ASH/HCC: Coherent Super Stories #30 - "Alley Abroad"
Dave Van Domelen
dvandom at eyrie.org
Thu Nov 15 14:36:14 PST 2012
[The cover shows a cheerfully idiotic 1920s British gentleman sauntering
cluelessly down a busy "Old West" main street as various calamities barely
miss killing him.]
.|, COHERENT An ASHistory Series
'|` SUPER STORIES #30 - Alley Abroad
Featuring Alistair Dorchester copyright 2012 by Dave Van Domelen
Editor's Note: When anything became successful in the pulp era, it
spawned rafts of imitators, and the publisher of the White Hat pulps was
hardly immune to the phenomenon. The pages of Haunted Western Stories were
often padded out by the pseudonymous writings of pulp authors aping the style
of someone more successful than they, but perhaps the most jarring of the
knockoff tales found in Haunted Western Stories had to be the Edwardian
comedy of manners starring the Wodehouse-inspired Alistair "Alley" Dorchester
and his manservant Jamison. There were at least three and possibly as many
as five different authors penning Alley's tales under the name C.D. Lane from
1919 through 1922. Most of the Alley stories played upon the contrast
between Alley's own burbling first-person narration and the somewhat more
grounded perspective of Jamison, but not all of the hands behind the
C.D. Lane name were deft at switching cleanly between perspectives.
We now present the last of the original stories of Alley and Jamison, as
they engage in that other pulp pasttime, the crossover. Originally published
in Haunted Western Stories #52, June 1922. While the writer of record is the
usual C.D. Lane, it is likely that the story was written by the man who wrote
most of the White Hat pulps of the early 1920s, Thomas Craine. This is also
notable as being one of the very few White Hat pulp stories never to
explicitly refer to him as the White Hat, or by his given name of Dirk
Landon, simply calling him a man in a white hat. However, as you'll be see,
his identity is fairly obvious by the end of the vignette.
The door swung open and admitted a gust of autumn air, as well as
something generally considered to be nearly as substantial.
"Hullo the pub!" Alistair proclaimed, straightening his boater hat and
brushing some of the dust from his somewhat rumpled jacket. "I don't suppose
anyone has seen my man, Jamison? Short fellow, a bit on the round and boring
side? No? I say, I thought you Yanks were friendly types...."
Nearly everyone in the bar was ignoring Alistair with the sort of
practiced indifference that he suspected his aunt practiced on a daily
basis. She had a way of looking through one as if there was no one in the
room, although Alistair suspected it might be encroaching cataracts.
One man, however, finally turned to acknowledge Alistair. A somewhat
grizzled looking chap sitting at the bar next to another man in a dashing
white hat, the two men did look like they were perhaps cousins. Certainly
cut from the same bolt of rough cloth. The grizzled chap spoke a few quiet
words to the man in the white hat, who nodded.
"Howdy, pard. You look a mite lost," the grizzled man said without
introduction. Ah, that dreadful American familiarity, not even introducing
"Ah, hello. My name is Alistair Dorchester, although the fellows call
me Alley," he touched the brim of his boater. Perhaps the man would take the
hint and drop his own name.
He was doomed to be disappointed, however, as the stranger beckoned
Alley follow him to a booth in the back without a word.
"Ah, yes. I could stand a drink. Do you suppose they brew a decent tea
in this establishment? I've rather given up on finding a proper sherry this
side of the pond."
The man shrugged as he slid into the booth, a rather complicated
maneuver that impressed Alley rather a bit. He'd known fellows to trip over
themselves attempting something like that.
"So...Alley. What brings you here?"
"Ah, that's a rather engrossing tale, even if it's I who tells it...."
It all started when my aunt got on me for being a silly little twit for
I suppose was the hundredth time, and I don't know why it bothered me so much
more than usual, perhaps it was the fact it was the hundredth time and such a
significant number is hard to ignore, eh?
"Jamison," I said to Jamison, he's my valet, "how can I get Aunt Doris
to take me seriously? I'm not a little boy anymore...I even served in the
Jamison, being the soul of discretion, didn't remind me that my service
in the war was spent typing up quartermaster reports in Admiralty House. But
my typing did get rather good by the end of the war, and I was proud of that
and Jamison knew it. Not everyone can operate one of those confounding
devices, you know!
Where was I? Oh yes. Jamison suggested that perhaps Aunt Doris would
take me more seriously with a proper seasoning in the ways of the world.
After all, when I was of an age to tour Europe, the Hun was trying to conquer
it, which made travel planning beastly difficult. And he suggested that even
should it not have the desired effect, a tour would at least remove me from
Aunt Doris's presence for a few months, which was a worthwhile end in itself,
But Europe is still rather depressingly ravaged by all that fighting,
and rather a lot of the interesting places were burned down. What use is
traveling about to soak up the beneficial effects of history when there's no
history there anymore, because some bally Jerry has blown it up? Still, some
sort of tour seemed a meritorious plan, and after wracking my gray matter
over a glass of port, it hit me. Where would I go? Hm?
Well, obviously there wasn't much suspense in that, since I'm here,
aren't I? I suppose some revelations defy dramatic tension, my good man.
But not just anywhere in America, I would travel to the fabled Wild West
of the Bill Hickock shows! What tales I'd have to tell the drones upon my
return! And Aunt Doris has never been farther from home than Seville, so I'd
have one up on her, eh?
Jamison took care of all the arrangements, of course, it's why I retain
him. A proper liner to cross the big pond, no sense *wallowing* in savagery!
I'm man enough to admit I spent some of the journey confined to my cabin with
a touch of the mal de mer, as the French so charmingly put it. We made final
port in Galveston, a charming little town, although I understand it suffers
horribly from storms. And then we took the train, to get the proper Wild
West experience! A pity there's no more of those big shaggy cow-like things
anymore, I would have liked to try my hand shooting them from the train.
The trip was educational, I suppose, but rather dull. The only bright
spot was a bit of play acting arranged by the line's owners, I believe. A
pretend train robbery, quite exciting at the time, although on reflection I
realized that the costuming was hardly authentic. They even retained an
actor to play the role of one of those dashing "Mystery Men" from the popular
fiction. I pray Aunt Doris never finds out I read popular fiction, she
always turns her nose up at it.
"I find San Francisco a bit of a disappointment, I must admit," Alley
shrugged. "A bit more open and rough-hewn than London, but nothing like the
dusty gold mining towns from the pulps. I do wish you people would learn to
drive on the proper side of the road, though, I got separated from Jamison
when some bounder nearly ran me down!"
Through it all, the other man had listened attentively, occasionally
nodding but not speaking. Alley was starting to find the silence more than a
"Say, the service here is terrible...when will the steward come to fetch
our drinks order? Oh, and listen to me chatter on...you've yet to even
introduce yourself, let alone get in a word edgewise."
The other man sighed heavily. "The name's Abe Landon. And I'm afraid I
have bad news for you."
"We have to order at the bar?"
"No. Well, yes, but that's not what I mean...."
* * * *
A short, round, balding man slumped into the empty bar stool next to a
man in a white stetson hat. "Small beer, please," he sighed, his accent
marking him as a Brit.
"You look like you've had a rough day," the man in the hat said, sparing
a glance at the booth in back.
"It has been a rough life," the man sighed. "I've followed my employer
halfway across the globe, enduring an attack at sea by a German U-boat gone
pirate and a robbery of the train we were taking across the desert. Sheer
luck saved our skins, and I don't think the young master even realized we
were at hazard. And then he manages to get struck dead by an automobile not
an hour after we return to what I thought was the safety of civilization.
Oh, how rude of me. My name is Albert Jamison, valet to the dearly departed
Alistair Dorchester. Once I've fortified myself here, it's my sad task to
arrange for his remains to be transported back to the family estate...."
Written for High Concept Challenge #33, "Neo-Edwardian Comedy of Manners
and/or Christian Rapture". Since the latter runs somewhat counter to ASH's
setting and I didn't feel like making up a whole new setting for HCC, I
decided to run with the first part.
If you're new to Coherent Super Stories, one of the conceits of most
(but not all) of the issues is that the come from a sort of intermediate
universe where all of the ASH backstory appeared in media. Coherent Comics
was a robust small publisher like Archie Comics that managed to survive
(albeit with gaps in publication) for most of the second half of the 20th
Century, and which owned the rights to several pre-1950 properties in the
same way that DC and Marvel bought up the rights to defunct publishers in the
real world. As such, there's no guarantee that the stories in CSS are in
continuity with "present day" ASH stories, leaving us free to come up with
stuff that might not actually be a good fit for the mainline. Like Alley.
Alley Dorchester is a thinly veiled pastiche of Bertie Wooster, of
P.G. Wodehouse's Bertie & Jeeves stories. While I've read several of the
original short stories, I largely modeled Alley's behavior on various roles
played by Hugh Laurie, such as Bertie Wooster himself, and several characters
in Blackadder. Yes, before he became famous stateside as House M.D., Laurie
was mostly known for playing vapid upper class twits. ;)
The White Hat is ASH's recurring western hero, first seen in Coherent
Super Stories #12, and also featured in #13 and #25. Abe Landon is his
deceased uncle, who haunts him and demands vengeance against the men who
killed him. So, the fact that the ghostly Abe is the only one who can see
Alley is indeed far worse news than the lack of table service.
I don't have any plans to write the other adventures of Alley and
Jamison, either pre-mortem or post-mortem (and there were probably some
Topper-esque tales written about Alley's ghost), but you never know what the
future (and the High Concept Challenge) will bring.
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