morning papers that a case of the new plague was reported in Berlin, Gosling was called into the partners’ private office on some matter of accountancy.
The senior partner of Barker and Prince was eager, grasping and imaginative; his name had originally been German, and ended in “stein,” but he had changed it for the convenience of his English connexion. Prince was a large rubicund man, friendly and noisy in his manners, but accounted a shrewd buyer.
It was not until Gosling was about to depart that the higher forces turned their attention to Barbican and then they suddenly urged Gosling to say, without premeditation on his part, “I see there’s a case of this ’ere new plague in Berlin.”
Mr Prince laughed and winked at his subordinate. “Some of us’ll have to start a hareem, soon; who knows?” he said, and laughed again, more loudly than ever.
“I suppose you haf not heard any other reports, eh?” asked Mr Barker.
“Well, curiously enough, I ’ave,” said Gosling. “A young feller who used to lodge with us five years back, come ’ome from Russia about a fortnight since, and ’e tells me as the plague’s spreadin’ like wildfire in Russia.”
Mr Prince laughed again, and Mr Barker seemed about to turn his attention to other matters, when the higher forces sent Gosling the one great inspiration of his life. It came to him with startling suddenness, but he gave utterance to it as simply and with as little verve as he spoke his “good morning” to the office-boy.
“I been thinkin’, sir,” he said (he had never once thought of it until this moment), “as it might be well to keep an eye on this plague, so to speak.”
“Ah! Zo?” said Mr Barker; a phrase which Gosling correctly interpreted as the expression of a desire for the elucidation of his last remark.
“Well, I been thinkin’, if you’ll excuse me, sir,” he went on, “as though the plague’s only in the bud, so to speak, at the present time, it seems very likely to spread so far as we can judge; and that what with quarantine, p’raps, and p’raps shortage of labour and so on, it might mean ’igher prices for our stuff.”
“Zo!” said Mr Barker, but this time the monosyllable was reflexive. The great inspiration had found fruitful soil.
“Brince,” continued Barker after a minute’s thought, “I haf a flair. We will buy heavily at once. But not through our London house, no; or others will follow us too quickly. You must not go, we will zend Ztewart from Dundee, it will zeem that we prepare for the zhipping strike in the north. We buy heavily; yes? I haf a flair.”
“But, I say,” said Mr Prince, who had the greatest confidence in his partner’s insight, “I say, Barker, d’you think this plague’s serious?”
“I am putting money on it, ain’t I?” asked Barker.
Prince and Gosling exchanged a scared glance. Until that moment it had not come home to either of them that it was possible for English affairs to be affected by this strange and deadly disease.
The remainder of the conversation was complicated and exceedingly technical.
When he came back into the counting-house, Gosling looked unnaturally thoughtful.
“Anything gorne wrong?” asked his crony, Flack.
“There’s nothing wrong with the ’ouse, if that’s what you mean,” replied Gosling mysteriously.
“What then?” asked Flack.
“It’s this ’ere new plague,” returned Gosling.
“Tchah! That’s all my eye,” said Flack. He was a narrow-chested, high-shouldered man of sixty, with a thin grey beard, and he had a consistently incredulous mind.
Out here in the counting-house, Gosling’s thrill of fear was rapidly subsiding, and he had no intention of passing over his own important part in the house’s decision to buy for a rise; so he bulged out his cheeks, shook his head and said:
“Not by a long chalk it ain’t, Flack; not by a long chalk. There was that young feller, Thrale, as I was tellin’ you about; ’e gave me a hidea or two, and now s’mornin’ we ’ave this very serious news from Berlin.”
“Papers ’ave to make the worst of everything,” said Flack. “It’s their livin’.”
“Anyways,” continued Gosling, “I put it quite straight to the ’ouse this mornin’, as we might do worse under the circumstances than buy ’eavily. …”
“You did?” asked Flack, and he cocked up his spectacles and looked at Gosling underneath them.
“I did,” replied Gosling.
“What did Mr Barker say to that?” asked Flack.
“He took my advice.”
“Lord’s sakes, you don’t tell me so?” said Flack, his spectacles on his forehead.
“I’m now about to dictate various letters to our ’ouse in Dundee,” replied Gosling, dropping his voice to a whisper, and assuming an air of mysterious importance, “advising them to send our Mr Stewart to Vienna immediate, from where ’e is to proceed to Berlin. ’E is, also, to ’ave private instructions from the ’ouse as to the extent of ’is buyin’ which I may tell you in confidence, Flack, will be enormous — e-normous.” Gosling raised his head slowly on the first syllable, brought it down with a jerk on the second, and left the third largely to the imagination.
“But d’yer mean to tell me,” expostulated Flack, “as all this is on account of this plague? They been usin’ that as a blind, my boy.”
Gosling laid a bunch of swollen fingers on his colleague’s arm. “I tell you, Flack, old boy,” he said, “that this is serious. When Mr Barker took up my advice, as ’e did very quick, Mr Prince said, ‘You don’t tell me as you really take this plague serious, Barker?’ ’e said. And Mr Barker looked up and says, “I’m goin’ to put all my money on it.’” Gosling paused and then repeated, “Mr Barker says as ’e’s goin’ to put all our money on it, Flack.”
“Lord’s sakes!” said Flack. Here, indeed, was an argument strong enough to break down even his consistent incredulity. “But d’yer mean to tell me,” he persisted, “that Mr Barker thinks as it’ll come to England?”
“We-el, you know,” returned Gosling, “we need not, p’raps go quite so far as that. But it may go far enough to interfere with European markets, there may be trouble with quarantine, and such-like. …”
“Ah, well, that,” said Flack with an air of relief. “Jus’ so, jus’ so. Mr Barker can see as far through a brick wall as most people, and so I’ve always said.” He dropped his spectacles on to his nose again, and returned to his interrupted accountancy.
Gosling went fussily into his own room and rang for his typist — a competent and presentable young woman, among whose duties that of turning her superior’s letters into equivalent English was not the lightest.
Gosling was very full of importance that day, and during lunch he wore the air of a man who had secret and valuable information. He was too well versed in City methods and too loyal to his own house to give any hint of Barker and Prince’s speculations in Austria and Germany; but when the subject of the new plague inevitably came into the conversation, he spoke with an authority that was heightened by the hint of reserve implicit in his every dictum.
When the latest joke on the subject, fresh from the Stock Exchange, had been retailed by one of the usual group of lunchers, and had been received with the guffaws it merited, Gosling suddenly screwed his face to an unaccustomed seriousness and said, “But it’s serious, you know, extremely serious.”
And by degrees, from this and many other better informed sources, the rumour ran through the City that the new plague was serious, extremely serious. That afternoon there was a slight drop of prices in certain industrial shares, and a slight rise in wheat and some other imported food stuffs; fluctuations which could not be attributed to ordinary causes. Mr Barker’s foresight was justified once again in the eyes of Gosling and Flack. Before five o’clock another letter was posted to Dundee, enforcing haste.
In the bosom of his family that evening, Gosling was a little pompous, and talked of economy. But his wife and daughters, although they assumed an air of interest, were quite convinced that the head of the house in Wisteria Grove was making the most of a rumour for his own purposes.
As Blanche said to Millie, later, father was always finding some excuse for keeping them short of dress money. That five pounds had proved inadequate to supply even their immediate necessities, and they were already meditating another attack. “We simply must get another three pounds somehow,” said Millie. And Blanche quite agreed with her.
THE CLOSED DOOR
There was a lull for forty-eight hours after that announcement of the case of the new plague in Berlin, and Maxwell was beginning to regret his headlines when the news began to come in, this time in volume. The Russian censorship had broken down, and the news agencies were suddenly flooded with reports. There were several thousand cases of the plague in Eastern Russia; the north and south were affected, many men were dying in such towns as Kharkov and Rostov; there were a dozen cases in St Petersburg; there was a such a rush of reports that it was quite impossible to distinguish between those that were probably true and those that were certainly false.
The morning papers gave as much space as they could spare, and had even broken up some of the matter dealing with the arrangements for the opening of Parliament on that day. But the evening papers had news that put all previous reports in the shade. Eleven more cases were reported in Berlin three in Hamburg, five in Prague and one in Vienna But more important, more thrilling still, was the news that H.I.H. the Grand Duke Kirylo, the Tsar’s younger brother, had died of the plague in Moscow, and Professor Schlesinger in Berlin. Until that startling announcement came, the English public had incomprehensibly imagined that only peasants, Chinamen and people of the lower social grades were attacked by this strange new infection.
In the later editions it was reported on good authority that Professor Schlesinger had been observing a sample of the blood of the first case of plague that had been recognized in Berlin.
Nevertheless the majority of readers, after glancing through the obituary notices of H.I.H. the Grand Duke Kirylo and of the world-famed bacteriologist, turned to the account — only slightly abbreviated — of the opening of Parliament. And in many households the subject of the new plague gave place to the fiercely controversial topic of the English Church Disestablishment Bill, which had been indicated in the King’s Speech as a measure that was to be introduced in the forthcoming session. Many opponents of the Bill coupled the two chief items of news and said that the plague was a warning against infidelity. It may be assumed that they found sufficient warrant for the killing of a few thousand Russians, including a prince of the blood and a great German scientist, in the acknowledged importance of England among the nations. The death of half a million or so Chinamen in the first instance had been a delicate hint; now came the more urgent warning. Who knew but that if this sacrilegious Bill were passed, England herself might not be smitten. When warnings are disregarded, judgments follow. The Evangelicals found a weapon ready to their hands…
But what precisely was the nature of the new plague, none of the journals was as yet able to say. The symptoms had not as yet been “described “ by any medical authority, for it appeared that, contrary to modern precedent, the doctor himself, despite all precautions, was peculiarly subject to infection. Out of the eleven new cases in Berlin, no less than four were medical men.
From the layman’s point of view the symptoms were briefly as follows: Firstly, violent pains at the base of the skull, followed by a period of comparative relief which lasted from two to five hours. Then, a numbness in the extremities, followed by rapid paralysis. Death ensued in from twenty-four to forty-eight hours after the pains were first experienced. No case, as yet, was known to have recovered. A well-known physician in London gave it as his opinion that the disease was a hitherto unknown form of cerebro-spinal meningitis of unexampled virulence. He protested that the word “plague” was a false description, but that word had already been impressed on the public mind, and the disease was spoken of as the “new plague” until the end.
The next morning all London was reading a heavily-leaded article by Jasper Thrale. It appeared first in the Daily Post, with the announcement that it was not copyright, and all the evening papers took it up, and some of them reprinted it in its entirety. The article began by pointing out that in the recent history of civilization Europe had been subject to a long succession of pestilences. From the four- teenth to the seventeenth centuries, wrote Thrale, the Black Death, now commonly supposed to be a form of the bubonic plague, was practically endemic in England. In more recent times small-pox had been responsible for enormous mortality among all classes, and, in our own day, tuberculosis. In the two former examples, Thrale pointed out, and in many other diseases, infectious or contagious, or both, these pestilences had gradually lost virulence. By the elimination of those most susceptible to infection and incapable to resist the onslaught of the disease, and by the survival of those whose vitality was strong enough either to resist attack or to achieve recovery, mankind at last were gradually becoming immune against certain infections which had prevailed in the past. And in a greater or less degree this immunity was without doubt being obtained against a whole host of lesser ills. This comparative immunity, in fact, was one of the means of man’s evolution towards a more perfect physical body.
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.
READ: Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague, serialized between January and April 2012; Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail (and “As Easy as A.B.C.”), serialized between March and June 2012; Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt, serialized between April and July 2012; H. Rider Haggard’s When the World Shook, serialized between March and August 2012; Edward Shanks’ The People of the Ruins, serialized between May and September 2012; William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land, serialized between June and December 2012; and J.D. Beresford’s Goslings, serialized between September 2012 and May 2013.
READ: HiLobrow’s previous serialized novels, both original works: James Parker’s The Ballad of Cocky The Fox (“a proof-of-concept that serialization can work on the Internet” — The Atlantic) and Karinne Keithley Syers’s Linda Linda Linda. We also publish original stories and comics.