HiLobrow is pleased to present the sixteenth 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.”
THE YOUNG BUTCHER OF HIGH WYCOMBE
Near Wycombe a woman rose from under the hedge as the Goslings approached, and came out into the middle of the road. She was a stout, florid woman, whose age might have been anything between forty and fifty. Her gait and the droop of her shoulders, rather than the flaccidity of her rather loose skin, gave her the appearance of being past middle age.
“Goot morning,” she said as the Goslings came up. “If it iss no inconvenience I would like to come with you.” She spoke with a foreign accent, thickening her final consonants and giving a different value to some of her vowels.
“Where to?” asked Blanche curtly.
“Ah! that! what does it matter?” returned the woman. “I have been living with a farmer’s wife further back along the road there. But she was not company for me. She was common. Now I see that you and your mother are not common. And I do not care to live with farmers’ wives. But where we go? Does it matter? We all go to find work in the fields — aristocrat as much as peasant. But iss it not better that we who are not peasants should go together?”
Millie giggled surreptitiously, and Mrs Gosling appeared conscious of the fact that some one was addressing them.
“We’re goin’ ’ome,” she remarked, and Millie gently prodded her in the back.
“Goin’ ’ome,” repeated Mrs Gosling firmly.
“Ach! You are lucky. There are few that have homes now,” replied the strange woman. “I had a home, once, how long ago. Now, during two months, I have no home.” She was evidently on the verge of tears.
“Mother’s got a touch of the sun,” Blanche said in a low voice, “and we have to pretend we’re going home. You needn’t tell her we’re not.”
“Have no fear,” replied the stranger. “I am all that is most discreet, yes.”
Blanche hardened her heart. This woman took too much for granted. “I don’t see it’s any use your coming with us,” she said.
“Ach! we others, we should cling together,” said the stranger, with a large gesture.
“We’re nobody,” replied Blanche, curtly.
“It iss well to say that. I know. There iss good reason. I, too, must tell the common people that I am a nobody, I call myself, even, Mrs Isaacson. But between us there iss no need to say what iss not true. I can see what you are. Although I am not English, I have lived many years already in England, and I can see. It iss well that we cling together? Yes?”
“Oh!” burst out Blanche. “You’re Mrs Isaacson, are you? I’ve heard of you.”
For one moment Mrs Isaacson’s fine eyes seemed to look inwards in an instantaneous review of her past. “Ach! so! Then we are friends already,” she said cautiously.
“I heard of you from Aunt May,” said Blanche, and the faint air of respect with which she pronounced the name did not escape the notice of the alert Jewess.
“Ach! the so dear and so clever Auntie May,” she said. “But she iss too kind, and work so hard while her sister do always nothing. See, I will help you to draw your poor mother who has a touch of the sun. You and I at the handle and your beautiful sister to push, while we talk a little of the clever Auntie May. Yes?”
Blanche had been forewarned. She could only put one construction on the little she had heard of Mrs Isaacson. But the Jewess’s manner no less than her conversation was subtly flattering. Moreover, she had made no appeal for help; finally there was a certain urgency about her, a force of will which Blanche found it difficult to resist. And as the girl still hesitated Mrs Isaacson bravely seized her side of the trolly handle and the procession moved on.
The Goslings found a use for her when they came to the drop of Amersham Hill, going down into High Wycombe. Blanche proposed that Mrs Gosling should walk down, but the old lady did not seem to understand her. She looked perplexed and kept saying, “I don’t remember this road. Are you sure we’re goin’ right, Blanche?”
“Ah! she must not walk in this heat,” put in Mrs Isaacson. “We three can manage very well.” And, indeed, although she manifestly suffered greatly from the exertion, the Jewess was of very great assistance in retarding the speed of the trolly as they made the perilous descent.
After that there could be no question of calmly telling her to go her own way.
By the time they had crossed the almost deserted town at that hour nearly all the women were either in their houses or working in gardens and fields and had found their way to the Marlow road, Mrs Isaacson had quite become one of the party, and by no means the least energetic.
“We’ll have something to eat and some milk, when we get through the town,” said Blanche as they faced the long hill up to Handy Cross.
“Presently, presently,” replied the heaving Mrs Isaacson, as though food were of little importance to her, but accepting the admission that she had earned the right to share equally with the others.
Their first burst of energy after they had faced the ascent brought them to the gates of Wycombe Abbey, and there they decided to rest and lunch, blissfully ignorant of the long climb which lay before them.
“It will be nice and quiet here in the shade,” suggested Mrs Isaacson.
The old conventions would not have suffered them to sit and eat thus under the walls, at the very gates of Wycombe Abbey. Their clothes and their boots were wearing badly, and Mrs Isaacson, at least, was not too clean. It was noticeable, however, that, despite the dryness of the weather, little dust clung to them. The surface of the roads had not been pounded and crushed into powder during the past six weeks by the constant passage of wheeled traffic, and even in the tracks frequented by farm carts the roads were stained with green. Indeed, everything was greener than in the old days, everything was more vigorous. Whether because the year had been favourable, or because it was relieved from the burden of choking dust which it had had to endure in other years from May onwards, the vegetation in hedges and by the wayside appeared to grow more strongly and with a greater self-assertion. And by contrast with this vigour and cleanness of plant life, the four women in their tumbled clothes and untidy hats, feeble and unsightly remnants of forgotten fashion, were as much out of place as if they had been set down in ancient Greece. The dowdy foolishness of their apparel marked them out from every other living thing about them, they were intruders, despoilers of beauty.
Some dim consciousness of this came to Blanche.
They had spoken little as they ate —Mrs Gosling would touch nothing but milk, and Mrs Isaacson strove desperately and with some success to control the greed that showed in the concentrated eagerness of her eyes and the grasping crook of her fingers — and when they had finished, lingering in the relief of the shade, they were still silent. It seemed as if the first word spoken must necessarily hasten the continuation of their journey.
“Oh! bother this old hat,” said Blanche at last.
“I’m going to take mine off,” and she drew out the solitary pin which remained to her and cast the hat into the ditch.
“That won’t do it any good,” remarked Millie but she, too, took off her hat with a sigh of relief.
“I’m going to chuck hats,” said Blanche. “What’s the good of ’em?”
Mrs Isaacson looked doubtful. “They are a protection from the sun,” she said.
“Millie never wore a hat, and she didn’t come to any harm,” returned Blanche.
“No?” said Mrs Isaacson, and looked thoughtful.
Millie was running her fingers through the masses of her red-brown hair, loosening it and lifting it from her head.
“It is a relief,” she remarked. “My head gets so hot.”
“Ah!” said Mrs Isaacson, “and what beautiful hair! It does not seem right to hide it. I haf a comb in my bag. It is almost all I haf left. Let me now comb your beautiful hair for you.”
“Oh! don’t you bother,” said Millie sheepishly, but she allowed herself to be persuaded. “Don’t lose the hair-pins,” she warned her newly-found lady’s maid.
“It seems so funny out here in the open road,” giggled Millie.
Mrs Isaacson’s praise was fulsome.
Blanche watched without comment. Mrs Gosling was plunged in meditation. She was involved in an immense problem relating to the housekeeping at Wisteria Grove. She was debating whether the lace-curtains at the front windows could be washed at home when they went back.
Suddenly the attention of the three younger women was caught by unnatural sounds that came from the further side of the wall against which they were leaning sounds of voices, laughing and singing, the crunch of wheels and the stamping of horses.
The two girls jumped to their feet. Mrs Isaacson rose more deliberately, with a grunt of expostulation. Mrs Gosling was in a world far removed and continued to debate her problem.
Millie’s hands were fumbling at her hair, and Blanche was first at the gate.
“Oh! my!” she exclaimed. “Why, whatever…”
“Goody!” squealed Millie, still struggling with her loose mane.
The centre and object of the curious crowd which moved slowly down the drive was a landau and pair. The horses were decorated as if for a May-day fete, grotesquely, foolishly decorated with roses, syringa and buttercups made into shapeless bunches and tied to the harness. Three or four women walked at the horses’ heads, leading them with absurdly beflowered ropes.
Round the landau a dozen girls and young women were dancing, chattering, singing, laughing; constantly turning to the occupant of the carriage, for whose benefit the whole performance was being conducted. Some of them had their necks and breasts bare, and all appeared to be frankly shameless. They twisted and danced with clumsy eagerness, threw themselves about, screamed and shrieked, unaware of any observer but the one whose notice they were seeking to attract. They were graceless, civilized savages; Bacchantes who had never known the beauty of unconscious abandonment. There was the ugliness of conscious purpose in their every attitude, and no trace of the freedom that comes from careless rapture.
In the carriage a man and a woman were sitting side by side. The man was young, with strong claims to physical beauty — tall, broad-shouldered, swarthy, with boldly modelled features and heavily lidded eyes. But his skin was coarse; the bulk of his body was too gross for clean, muscular strength; his curly, well-oiled hair was thinning at the temples; his loose mouth leered and gaped. He was dressed in a suit of broadly-patterned tweed, his great red fingers were covered with rings, he wore a heavy gold bangle on each thick, round wrist, and a sweet, frail rose was thrust into his black and greasy hair.
The woman beside him was the typical courtesan of the ages, low-browed and full-lipped. Her eyes were eloquent with the subtleties of love, with invitation, retreat, fear and desire. Had she been dressed becomingly she would have been beautiful; but she was English and modern, and her great meaningless hat and senseless garments were of the fashion that had been in vogue just before the plague. This reigning sultana and her lover were more incongruous in that setting than the two dishevelled, travel-worn girls, who retreated timidly to let the landau pass out between the great iron gates.
The Bacchantes eyed the Goslings with obvious disfavour, but the beauty in the landau seemed unaware of their presence until her lord’s attention was attracted by the sight of Millie’s hair — it was all down again, rippling and spreading to her waist.
The young butcher had been lolling back in a corner of his carriage, magnificently indolent, sure of worship; but his satiety was pierced by the sight of that flaming mane. He sat up and looked at Millie with the experienced eyes which had served him so well in his judgment of cattle.
“’Ere, ’alf a jiff,” he commanded the nymphs at his horses’ bridles, and the carriage was stopped.
Millie, covered with shame, shrank back, and cowered behind Blanche, who threw up her chin and met the butcher’s eyes with all the contempt of which she was capable little enough, perhaps, for she, too, was weak with unreasoning terror. Behind their backs the Jewess grimaced her scorn of them.
“You needn’t be afraid of me —I ain’t goin’ to ’urt yer —” began the butcher, but his lady interrupted him.
Her fine eyes grew bright with anger. “If you stop here, I shall get out,” she said, and her inflexion was not that of the people.
The butcher visibly hesitated. It may be that this chain had held him too long and was beginning to gall him, but he looked at her and wavered.
“No ’arm in stoppin’,” he muttered. “Pass the news an’ that.”
“Are you going on?” demanded the beauty fiercely.
“All right, all right,” he returned sullenly. “You needen’ get so blasted ’uffy about it, old gal. Oh, gow on, you!” he added to the nymphs. “Wot the ’ell are yer starin’ at?”
As the landau moved on, he looked back once at Millie.
“What a brute,” said Blanche when the procession had passed on down the hill towards Wycombe.
“How he stared at my hair,” said Millie, with a giggle. “I did try to get it up, but it’s that stubborn with the heat or something.”
“Lucky for us he had that creature with him,” commented Blanche.
Millie assented without fervour. She was bold enough now the danger had passed.
Mrs Isaacson looked from one to the other and attempted no criticism of the adventure.
“You must let me do up your beautiful hair,” she said to the simpering Millie.
Millie was grateful. “It is kind of you, Mrs Isaacson, I’m sure,” she said. “My hair is a trouble. I sometimes think I’ll cut it all off and be done with it…”
She appeared excited and chatted incessantly while the hair-dressing continued, and Blanche restored the remains of their meal to the trolly.
With some difficulty they succeeded in getting Mrs Gosling back into her carriage. She had taken no notice of the procession, but as they were starting again she awoke from her abstraction to ask: “When d’you expect we’ll be ’ome, Blanche? I’ve been thinkin’ about them curtains in the drawin’-room…”
“We’ll be home in an hour or two, now,” Blanche said, reassuringly. She did not know what a struggle awaited them before they should top the hill at Handy Cross.
Mrs Isaacson had forsaken her place at the pole. “I shall be able to push more strongly behind,” she had said, but despite the theoretical gain in mechanical advantage obtained by the new arrangement, the hill seemed never-ending. They had to rest continually, and always they looked with increasing irritation at the quiet figure in the trolly, chief cause of their distress.
“I believe she could walk all right,” Millie broke out at last.
“If it was for a little way, it would help,” commented Mrs Isaacson.
But when Blanche put the proposition to her mother, Mrs Gosling seemed unable to comprehend it, and pity influenced them to renew the struggle.
So they toiled on with growing impatience until they reached level ground again; and presently, looking down over the long slope of the valley, saw, two miles and a half away, the spire of Marlow Church.
They rested under a hedge for a time, and when they started again Millie followed her sister’s example and discarded her hat. Blanche, with a certain courage of opinion, had left hers under the walls of Wycombe Abbey, but Millie’s hat found a place in the trolly.
The ease of the long descent permitted a renewal of conversation, and Mrs Isaacson and Millie talked in undertones as they made their way down towards Marlow. Blanche took little notice of them; she was struggling perplexedly with the problems of life. Mrs Gosling’s presence was negligible.
“That was a very handsome fellow in the carriage,” remarked Mrs Isaacson suddenly, “I think you do well not to go near that place again.” Her fine eyes fixedly regarded the broad, rusty back of Mrs Gosling and the broken ribs of her umbrella.
Millie simpered. “Oh! I should be safe enough. His wife’d see to that.”
“She was not his wife,” returned Mrs Isaacson. “Men would not marry now that they are so few.”
“Well! there’s a thing to say!” exclaimed Millie on a note of expostulation, interested nevertheless.
“It iss true,” continued Mrs Isaacson. “I haf heard of this handsome young fellow. He iss a butcher, and he goes every day to kill the sheep and cows, because the women do not like that work. And he iss very strong, and clever also. He teach a few of the women how to cut up the sheep and the cows. And he iss much admired, it iss of course, by all the young women; but he does not marry because he is one man among so many women, and it would not be right that he should love only one, for so there would be so few children and the world would die. Yes! But he has for a time one who iss favourite, for another time another favourite. And that iss why I warn you not to return. Because I see that he admire your so beautiful hair. And I see that if you had not been so modest and so good, and hide behind your sister, he would have come down from his carriage and put you up there beside him. And he would have said to that bold ugly woman. ‘Go, I tire of you, I will haf beside me this one who iss young and beautiful and has hair of gold.’ It iss not safe for you, there.”
“Oh! I say,” commented Millie.
“It iss true,” nodded Mrs Isaacson, with intensest conviction.
“Oh! well, thank goodness, I’m not one of that sort,” said Millie, warm in the knowledge of her virtue.
“Truly not,” assented Mrs Isaacson. “You must not be displeased that I warn you. It iss not your goodness that I doubt. It iss that this man iss so powerful. He iss able to do what he wishes. He iss a king.”
“Goody!” was the mark of surprise with which Millie punctuated this remarkable piece of information, and for several yards they trudged on in silence.
But Millie soon revived this fascinating subject by saying thoughtfully, “Well, you don’t catch me over there again.”
“Truly not. It iss not wise,” agreed Mrs Isaacson, and proceeded to enlarge upon Millie’s dangerous beauty.
It was a topic entirely new to Millie. She simpered and giggled, disclaimed her attractions, protested that Mrs Isaacson was “getting at” her, and became so absorbed in the fascination of her disavowal that she forgot her weariness, her tender feet — naked to the road in two places — and all her discouragements. She walked with a more conscious air, straightening her back and lifting her head. The blood moved more freely in her veins, and she presently became so vivacious in her replies that Blanche was aroused to a sense of something unfamiliar. She checked the trolly and looked back at her sister, past the quiet brooding figure of Mrs Gosling.
“What is it, Mill?” she asked.
“Oh! nothing!” replied Millie. “We were just talking.”
“Seem to be enjoying yourselves,” said Blanche.
“We were saying that we shall soon now arrive at some place where we can rest. Yes?” put in Mrs Isaacson, and thus established a ground of confidence between herself and Millie.
“P’raps. I dunno!” returned Blanche. She sighed and looked round her.
In the fields between them and Marlow they could see here and there little figures stooping and straightening.
“Ooh!” exclaimed Millie, suddenly.
“What?” asked Blanche.
“There’s another man,” said Millie, pointing. “We’d better scoot!”
But they made no attempt to put such an impossible plan into action. The man had evidently seen them. He was coming towards them across one of the fields, shouting to attract their attention. “Hi! wait a minute!” they thought he was saying.
“Mill!” exclaimed Blanche, with extraordinary emphasis.
“What?” asked Millie, nervously. She was flushed and trembling.
“Do you see who it is?”
“It isn’t the one out of the carriage…” hesitated Millie.
“No! Silly. It’s that young fellow who used to live with us, our Mr Fastidious. What was his name? Thrale! You remember.”
“Goody!” said Millie. She was conscious of a quite inexplicable feeling of disappointment.
“He iss a friend? Yes?” asked Mrs Isaacson.
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; J.D. Beresford’s Goslings, serialized between September 2012 and May 2013; E.V. Odle’s The Clockwork Man, serialized between March 2013 and July 2013. ; and Cicely Hamilton’s Theodore Savage, serialized between March and August 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.