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In the beginning, some of them are restless, lost without any real purpose in their lives. As terrible as the nuclear fallout is, many of them eventually find themselves, and that gives a certain amount of hope to an otherwise horrifying event. Just generally lucky. They live away from the major cities in the small town of Fort Repose, next to a river and a farm land. There are plenty of oranges, fish for dinner, and access to clean, though smelly, running water.

Subscribe to receive posts from Stranger Dimensions by email. Rob Schwarz is a writer, blogger, and part-time peddler of mysterious tales. He manages Stranger Dimensions in between changing aquarium filters and reading bad novels about mermaids. I live in Southwest Florida so it was easy to put myself in the characters shoes. Maybe at a Disney resort or something, right during the apocalypse. Just started reading and it is hard to put down with tensions building and military blunders increasing.

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Alas, Alas, Babylon! | Society for US Intellectual History

Leave a Reply Cancel reply Your email address will not be published. About Contact. I dare say that you know more about it than I do; but I am given to understand with a glance at the page before him that Mrs. Lirriper was a lodging-house-keeper, that she kept lodgings in London. She was a very good sort of woman, I believe another hasty glance , but she sometimes had trouble with her servants. I am told that servants are troublesome sometimes a slight nervous laugh, the more nervous because it does not seem to be followed by any echo from the audience.

If you will allow me then, as I say, and if you think it will amuse you, I will read you a little of what she says about these troubles. The foregoing remarks are uttered in a loud, shy, dogged voice by James Burgoyne to the Oxford Women's Provident Association. His voice is loud because, being quite unused to public reading, he does not know how to modulate it; it is shy from the same cause of unaccustomedness; it is dogged because he is very much displeased with his present occupation, and has not been successful in concealing that displeasure. When a man runs down to Oxford for a couple of nights, to see how the six years that have passed since he turned his undergraduate back upon the old place have treated her—runs down to a college chum unseen for the same six years—this is certainly not the way in which he expects to spend one of his two evenings.

I hope you will not mind, Jim —ominous phrase—the college friend has said; but I am afraid we shall have to turn out for half an hour after dinner. It is rather a nuisance, particularly as it is such a wet night; but the fact is, I have promised to read to the 'Oxford Women's Provident Association. Well, the fact is, my wife is on the committee, and a good deal interested in it, and we give them a sort of entertainment once a month through the winter terms—tea and buns, that kind of thing, sixpence a head; they enjoy it far more than if we gave it them for nothing; and after tea we get people to recite and read and sing to them.

I am sure I wish them joy of my reading to-night, for I do not see how I am to make myself audible; I am as hoarse as a crow. I know those Oxford colds of old, returns Burgoyne, with that temperate compassion in his voice which we accord to our neighbours' minor diseases. He is sorry that his friend has a cold; but he little knows how much sorrier he will be in the course of the next hour as he adds: Do not distress yourself about me; I shall be quite happy in your den with a book and a cigarette.

Brown does not object, does she? And I dare say you will not be very long away. As he speaks he realizes, with a sort of pang—the pang we pay sometimes to our dead pasts—that, though it is only three hours since he was reunited to his once inseparable Brown, he is already looking forward with relief to the prospect of an hour's freedom from his society—so terribly far apart is it possible to grow in six years.

But, before his half-fledged thought has had time to do more than traverse his brain, Brown has broken into it with the eager remonstrances of a mistaken species of hospitality. Leave you behind? Could not hear of such a thing! Of course you must come too! It will be a new experience for you; a wholesome change. Again it flashes across the other's mind, with the same pensive regret as before, that talk worth speaking of is for ever over between them; but, seeing that further attempts at evasion will seriously hurt the good-natured Brown, he acquiesces, with as fair a grace as he may.

While putting on his own mackintosh, he watches, with a subdued wonder, his friend winding himself into a huge white woollen comforter, and stepping into a pair of goloshes he had been rather a smart undergraduate in his day , while outside the opened hall door the rain is heard to swish, and the wind to bellow. Had not we better have a hansom?

A hansom! It is all very well for a bloated bachelor like you; but a man whose family is increasing at the rate mine is cannot afford himself such luxuries; come along, you are not sugar or salt. Burgoyne feels that at this moment he can at all events conscientiously disclaim affinity with the first of the two. It is indeed a wet night, wet as the one immortalized by Browning in Christmas Eve and Easter Day; and who ever brought a wet night and wet umbrellas wry and flapping so piercingly home to us as he? The talk so cheerfully promised by Burgoyne's sanguine friend is rendered absolutely impossible by the riot of the elements.

It is a good step from the suburban villa, which is the scene of Brown's married joys, to the room in the heart of the town where the Provident Matrons hold their sabbat ; and by the time that the two men have reached that room there is, despite his mackintosh, little of Burgoyne left dry except his speech. They are under shelter at last, however, have entered the building, added their umbrellas to many other streaming wrecks of whalebone huddled in a corner, and exchanged the dark blustering drench for a flare of gas, a reek of tea, and a sultry stream of wet clothes and humanity.

The tea, indeed, is a thing of the past—all its apparatus has been removed. The rows of chairs are all set to face the platform, and on those chairs the Provident Women sit, smiling, if damp, with here and there a little boy, evidently too wicked to be left at home, comfortably wedged between a couple of matronly figures. The entertainment has already begun, and an undergraduate—damp, like everyone else—is singing, in a booming bass voice, something of a vaguely boastful nature about what he once did In Bilboa's Bay.

Burgoyne has for the moment lost sight of his chaperon, and remains standing near the door, looking upon the scene around him with an eye from which philanthropy is all too criminally absent. About him are grouped a few ladies and gentlemen—more of the former than the latter—who are obviously about to give their services, judging by their rolls of music and the books in their hands.

His look passes over them indifferently—he has no acquaintance among them. He had never known many of the Oxford householders, and there is no place where a man becomes superannuated after so short a lapse of years. Here are new arrivals. He turns his head mechanically as the opening door reveals the advent of more umbrellaed and mackintoshed waterfalls. Two men and a lady. As his eye alights on the woman, he does not start—we Anglo-Saxons are not apt to make our slow grave bodies the indexes of our emotions—but he is conscious of an odd and puzzling sensation.

Where has he seen that face before?

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Bilboa's Bay has come to an end without his perceiving it. He is putting his memory through her paces, trying to find some niche in his three happy Oxford years in which to place that strangely known yet unknown figure. There is no such niche. It is not an Oxford memory at all. What is it then? An earlier or a later one? His eyebrows are drawn together in the effort of recollection, making him look, if possible, crosser than before, when he is made aware of the return of Brown by finding his arm seized, and his friend's voice—a good deal hoarser even than when they left home—in his ear, Jim, do you feel inclined to do a very good-natured thing?

Burgoyne has very often stood up to and over his knees in water for hours, watching for ducks among whistling reeds on winter mornings, and never thought himself at all to be pitied; but he is thoroughly vexed now at his moist trousers. Brown, however, is not so easily rebuffed.

I should be awfully obliged to you, he says croakily; you would be laying me under a very real obligation if you would—— He stops to cough. If I would what? Why, the fact is —coughing noisily again as if to show that there is no imposition— I suppose the fog must have got down my throat; but I find I cannot speak above a whisper. I should not be heard beyond the front row; come, old man, do a good-natured thing for once in your life. There is a pause; Burgoyne is not very fond of being asked to do a good-natured thing. He can do a big one every now and then, but he is not particularly fond of being asked to do a small one.

Surely there must be many people here much better suited for it than I am, he says presently, looking uncomfortably round in search of the little group of booked and musicked persons whom he had seen but now standing near him, but it had melted. That is just what there are not, rejoins Brown, pressing his point with the more eagerness, as he thinks he sees signs of yielding; we are very short of hands to-night, and my wife has just heard that the girl upon whom she was counting for a couple of songs is in bed with influenza. Happy girl! I wish I too was in bed with influenza, says Jim sardonically, for he sees his fate about to overtake him.

And so it comes to pass that, five minutes later, as described at the opening of this chapter, he is seated on the platform with Mrs. Lirriper's Lodgings before him, rows of Provident Matrons' eyes fastened expectantly upon him, and horrid qualms of strange shyness racing over him. Brown has indicated by a dog's-ear the page at which he is to begin; so he is spared indecision on this head. But has Brown indicated the page at which he is to stop? He is gnawed by a keen anxiety as to this point all through his performance. It is hot upon the platform, the smell of tea potent, and the naked gas-jets close above his head throw an ugly yellow glare upon his book.

Having offered his prefatory observations in the manner I have indicated, he rushes in media res. Girls, as I was beginning to remark, are one of your first and your lasting troubles, being like your teeth, which begin with convulsions, and never cease tormenting you from the time you cut them till they cut you, and then you do not want to part with them, which seems hard, but we must all succumb, or buy artificial. Do his ears deceive him? Is there already a slight titter? And, even where you get a will, nine times out of ten you get a dirty face with it, and naturally lodgers do not like good society to be shown in with a smear of black across the nose, or a smudgy eyebrow!

Is he managing his voice alright? Is he mumbling, or is he bellowing? He rather inclines to a suspicion of the latter. Why did not they laugh at the smudgy eyebrow? They ought to have done so, and he had paused to give them the opportunity.


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Perhaps it is among them too familiar a phenomenon to provoke mirth. Where they pick the black up is a mystery I cannot solve, as in the case of the willingest girl that ever came into a house, half-starved, poor thing; a girl so willing that I called her 'Willing Sophy;' down upon her knees scrubbing early and late, and ever cheerful, but always with a black face. And I says to Sophy, 'Now, Sophy, my good girl, have a regular day for your stoves, and do not brush your hair with the bottoms of the saucepans, and do not meddle with the snuffs of the candles, and it stands to reason that it cannot be.

Willing Sophy has produced an undoubted giggle, which Burgoyne hears spreading and widening through the room. Heartened by this indication, he goes on in a more emphatic and hilarious voice: Yet there it was, and always on her nose, which, turning up, and being broad at the end, seemed to boast of it, and caused warning from a steady gentleman, an excellent lodger, with breakfast by the week.

There can be no mistake about it now; the giggle has changed into a universal resonant laugh, which goes on swelling and rising, until, in the final roar of approbation which greets the concluding paragraph, the reader's voice is drowned. The matrons have all along been ready to be amused; it is only that, owing to the gravity of his face and solemnity of his manner, it was some time before they recognised that his intention was comic.

As soon as they do so, they reward that intention with more than adequate mirth. Burgoyne has reached the second dog's-ear, that dog's-ear which his eye has been earnestly searching for throughout. His task then is ended. He heaves a deep sigh of relief, and, with a reflection that, after all, he is glad he was obliging, is preparing to shut the volume, when he feels the inevitable Brown's hand on his shoulder, and his husky voice in his ear. Could not be better; but you will not mind going on a little longer, will you? You have only read for ten minutes. I want you to try something different this time—a little pathos, for a change.

I have marked the page. What is there to do but acquiesce? Burgoyne, complying, finds himself at once in the middle of a melancholy tale of a poor young woman left ruined and deserted in Mrs. Lirriper's Lodgings, and only rescued from suicide by the efforts of that good lady, who, however, is unable to save her from a tragic and premature death.

The reader has reached the point at which Mrs. Lirriper has met the poor creature on her way to the river.


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  8. Edson, I says, my dear, take care! However, did you lose your way, and stumble in a dangerous place like this? No wonder you're lost, I'm sure. Is it possible that the giggle is rising again?

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    He redoubles his efforts to put an unmistakably serious and pathetic tone into his voice. She was all in a shiver, and she so continued till I laid her on her own bed, and up to the early morning she held me by the hand and moaned, and moaned, 'Oh, wicked, wicked, wicked! What can the Provident Matrons be made of? They are laughing unrestrainedly. Too late Burgoyne realizes that he had not made it sufficiently clear that his intention is no longer comic.

    The idea of his being a funny man has so firmly rooted itself in his hearers' minds, that nothing can now dislodge it. Such being the case, he feels that the best thing he can do is to reach the end as quickly as possible. He begins to read very fast, which is taken for a new stroke of facetiousness, the result of which is that the last sigh of the poor young would-be suicide is drowned in a storm of hilarity even heartier and more prolonged than that which greeted Willing Sophy's smudged nose.

    In much confusion, greatly abashed by the honours so mistakenly heaped upon him, Burgoyne hastily leaves the platform. Twenty thousand Browns shall not keep him there! There is no reason why we should not go home now; are you ready? Burgoyne would probably have laughed at the unconscious irony of this inquiry if he had heard it; but he has not, his attention being otherwise directed.

    On the same umbrella quest as himself, being helped on with her mackintosh by one of the two men who had accompanied her, a pepper-and-salt-haired, sturdy gentleman of an obviously unacademic cut, is the lady whose face had flashed upon him with that puzzling sense of unfamiliar familiarity. Since they are now in close proximity, and both employed alike in struggling into their wraps, there is nothing more natural than that she should turn her eyes full upon him. They are very fine eyes, though far from young ones. Is it a trick of his imagination, or does he see a look of half-recognition dawn in them, such as must have been born in his own when they first alighted on her?

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    At all events, if there is such a look of half-recognition in her eyes, she is determined that it shall not have a chance of becoming a whole one. Either he is mistaken, and she has not recognised him, or she is determined not to acknowledge the acquaintance, for she looks away again at once, nor does she throw another glance in his direction.

    Indeed, it seems to him that she hurries on her preparations with added speed, and walks out into the night accompanied by her double escort before him. The weather has changed, and for the better. The rollicking wind has lulled, the pattering rain ceased. Between the ragged, black cloud-sheets star-points shine, and a shimmering moon shows her wet face reflected in the puddles.

    Talk, which had been impossible on their way to the meeting, is not only possible but easy now, and Brown is evidently greatly inclined for it. Burgoyne, on the other hand, had never felt more disinclined. It is not so much that he is out of humour with his tiresome friend, though he is that too, as that his whole mind is centred on making his memory give up the secret of that face that has come back to him out of some vague cavern of his past.

    Who is the woman whom he knows, and who knows him for on reflection he is sure that that look of hers was one of half—of more than half—recognition , and yet whose place in his history, whose very name, he seeks so vainly? She does not belong to his Oxford days, as he has already ascertained. He has learnt from Brown that she does not belong to the Oxford of to-day, being apparently a stranger, and, with her husband, a visitor to the Warden of —— College, in whose company they had arrived.

    He explores the succeeding years of his life. In vain; she has no place there; in vain he dives and plunges into the sea of his memory; he cannot fish up the pearl he seeks. He must hark back to earlier days—his school-time, the six months he spent in Devonshire with a coach before he came up to New. It is conjured back into his mind by the word Devonshire. I have it, he says to himself; her hair has turned white, that was why I did not recognise her; it used to be raven-black. But it is she—of course it is she! To think of my not knowing her again!

    Of course it is Mrs. Le Marchant.

    Alas! a Novel

    What a door into the distance that name has opened! The very names of those children are coming back to him. Tom and Charles, those were the schoolboys; Rose and Miriam, and—Elizabeth. He recalls—absurd trick of freakish memory—those children's pets. Tom and Charles had guinea-pigs; Miriam had a white rat; Rose—what had Rose?

    Rose must have had something; and Elizabeth had a kangaroo. Elizabeth's kangaroo was short-lived, poor beast, and died about hay-time; the guinea-pigs and the white rat have been dead too for ages now, of course. Why should they be? Nothing more unlikely! Why, it is only ten years ago, after all.

    Image from page 164 of "Alas! : a novel" (1890)

    He is roused from his meditations by Brown's voice, to find himself in Brown's study, where its owner is filling himself a pipe, and festally offering him whisky-and-water. But it is only an abstracted attention that Burgoyne lends, either to the whisky or the whisky's master; and his answers are sometimes inattentively beside the mark, to talk, which indeed is not without some likeness to the boasted exploits in Clement's Inn, and the affectionate inquiries after Jane Nightwork, of a more famous fool than he.

    It is a relief to the guest when, earlier than he had expected—a blessing he, no doubt, owes to Mrs. At once he is back in that Devonshire garden, he is there almost all night, between sleep and wake. It is strange that persons and circumstances banished from his memory for ten long years should rush back with such tyrannous insistence now. Such silly recollected trifles crowd back upon his mind. The day on which Tom nearly choked himself by swallowing a barley beard; the day on which the lop-eared rabbit littered—ah, rabbits, of course!

    Elizabeth, the eldest, the almost grown-up one, embarrassed by her newly lengthened petticoats, so harassing at cricket, in races, in climbing apple-trees. Elizabeth was sixteen; he remembers the fact, because her birthday had fallen two days before his own departure. He had given her a gold thimble set with turquoises upon the occasion; it was not a surprise, because he recalls measuring her finger for the size.

    He can see that small middle finger now. Elizabeth must now be twenty-six years of age. Where is she? What is she—maid, wife, or widow? And why has Mrs. Le Marchant's hair turned snow-white? Had it been merely gray he would not have complained, though he would have deplored the loss of the fine smooth inky sweep he remembers. She has a fair right to be gray; Mrs.

    But white, snow-white—the hue that one connects with a venerable extremity of age. Can it be bleached? He has heard of women bleaching their hair; but not Mrs. Le Marchant, not the Mrs. Le Marchant he remembers. She would have been as incapable of bleach as of dye. Then why is she snow-haired? Because Providence has so willed it is the obvious answer. But somehow Burgoyne cannot bring himself to believe that she has come fairly by that white head. With the morning light the might of the Devonshire memories grows weaker; and, as the day advances, the Oxford ones resume their sway.

    How can it be otherwise, when all day long he strays among the unaltered buildings in the sweet sedate college gardens, down the familiar High, where, six years ago, he could not take two steps without being hailed by a jolly fresh voice, claiming his company for some new pleasure; but where now he walks ungreeted, where the smooth-faced boys he meets, and who strike him as so much more boyish than his own contemporaries had done, pass him by indifferently, unknown to the whole two thousand as he is.

    He feels a sort of irrational anger with them for not recognising him, though they have never seen him before. Yes, there is no place where a man is so quickly superannuated as in Oxford. He is saying this to himself all day, is saying it still as he strolls in the afternoon down Mesopotamia, to fill up the time before the hour for college chapel. Yes, there is no place where men so soon turn into ghosts. He has been knocking up against them all day at every street-corner; they have looked out at him from every gray window in the Quad at New—jovial, athletic young ghosts, so much painfuller to meet than rusty, century-worn old ones.

    They are rather less plentiful in Mesopotamia than elsewhere; perhaps, because in his day, as now, Mesopotamia on Sundays was given over to the mechanic and the perambulator.