Goslings (13)
By: J.D. Beresford | Categories: Fiction, Radium Age SF

HiLobrow is pleased to present the thirteenth 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.”

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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

***

XIII
DIFFERENCES

1

The only side road they could find proved to be no more than a track through the little wood. They almost passed it a second time, and hesitated at the gate — a sturdy five-barred gate bearing “Private” on a conspicuous label — debating whether this “could be right.” They still suffered a spasm of fear at the thought of trespass, and to open this gate and march up an unknown private road pushing a handcart seemed to them an act of terrible aggression.

“We might leave the cart just inside,” suggested Blanche.

“And get our food stole,” said Mrs Gosling.

“There’s no one about,” urged Blanche.

“There’s that broomstick woman,” said Millie. “She may have followed us.”

“I’m sure I dunno if it’s safe to go foragin’ in among them trees, neither,” continued Mrs Gosling. “Are you sure this is right, Blanche?”

“Well, of course, I’m not sure,” replied Blanche, with a touch of temper.

They peered through the trees and listened, but no sign of a house was to be seen, and all was now silent save for the long drone of innumerable bees about their afternoon business.

“Oh! come on!” said Blanche at last. She was rapidly learning to solve all their problems by this simple formula….

In the wood they found refuge from those attendant flies which had hung over them so persistently.

Mrs Gosling gave a final flick with her handkerchief and declared her relief. “It’s quite pleasant in ’ere,” she said, “after the ’eat.”

The two girls also seemed to find new vigour in the shade of the trees.

“We have got a cheek!” said Millie, with a giggle.

“Well! needs must when the devil drives,” returned Mrs Gosling, “and our circumstances is quite out of the ordinary. Besides which, there can’t be any ’arm in offerin’ to buy a glass of milk.”

Blanche tugged at the trolley handle with a flicker of impatience. Why would her mother be so foolish? Surely she must see that everything was different now? Blanche was beginning to wonder at and admire the marvel of her own intelligence. How much cleverer she was than the others! How much more ready to appreciate and adapt herself to change! They could not understand this new state of things, but she could, and she prided herself on her powers of discrimination.

“Everything’s different now,” she said to herself. “We can go anywhere and do anything, almost. It’s like as if we were all starting off level again, in a way.” She felt uplifted: she took extraordinary pleasure in her own realization of facts. A strange, new power had come to her, a power to enjoy life, through mastery. “Everything’s different now,” she repeated. She was conscious of a sense of pity for her mother and sister.

2

The road through the wood curved sharply round to the right, and they came suddenly upon a clearing, and saw the house in front of them. It was a long, low house, smothered in roses and creepers, and it stood in a wild garden surrounded by a breast-high wall of red brick. At the edge of the clearing several cows were lying under the shade of the trees, reflectively chewing the cud with slow, deliberate enjoyment, while one, solitary, stood with its head over the garden gate, motionless, save for an occasional petulant whisp of its ropey tail.

“Now, then, what are we going to do?” asked Mrs Gosling.

The procession halted, and the three women regarded the guardian cow with every sign of dismay.

“Shoo!” said Millie feebly, flapping her hands; and Blanche repeated the intimidation with greater force; but the cow merely acknowledged the salutation by an irritable sweep of its tail.

“’Orrid brute!” muttered Mrs Gosling, and flicked her handkerchief in the direction of the brute’s quarters.

“I know,” said Blanche, conceiving a subtle strategy. “We’ll drive it away with the cart.” She turned the trolly round, and the three of them grasping the pole, they advanced slowly and warily to the charge, pushing their siege ram before them. They made a slight detour to achieve a flank attack and allow the enemy a clear way of retreat.

“Oh, dear! what are you doing?” said a voice suddenly, and the three startled Goslings nearly dropped the pole in their alarm they had been so utterly absorbed in their campaign.

A young woman of sixteen or seventeen, very brown, hot and dishevelled, was regarding them from the other side of the garden wall with a stare of amazement that even as they turned was flickering into laughter.

“It’s that great brute by the gate, my dear,” said Mrs Gosling, “and we’ve just —”

“You don’t mean Alice?” interrupted the young woman. “Oh! you couldn’t go charging poor dear Alice with a great cart like that! Three of you, too!”

“Is its name Alice?” asked Blanche stupidly. She did not feel equal to this curious occasion.

Its name!” replied the young woman, with scorn. “Her name’s Alice, if that’s what you mean.” She shook back the hair from her eyes and moved down to the gate. The cow acknowledged her presence by an indolent toss of the head.

“Oh! but my sweet Alice!” protested the young woman; “you must move and let these funny people come in. It really isn’t good for you, dear, to stand about in the sun like this, and you’d much better go and lie down in the shade for a bit!” She gently pulled the gate from under the cow’s chin, and then, laying her hands flat on its side, made as if to push it out of the way.

“Well, I never!” declared Mrs Gosling, regarding the performance with much the same awe as she might have vouchsafed to a lion-tamer in a circus. “’Oo’d ’ave thought it’d ’a been that tame?”

The cow, after a moment’s resistance, moved off with a leisurely walk in the direction of the wood.

“Now, you funny people, what do you want?” asked the young woman.

Mrs Gosling began to explain, but Blanche quickly interposed. “Oh! do be quiet, mother; you don’t understand,” she said, and continued, before her mother could remonstrate, “We’ve come from London.”

“Goodness!” commented the young woman.

“And we want —” Blanche hesitated. She was surprised to find that in the light of her wonderful discovery it was not so easy to define precisely what they ought to want. As the broomstick woman had said, they were “beggars.” Fairly confronted with the problem, Blanche saw no alternative but a candid acknowledgment of the fact.

“You want feeding, of course,” put in the young woman. “They all do. You needn’t think you’re the first. We’ve had dozens!”

A solution presented itself to Blanche. “We don’t really want food,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of tinned things left still, only we’re ill with eating tinned things. I thought, perhaps, you might be willing to let us have some milk and eggs and vegetables in exchange?”

“That’s sensible enough,” commented the young woman. “If you only knew the things we have been offered! Money chiefly, of course”—Mrs Gosling opened her mouth, but Blanche frowned and shook her head —“and it does seem as if money’s about as useless as buttons. In fact, I’d sooner have buttons you can use them. But the other funny things — bits of old furniture, warming-pans, jewellery! You should have heard Mrs Isaacson! She was a Jewess who came from Hampstead a couple of months ago, and she had a lot of jewels she kept in a bag tied round her waist under her skirt; and when Aunt May and I simply had to tell her to go she tried to bribe us with an old brooch and rubbish. She was a terror. But, I say”— she looked at the sun —“I’ve got lots of things to do before sunset.” She paused, and looked at the three Goslings. “Look here,” she went on, “are you all right? You seem all right.”

Again Mrs Gosling began to reply, but Blanche was too quick for her. “Tell me what you mean by ‘all right’?” she asked, raising her voice to drown her mother’s “Well, I never did ’ear such.”

“Well, of course, mother’ll give you any mortal thing you want,” replied the young woman at the gate. “Dear old mater! She simply won’t think of what we’re going to do in the winter; and I mean, if you come in for to-night, say, and we let you have a few odd things, you won’t go and plant yourselves on us like that Mrs Isaacson and one or two others, because if you do, Aunt May and I will have to turn you out, you know.”

“What we ’ave we’ll pay for,” said Mrs Gosling with dignity.

The young woman smiled. “Oh, I dare say!” she said; “pay us with those pretty little yellow counters that aren’t the least good to anyone. You wait here half a jiff. I’ll find Aunt May.”

She ran up the path and entered the house. A moment later they heard her calling “Aunt May! Auntie —Aun-tee!” somewhere out at the back.

“Let’s ’ope ’er Aunt May’ll ’ave more common sense,” remarked Mrs Gosling.

Blanche turned on her almost fiercely. “For goodness sake, mother,” she said, “do try and get it out of your head, if you can, that we can buy things with money. Can’t you see that everything’s different? Can’t you see that money’s no good, that you can’t eat it, or wear it, or light a fire with it, like that other woman said? Can’t you understand, or won’t you?”

Mrs Gosling gaped in amazement. It was incredible that the mind of Blanche should also have been distorted by this terrible heresy. She turned in sympathy to Millie, who had taken her mother’s seat on the pole of the trolly, but Millie frowned and said:

“B.’s right. You can’t buy things with money; not here, anyway. What’d they do with money if they got it?”

Mrs Gosling looked at the trees, at the cows lying at the edge of the wood, at the sunlit fields beyond the house, but she saw nothing which suggested an immediate use for gold coin.

“Lemme sit down, my dear,” she said. “What with the ’eat and all this walkin’— O! what wouldn’t I give for a cup o’ tea!”

Millie got up sulkily and leaned against the wall. “I suppose they’ll let us stop here to-night, B.?” she asked.

“If we don’t make fools of ourselves,” replied Blanche, spitefully.

Mrs Gosling drooped. No inspiration had come to her as it had come to her daughter. The older woman had become too specialized. She swayed her head, searching like some great larva dug up from its refuse heap confused and feeble in this new strange place of light and air.

And as Blanche had repeated to herself “Everything’s different,” so Mrs Gosling seized a phrase and clung to it as to some explanation of this horrible perplexity. “I can’t understand it,” she said; “I can’t understand it!”

3

Aunt May appeared after a long interval — a thin, brown-faced woman of forty or so. She wore a very short skirt, a man’s jacket and an old deerstalker hat, and she carried a pitchfork. She must have brought the pitchfork as an emblem of authority, but she did not handle it as the other woman had handled her broomstick. The murderous pitchfork appeared little more deadly in her keeping than does the mace in the House of Commons, but as an emblem the pitchfork was infinitely more effective.

Aunt May’s questions were pertinent and searching, and after a few brief explanations had been offered to her she drove off the young woman, her niece, whom she addressed as “Allie,” to perform the many duties which were her share of the day’s work.

Allie went, laughing.

“You can sleep here to-night,” announced Aunt May. “We shall have a meal all together soon after sunset. Till then you can talk to my sister, who’s an invalid. She’s always eager for news.”

She took charge of them as if she were the matron of a workhouse receiving new inmates.

“You’d better bring your truck into the garden,” she said, “or Alice will be turning everything over. Inquisitive brute!” she added, snapping her fingers at the cow, who had returned, and stood within a few feet of them, eyeing the Goslings with a slow, dull wonder — a mournfully sleepy beast whose furiously wakeful tail seemed anxious to rouse its owner out of her torpor.

The invalid sister sat by the window of a small room that faced west and overlooked the luxuriance of what was still recognizably a flower-garden.

“My sister, Mrs Pollard,” said Aunt May sharply, and then addressing the woman who sat huddled in shawls by the window, she added: “Three more strays, Fanny — from London, Allie tells me.” She went out quickly, closing the door with a vigour which indicated little tolerance for invalid nerves.

Mrs Pollard stretched out a delicate white hand. “Please come and sit near me,” she said, “and tell me about London. It is so long since I have had any news from there. Perhaps you might be able —” she broke off, and looked at the three strangers with a certain pathetic eagerness.

“I’ll take me bonnet off, ma’am, if you’ll excuse me,” remarked Mrs Gosling. She felt at home once more within the delightful shelter of a house, although slightly overawed by the aspect of the room and its occupant. About both there was an air of that class dignity to which Mrs Gosling knew she could never attain. “I don’t know when I’ve felt the ’eat as I ’ave to-day,” she remarked politely.

“Has it been hot?” asked Mrs Pollard. “To me the days all seem so much alike. I want you to tell me, were there any young men in London when you left? You haven’t seen any young man who at all resembles this photograph, have you?”

Mrs Gosling stared at the silver-framed photograph which Mrs Pollard took from the table at her side, stared and shook her head.

“We haven’t seen a single man of any kind for two months,” said Blanche, “not a single one. Have we, Millie?”

Millie, sitting rather stiffly on her chair, shook her head. “It’s terrible,” she said. “I’m sure I don’t know where they can have all gone to.”

Mrs Pollard did not reply for a moment. She looked steadfastly out of the window, and tears, which she made no attempt to restrain, chased each other in little jerks down her smooth pale cheeks.

Mrs Gosling pinched her mouth into an expression of suffering sympathy, and shook her head at her daughters to enforce silence. Was she not, also, a widow?

After a short pause, Mrs Pollard fumbled in her lap and discovered a black-bordered pocket-handkerchief — a reminiscence, doubtless, of some earlier bereavement. Her expression had been in no way distorted as she wept, and after the tears had been wiped away no trace of them disfigured her delicate face. Her voice was still calm and sweet as she said:

“I am very foolish to go on hoping. I loved too much, and this trial has been sent to teach me that all love but One is vain, that I must not set my heart upon things of the earth. And yet I go on hoping that my poor boy was not cut off in Sin.”

“Dear, dear!” murmured Mrs Gosling. “You musn’t take it to ’eart too much, ma’am. Boys will be a little wild and no doubt our ’eavenly Father will make excuses.”

Mrs Pollard shook her head. “If it had only been a little wildness,” she said, “I should have hope. He is, indeed, just and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness, but my poor Alfred became tainted with the terrible doctrines of Rome. It has been the greatest grief of my life, and I have known much pain….” And again the tears slowly welled up and fell silently down that smooth, unchanging face.

Mrs Gosling sniffed sympathetically. The two girls glanced at one another with slightly raised eyebrows and Blanche almost invisibly shrugged her shoulders.

The warm evening light threw the waxen-faced, white-shawled figure of the woman in the window into high relief. Her look of ecstatic resignation was that of some wonderful mediaeval saint returned from the age of vision and miracle to a recently purified earth in which the old ideas of saintship had again become possible. Her influence was upon the room in which she sat. The sounds of the world outside, the evening chorus of wild life, the familiar noise of the farm, seemed to blend into a remote music of prayer — “Kyrie Eleison! Christe Eleison!” Within was a great stillness, as of a thin and bloodless purity; the long continuance of a single thought found some echo in every material object. While the silence lasted everything in that room was responsive to this single keynote of anaemic virtue.

Mrs Gosling tried desperately to weep without noise, and even the two girls, falling under the spell, ceased to glance covertly at one another with that hint of criticism, but sat subdued and weakened as if some element of life had been taken from them.

The lips of the woman in the window moved noiselessly; her hands were clasped in her lap. She was praying.

***

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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.

REDISCOVERED 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 | John Buchan’s Huntingtower

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” | Charlie Mitchell’s “A Fantasy Land” | 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) | “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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J.D. Beresford (1873–1947) was an English dramatist, journalist, and author. Besides Goslings (1913), his science fiction novels include The Hampdenshire Wonder (1911), about a super-genius child; and The Riddle of the Tower (1944, with Esme Wynne-Tyson), about a dystopian, hive-like society. His daughter Elisabeth was author of a series of children's books about The Wombles.