Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership

 

Title:  Links in the Chain of Life
Author: Baroness Orczy
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 2000341h.html
Language: English
Date first posted:  April 2020
Most recent update: April 2020

This eBook was produced by: Walter Moore

Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions
which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice
is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular
paper edition.

Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the
copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this
file.

This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online.

GO TO Project Gutenberg Australia HOME PAGE


Links in the Chain of Life
An Autobiography

by
Baroness Orczy

CONTENTS

Book 1 - Childhood

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4

Book 2 - My Musical Life

Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7

Book 3 - My Artistic Career

Chapter 8

Book 4 - Early Married Life

Chapter 9
Chapter 10

Book 5 - The Scarlet Pimpernel

Chapter 11
Chapter 12 - 1900 - 1901
Chapter 13
Chapter 14 - 1908
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18 - 1914
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28
Chapter 29
Chapter 30
Chapter 31
Chapter 32
Chapter 33
Chapter 34
Epilogue

Book 1 - Childhood

Chapter 1

How often have I been asked by readers—young and old—“do tell me how the Scarlet Pimpernel came to be written. How did you think of him?” And a good many would add (men for the most part): “You are Hungarian born, aren’t you? Nothing English about you?” To the first the answer was, “Yes! of Hungarian parents and grand-parents and countless generations of Hungarians”; and to the second: “No, nothing; except my love which is all English.” “Then,” my kind interlocutor would add, “how comes it that you, a pure-blooded Hungarian as you say, have such a wonderful understanding of the British character and have created such a perfect representation of an English gentleman?” Which tribute to my Scarlet Pimpernel always pleases me more than any other, however appreciative. For that was what I aimed at when I first conceived him: a perfect presentation of an English gentleman.

At fifteen years of age, when first my parents settled down in London (temporarily as they thought) I had never been in England, never had an English friend or English governess, or English tuition of any sort or kind. I did not speak one word of English. Then how did it all come about? Neo-Victorians and Neo-Georgians will put it down to destiny; others to predestination. I, in my humble way, put it down to the Will of God. And looking back on my long life and its many changes I can trace the links of my chain of life that began on the great plains of Hungary, continued through the heart of London, and find me now at this hour of writing this book in Monte Carlo jotting down all that I can remember of those links which led me one by one to the conception of my first literary work. If any one of those links had not been, if any turn of event in my life had been different, I would probably have ended my days in the country of my birth and known nothing of the happiness which comes from love, from the affection of friends (such as one meets in England) and from success in the work to which I devoted so many years of my life.

In Gotha’s Freiherrliches Taschenbuch—the continental counterpart of our Debrett—the ancestry of the Orczy family is traced back to the entry of Arpád and his knights into Hungary nearly two hundred years before the Norman Conquest.

Ah well! such is destiny: such was the Will of God! If this had not happened . . . or that . . . if my father had not been half-ruined by the agrarian troubles of the ’70’s and the great Viennese financial crisis that followed . . . if he and my mother had not then decided to go to Brussels for a time while my sister and I were still babies, then to Paris when I grew to school age, and finally to London to complete my education after the death of my sister . . . if he had lived a few years longer, when he intended to return to his own country and to end his days in the old home . . . if I had had any talent for the musical career to which in his heart he had already devoted me . . . if . . . if . . . if . . . well, if all those things had not happened The Scarlet Pimpernel would not have been written.

Links in the chain of life.

* * * * * * * * * *

When I was a child in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, poor, misguided Hungary of to-day was living her last years of prosperity as an independent proud country, equal partner with one of the great empires of Europe. I am not going to enter into any dissertation on the history of Hungary. It would, for one thing, take too long and not be very interesting to those who have never known the country in its brilliant declining years. But it was brilliant then, when there were no wars or rumours of war, none at any rate that reached the ears of those splendid feudal lords ensconced in their opulent châteaux, mediæval still in their magnificence, their hospitality; their contemptuous disregard of every innovation that threatened the even tenor of their lives—new-fangled rubbish, or inventions of the devil did they dub that abominable railway which cut through their estate, their forests, their fields; bolshevism they would have called it had the word been coined then, or communism which was the catchword of politicians and had no meaning that any sensible man could discern.

I had two dear old aunts who lived an almost conventual life together in Kolozsvár, the capital of Transylvania, integral eastern portion of Hungary which has become the battledore and shuttlecock between herself and Roumania ever since the ill-considered treaty of Trianon in 1919. Their beautiful old home was opposite the cathedral, and on the open place in front of the great mediæval edifice the first motor-cars made their appearance in the first year of the twentieth century, and there halted and were parked. My dear old aunts thereafter pulled down the blinds and closed the shutters of the windows which gave on the Place, for they would not at any price of light or air look on those inventions diaboliques.

Already the railway—which twenty-five years before had linked Kolozsvár with Budapest—had been looked upon by the two nice old ladies as an invention of the devil. On the vary rare occasions when they journeyed to Budapest they did so as they had done in their youth—in their carriage drawn by six horses with postilions and relays. It took five days and five halts in often primitive, and always uncomfortable inns to accomplish the journey; eighteen hours (at first) to do it by rail, but no matter. There was no pandering to the devil and his works even at the cost of almost unbearable fatigue as old age slowly overtook these devotees of old-time customs.

But this is by the way. I only quote the fact in order to give a picture of the state of mind that prevailed among the upper classes in Hungary at the time I opened my baby eyes to the world.

* * * * * * * * *

My earliest recollections go back to a marvellous day in mid-July-my sister Madeleine’s fifth birthday. She was the elder of us two girls and her birthday was always an occasion for one of those days of merrymaking and boundless hospitality peculiar to country life in Hungary. My father and mother lived in Tarna-Örs then, a large agricultural property on the River Tarna—owned and farmed by my grandfather as it had been by many generations before him—and there were we two girls born.

The house was of the type so often found on the puszta (the plains of Hungary) two stories above the ground, rambling, square and huge, with four façades at right angles to one another. The main block contained the reception rooms and the apartments of the numerous family, together with numberless corridors, halls, and staircases; another had thirty-six guest rooms, and a loggia where one sat on hot summer afternoons looking out over the garden and the park, and beyond these to the village with its little mediæval church and tower; another consisted of the riding school, gymnasium and swimming bath, whilst kitchens, offices and servant’s quarters completed the square. The whole structure was as commodious and as ugly as you like.

In the centre of the square there was a garden planted with standard rose trees and clipped acacias, in the middle of which a fat stone Cupid spouted water out of its pursed mouth. I remember that Cupid so well, he and a life-size stone image of Attila, King of the Huns (why Attila I have often wondered since) standing defiant and warlike in a niche on the main staircase, are the two items of ornamentation that have dwelt persistently in my memory.

Tarna-Örs was not the family seat, and there had been no house there until my grandfather built one in the early days of the nineteenth century. He was a younger son, had served in the army until he was chosen to accompany the Austrian archduchess, Marie-Louise, as her chamberlain when she went to France to marry the Emperor Napoleon. On his return he bethought himself of getting married, and desirous of having a home of his own—his elder brother being installed in the ancestral château—he took over the property of Tarna-Örs and built thereon this huge, ugly house, not only in order to accommodate the large family which he fondly hoped for, but also to indulge his taste for that extravagant and large-hearted hospitality for which the Hungarian landowners will always remain famous even in these days of poverty and democratic government.

And oh! that hospitality! Relations, friends, all of them were welcome, with their families, their servants, their horses and carriages. There was room for all and to spare. There was no question of invitations, they just came—knowing the days when they would be welcomed with feasting and dancing and tsigane (gipsy) music all day and half through the night.

The 22nd of July was one of those days: there were several others throughout the year, but this one was the most important, not only because my sister was the eldest grandchild but also because the weather at this time of year was always beautiful, the heat always intense, so that there was every excuse for doing nothing all day but sip iced drinks and loll on easy chairs in the loggia. We two little girls were prinked out in our best frocks and did not enjoy ourselves half as much as when we had on our old pinafores and could scramble up the old acacia trees without fear of a scolding for spoiling our frocks. Indeed we did not really look forward to the 22nd of July in spite of the fact that every carriage-load of visitors brought toys and bonbons for the birthday child.

* * * * * * * * *

Visitors began to drop in the day before, but the first to arrive were the tsiganes with their musical instruments. They came from the neighbouring town of Gyöngyös, as the village band was not considered good enough for the great occasion, and usually turned up at about five o’clock ready to begin to play as soon as some of the company had gathered in the loggia (we called it the verandah) and had sat down to iced coffee, hot rolls and lovely butter, and finishing off with huge slices of watermelon cooled in ice—yellow, pink, red, and white glistening like coloured snow encased in their shiny emerald-green carcases—with early peaches and nectarines and pomegranates swimming in maraschino.

And the gipsy band played unceasingly one gay csàrdàs (the Hungarian national dance) after another, intermingled with one or other of those beautiful old Hungarian songs which great musicians like Liszt, Brahms, and Hubay did not disdain to pass off as their own compositions.

What happened during the remainder of that first afternoon we children knew nothing about. We were whisked off to bed at our usual time and, looking back on those merry days in the light of further experience, I imagine that all the grown-ups as well as the children spent a quiet night in the comfortable beds of Tarna-Örs in preparation for the next day’s orgy of pleasure. Nor do I remember much of the actual great day. It seemed to have been spent for the most part in the dining-room, the verandah, or the garden in eating and perpetual chattering to the accompaniment of tsigane music until the end of the day, when dancing began and went on until far into the morning when all of us children were getting out of bed.

I don’t think that anyone did anything during the day except chatter and eat. They didn’t drink much—drinking to excess is not a Hungarian vice—they just ate and ate and laughed and chatted. Breakfast was at any convenient hour, coffee and hot rolls and butter served in the bedrooms. At eleven o’clock everyone drank Tokay and munched biscuits until one o’clock, when luncheon was served and went on until three o’clock. Coffee and liqueurs took up the time until five o’clock, when it was the turn of ices, cakes, fruit, and I know not what. And always to the accompaniment of gipsy music. When those tsiganes slept I know not. They certainly played with hardly any interruption, only two or three very small intervals for meals, and with never-failing energy for hours on end.

That is all the recollection I have of my sister’s fourth birthday. As far as I know it was no different from many other days of equal conviviality. It was in the following year that the festivities of the 22nd of July were brought to a close by an appalling tragedy which has never faded from my mind from that day to this.

Was it not the first link in the chain of my life? I leave my readers to judge.

Chapter 2

My father had now in his turn taken over—in accordance with family custom—another agricultural property which was handed over to him by his father. He and my mother were probably tired of living with the old people, with the brothers and sisters and the rest of the family in Tarna-Örs. Anyway, I vaguely remember a journey by carriage and then the ferry across the River Theisz, carriage, horses, and all. The Theisz is one of the four great rivers of Hungary and Tisza-Abád is close by. The house is still there to this day, but I don’t remember it very well, we only lived there three years and I never saw it again after we left it. The tragedy of that memorable 22nd of July was so appalling that I don’t wonder my parents turned their back on it and never wished to see it again.

The whole of that terrible tragedy was simply a question of machinery versus the labourers: the same motive, the same pig-headedness on the one side and misunderstanding on the other, that brought about the many troubles all over the industrial world at that time. In this case it was the world of agricultural science and the peasants. My father was very keen on farming. In the intervals of certain diplomatic missions entrusted to him by the Austro-Hungarian Government he had studied farming in Germany and in France. Tisza-Abád was situated in the heart of one of the finest corn-growing districts in Europe, and here agricultural science was not only in its infancy, it had in fact never been born.

Such things as machinery for harvesting, threshing, or grinding had never been heard of. Everything was done by hand and everybody, owner as well as peasant, was perfectly satisfied with things as they were. My father, unfortunately for him, had progressive ideals; he dreamed of turning Tisza-Abád into a model farm on the lines of those he had seen in Germany and France. I take it he was also obstinate; that he did not listen to warnings, either from friends, or from those of the peasantry who were better educated than most and had remained loyal to him.

Anyway, he began operations by building a steam-mill, and importing agricultural machinery from Germany. The peasants grumbled, held indignation meetings in the village inn, sent deputations to my father demanding that this work of the devil should cease; for, they argued, if the corn was not going to be cut and garnered and threshed and ground by their hands, who but the devil had the power to do it—surely not God, who if He had wanted iron and steel things to do this work He would have created them without the help of goodness knows what hellish objects from Germany, and without that tall chimney which obviously was only destined to send the smoke from the fires of hell up into the pure air of the sky.

They talked, humbly and respectfully at first as to their overlord, then more and more firmly and peremptorily. My father listened to them, with entire sympathy and understanding. He argued with them, explained the matter to them as clearly and as patiently as he could: assured them that never, while he lived—and his children after him—would any man born and living on his estate suffer penury from unemployment. He talked and the men listened, but they were not convinced. Superstition—which is one of the besetting sins of the ignorant—had them in its grip. They were frightened, they knew not of what.

Anyway, another deputation composed of all the elders of the village went to interview the parish priest on the all-engrossing subject. They went to beg him to say a special mass for the keeping away of the devil and to bless buckets full of holy water wherewith to douse the entire building with its tall chimney, which only the devil could make use of by filling it with smoke.

It was just the same old story that agitated the industrial centres all over Europe. England was one of the chief sufferers and so was Northern France. I was just a child, and of all that happened previous to that fateful 22nd of July I knew, of course, nothing until I was old enough to understand. But I do know what happened on the day itself.

* * * * * * * * *

It began most gloriously. The weather was perfect. The corn was ripe. Harvesting was about to begin, that over-busy, over-happy time for all those who love their country and their land as my father did so whole-heartedly, and we two little girls were just old enough to enjoy the festivities attendant on the birthday festivities as great and lively at Tisza-Abád as they had been at Tarna-Örs. This particular year they were going to be merrier than they had ever been before.

A grand project had been set on foot by my mother, who had a perfect genius for making everybody, young and old, masters and servants happy. The idea was to have a great masquerade. Everyone was to dress up in some fantastic guise: the women were to don male attire, and the men to wear bodices and petticoats. For this purpose old chests were ransacked for clothes and apparel which had lain mouldering therein for the past century probably. I imagine that a good many of these were moth-eaten. Well! what did that matter so long as they could be worn at all and helped to increase the fun? I know that for weeks before the event a regular army of women from the village sat in a huge workroom plying needle and thread and scissors to mend and fix up all sorts of costumes, sufficiently at any rate to make them wearable on that one wonderful occasion.

The tsiganes came, as was customary, in the afternoon, of the 21st. They were a band of super tsiganes attached to Tisza-Abád, who had for the past three years been trained and taught and encouraged in the way they should go by my father, who was, besides his other great qualities, an accomplished musician. After they had settled down to play, friends began to arrive. They came as they always did—in their carriages drawn by spanking Hungarian horses: light carriages these were, that skim over the sandy roads of the puszia—really not unlike the ‘victorias’ of our mothers’ days in Hyde Park, but always with four horses in the traces (sometimes five, Hungarian fashion three leaders, two wheelers), the harness either black or red with long streamers and silver bosses. So gay, so romantic, so mediæval. No wonder that full-throated cheers followed them whenever they galloped through a village. No wonder that Tisza-Abád echoed those cheers from one end of the village to the other.

The events of the next twenty-four hours form something of a jumble in my mind. All that I can disentangle from that jumble of impressions in first the feeling that the day was all too short, I wanted it to go on and on and on, and at the same time I wanted the hour to come quickly when all the guests would retire in order to don the fantastic costumes which had been laid out ready for them in their respective rooms. A second impression of which I remember being conscious at the time was the joy that my own birthday was not very far off, 23rd September in fact, and that all this loveliness, the games, the presents, the mad merry-making would in two months’ time begin again.

* * * * * * * * *

And so the evening came. Silence reigned in the château while the guests were busy dressing up—comparative silence that is, because now and again it was broken by shrieks of laughter issuing from one of the guest rooms and by one or other of the uncles or cousins or friends breaking out into stentorian song. We two little girls were dressed in old-fashioned pages’ costumes of scarlet satin, with small scarlet skull caps to confine our rebellious curls, satin knee-breeches and buckled shoes. We were delighted with ourselves. They had been made to our measure by Julie Dubois—how well I remember her name when I have forgotten so many others—our French nursery governess.

I can distinctly recall even now some of the motley throng that gathered in the reception rooms before supper was announced: the girls and young matrons in men’s clothes which, for the most part became them very well, for they knew how to make the best of themselves, and the men in what articles of feminine attire they had contrived to array themselves in.

My mother—always beautiful, always elegant and sedate—wore my father’s national court dress: a blue watered-silk frock coat with jewelled clasps, black velvet cloak with scarlet lining, sable collar and jewelled buttons over her left shoulder, grey silk, Hungarian breeches, great curved sword with jeweled hilt, belt, and sheath. She looked perfectly lovely—she was, indeed, a noted beauty, even in this land where so many women are beautiful—with a cap set rakishly on her dark hair, its long heron’s feather held with a jewelled clasp. There surely never has been a more fascinating Hungarian aristocrat dressed ready for a Court function in Budapest or Vienna. The reason why I am able to describe the costume she wore that evening all those years ago is because I have a portrait of my father painted by a Hungarian artist and wearing that self-same Court dress.

Others, of course, I don’t remember so accurately, only one or two ludicrous visions float before my mind now and then even to this day. The very noble and very pompous Count V.—Lord-Lieutenant of the county—who had dragged out of the welter of all sorts and kinds of feminine apparel some white tarlatan skirts such as were worn by Taglioni and her pupils in the days when ballet-dancing was a fine art (and, if you please, by the Russian ballet-dancers of to-day now that this art has come into its own again). On Count V.’s none too slender figure the pink bodice laced up at the back, and his socks and own dancing shoes peeping out below the tarlatan skirts, looked supremely comic.

And I also remember an Orczy cousin of mine, a handsome young captain of hussars dressed as a Hungarian peasant maiden, with row upon row of coloured beads, such as these maidens love to wear, adorning his manly chest, and a párta (the national head-dress) which refused to keep in its proper place. He had managed to collect a number of cotton skirts and tied them on round his waist one over the other in the orthodox style, but he had not the art of swinging these as he walked, which the Hungarian peasant girls do to perfection in order to display their kaleidoscope of colours.

My father and two or three of the older men were the only ones who wore no fancy costume on that never-to-be-forgotten occasion, but everybody else did, and the servants the same: they, too, had been pressed into following the topsy-turvy rule of the evening, and anything more funny than old Jankó, the grey-haired butler, in a scarlet bodice and pink petticoat, solemnly pouring out the wine, or standing behind my mother’s chair without the suspicion of a smile beneath his huge white moustache could not very well be imagined.

The supper was boisterous and merry, and the tsiganes had to work hard to make themselves heard above the din in the great open hall, the clatter of dishes, the outbursts of laughter, and the constant chattering of the gay company. We two little girls and all the children had the time of our lives, and the very thought of getting sleepy and having to go to bed was anathema to our childish souls. After supper, dancing began as was customary with the csàrdàs, the Hungarian national dance, some of the finest tunes of which have been immortalized by Brahms (though it was not he who invented them).

The tsiganes knew how to alternate the dreamy lassú (slow movement) with the maddest, liveliest parts of the dance. ”Húzd rá, czigány!” (play on tsiganes) was called out to them by the dancers as if to add more strength to their arms. Sometimes they could hardly play for laughing when the ‘ladies’ became entangled in their unaccustomed petticoats, and were compelled to cling none to gracefully to their dainty cavaliers.

* * * * * * * * *

In the midst of all this boisterous gaiety only a few could have noticed that the old butler had slipped into the room and, going up to my father, whispered something in his ear, nor seen my father rise immediately and follow Jankó out of the room. Now, funnily enough, I do remember that little incident because, beginning to feel tired I had ceased dancing and had drawn close to where my father was sitting, and had squatted on the floor with my head resting against his knee. His rising so suddenly sent the sleepiness out of my eyes. And after that I only remember things in a confused dream-like manner. I remember that Madeleine and I and the other children were picked up and taken incontinently up to bed; we two were undressed and made ready to say our evening prayer as we always did, kneeling by the side of mother; but this evening was different.

Everything was done in a hurry, and mother did not come for prayers, as she always did whether there was ‘company’ or not, and Julie Dubois murmured our usual little prayers at such a rate that we were scarcely able to follow. (Funny that such trivial incidents as this one should dwell so persistently in my mind, but it certainly has done throughout my long life.) Hastily she tucked us up in bed, told us to go to sleep and forgot to put a match to the veilleuse, the night-light which was always kept going in our nursery. Julie slept in the room next to ours and the communicating door was always left wide open To-night our nursery was darker than usual because there was no veilleuse, only a narrow shaft of light from the lamp in Julie’s room came through the open door and lay over the floor leaving the rest of the room in darkness. But we were not afraid of the dark. I am not sure that I for one did not like it.

To-night, however, we neither of us got to sleep. We called once or twice to Julie but she did not answer. As a rule this part of the house was always very quiet. The nursery was a long way from the reception rooms, on another floor but to-night there seemed to be a perpetual hum going on from every part of the house. Nothing definite, no individual sound, just a perpetual buzzing like the approach of lots and lots of horses and carriages coming nearer and nearer and yet not like that either. Just noise. At first we thought—at least I did—that it came from the dancing on the floor below, the tsigane music and so on.

I longed for Julie to answer when we called. After a time I noticed that a red glow shone through the slats of the shutters, because my bed was opposite the window and I could see the red streaks through the slats. I called to Madeleine and she got out of bed; then I got out, too, and together we went and stood by the window looking at the red glow through the shutters.

“It can’t be the sunset can it?” I suggested; and Madeleine shook her head and whispered: “Sh . . . sh . . . sh . . . listen.”

I listened. I heard Julie’s voice at last. She was murmuring “Mon Dieu!” and again “Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu!” at frequent intervals. Ilona, our nursery-maid, was with her, talking. Julie did not speak Hungarian but she had been a long time with us, so she understood when the servants spoke to her. And Ilona was saying now: “It is all burning, burning, all the fields, the corn, the maize, the oats, everything”; and Julie murmured: “Mon Dieu, ayez pitié de nous!” Then Ilona went on talking, she said: “The stables you know, Mademoiselle, the cowsheds, the farm buildings, all that, they are trying to save the poor animals, who are so frightened, the poor cows, the horses, the pigs, the geese. . . . Oh! it is dreadful! . . . Those wicked peasants . . . they should have thought of the innocent animals . . .”

And Julie kept on murmuring: “Mon Dieu, ayez pitié!”

That is about all that I actually remember of that terrible night. I was only three years old at the time and of course I did not understand. It was only years afterwards, and then only very gradually, that papa and mama revealed to us the terrible tragedy in all its details. I gave a full description of it such as I gathered it from them in my book, A Son of the People. In the book all the characters are imaginary; it is only the actual tragedy such as it occurred at Tisza-Abád that I tried to describe, not as I imagined it, for it was all too real, but as I saw it in my mind’s eye.

I understand that the steam-mill, with its tall chimney—the cause of all the trouble—still stands on the banks of the Theiss, and is in full working order. It was reconstructed after the fire which destroyed acres upon acres of rich corn land, but failed to do the building irreparable damage. But many a time, and even to this day, have I seen in imagination the awesome scene which marked the close of our life in Tisza-Abád.

Chapter 3

After that came a different life altogether, because I never lived in the country again until after I was married. We were always in town: Budapest first, then Brussels, then Paris for a little while, and finally London. I don’t remember the preparations that were made for our departure from Tisza-Abád, but I do remember how terribly sad papa and mama nearly always looked after that awful night in July. They tried to smile, poor darlings, when they thought we were looking at them; but somehow even I, child as I was, realized that there was no joy in their hearts. The destruction of the crops at Tisza-Abád, complete though it was, did not necessarily mean black ruin, though it went some way towards it, but I imagine that it hardened papa’s heart against the country which he loved and against the people to whom he had shown nothing but kindness and good will.

He often told me afterwards that the tragedy wrought a very great change in him morally, but that it conferred one inestimable boon upon him, one for which he thanked God with all his heart. It turned his whole mind back to music which, deep down in his soul, he had always loved passionately. As a boy in the days of Tarna-Örs his tutor, a learned professor from the University of Weimar, was devoted to music and gave the boy his first lessons in that sublime and divine art. After his death my father did three years’ study at Weimar University, and there he continued to study music so earnestly that at sixteen ears of age he was familiar with the works of all the great masters: he had taught himself composition, counterpoint, and orchestration. He always played the piano divinely: his touch on the piano, as well as on the harp and the organ, had in it a quality which I for one have never heard equalled.

* * * * * * * * *

It was in Weimar that the first seeds were sown of my father’s friendship with Franz Liszt, then at the apogee of his glorious career, a friendship which endured throughout the life of the great master and influenced not only my father’s destiny but strangely enough mine also. It was he who induced my father to accept the position of Intendant (Supreme Administrator) of the National Theatres in Budapest—a Court appointment which as so often happens in cases of this sort (and I venture to say in most countries where special appointments are dependent on Court or Government patronage) had hitherto been assigned to gentlemen highly distinguished no doubt in their military or administrative careers, but who knew about as much of music as ‘the cock that crows in the morn’ or of dramatic art as ‘the maiden all forlorn’.

I have often been told, years afterwards when I began to understand things, that my father was ‘very difficult’. I can quite believe it. Music, through a divine and highly-elevating art, is a hard task-mistress. She plays havoc more often than not with the artist’s nerves and with his temperament, makes him over-sensitive to pin-pricks. And my dear father, I know, suffered terribly from pin-pricks. The position of ‘Intendant of the National Theatres’ was a coveted one. There was a clique who felt they had a prescriptive right to nominate, if not actually to appoint, a successor to the outgoing official

There were certain privileges attached to it and if one did not worry too much as to the artistic qualities of opera or drama, and was content to give the public the old things that had become the stock-in-trade of the National Theatres, things went on pretty smoothly. But in this, as in everything else that was progressive and cultural, the Hungarian ‘man in the street’ hated any kind of innovation. His father had applauded Trovatore, Barbière, La Fille de Madame Angot and what not, and these were quite good enough for him. He didn’t want to know anything of that German humbug called Wagner and his entirely tuneless and noisy opera Lohengrin.

Sándor Ürkény, the old chef d’orchestre, who had conducted the orchestra of the National Theatres for umpteen years was not going to worry himself studying any new scores with brass instruments galore, some of which he had never even heard of. He had a great many friends. He was popular. A cabal formed itself around him against what was loudly termed a revolution in the administration of the country’s most cherished institution. He tendered his resignation as chef d’orchestre, thinking, no doubt, that this would create a regular uproar against the ‘aristocratic musician’ (meaning my father) who had foreign ideas and foreign sympathies altogether at variance with Hungarian traditions.

The resignation did not create the desired uproar but it let loose a number of pin-pricks, attacks in the Press, discontent among the upholders of the old régime, among the old actors and singers who should have been pensioned off long ago, but had carried on simply because they had acted and sung on the stage of the National Theatre to the delight of the past generation.

My father felt the pin-pricks keenly, but he was an obstinate man, and as in the case of the discontented peasants in Tisza-Abád he did not realize that the tide of discontent in the reactionary elements of the city was rising against him. As he had striven to make Tisza-Abád a model farm, so he strove now to make the Budapest Opera take its rank—during his administration—among the great musical institutions of Europe.

He accepted old Ürkény’s resignation with ill-concealed pleasure, and called Hans Richter over from Bavaria to take his place. The latter was then conducting an insignificant orchestra somewhere in Bavaria. My father had somehow got to know of him and as soon as troubles with old Ürkény began he went over there, heard that greatest of all conductors at work and soon induced him to come to Budapest; where, by the way, the project of building an opera house worthy of the noblest musical traditions was already being seriously considered. And that was the beginning of Hans Richter’s career.

Under my father’s patronage his fame spread beyond the confines of Budapest, and when my father in the end—tired of squabbles and pin-pricks and attacks in the Press—resigned his position as Intendant of the National Theatres, Vienna took Richter on; from thence he went to Bayreuth and was acclaimed all over Europe as the greatest chef d’orchestre it had ever known. And he certainly was that.

England acclaimed him as warmly as any of these ever did. He was received everywhere with the greatest kindness and hospitality. Manchester vied with London to shower honours and munificence upon him. And all this he repaid with the basest ingratitude. His German blood asserted itself to the full when at the outbreak of the 1914-1918 war he set himself to work to vilify England and everything English in articles and letters published in the German Press. It would be impossible to imagine conduct more sordid and more vile on the part of an man who dared to abrogate to himself the noble name of ‘artist’. We all remember that unspeakable anti-English manifesto which was issued by the German intelligentsia, by authors, artists, poets, and musicians at the outbreak of the 1914 war. Hans Richter—whom England had loaded with kindnesses—put his name to that.

* * * * * * * * *

But all this will seem irrelevant to those dear kind readers who do me the honour of wanting to hear about my doings and my destiny. I have only spoken of them because our stay in Budapest for the three years when my father was engaged in what should have been the most welcome activity in public and social life and alas! proved to be so nerve-racking for him, was one of the most important links in the chain of my life. The great and ever mysterious ‘if’ comes into play there, for had those activities been congenial from a mental as well as from a social point of view, he would no doubt have continued them, and we should never have left Budapest and Tarna-Örs, and never have come to England . . . and, The Scarlet Pimpernel would never have been written.

Chapter 4

Throughout these troublous times, Franz Liszt—‘the Abbé Liszt’ as he then was—remained the staunch friend and supporter of my father. He had a great and genuine admiration for his musical gifts. There was never any humbug about old Liszt, and when he declared that Félix Orczy was the finest amateur musician in Europe he meant what he said, and was the first to proclaim that through my father was not what was known as a brilliant executant, he ‘made the piano sing’ in a way that he for one had never heard equalled.

I think the grand old man tried his best to persuade my father to accept the brilliant offer made to him at this time by the Khedive to take over the direction of the Opera in Cairo, and help make of that city as great a musical centre as Budapest had become under his directorate. The offer must have been very tempting, and funnily enough I vaguely remember Madeleine and I poring over our geography books when we heard the word ‘Cairo’ spoken by our parents as a likely future abode. But my dear mother was dead against the project. We two little girls were growing up and our education was becoming one of the first considerations in her mind.

Be that as it may, my father’s definite refusal with grateful thanks to His Highness the Khedive was yet another link in the chain which bound little Emmuska Orczy to her future home—England.

After Budapest—and always with a view to our future—my parents took us to Brussels where we commenced our education in the convent school of The Visitation. We were only a very little while in Brussels. My beloved sister died there at the age of twelve. My father idolized her and her death did, in a way, break his heart. He had suffered greatly through the tragedy in Tisza-Abád, and the three years of struggle against covert enmity in Budapest, but nothing in the way of misfortune struck so deeply at his heart than the death of dear little Madeleine. I was just old enough, too, to realize my own loss to the full. Though I was younger by two years than she was, we had always loved each other devotedly.

The one year of schooling that we did together in Brussels was made happy for me by the fact that the kind nuns allowed us to be always together both for work and play. My school reports in those days always spoke of me as being trop dominante avec ses compagnes. I suppose I was of a domineering disposition. I always wanted to be, and in my own opinion always was right in any dispute or argument that occurred amongst us schoolgirls. In fact my character did not develop on very lovable lines, I am sure, and it needed all of Madeleine’s gentle influence, and often her interposition between my ill-temper and the wrath of the other girls, to patch up many a quarrel which would have brought severe punishment on my obstinate and passionate head.

I was therefore, and entirely by my own fault, decidedly unpopular: but everyone loved Madeleine. I adored her; but even the kind nuns who most deplored my mauvais caractère, admitted that I never tried to dominate her. She was getting more and more delicate at this time and did not care to join in the games in the big convent garden, and I was only too happy to stay with her in the recreation room, content to be with her and to chatter away on all sorts of fantastic subjects. We invented a kind of game together, a thrilling drama which we enacted, of a lovely princess held in bondage by a wicked ogre and of a daring prince who made various attempts to rescue her. Madeleine was, of course the princess whose name was Rose, and I was the Prince Horace.

The tower in which the lovely lady was imprisoned was built of school forms and desks flanked by numerous chairs. These obstacles had to be surmounted by the dauntless prince without knocking any of them over, for if he brought down as much as a chair out of place he had failed in his attempt and oft-times had been grievously wounded and lay unconscious for at least three minutes (that is to say, three weeks by our computation). As soon as he had recovered from his swoon he made another daring attempt, scaling crags and chasms of rocks and storming the grim citadel of benches, forms and desks. And ha! The joy of the rescued princess! The pride of the dauntless prince as he clasped the loved one in his arms.

And this same thrilling drama was enacted whenever the kind nuns allowed us to drag the desks and chairs about for our mise-en-scène. Probably they knew what I, of course, did not, that my dear Madeleine had not many more weeks to live and indulged her in the little entertainment which I had invented for her pleasure.

I only mention this trivial episode because I cannot help thinking that in a childish, obscure way my imagination was already then at work on doughty deeds of valour, on noble heroes, dare-devil adventurers and on hapless victims of cruel persecutions which found expression many years later in the creation of The Scarlet Pimpernel.

* * * * * * * * *

While we were in the Visitation we spent two of our long holidays in Tarna-Örs. I must say that I did not like them at all. Somehow I felt that we were not popular with the rest of the family. My grandfather was a martyr to gout and we saw little of him; all the others, aunts, uncles, cousins had become very Germanized. Grandmother was Viennese by birth; her only daughter had married an Austrian General; the cousins jabbered away in German, and my darling Madeleine and I hated talking German. The one uncle whom we liked was Master of the Horse to the Empress Elisabeth and lived in Vienna; two other uncles were in the army where German was obligatory.

Grandmother never allowed Hungarian to be spoken in her presence, and we two little girls took refuge against all this Germanization by chattering away in French with Mama and between ourselves, and always Hungarian with papa when we were alone with him. Grandmother it seems disapproved of our foreign education as she called it. She thought us too free in our ways, not sufficiently lady-like—I was, of course, the chief offender. We were very frightened of her, and as we were invariably reproved at table when we chatted in French, mostly in whispers, we got into the way of sitting silent during the long meals. But it was worse when the meal was over and the ‘grown-ups’ adjourned to another room for coffee. Oh! how I dreaded the half-hour that ensued. We were the youngest of the family and had our two little chairs by the side of grandmother and were told, very kindly I must say, to sit down.

Then came the awful moment. All the ladies-aunts and cousins and friends who were staying in the house brought out their crochet or their embroidery frames. I brought out my tatting—I have always loved tatting—and Madeleine her knitting. The grown-ups drank their after-dinner coffee, talked a little, and presently silence fell on the assembled company presumably because no one had anything particular to say. And suddenly grandmother would fix her steely eyes upon me and command: “Emma” (she disdained to call me Emmuska, which is the Hungarian equivalent of that very ugly name and actually means ‘little Emma’), “Emma, faits la conversation” (make conversation), and this command she always issued in French—I never knew why—because she detested French almost as much as she did Hungarian. But I ask you whether an order to make conversation would not always be the surest means of drying up the flood of your eloquence and muddle up your thoughts however active they may have been just before.

I am quite sure that it dried me up and jumbled my thoughts, for in my shy, stupid way, I simply couldn’t think of anything to say, and you can, I am sure, picture to yourself the feelings of a schoolgirl or even of anyone older faced with such a command. I know that it positively froze me and the effort that I made to entertain the company (who, by the way, were none too kindly disposed towards me) sufficiently to raise a smile or a glimmer of interest must be counted as one of the most heroic achievements of my life.

I wish I could remember some of the rubbish I talked on those occasions: but I do know that in consequence of these efforts I was never able in after life, nor can I to this day ‘make conversation’ or indulge in what is known as small talk, an art in which so many of my friends young and old excel, unless I am among friends who are interested in me and who will keep the ball of ‘conversation’ rolling along happily.

* * * * * * * * *

It was soon after the second long holiday which we spent in Hungary that my beloved sister died. This was the first sorrow that came into my young life. How little did I guess that her death was yet another link in the chain of my life, the link that brought me more insistently than any other to what God had decreed would be my real, my spiritual, birthplace . . . England.

My father who worshipped her, and who was absent in Hungary at the time at the death-bed of his father, was entirely broken by grief at this additional sorrow. He had been telegraphed for when Madeleine was dying and arrived in Brussels just in time to see her laid to rest there. He became a changed man after that. Though he was not much more than forty at the time his hair turned snow-white, and he became the most silent man I have ever met. Not morose, just silent with a kind of gentle, brooding sadness in his deep-set blue eyes.

Indeed, sorrow had become the portion of both my parents at this time. My mother lost both her father and her mother and also a sister of whom she was very fond, and I imagine that both she and my father felt that this overwhelming atmosphere of sorrow was none too healthy for a growing girl as I then was. They were obliged to go to Hungary on business of succession and so forth, and an aunt who had a daughter of her own about my age and who was very fond of me undertook to look after me while my parents were away. She was an aunt à la mode de Bretagne—not really an aunt, but distantly related in the way that in Hungary all families are in some way or other linked together.

Anyway, I fully reciprocated her affection for me. She took me along with her daughter to Paris to give us the educational polish which I daresay was necessary, because the dear little nuns of the Visitation in Brussels were more noted for their piety than for the erudition. Our minds were principally fed on ecclesiastical history, not imparted to us out of printed books but out of copy-books, manuscripts in fact which were copied and re-copied by all of us pupils by way of recreation every Saturday afternoon. We were also grounded in the history of France out of books entirely devoted to the glory of that Catholic country.

In addition to these two histories we had the usual lessons in geography and arithmetic, and several hours during each week were devoted to sewing and (for which I am heartily grateful) to what was called style épistolaire, i.e. writing letters to imaginary correspondents on various matters suggested by the teacher, such as a description of an afternoon’s holiday at Ostende (I suppose most children at school in Brussels had been to Ostende) or an account of how we spent our recreation hour when the weather was too bad for play in the garden. Anyway, in the Visitation the subject of these letters was limited to our childish intelligence. Nevertheless, I feel that it was good training in its way, more especially as there were always extra marks for good handwriting and for quickness in the task, all of which certainly stood me in good stead in later life.

* * * * * * * * *

At the Convent School in Paris our studies were certainly on a higher plane than in Brussels, but not much. We learned our Histoire de l’Eglise and our Histoire de France out of printed books. I am ashamed to say that I do not remember the names of the authors, but I enjoyed my Histoire de France even though it was not Michelet’s. I think I liked hearing about the wickednesses of England, especially with reference to Jeanne d’Arc, of whom it was always boldly asserted that she was condemned at the stake by the English whilst no reference was made to the French bishops who also sat in judgement over her. (Strangely enough this great fallacy still dwells in the minds of the great majority of French people, and not only in that of the uneducated.) I also enjoyed the abuse hurled at our Henry VIII. His name was anathema both in Histoire Eclésiastique and in the Histoire de France.

Here, too, we had the usual lessons in geography and arithmetic, and to these kind nuns am I also indebted for their teaching of style épistolaire, the writing of letters to imaginary correspondents, but now these letters were no longer very simple, they were by way of being adapted to our developing intelligence.

All the same I have often felt that the effort and the discipline of attempting to write those letters have stood me in the very good stead. I have always treasured a letter from my dear friend, W. J. Locke, that charming stylist. I had asked him to do something which he didn’t want to do—give a lecture or something of the sort—he was never fond of publicity. I apparently wrote again and finally he consented, beginning his letter with: “You cunning writer of persuasive epistles.” I certainly have more often than not got what I wanted by writing a ‘persuasive epistle’ than by lengthy interviews. And this I owe, I am sure, to those lessons in style épistolaire taught me by the artless and naïve teachers in the Convents of Brussels and Paris.

* * * * * * * * *

I was eight years old when my sister died, and just on fifteen when my parents took the great and, for me, most momentous steps on which, unknown then by me, the whole course of my life depended: the decision to settle down in London for a time. As a matter of fact I am rather vague as to why, or exactly when, they made that decision. The intervening years of my girlhood were, as far as I was concerned, uneventful, and there were no indications whatever in my mind during that time of any tendency towards imaginative or in fact any special kind of talent. Nor do I remember much of the journey to England, except that my first experience of a sea-voyage was a very unpleasant one.

Of course the first thing to do when one arrives in a foreign country is to learn its language. Both my parents spoke English after a fashion, enough at any rate to make themselves understood by shop people or servants. But I knew not a word. After consultation with the Austro-Hungarian Consul in London—who was an old friend—it was decided that I should first be sent to a small day school where I could pick up the first rudiments of the language. There was one close to where we were living which was kept by a German professor and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Pretorius, and thither did I tramp with a maid in attendance, backwards and forwards four times a day for six months. At the end of that time I had a good working knowledge of English—good enough anyhow to pass First Class the College of Preceptors examination with special prize for foreign languages.

All that part of my life is very uninteresting, and I am not tempted to talk about it. But there are one or two incidents connected with that small day school kept by a German professor and his wife on which I have often looked back with amusement. The day’s work always began with the singing, in chorus, of German songs, some sentimental, others patriotic. Frau Pretorius was at the piano and we sang: Die Wacht am Rhein and Andreas Hofer and Heil dir im Siegez Kranz and so on. Now, why? The school was, according to the prospectus, ‘for daughters of gentlemen only’, and I was the only foreigner among some twenty or thirty English young ladies. I suppose that these English young ladies told their parents about the singing in chorus of German patriotic songs, and that the parents did not mind their joining in this. But I imagine that the German professor and his wife knew what they were about when they made us sing Die Wacht am Rhein as far back as 1887. Was it already propaganda? I wonder? A foretaste of Dr. Goebbels? Quiet, insidious propaganda? Perhaps. We certainly never sang “God Save the Queen”. And we had lectures on German history from the days of Barbarossa to the glorious victories of 1870-71 in the way that in Brussels and Paris we had lectures on French history. I wonder if there are any foreign schools on the continent where there are lectures on English history.

One other amusing incident in connection with that funny little school was that there was a kindergarten attached to it. Little children ranging in age from four to six attended there. Among these were two dear little dark-haired Jewish boys. They were Henry and Landon Russel, and at the yearly school concert these two would play four-handed pieces on the piano. I remember them in their brown velvet suits, red stockings and laced-up boots, so earnest, so sure of themselves, and so very, very good at the piano. Both these little boys were well-known in later life in the musical world, more especially the younger one Landon, who became the famous composer and conductor of the Albert Hall Orchestra, Sir Landon Ronald.

Book 2 - My Musical Life

Chapter 5

“She shall have music wherever she goes,” says the old rhyme. This I certainly did have, which makes me look upon the first years we spent in England as my ‘musical life’. Not that I was what is commonly called musical (the French have a better word, musicienne). I was not musicienne, though very fond of music as most people are—whether intelligent or uneducated—but I had no aptitude for it—to my real sorrow, for my want of musical enthusiasm grieved my father I know. But I could not help it. Enthusiasm comes naturally and from within, it cannot be commanded; and though it was real joy to sit in the twilight and listen to my dear father playing Schumann (his favourite composer) or Liszt, I must confess that concerts rather bored me—classical concerts especially.

My father tried very hard to develop what little talent I had, and to train my voice, but I had no talent (so-called) and a very poor ear for singing or the violin—which really is rather queer because I have always been an exceptionally good linguist, and before I reached my teens could already jabber in three languages without the slightest trace of a foreign accent—and this proves that the ear may be one of the factors, but not the only one, of linguistic ability.

But this is by the way.

* * * * * * * * *

I really have no definite idea as to why my parents decided to settle in London. They never intended to make a long stay, and they often talked with each other as to what they would do and how they would order their life when (not if) they finally returned to Hungary. But they never did settle down in Hungary again. They learned to love England—my father especially—just as I did. He died in London, and was buried in Brussels by the side of his little Madeleine whom he loved so dearly. But again I am anticipating.

At the time that my parents went to London, intending to remain there perhaps two or three years, I did not know one word of English. There had never been an English governess in our house, nor—what was very unusual in Hungary then—an English groom in the stables of Tarna-Örs or Tisza-Abád. My mother’s father, Count Wass, had been a great friend of the Hungarian patriot, Louis Kossuth (who dreamed to be to Hungary what Garibaldi had been to Italy: her champion and her liberator from Austrian yoke.)

When Kossuth and his loyal army were crushed through the intervention of the Russian army on the Austrian side, Kossuth was obliged to flee the country, which he did on a British warship placed at his disposal by his English admirers. Count Wass went with him and together the two of them made their way to America where they were welcomed with open arms. This was in 1848. Louis Kossuth went round the States on a lecturing tour, while my grandfather went to California in search of gold. Whether he found it or not I know not; all I know is that he did not stay there long, nor did he die a millionaire. He learned to speak English fluently, and I suppose taught his wife and children to do the same if not fluently, at any rate intelligibly.

* * * * * * * * *

Anyway, here we were in London, come from the wilds of Hungary, from the banks of the Theisz to those of old Father Thames, strangers in a strange land, but soon possessed of that inestimable boon so quickly acquired by strangers in dear, hospitable England—kind and loving friends. Already in Brussels the foundation had been laid of one of those wonderful friendships of which—as in the case of the Abbé Liszt—my father’s personality seemed to possess the secret. Old Mr. Critchett, the surgeon, known throughout the scientific world as the inventor of the operation for cataract was our first and most devoted English friend. He had a daughter Amy whom he idolized. She was married to a charming man of the name of Boursot, who was half French. She was a most accomplished amateur musician and this no doubt was the link that brought about the long, lasting friendship between her parents and mine, and I imagine that it was probably the influence of those dear friends that finally induced my parents to settle in England for a prolonged stay. Indeed it was in London that my father found full scope for the exercise and enjoyment of his beloved art. Here, there were no pin-pricks or spiteful criticisms to exacerbate the nerves of a sensitive artist. Dr. Critchett and his daughter had a great number of musical friends and soon the strangers from Hungary were made happy in the intimate musical circles of London.

I daresay that these circles were not so ‘highbrow’ as those of Munich or Vienna, and continental sarcasm was always levelled, then as now—at the obtuseness and Gothicism of the English public; nevertheless, every artist who had made a name for himself on the Continent of Europe did not feel that he had attained the height of his ambition until he had earned the approbation of the much maligned English public. Thus it was that in the ’80’s and the ’90’s all the greatest musicians of Europe were heard in London.

There were magnificent concerts in St. James’s Hall (since demolished), the new Philharmonic Concerts under the direction of Dr. Wylde and Wilhelm Ganz, the orchestral concerts of Mme. Viard-Louis under the leadership of Mr. Weist-Hill, the Saturday concerts at the Crystal Palace conducted by Auguste Manns. Here, too, the Handel festivals, where the magnificent organ and perfectly trained chorus of three thousand singers soon became world-renowned.

Then there were the ballad concerts where singers such as Sims Reeves, Edward Lloyd, Antoinette Sterling, Signor Foli and others—second to none—were constantly heard; instrumental concerts, recitals of piano and violin when Norman Neruda, Sarasate, Joachim, in fact all the great artistes of Europe were heard. Paderewski, when still a young man and not yet world-famous, gave two recitals in St. James’s Hall because one proved insufficient to accommodate his countless admirers. The enthusiasm with which he was greeted and applauded was an event to be remembered. When he had finished playing the audience rose as one mass and swarmed up the platform, men as well as women, in the hope of shaking him by the hand.

Edouard Grieg—such an enchanting personality—conducted his Peer Gynt suite in St. James’s Hall. This was a remarkable occasion for those of us who were present, because the composer’s parents, simple old Norwegians assisted at the performance. When they entered the hall they received such an ovation that the very roof shook under the terrific volume of sound. They looked so modest, so unsophisticated, just children of Nature. They sat in the seats to which they had been shown with respectful ceremonial, and there they remained with their old hands clasped together and their eyes fixed on their illustrious son. They could only see his back while he was conducting, but when presently he bowed repeatedly in response to the thunderous applause that came from all over the house, we all noticed that the dear old couple wiped their eyes—which were filled with tears of joy and of pride and that the son’s acknowledgment of the great honour that was being done him was first and foremost directed towards them.

* * * * * * * * *

All this goes to prove that London was artistically at least on a level, as far as appreciation of genius was concerned, with great musical centres like Munich and Vienna. My father, of course, revelled in it all. This was an atmosphere in which he could breathe and live the life which he loved; the life of an artist who is understood and appreciated. Several of his works were performed at these notable orchestral institutions, and he was always honoured by the request from the Chefs d’orchestre that he should wield the batôn when his own compositions were played. These were invariably received with whole-hearted applause by the public and highly lauded by the Press, more especially the overture, ballet, and other extracts from his Hungarian opera The Renegade, which was subsequently produced at Her Majesty’s Theatre under the Mapleson management.

Which brings me to the question of opera, and here I am bound to admit that the taste of the English public, or I should say its appreciation of this great expression of musical thought, was decidedly on a lower level than that of the public in the important capitals of Europe. Opera in London, in the final quarter of the last century, still meant almost exclusively Italian opera with a few French ones of established reputation thrown in; and after a time Lohengrin and Tannhauser, introduced through the influence of Hans Richter and the glamour of Bayreuth then at the apogee of its appeal to the musical and fashionable world. But opera in London was essentially a fashionable affair—like Ascot and Goodwood. Its season was of short duration. Leaders of fashion and bon ton led the way, and it was ‘the thing’ to display one’s diamonds and Paris gowns in the stalls and boxes before ‘going on’ to some other equally fashionable function.

Lady de Grey, as she was then, an acknowledged Queen of Beauty, had hers on the grand tier facing the Royal box where the Prince and Princess of Wales often graced the performance with their presence. The Duchess of Montrose often ‘looked in’; so did the beautiful Duchess of Manchester, and Lady Randolph Churchill, whose beautiful black hair was always so much admired and so exquisitely dressed. And among the less exalted personages was Mrs. Sam Lewis with her pretty sister, that charming composer, Hope Temple. Kind Mrs. Sam Lewis! The wife of the great lawyer whose kindness and generosity to musicians who had not yet reached fame and fortune was one of the most beautiful traits in her generous nature. As a matter of fact, fashionable Jewry of London was the main supporter of the opera; without it the season would have been even shorter than it was and certainly less profitable to the management.

Covent Garden was under the management of Ernest Gye, whose wife was that lovely singer, Madame Albani, whose exquisite ‘Elsa’ helped to make Lohengrin popular on its first presentation in London. As a matter of fact the trouble with that fashionable clique which patronized the opera was that it mistrusted its own taste. Give it an established success—success in Vienna, Munich, or Paris—it would take that opera to its heart and applaud it and patronize it with whole-hearted enthusiasm.

Even so that enthusiasm hung fire sometimes, as in the case of Gounod’s Faust, which was received coolly by public and Press and played to half-empty houses in consequence until Messrs. Chappell—who had purchased the score at what was then a very large sum of money—pushed the opera to success by dint of clever publicity and advertising. Neither Lohengrin nor Tannhauser were what would be called to-day an outstanding success until after the fashionable throng had learned that the King of Bavaria was madly in love (in the strict sense of the words) with the works of Richard Wagner. It seemed then to shake itself out of its intellectual lethargy, went to Bayreuth, entertained Hans Richter at its parties, and went to his Wagner concerts in St. James’s Hall; acclaimed ‘The Ride of the Walkyries’ as the greatest orchestral composition of their generation and demanded that the bridal march in Lohengrin be substituted in future to the Mendelssohn wedding march at fashionable weddings.

* * * * * * * * *

This mistrust of its own taste in the matter of art—I cannot call it anything else—was applied equally to the singers of the same period. The beau monde had not yet recovered from its exuberant admiration of Mario and Grisi who had come to England with an international reputation. Mario to them was just the god of music. No other singer could ever come, in their estimation, within measurable distance of his charm, of his divine voice, his superb acting, in fact, of his appeal to the ears and hearts of his admirers. As for Grisi, she was just everything that was perfect; and when Mario married Grisi and these two favourites were heard together in Rigoletto, Barbière, Traviata, or Sonnambula the ne plus ultra of musical exaltation was reached.

It is, of course, impossible for those of our generation to estimate the worth of those two artistes or of any executant of the past for that matter. Their arts dies with them. Immortality is the prerogative of the composer, the creator of the work interpreted by the artistes. The art of Mario and Grisi may have reached the height of perfection claimed for them by their own generation. It is not for us to say. Certain it is that several years of endeavour on the part of operatic managers went by and vast sums of money were sacrificed before the rapture of a public mourning for its idols was transferred to the great singers of the next generation. This was accomplished by easy stages via Jenny Lind, Patti, Christine Nilsson, and Albani, until the brothers de Reszke and Melba were presently carried by public favour up to the same pinnacles of fame and appreciation that had been the lot of Mario and Grisi.

This pinnacle, by the way, was never reached by such fine artistes as Sims Reeves and Edward Lloyd. They were contemporaries of the new favourites, but never quite reached the same height of popularity. For one thing they never sang in opera. The public only saw them on the concert platform or in their own drawing-rooms in tailored clothes and white gloves. They had not the glamour attached to rose-coloured or blue tights, padded trunk hose, and rapier at the side. Moreover, they were both English and it was the fashion to depreciate everything in art that was English. A form of insularity I suppose which was more rampant in our parents’ days than it is now. Antoinette Stirling, the finest contralto that ever was, never attained the popularity enjoyed by Giulia Ravoli. Even to-day. . . . Ah, well! I had perhaps better not say what I think on that score.

So much for Covent Garden.

* * * * * * * * *

The second opera house, Her Majesty’s (now His Majesty’s), was under the management of Mr. Mapleson, whose genial personality and musical enthusiasm were greater than his managerial flair. He did not pander as his rival did in Covent Garden to the autocratic demands of a decorative audience. He himself was satiated with the Trovatores and Barbières and Lucias with the trills of eminent divas like Patti and Jenny Lind, and persuaded himself that the public was as sick of the old Italian operas as he was himself. He turned his attention to works which had won approbation in the musical centres of Europe, even if this approbation had not gone to the length of established successes. But in this laudable endeavour he was not altogether successful from a financial point of view.

He put up Boito’s Mefistofele with Christine Nilsson in the double rôle of Marguerite and Helen of Troy: also Rossini’s last Italian opera, Semiramide, with the same illustrious diva as the Babylonian queen. He mounted Beethoven’s Fidelio, which had never been heard in its entirety in England before or (I believe) since, and Wagner’s early work, Rienza, in England before with ‘new scenery, dress, and appointments’. The public went to the premières, listened politely, applauded languidly, but failed to attend further performances of these works until it was satisfied that they had attained European fame.

A propos of this it is rather amusing to turn over one’s files for cuttings from old newspapers. I have a cutting from the Daily Telegraph, which graphically illustrates what I have said. Speaking of Mr. Mapleson’s announcement for his forthcoming opera season, the great daily said:

 Last year Mr. Mapleson announced the names of three operas and bound himself to produce two of them. This year he definitely promises one only, but as Rossini’s Semiramide is quite familiar the obligation will not excite a great amount of enthusiasm even though it implies Madame Christine Nilsson’s assumption of the title-rôle for the first time. Mefistofele, we are told, will be ‘a comparative novelty’, and the remark is quite true. The prospectus then goes on to say: ‘also a new grand opera in three acts entitled Il Rinnegato, music by Baron Félix Orczy.’ Obscurity envelopes the precise significance here of the word ‘also’. It follows the assertion that Mefistofele will be ‘a comparative novelty’, but this remark cannot apply to Il Rinnegato, which has never been heard among us. The prospect of the Baron’s opera is therefore a vague one and we must wait for the course of events to define it, cheered by the thought that as Il Rinnegato was announced last year with no ‘cast’, and is now reannounced in connection with the name of Madame Gerster, one step forward has been taken. Looking at the prospectus generally, from the absence of novelty, both as regards operas and artistes, is very striking. From the repertoire of the house, however, it is easy to select old works that make new ones superfluous. Here are a few of them: Il Barbière, Le Nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni, Faust, Fidelio, Il Flauto Magica, Lohengrin, Oberon, and Aida.

Not very encouraging for the manager striving to give the public something new that will please it, and do not the final sentences of this summary bear out the truth of what I have endeavoured to say about the taste of the fashionable public? ‘From the repertoire of the house, however it is easy to select old works that make new ones superfluous!”

Anyway, Mr. Mapleson was true to his prospectus and duly produced my father’s Hungarian opera Il Rinnegato, dedicated to H. M. the Queen of the Belgians, herself a Hungarian princess. Everything Hungarian happened to be the rage in London just then, principally gipsy music, of which more anon, and the audience received the work with loud applause. It even deigned to fill the house at two more performances. But it brought no money to the box office and Mapleson had, in any event, decided to give up management for good. He was, and remained—even after this failure—a genuine friend of my father’s and in his Memoirs published a year or two later, he spoke most warmly of him and with unstinted admiration of the originality and splendid orchestrations of Il Rinnegato.

His son, Henry, was the husband of that beautiful woman and charming singer, Marie Roze. It had been her great wish to sing in Il Rinnegato, but the soprano part was too high and too florid for her lovely soft mezzo-soprano voice. It was finally sung by Emma Juch, a young American singer with a high flexible soprano like that of Marie Van Zandt. That veteran of choreographic art, Kati Lanner, directed the ballet, as she had done for several seasons at Her Majesty’s. She was a dear old lady and put her very heart and soul into the production, not only because she was Hungarian but also because she had worked at one time under my father’s directorate in the National Opera of Budapest. She knew better than anyone how a Hungarian csàrdàs should be danced. The première danseuse was Madame Malvina Cavalazzi, the wife of Charles Mapleson, the manager’s second son.

* * * * * * * * *

There were one or two incidents—one of which might have ended in tragedy—which occurred during the rehearsals and production of Il Rinnegato. The principal rôle in the opera was the baritone, and was sung by a fine Italian singer, Signor Galassi. My father conducted his opera in person. There was also a part for tenor voice and this was entrusted to Signor Ravelli. From the first this otherwise accomplished singer objected strongly to certain passages in the score when the baritone was more prominent on the stage than he was. Such an unheard-of thing, argued Signor Ravelli. The tenor must—absolutely must, he declared—always hold the stage and the baritone take second place whatever the dramatic situation might be. It had always been so ever since Italy had given the lead in opera to the whole of Europe.

When in the last act the tenor named Elemér is actually killed by the baritone Barnabas on the steps of the metropolitan church of Budapest, Signor Ravelli flatly refused to die on those steps which were at the back of the stage and insisted on a marble seat being placed in a prominent position close to the footlights where he could be seen by everyone in the audience to expire gracefully and comfortably. Even then he greatly objected that the composer had omitted to give him a special aria to sing with his dying breath, as in Trovatore and all other really great operas.

However, the marble seat being conceded, there was further trouble, further vandalism with regard to the rights and privileges of a tenor in grand opera. This was a question of boots. Yes, boots! Hungarian national costume, gorgeous and picturesque as it was, demanded among other articles of attire . . . boots. Now, argued Signor Ravelli, in grand opera no tenor had ever been known to wear other than slashed square-toed satin shoes. In vain was it pointed out to him that in this last act Elemér was returning from the battle-field against the Turks and that slashed satin shoes would be a hopeless anachronism seeing that he was supposed to have been riding, let alone the fact that those same shoes never formed a part of Hungarian national costume. Signor Ravelli remained obdurate. It was beneath the dignity of a tenor to appear in boots. This sounds incredible I know, but it is true nevertheless.

I remember the controversy about the boots to this day: and in connection with it I am tempted to recall Hans von Bülow, the great German chef d’orchestre, second to none, not even to Richter, who said on one occasion when in exasperation after a difference of opinion with a Wagnerian tenor, Schott: “Bah! a tenor is not a man; a tenor is a disease!”

And thus did Elemér the Hungarian hero die at the hand of Barnabas the Renegade, on a marble seat in the centre of the stage, wearing rose-coloured slashed shoes such as were befitting the majesty of an Italian tenor. I must admit, however, that I doubt if more than a dozen among the audience noticed the anachronism in costume or scenic effect.

The other incident—which unlike the question of marble seats and satin shoes might have ended in a terrible tragedy—occurred during the second performance of Il Rinnegato. There was a snow scene in the third act, snow being represented by cotton wool rather lavishly scattered over trees and protruding masonry. How it all happened I know not. My mother and I with a couple of friends were in a grand-tier box facing the stage—Mr. Mapleson was with us and Dr. Hueffer the musical critic of The Times—when suddenly there was a blaze: a piece of cotton wool had caught fire. One of the performers had to come out of a house with a lighted candle in her hand. There was a sudden draught and the nearest bit of cotton wool blazed up. Almost immediately afterwards one heard from some part of the house the ominous word ‘Fire’, and the word was repeated, first here and there, first in the gallery, then in the lower tiers; ‘Fire . . . Fire . . .’ and one heard the tramping of feet accompanying that awful, terrifying word. . . .

I cannot imagine anything more appalling than those words which first spoken in a whisper grew in a few seconds into a dull cry.

Panic! That most terrible of all catastrophes was threatening; though it was not yet there, it threatened. But in an instant a couple of scene-shifters had run out and trampled under foot the blazing bit of cotton wool even before the greater portion of the audience had realized the terrible danger that was ahead. My mother and I kept our eyes fixed on my father who stood in the midst of the orchestra, with batôn raised, entirely unmoved. I don’t remember what my feelings were with regard to any possible cataclysm. I only thought of my father and that since he was so motionless and calm nothing serious could happen. And nothing did. The audience soon realized that all danger was past. A few I think had made their way out of the house down the stone steps which led from the gallery into the street, but in the stalls and boxes and in the third tier balcony men stood up and clapped their hands to reassure the rest of the audience that all was well.

Mr. Mapleson in his Memoirs gives a spirited account of the whole incident. In it he declares that it was my father’s coolness in face of the danger which was chiefly instrumental in averting the panic. It kept the members of the orchestra in their place, their hands on their instruments ready to follow on. As a matter of fact quite a large section of the audience never knew that anything so awful and so threatening had occurred. But it seems strange that already twice in my life I had been on the threshold of a gigantic cataclysm caused by fire, first at Tisza-Abád, and then in Her Majesty’s Theatre, London.

* * * * * * * * *

There is one element in music which I think cannot be denied, and it is this: music is the most absorbing of all the arts. It absorbs the mind of the artist, whether creator or executant, to the exclusion of every other consideration outside his own immediate necessities or desires. It is essentially a selfish art more so than any other—with perhaps the exception of the dramatic—simply because it depends for the success of its presentation on the outside public. And the public being capricious and influenced by the fashion of the moment will only acclaim one artiste or composer to the detriment of others. Hence a musician, artiste, or composer, must look to himself to attain pre-eminence, and can only do so by thrusting his own merits forward constantly into the public eye. He must first and foremost think of his own worth, his own success or failure. To help another to attain the pinnacle of fame to which he aspires might lead to neglect of his own worth. Hence what for want of a better term I will call the selfishness of the musician.

The same also applies to dramatic art, of which more anon. I was only thinking of music for the moment. In my close association with musicians—the great as well as the lesser—I have only come across two exceptions to this generalization; but these two exceptions are as brilliant as the stars. I am thinking, firstly, of Franz Liszt, who spent years of his life and used every influence he possessed to further the success of every musician whom he thought worthy. It was entirely due to his indefatigable exertions, his indomitable courage and belief in the greatness of Richard Wagner that the latter’s works, after repeated failures and disappointments, came at last to be appreciated at their true value.

Secondly, here in England we had that universal favourite and delightful personality Sir Arthur Sullivan. His kindness and consideration to young and old musicians was beyond what mere words can express, and there are many to this day who owe what success and fortune they attained to the help he so generously tendered them.

* * * * * * * * *

Liszt’s two visits to this country were a great joy to us. He stayed, I believe, on both occasions with his friend Walter Bache, a fine accomplished musician and charming personality. But the dear old man spent many a long day with us in our house in Wimpole Street and in the afternoon, tired as he must often have been with social and artistic duties, he would sit at the piano and let his lovely slender fingers bring forth heaven-born melodies from the keys. Besides our three selves there would only be two, or perhaps three, devotees privileged to listen to him on those occasions. He would play Schumann, Schubert, and his own compositions.

I say it again—I am not in any sense of the word musical, that Liszt’s playing of Schumann’s Kinderscenen remains for me unforgettable. He never played any of his bravura compositions but always simple things which left one dreaming and with tears in one’s eyes. When he had finished he would turn to us all who sat enthralled around him and say in his exquisitely modulated voice: “Now you must hear my beloved pupil (meaning my father) play one of his own compositions. He makes the piano sing.” He was always very sweet to me, a rather dull and stupid schoolgirl, and called me ma poésie, saying that young girls were the poetry of life; and when he had lunch or dinner with us and I was privileged to take him down to the dining-room, he said, resting his beautiful hand on my arm: ”Vous-êtes mon soutien spirituellement et physiquement.” (You are my physical and mental support.)

* * * * * * * * *

What a lot there is in a hand as an indication of artistic or otherwise temperament. In contrast to Liszt’s slender hands with the long, pointed fingers and almond-shaped nails, I recall the hand of Anton Rubinstein. A great admirer of his had a cast of it in plaster. How different it was. He was undoubtedly a very great artist and powerful personality, with a reverberating voice and dominating presence. He was gruff in his speech and contemptuous of fine manners and elegant diction. He certainly did not make the piano sing—not to my humble taste anyhow, but he certainly made it vibrate and with those powerful spatulate fingers of his he could evoke from the piano sounds as sonorous as a full orchestra. His execution was of course superb, and with the exception of List the Incomparable he was certainly the finest pianist of his generation. His appeal to the great public was more universal even than that of Paderewski. He never came to our house but he played at the house of a friend at whose musical ‘at homes’ I was allowed once or twice to attend under the ægis of my father.

I specially remember one of these occasions being at the moment that we entered the music room Rubinstein was standing by the piano, talking to a group of his admirers, and I heard his deep gruff voice saying in German: ”Ich bin ein Jude” (I am a Jew). He proclaimed it in a note almost of triumph and I, an unsophisticated Hungarian, remembering that over in Hungary to proclaim oneself a Jew would be equal to admitting that one belonged to an altogether inferior race, wondered how any great artist could so far humiliate himself as to make such an admission.

Since then what a number of Jews I have known and admired for their intellect, their artistic perceptions, their high moral character and really Christian charity!

* * * * * * * * *

Very charming and fascinating was Charles Gounod, who came to London after his Faust and Romeo and Juliet had at long last become real and popular successes. Clever, energetic Mrs. Weldon had a great deal to do with pushing the success home, ably seconded of course by Messrs. Chappel, the publishers of the music. I remember his being asked on one occasion when he sat at the piano and allowed his fingers to wander idly over the keys (he was never a brilliant pianist): “Oh! Monsieur Gounod,” cooed a fair admirer, “do tell me how your composing is going on? What do you think of those lovely melodies which Madame Nilsson sings so divinely?”

It was one of those naïve questions which are apt to be so irritating to artists who are often at a loss to answer in a way that would not sound either imbecile or pedantic. But Charles Gounod, being one hundred per cent a Frenchman, was never at a loss for a pretty speech. He just turned his fine eyes on the charmer and said: “God, Madame, sends me down some of his angels and they whisper sweet melodies in my ear.” And this sounded neither pedantic nor imbecile. It sounded so true. When one thought of the exquisite melodies in Faust or Romeo and Juliet, one felt in very truth that his inspiration came from the angels above.

* * * * * * * * *

I also recall another interesting and original personality—Peter Benoit, the great Flemish composer who came to London (as they all did) to conduct his Rubens Cantata and his Charlotte Corday at two grand concerts given in his honour in the Albert Hall. He certainly was an original. He stayed with us in Wimpole Street and I am sure my kind, hospitable parents must have been thankful in their hearts when his visit came to an end. He was by birth a simple Flemish peasant and everyone honoured him for that, but even in his own native Belgium he must have been a very trying friend and guest. He was director of the great Academy of Music and the Fine Arts in Antwerp and at times, to the consternation of pupils and fellow professors, he would just disappear—go off into the open country..

No one ever knew where he went to, but he would stay away days and sometimes weeks, living no one knew how, apparently quite oblivious of his duties at the Academy. It was supposed that his parents lived somewhere in the hinterland and that he went to visit them whenever the spirit of filial love moved him. And presently he would return and take up his duties—his lectures on Fine Art and Æstheticism were, I believe, delightfully interesting—just as if he had never been absent from his post.

As to his stay with us in Wimpole Street, all I recollect about it is that he only ate one meal a day—at five o’clock in the afternoon—a terrific meal which must have tried our domestic staff very sorely. I know it tried me, as I am sure my dear mother must have been greatly troubled to concoct the right menu and in sufficient quantity for our guest.

The morning and early part of the afternoon were devoted to rehearsals in the Albert Hall, and during the interval—after the copious dinner and bedtime which was quite early—Benoit liked to sit on the sofa in the drawing-room with eyes closed, listening to his own compositions played to him by Mme Boursot. He made me sit beside him and put his arm round my shoulders and murmured repeatedly: “J’aime tant qu’on me joue ma musique” (I love to listen to my own music), and I do believe that he loved his own compositions more than those of any other master, and that to listen to them was the great joy of his life.

Chapter 6

But I must not forget that there was also a lighter side to our musical life in London: the social life there was, for Hungarians, extremely pleasant. Count Aloysius Karolyi was Austro-Hungarian Ambassador. He and his beautiful wife entertained lavishly in their splendid house in Belgrave Square. They were both entirely Hungarian by birth and tradition and great friends of my parents. Their eldest daughter, Nandine, was of my own age and a very charming friend to me. She subsequently married Count Berchtold, who was Austro-Hungarian Minister for Foreign Affairs at the outbreak of the 1914-1918 war and had unaccountably made himself scarce at that critical moment.

Count Karolyi’s predecessor had been old Count Beust, as fanatically Austrian as Count Karolyi was Hungarian. Count Beust had been one of the Members of the Congress held in Vienna in 1815 to decide the fate of Europe after the final downfall of Napoleon Bonaparte.

The Prince and Princess of Wales often graced Countess Karolyi’s receptions with their presence. My father and mother were always invited to these splendid gatherings and before the death of my father, when once I was ‘out’ and had been presented to our own Empress Elisabeth, I was also invited.

* * * * * * * * *

Often now through the mist of years I see floating before my mind faces that were familiar there. Beautiful faces, interesting faces. There was such an array of beauties in those days, such beauties as have never graced London drawing-rooms since. It is difficult to recall them all; they were quite dazzling: The duchess of Leinster, the Countess of Warwick, two of the most beautiful women I have ever seen, Mrs. Cornwallis West, the Marchioness of Bath and her beautiful daughter, afterwards Countess Cromer, and so many others.

An interesting personality was Maria, Marchioness of Ailesbury, familiarly called ‘Lady Aye’, very thin and always very décolletée. Count Bylandt, Netherlands Minister, and his Russian wife—who were great friends of my parents—were both very fond of music and gave many musical-at-homes in their beautiful house in Grosvenor Gardens.

I stood quietly in the shadow of my beautiful mother for the most part, gazing with awe and wonder at this brilliant assembly of the flower of European aristocracy and diplomatic circles. Frankly I did not enjoy the pageants. Sometimes I was even bored.

I suffered from what would now be called inferiority complex. To myself I appeared as such an insignificant, mediocre personage among so many clever and brilliant people with whom (to my thinking) nobody could possibly dare to enter into conversation. I was not pretty or dashing. I was dull, I was shy, and I didn’t feel that anyone who was clever and interesting would take the trouble to entertain me or make themselves agreeable to me. As a matter of fact the origin of the whole trouble—for it was real trouble sometimes—went back to those awful afternoons in Tarna-Örs when under the command of my autocratic grandmother and in the company of a lot of German cousins, all sitting silent, disapproving, and plying their crochet-hooks, I had been ordered to ‘make conversation’.

And so I remained shy and dull through the whole of my girlhood. I certainly, as a girl, was not a social success. My dear father did his best to chaff me out of that frame of mind; and my mother, so beautiful and very much admired, took me out with her as often as she could so as to get me accustomed to Society and to going about among friends of my own age and education, but I never got over my dislike of crowded and showy functions.

* * * * * * * * *

 The only big function I really enjoyed (though why I did more than another I cannot say: was when the Archduke Rudolf of Austro-Hungary, only son and heir of the Emperor Francis Joseph, paid a visit to Queen Victoria. The Hungarian colony in London took the opportunity of organizing a grand reception in his honour at which he graciously signified his intention to be present. This was the era when Hungarian Gipsy music was all the rage in every capital of Europe, and the finest of the gipsy bands headed by Berkes was ‘doing’ a season in London that year. So they were engaged as a matter of course to play at this reception and I—poor, shy, little atom—had the honour of dancing the national csàrdàs with His Imperial and Royal Highness.

As a matter of fact I am quite certain in my own mind that ‘shyness’ is only a manifestation of self-consciousness. We would never suffer from it, any of us, if we did not think of ourselves and of the impression which we are making on others.

Certain it is that when on that unforgettable occasion I was the cynosure of all eyes I did not feel the least bit shy. The Archduke danced the csàrdàs as no other non-Hungarian has ever danced it to my knowledge, and that in the mazes of the quick movement, twirling and twisting with his hands on my waist and mine on his shoulder and in the languorous steps of the lassú I was conscious of nothing except the pleasure of the music and of the dancing. And my exalted partner was so handsome, so gracious, and so simple that when he conducted me back to my mother’s side he kissed my hand and thanked me for the pleasure I had given him.

As a matter of fact the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, to the throne of the Hapsburgs, was never partial to Hungary and the Hungarians, and in moments of conflict between them and the Slav elements of the empire, his sympathies invariably inclined towards the latter. It was during the following year that the terrible tragedy of Mayerling occurred which has remained, and always will remain, one of the mysteries of history. Quantities of paper and pints of ink have been wasted on so-called authentic elucidations of the mystery that surrounded the death of the young Archduke and Marie Vetsera. Not one of these elucidations is the true one.

A guard of honour composed of six members of the highest Austro-Hungarian aristocracy stood sentry around the bier whereon reposed the mortal remains of the heir to the great Empire. These six were relieved every twelve hours by six others of equal rank, and the duties of these twelve gentlemen were carried on during the whole of the slow progress from Mayerling to Vienna until the heir to the throne was laid to his final rest in the vault of the Capuchin Friars in that city. They alone hold the key to the mystery: they and the Duke Philip of Coburg Koháry, who was at Mayerling at the time of the tragedy, husband of Princess Louise of Belgium, whose sister, Stephanie, was the wife of the Archduke Rudolf.

Many of those who formed the guard of honour are dead now: they were middle-aged men at the time. One of them was a first cousin of my father’s and came to London with his son to see us. He often talked to my father about the appalling tragedy, and declared that he had embodied it in all its details in memoirs which were not to be published until fifty years after his death. He died in 1907! . . .

Marie Vetsera I knew in the way that everybody knew everybody else in Budapest those days, but never well. She was older than I was for one thing, and her ways and speech were not approved of by the mamas of we younger ones. She was beautiful in a quasi-oriental way: dark hair, large dark eyes, full red lips (one didn’t use lipsticks yet), and an oval face. In these days of fashionable emaciation her figure would have been called coarse. She certainly had a prominent bust which was very much admired then (flat-chested girls stuffed cotton-wool pads inside their corsets).

* * * * * * * * *

 The tragedy of Mayerling was a shattering blow to the old Emperor Francis Joseph and the beautiful Empress Elisabeth. Lovely as she was, she had been unhappy in Austria from the first. Her Imperial husband was possessed of a huge heart which embraced many ladies who, though they could not rival the Empress in beauty, more than overshadowed her somewhat limited intelligence by their amusing conversation and vivacious small talk. She certainly was one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen, but there was always a look of sadness in her lovely eyes. The great joy of her life was the hunting season in Ireland. As long as her health and her age allowed it she went every year. My father’s brother, who was her Master of the Horse, often accompanied her. There are many in England and Ireland to this day who, I am sure, remember her as one of the finest horsewomen and a keen follower of hounds whom they knew in their hunting days.

She used to stay at Claridge’s in London on her way to Ireland. My cousin, Countess Marie Festetics, was her dame d’honneur, and I had the honour of being presented to the Empress who said some very charming things to me about England and the English, and also about the Hungarians who loved her and whom—unlike her husband and her son—she understood and admired. She was one of the very few non-Hungarians who spoke that very difficult language perfectly and this endeared her specially to her Hungarian entourage. Her end, and the hand of an assassin, was as tragic as that of her son.

* * * * * * * * *

But to return to what I have called the lighter side of our musical life in London.

Certainly the lightest and merriest of all was the ‘Hungarian Band’, the gipsy music which at the end of the nineteenth century had literally taken London by storm. Since then the term ‘Hungarian Band’ has been falsely used and vulgarized. Any band of fiddlers who chose to call themselves Hungarian and arrayed themselves in gaudy attire was dubbed Hungarian band and obtained engagements to play in restaurants, tea-shops, and night-clubs. But the fiddlers were not always Hungarian and certainly never true gipsies. Many a time did my father speak to their leader and discovered that they were German or some sort of Slav, but not Hungarian. But when Berkes and his true gipsies first visited the capitals of Europe they were a revelation of something unusual, exotic, something wild and yet soothing. They were an inspiration and an incentive.

Berkes, as soon as he arrived in London, came to pay his respects to my parents, and thereafter he and his men often came to play for us of an evening, and if any Hungarian friends were visiting London at the time they would come and spend the evening with us and listen to the tsiganes in an atmosphere that was more in keeping with their music than the fashionable ‘at homes’ or restaurants. What amused us very much was the social success of these fellows. In Hungary the gipsies have no position whatever, not even with the peasants in the villages, let alone with the middle and upper classes. They were just czigány and their status was not unlike that of the coloured races in the estimation of Americans. But in the European capitals they were put on an equality with all the other artistes who delighted the world with their music. They were received as guests in the highest society, invited to dinner, fêted, and acclaimed as Sarasate or Joachim or opera singers were acclaimed.

In London, Berkes on his first visit was the lion of the season. And he was not a little proud of his social success. It was an exceptionally brilliant season. More than one European monarch and hereditary prince happened to be on a visit to Queen Victoria: and I remember Berkes, puffed up with pride, giving to my parents a glowing account of a dinner-party at a ducal house at which he and his band had been guests. “And,” he declared with more imagination than veracity, “there we sat, one king, one gipsy, one king, one gipsy, two queens two gipsies next to another all round the table.”

* * * * * * * * *

Not for worlds would I wish to say a single word of depreciation on the subject of true gipsy musicians. Much has been written about the origin of their music. It has even been ascribed to the ancient Egyptians, and at one time dear old Liszt made himself very unpopular in his native land by declaring that there was no such thing as Hungarian music. It was neither more nor less than gipsy (i.e. Romany) music. Certain it is that music is inborn in the gipsy and it is well known that when a small Romany child is born and begins to toddle the father stands before him holding in his right hand a fiddle and in his left a piece of money. The child puts out its little arms in the direction of one side or the other. If to the right he will be a musician; if to the left he will be a thief. The Hungarian peasant will tell you with a shrug that in all probability he will be both. I am, of course, speaking of Hungarian gipsies whom I knew in their own native land. I have never known anything about other Romanies in England or elsewhere in Europe.

It must be remembered that a gipsy musician is entirely untutored. He is never taught to play. He plays his violin, clarinet, and the czimbalom (his national instrument) entirely by ear. The syncopated rhythm comes naturally to his fingers. Their leader will be taught some new tune composed, perhaps, by a cultivated musician who will hum it to him; after a few bars the leader will take up the tune and play it, then turn to his band and they will all fall in with as perfect an orchestration as could possibly be devised. Berkes, Rigó, and Rácz were the three finest gipsy leaders of exceptionally admirable bands. But Berkes was always the most popular in London—as he was in Budapest. His tone on the violin, whether he played languorous songs or exciting dance music, was exquisitely pure.

There were several enthusiastic musicians—ladies, for the most part—who offered him large sums of money for his violin, which they believed was a Gubernatis or a Stradivarious at their best so perfect was its tone, and Berkes without a moment’s hesitation would assent to the bargain, hand over the violin and receive the money. And the same incident would occur again a few days afterwards when he was playing on another violin bought surreptitiously at Hill’s.

London remained faithful to Berkes for two or three years. I, for one, lost sight of him and his fashionable career after the death of my dear father in 1892. Neither Rácz nor Rigó came to London. The former was a great favourite in Paris, and the latter in Brussels—where a very great lady fell madly in love with him. He was exceptionally handsome in a gipsy way and so inflamed the passion of the lady that when he had completed his engagements and returned to his home in Hungary she ran away with him.

This story sounds sordid enough; but one cannot help thinking, with a shudder, of the awful disappointment which awaited this high-born lady when she realized the sordidness of the surroundings into which her insane passion had thrown her. The vulgar crowd with whom she was forced to associate, the brutality and iron hand of the old woman who was the mother of her chosen lord, the countless humiliations to which she was subjected must have been unspeakable torture to the poor woman’s soul and mind. I don’t know what happened to the poor thing in the end, but I do believe that she was able to get away after a time and to return to her home in Belguim.

Chapter 7

Ever since I was ‘grown-up’ I had a great love of the theatre, and happily my mother was very fond of it too, and as my father did not really care about it she always took me with her. We went very often, especially during those many months when there was no opera either at Covent Garden or Her Majesty’s. We went to many first nights, and never missed a production at the Lyceum or the old Princess’ Theatre in Oxford Street. Those were my two favourites. For these pleasures we were chiefly indebted to our kind old friend, George Critchett. His younger son was a well-known member of the theatrical profession, and he himself had many patients among the theatrical folk whom he always attended without there being any question of fees.

Thus he had the entrée to every theatre in London. A box was always placed at his disposal for first nights, or whenever he wished to go, and as neither his wife who was an invalid, nor his daughter whose tastes ran entirely on serious music cared for the theatre, my mother and I benefited by his kindness.

Looking back on those pleasant evenings one realizes, however, that there was not much on the English stage during the last quarter of the nineteenth century to stimulate, let alone to improve, one’s taste in the art of the theatre. With the exception of the Lyceum, where under the management of Mrs. Bateman and subsequently that of Henry Irving, Shakespeare and a few poetic dramas were presented, one had very little wherewith to satisfy one’s craving for intellectual pleasure, for something that would make one think.

The era of the great Samuel Phelps and of Fechter was past and all one had, with the above exception, was either blatant melodrama or else French farce adapted to the demands of a nicely-behaved modest English audience. I didn’t care. I liked it all. I liked the evenings at the theatre far more than the gorgeous parties and receptions—I didn’t have to talk and make myself agreeable. I could just sit quietly gaze and think.

The poetic dramas of W. G. Wills appealed to me. Charles I (oh! how I cried over the final ‘Remember’, spoken in Irving’s beautifully modulated voice); his adaptation of Faust with Irving as an unapproachable Mefisto (who else could have looked the part as he did? tall, lean, sinister); and Vanderdecken, with Irving looking handsome and romantic in a large picture hat; and then giving us, by way of a contrast, Digby Grant in the Two Roses. All these plays which would be thought so very vieux jeu now will always dwell in one’s memory. I know they do so in mine.

And presently lovely Ellen Terry came along to charm us as Irving’s leading lady and brought to us, along with her adorable self, those beautiful performances of The Merchant of Venice, of Much Ado about Nothing, of Macbeth (to name only a few of those unforgettable evenings). Not much to complain of you will say in the matter of dramatic art. But man cannot feed on caviar alone, nor his intellectual aspirations on Shakespeare and W. G. Wills. Not that my aspirations were very intellectual. The theatre was a pleasure for me, not an education. Being still very young I liked to think of myself as a dramatic critic, just for my own edification.

Not even to my indulgent mother would I have imparted my criticisms on any play we had seen together or those we had wept over and laughed at in the right places. But when I saw a play which did not altogether please me, I used to turn the main situation (usually the third act) over and over in my mind and think out how it should have been dealt with in the last act. What cheek!!! Fortunately I had the good sense to keep these incursions into dramatic criticism to myself.

On the whole I must admit that I was not passionately in love with the theatre. Not then. Not ever. Not even when . . . but that is another story which I will tell at full length later on. For the time being I had no idea that our friendship with Mr. And Mrs. George Critchett and their connection with the theatrical world was yet another link in that long chain which drew me originally out of the country of my birth, then through my musical life in London, through my short artistic career to the conception of The Scarlet Pimpernel.

* * * * * * * * *

Almost as great a joy for me as the theatre were the evening receptions given by Mr. And Mrs. Critchett in their delightful house in Harley Street. Here one met and rubbed shoulders with most of the stars that shone in the dramatic and musical firmament. Some of these only twinkled then, their brilliance came later on. I was never quite so shy here as I was in the big official soirées in Belgravia and Mayfair. The atmosphere was more to my liking and I had many a quiet talk with some of the clever men and women who were kind enough to take notice of the insignificant flapper. My snobbishness (aren’t we all?) took the form of admiration not for beauty or wealth or great historic names, but for the men and women whom I met here who had attained recognition by their talent, and I was quite happy to be standing by, lost in amazement at seeing people of such outstanding merit in every walk of life gathered together and conversing and joking one with the other as if they were mere ordinary mortals.

To my mind they were anything but that. Indeed it seemed to me that these celebrities had about them an air that lifted them high above all men and women I had ever seen. I simply worshipped merit that had attained renown. I am not sure that this snobbishness was not based on envy, a vague longing to attain fame somehow or other. The question that agitated my mind was: how was this to be done? I had no idea then, only vague senseless dreams. All I knew for certain was that it was not going to be musical.

So much has been written and such delightful memoirs published on and about the dramatic world and its outstanding personalities that there is nothing new that I can relate on that interesting subject. Nor did I know those distinguished people intimately enough to throw fresh light on their private or professional lives—anecdotes, stories, witticisms—that have not already been told and retold by such charming writers as ‘Carados’ (Mr. Chance Newton of the Referee), George R. Sims, and many others, but I did enjoy seeing them all, laughing and joking together, away from ‘make-up’ and far from the footlights.

And just as through the mists of bygone years I see floating before my mind faces young and beautiful, personalities which were world-renowned, shoulders that bore the burden of historic names—all spirit now for the most part—so I often see when I gaze into the dying embers of the fire, forms and faces that enchanted my unsophisticated inner self.

I remember seeing William Terriss as Romeo at the Lyceum with lovely Adelaide Nielson as Juliet. The scenery was as it always had been at the Lyceum, most beautiful and quite accurate in its representation of an old Italian garden in the balcony scene. Indeed, one might have fancied oneself in Verona, with the lovely Italian midnight sky as a background to trees and shrubs and the prettiest clipped bay trees in small round tubs all over the place. And both Juliet and Romeo held us spell-bound. We all loved a ‘love-scene’ in those days, even when it was Shakespeare’s, and here was that beautiful Juliet up on her balcony and William Terriss’ mellifluous voice delighting our ears, telling us to “See how she leans her cheek upon her hand” which Miss Nielson did most gracefully. And he went on more mellifluously (such a good word and so expressive) than before:

“Oh that I were a glove upon her hand
That I might touch that cheek!”

When a voice from one of the ‘gods’ up in the gallery, overcome by emotion, put in encouragingly (and not mellifluously):

“Try one o’ them tubs, Bill.”

I would not have missed that moment for anything in the world. Nothing happened. Dead silence. No one laughed. We all of us a prey to emotion so great that we did not heed what went on around us. I was one of the few Philistines who came down to earth with sufficient speed to utter an agitated “Hush-sh-sh.”

The same sort of incident did occur often enough in those days when ‘the gods’ were the good old ‘gods’ who, unlike the intelligentsia (?) who patronize the gallery to-day, went to the theatre to have a bit of fun and somehow managed to find it even in classical tragedies. Nor were they backward in expressing their own pleasure or disappointment. They were not banded together ‘to boo or not to boo’ at the dictate of an addle-pated and malevolent clique. If they enjoyed a play they cheered it, if they did not they ‘boo-ed’ and that was all there was to it. Their comments, often expressed at the wrong moment, were always to the point, but they were invariably addressed to a favourite, a popular favourite among whom William Terriss was an easy first. And these comments were a kind of freemasonic slogan between them.

There was, for instance, a memorable evening when my beloved Wilson Barrett gave what I (alas! not the critics) considered a sublime presentment of Hamlet at the Princess’ with all the effects of lighting, scenery, and appurtenances which he understood so well. The first scene was, as usual, enacted in breathless silence while the ghost glided, mysterious and spirit-like across the stage and Bernardo whispered in awe-struck tone: “Looks it not like the King? Mark it, Horatio,” a voice from the gallery suddenly struck a blow at our pent-up emotions with a deep-toned and reverberating challenge: “’Oo’s the bloke?” W. B. was admittedly the kindest and most patient of men, with a keen sense of humour. It seems he did not utter as much as a small d—, through his forbearance must have been sorely tried by the titters not only in the audience but among the company waiting in the wings. All that he said, with a quiet smile was: “One of the penalties of popularity. Mark it, Horatio.”

* * * * * * * * *

Such tributes to popularity could easily be dispensed with by such artistes as Irving or Wilson Barrett, not to mention other great ones (in their own estimation) like Edwin Booth or Richard Mansfield but to such favourites as William Terriss and Charles Warner they were a source of ever recurring delight. In such thrilling dramas as Green Bushes, The Streets of London, and so many others, the persecuted and virtuous heroine was always deprived of her ‘marriage lines’ by the villain.

She invariably had a baby whom for reasons best known to the producer she always took out with her when she wandered out in the snow. Never did she take it out when the weather was fine. And it was invariably in the snow that the hero came face to face with the villain and very foolishly demanded of him the return of her ‘marriage lines’ which, if produced, would then and there have brought felicity and peace to the heroine and with it the happy, if premature, ending of the play. But the villain defiantly refused to part with that important document—which, by the way, we all knew was in his pocket—and the wordy warfare between him and the hero took on excited proportions when good advice to the latter came from ‘the gods’ above: “Search ’im Bill.” (The very last thing any hero of melodrama would have thought of doing.)

Good advice from above was also given to Charles Warner in that more up-to-date and less blatant form of melodrama: Drink, adapted from Emile Zola’s great book L’Assommoir. When Coupeau first feels the pangs of D.T.’s (which was really a fine piece of acting by Warner), and he duly writhed in the agony that preceded his death scene, the kind adviser in the gallery called cheerfully down to him, “ ’Ave one more, Charlie; it’ll do ye good.”

* * * * * * * * *

 Once again I am tempted to refer to my special hero, Wilson Barnett, in terms of genuine appreciation, for it was he who brought good sound melodrama to the Princess’ with such plays as The Silver King, The Lights o’ London, and The Romany Rye. Though these were still somewhat of the childishly thrilling kind, they were nevertheless sound in construction, and coincidences bore a less irrational part in the not too unbelievable plot. I, as a self-appointed dramatic critic had very little fault to find with the big situation in the third act or with the unravelling of the dramatic knot in the fourth.

By the time I had met my erstwhile idol at the Critchetts and had fallen somewhat to earth from my idealism of W. B. owing to his décolleté shirt and various natural deficiencies, he had produced Claudian and Junius, had fallen from the heights of fortune down to the financial collapse and bitter disappointment, then soared up again to prosperity and palmy days through the outstanding success of a play written by himself, The Sign of the Cross. And now I saw him at the Critchetts, chatting with Miss Eastlake and cracking jokes with R. C. Carton, or W. G. Pinero, a sight which left me dreaming (as I certainly did sleeping and waking) about some intangible future when I too would be gazed on as a celebrity with awe by some, with admiration by all. But alas! these dreams seemed so foolish and so very, very idle.

* * * * * * * * *

As a matter of fact we never had any actual friends among the theatrical folk. I think my dear father’s experience of that world in Budapest made him restive whenever my mother threw out vague hints of wishing to know some of that interesting fraternity at closer quarters. George Critchett was often wanting to bring some of his favoured friends to our receptions in Wimpole Street; his son, who had offended against family traditions by adopting the stage as his career (a thing which was simply ‘not done’ in those days in the higher ranks of the professional classes), was of course an exception.

Funnily enough he was a very poor actor then but soon blossomed into one of the most distinguished dramatists of that period, side by side with his friend, A. W. Pinero, who also after starting in life as a very poor actor, gave the English world of dramatic art such masterpieces as The Second Mrs. Tanqueray, Letty, The Gay Lord Quex, and so many others.

When I said that we had no actual friends among the theatrical world, I was decidedly wrong, for we did have a delightful and charming friend Henry Irving (not Sir Henry then). As a matter of fact I rate—as indeed we all do—the term ‘friend’ very highly as an attribute seldom met with, but one that must be fully appreciated when we find it in those whom we have the privilege to know. Henry Irving, that great and kindest of men, was introduced to my parents on a memorable occasion at the musical ‘at home’ given by Lady Burdett-Coutts.

Somehow or other he and my father took a fancy to one another. I think each felt in the other the soul of an artist, and the glamour which at this time hung around everything Hungarian may also have been a contributory factor that brought two such original personalities together. Be that as it may, we soon had the pleasure of entertaining Henry Irving in our house at luncheon one day and after that he came again and again and often invited my parents to supper in his rooms in Stratton Street. He always referred facetiously to them as the ‘B. B’s’, i.e. ‘the bold Baron and the beautiful Baroness.’”

He and my father had many an interesting argument on the subject of theatrical management and the eccentricities of public taste; which of course was a debatable point between them, seeing that an English theatre run just as much on commercial as artistic lines by the most popular actor-manager of the day was a very different proposition to a Hungarian National Institution of drama and music under State control and smothered in red tape, such as my father directed.

One, for me, very happy incident occurred at this time. I had begun my artistic career (of which more anon) and I received a request from the Director of the National Museum of Dramatic Art of Budapest to paint a portrait of ‘the great English actor, Henry Irving’. And ‘the great English actor’ who was the kindest of men actually gave up some of his valuable time to me, and gave me several sittings for a portrait of him as the Vicar of Wakefield. I saw it fairly recently in Budapest. It is jolly bad as a work of art, but is a good likeness. Irving’s face was so wonderfully full of character that any moderately intelligent art student could not fail to get a likeness; nor once seen could it ever be forgotten. His whole personality was arresting. A man who could so rise above every physical disability such as Nature in one of her incomprehensible moods had put upon him, wore on him the very stamp of genius.

Book 3 - My Artistic Career

Chapter 8

Unlike the nine lives popularly attributed to the feline species and which run, we suppose consecutively, mine, rather fewer in number it is true, ran concurrently. The periods of my childhood and my girlhood were coincident with my social and my musical life, with my glimpses of the theatrical world and with my short, not very remarkable, artistic career, but every one of these periods was a stepping-stone towards the destiny which the Will of God had from the beginning of my life mapped out for me. I suppose that it is very arrogant to say that, even to think that God bothered about me to the extent of desiring me to conceive the Scarlet Pimpernel but, believe me, I say it in all humility.

I have so often been asked the question: “But how did you come to think of the Scarlet Pimpernel?” And my answer has always been: “It was God’s Will that I should.” And to you moderns, who perhaps do not believe as I do, I will say: “In the chain of my life there were so many links, all of which tended towards bringing me to the fulfilment of my destiny.” And nothing can be quite so wonderful as the workings of a man’s or a woman’s destiny. Mine certainly evolved in a spasmodic way.

I came from a country where in that generation at any rate (I don’t know what things are like now over there) girls were not allowed to go anywhere unchaperoned, and my dear father was not yet under the influence of progressive England; what he called female emancipation was anathema him. So it was not a bit of any use my eating out my heart in all sorts of vain longings and dreams of glory and fame to be attained, goodness alone knew how.

The only career in which I could have got encouragement and even help from him would have been the musical profession. If I had had the slightest talent, if I had had a voice—or an ear—he would have given me such training as seldom falls to the lot of budding genius. But it was not to be. I had absolutely no talent, nor that passionate love for an art which was the breath of life to my father, whom I loved more than anyone else in the world.

And there was dear, dear old Liszt with his kind eyes and his soft voice, calling me “Ma poésie” and patting my shoulder with his lovely slender hand. When I touched the piano and put my whole heart and soul into the rendering of those wonderful adaptations of his from Wagner’s operas he shook his head and said with a tone of regret, “Non! Ce n’est pas cela”(that isn’t it), meaning of course that I for one would never ‘make the piano sing’.

Anyway, there it was. It was no use thinking about it too much. All that was left to me were my dreams and vague stirrings of something I could not explain even to myself. They certainly did not tend then in the direction of fiction writing, nor did they prompt me to put some of my thoughts—some of my dreams—on paper. I was not yet twenty and very young for my age. Nowadays, girls only just in their teens are publishing novels, verses, writing plays, and what not. I was just storing up experiences more or less interesting in my mind, a jumble of inspirations and glimmerings of all sorts of knowledge.

* * * * * * * * *

Then, suddenly, like a bolt from the blue there came the time when these vague stirrings took on a definite form and I really and truly believed that at last I was on the way of finding my true vocation. My cousin, who had been in the convent school with me in Paris, sent me from Budapest a picture painted by herself. It was a study of a group of flowers in the open air with the light of the sun behind them. With it there came a letter from her telling me that she was going to join her brother who was studying painting in Munich, and that she, too, intended to follow an artistic career in earnest. I don’t remember whether the picture was good or not. It certainly would be a difficult subject to tackle and I remember my mother and one or two English friends who came to look at it giving it unstinted praise and praising also the energy and high spirits of the young artist which caused her to turn to something useful in life rather than to idle it away as so many girls did who failed to find a husband—the only vocation open to women in those days.

The incident was a revelation to me. I hardly slept at all that night and the next for thinking and thinking and planning what I could do to attain what had suddenly become an all-consuming desire: to follow an artistic career. I knew, of course, that that desire would be difficult of attainment. I hadn’t got a brother who was studying painting in Munich or elsewhere, and I knew that my parents would never consent to my careering about Europe to learn painting any more than they had allowed me to complete my studies by going to Cambridge.

Little did I guess that the sending of my cousin’s picture from Budapest was yet another link (and a very strong one at that) in the chain of my life which was to lead me not only to the satisfaction of my vague ambitions but to happiness such as seldom falls to the lot of any human being. If my cousin’s picture had not been sent from Budapest. . . . If this had not happened . . . or that . . . if . . . if. . . . Were not these ‘ifs’ the dominant factors throughout my early life which brought about my ultimate destiny? They cropped up again now with the arrival of that blessed—blessed picture.

If the picture had not been sent, I would not have been obsessed all of a sudden with the mad desire to adopt an artistic career. I don’t know how or why this desire took possession of me. I had never dreamed before of an artistic career. I loved to look at pictures in the way that I loved listening to music, in a calm, comfortable way, but suddenly the idea that one day I would paint pictures which would be hung in the Royal Academy exhibitions or in the salons of Paris and Munich became a perfect obsession. The whole thing was a beautiful day dream.

I imagine that this fixed idea affected my temper and that I worried my poor dear mother to death with my constant requests for permission to attend an art school. In the end I succeeded, thanks chiefly to kind words spoken on my behalf by Sir Frederick (afterwards Lord) Leighton, the then President of the Royal Academy, one of the most charming, most fascinating men in late Victorian society. My mother had met him at one of Countess Károlyi’s receptions; he had invited her to come and see his pictures which he was showing that year in the Royal Academy. She took me with her.

The studio with its multiplicity of sketches and studies by the master hand was nothing short of a revelation. I was dumb not only with shyness, I was dumbfounded with admiration and enthusiasm. I think the dear man was amused by this school-girlish tribute to his genius. He was so kind, so understanding. Before I knew where I was I had told him of my fervent desire to become a great artist—nothing less than great—and I suppose that I said something about my parents’ reluctance to allow me to attend an art school.

Nothing much happened for many days after that momentous visit; Sir Frederick who was passionately fond of music and a great concert goer, heard some of my father’s works and . . . and . . . well, I don’t really remember how it all happened—things always had a way of happening in my life—certain it is that presently I found myself entered as a student at the West London School of Art, a branch of South Kensington.

* * * * * * * * *

The South Kensington School of Art is an institution which owes its foundation to the Prince Consort (the husband of Queen Victoria). Soon it threw out branches in London and in many provincial towns. I think I am right when I say that its object was decorative art rather than pictorial, and was for many young artists merely the stepping-stone for admission to the Royal Academy Schools and the Slade. I certainly began my short artistic career at the West London but never distinguished myself sufficiently to obtain admission to other more important schools.

But there was always ‘Heatherley’s’. Heatherley’s in Newman Street where so many fine, if perhaps not great, English artists served their apprenticeship. Heatherley’s demanded no special qualifications for joining the life class, i.e. working from the living model. One paid one’s two guineas a month and was at liberty to work either from the nude or the costume model every day from 9 a.m. till dusk, with an interval for luncheon. All this I learned from fellow-students at the West London, and it all sounded very attractive. It suggested freedom for the exercise of one’s special talents (if one had any) and I was bound to admit that the tuition which I was receiving at the time was on the dull and uninspired side, for it only meant drawing from plaster casts in charcoal or in chalk, and I hated drawing. I wanted to paint. I wanted to run before I had learned to walk. I wanted to go to Heatherley’s and paint pictures. I saw pictures floating like visions before my mind, pictures were hung on the walls of the Royal Academy, and this I should never attain by making representations of plaster casts in charcoal and in chalk.

Happily I encountered no opposition from my parents when I broached the question of Heatherley’s by way of a change. I imagine that the poor darlings looked upon me now as an emancipated product of English education and felt that ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’ of this emancipation was the best course to pursue in the interests of peace in the home. And I was allowed to go to Heatherley’s. There one could, if one was so minded, continue to draw in chalk or charcoal from the plaster casts—there was a very fine one of the Apollo Belvedere, more groupings of coloured pottery and metal ornaments with the addition of graceful draperies and flowers. One might work in oils or water-colours or pastel. The model was there for the student to exercise his genius in portraiture, but there was no real teaching.

‘Old Heatherley’, as he was familiarly called, went round the studios once in the mornings and once in the afternoons. He would make sarcastic remarks or criticize the work if it was worthy of criticism, and left one entirely to one’s own devices. The rest of the day he spent upstairs in his private apartments playing the flute, practising scales and exercises on that delectable instrument. He was a funny old boy, in appearance like Faust in the first act; he wore a long sort of velvet garment, down to his heels, very much the worse for wear and shuffled about in faded red leather slippers. His face was really very noble both in features and in expression, with light blue eyes and a transparent pale skin. His hair was snow-white and scanty, and he wore a straggy kind of beard.

Three or four times a year a distinguished Royal Academician—an old Heatherley-ite—kindly gave up an hour or two of his valuable time and came to his old art school to criticize the work of the students. These were red letter days for us all, for these great gentlemen said very kind and encouraging words to those who deserved it. I am sure I never did, and though I loved the life in the studio and worked regularly and enthusiastically it soon began to dawn upon me that I had not the real feu sacré which would one day carry me to the pinnacle of fame.

Soon I realized that it was going to be mediocrity for me. Mediocrity, again, my bugbear, my nightmare! Oh! how I loathed the very word and how it haunted me! All the same this artistic side of my life was a happier one than the musical one.

The atmosphere of the studio was more congenial to my temperament than the concert halls and the fashionable opera. The students were for the most part simple girls and boys, most of them from the City of London or St. Paul’s school; some were possessed of ambition as I was, others just content to look upon the craft of the brush as a likely means of earning a livelihood. As a matter of fact not one of these aspirants to fame or fortune who passed in and out of ‘Heatherley’s’ during the three or four years I worked there, achieved greatness. I certainly did not. We all made pictures; oh yes! pictures which we would hopefully send in to the Royal Academy every year, looking forward to seeing them hung and possibly sold to an art patron, and more often than not had them returned ‘unhung for want of space’ the little bit of sugar to disguise the bitterness of the pill.

As a matter of fact pictures of mine were accepted and hung in the Royal Academy three successive years. One of these now hangs in the dining room of my home in Monte Carlo; the other two were sold to unknown patrons who I am sure have no idea that these masterpieces (?) were perpetrated by a humble artist who mayhap has pleased them in another branch of art. It was during my studentship at ‘Heatherley’s’ that I earned the friendship of two very distinguished artists who remained my sincere friends throughout their lives.

Edwin Long, R.A., was then an elderly man and a great popular favourite. He was not a portrait painter but his huge pictures in the Royal Academy or other exhibitions always attracted a crowd of admirers then. His was a popularity very like that of the French artist, Gustave Doré (who had a gallery in Bond Street devoted exclusively to his works). The pictures of both these artists would be called ‘hopelessly old-fashioned’ now: huge canvasses which could never find a place in modern exiguous houses and flats; biblical and oriental subjects for the most part; elaborate compositions crowded with life-size figures composed and grouped together in a way that would be far beyond the power of any artist of to-day even to attempt.

Edwin Long’s name which in the ’90’s was as well-known as is that of a popular writer of fiction in this twentieth century is forgotten now; only in the provincial and colonial galleries, in the Tate or Jones collections can a student stand before those ‘old-fashioned’ masterpieces and give grudging admiration to the genius that conceived and the knowledge and power of expression that accomplished these Herculean tasks.

I was first introduced to him one day at ‘Heatherley’s’, when he came to criticize the students’ work. He had attended the life classes there in his youth and was most kind and encouraging to us all. He was a dear old thing: simple and unaffected. We became great friends then and there, and he asked one or two of us to come one day to his studio and bring our work with us for closer criticism. Three of us did muster up courage and did go to the Labyrinth, his lovely house on top of Fitzjohn’s Avenue. Oh joy oh rapture! I was actually allowed to be one of the three privileged ones.

How vividly stands that visit before my mind’s eye as I write! There was a finished picture on the easel, one which he had completed for the forthcoming Royal Academy Exhibition. We three humble students gave a simultaneous gasp of admiration in face of this truly amazing work. It really was amazing: it simply glowed with colour and there was something real and essentially vital in every one of the life-size figures that filled the huge canvas. They all seemed alive somehow. The artist stood by, enjoying I am sure in his quiet way our silent tribute to his genius.

I don’t know what went on in the minds of my two friends, but I do know and for many years afterwards continued to feel the fascination of that picture. It represented a scene in ancient Egypt, ‘The trial of the dead’. In the centre of what looked like an immense hall, open to the sky there stood an upright human figure swathed in white wrappings and through which the features of the face were discernible.

All around were several tiers of stone seats placed in a semi-circle each side of a tall throne on which propped up with cushions a gorgeously attired figure—The Pharaoh—reclined and to right and left of him men and women in picturesque attire and glowing headgear sat, each holding a lotus blossom in their hand, in various attitudes. Next to the central figure stood a man robed in white and wearing a wide belt of a brilliant lapis-lazuli colour on which were engraved what looked like hieroglyphics. With one hand outstretched he was pointing upwards, and with the other to the swathed human figure and to a woman who was crouching at its feet embracing its knees.

While I was gazing in rapt attention at this extraordinary picture, I heard, in a semi-conscious way, the voice of the artist talking in his soft gentle voice—he had not the Oxford accent—explaining the historical fact on which his conception had been built.

“The mode of administering justice,” I remember him saying—and his words have often rung in my ears since then— “is the surest keynote in every country to the character of its people. These ancient Egyptians sat in judgement sometimes over the living but always over the dead, to decide if he or she was worthy of the holy rites of burial. The man standing beside my central figure is recounting the sins of the deceased. Those figures in dark draperies are his widow and his children. They may speak for or against him, as could his friends and enemies also. Ever since I first became a student of Egyptology,” the artist went on, “I was impressed with this idea of a pleading for one who was so silent and so still. He could neither defend nor incriminate himself but just stood in awesome majesty hearing accusation and defence with the same contemptuous solemnity, the same dignity of eternal sleep. The woman crouching at his feet is the principal witness for or against him. On the belt of the accuser the words carved thereon in cuneiform are ‘Mercy’ and ‘Justice’.”

And so he continued to talk on that absorbing lore—the story of ancient Egypt seven thousand years ago. His knowledge of the subject was prodigious, he was historian and archæologist at the same time, and above all he was a poet and an artist and something of a mystic too. I little guessed that the time would come when that picture would rise with intense vividness before my mind’s eye and that it would fall to me to give with pen, ink, and paper in my romance By the Gods Beloved, a picture of that scene which so impressed me in my kind friend’s studio.

* * * * * * * * *

And it was also at ‘Heatherley’s’ that I first met David (afterwards Sir David) Murray: such a dear, kind, hearty, canny Scot. He and W. B. Leader and J. Farquharson were the best known and most admired landscape painters of the epoch. Their pictures not being of such gigantic proportions as those of Edwin Long, Lord Leighton and others, they found their places in private collections and in many provincial and colonial galleries as well as in the Tate and Jones collections. I remembered hearing these three artists chatting together one evening at the Royal Academy soirée, I making a humble fourth in a very interesting discussion.

As it happened, both David Murray and Joseph Farquharson were exhibiting works that were different from their usual choice of subjects. David was showing three or four sea-scapes which he had never done before. He was essentially a landscape painter, but with that unrestrained artist’s conceit which I always admire for its perfectly natural and undisguised blatancy (why indeed shouldn’t an artist be conceited?) he just wanted to show Henry Moore and those other fellows that he could paint the sea just as well as they did. As for Joe Farquharson he had painted sheep in snow year after year till he was sick of them, so this year he was exhibiting pictures which had nothing to do with either snow or sheep.

Of the three distinguished artists W. B. Leader alone had stuck to his ever popular rendering of leafy summer in England. The amicable discussion between them interested me enormously. All three were men who made a large income by the sale of their pictures. Dealers fought for the privilege of securing their R. A. pictures year by year, knowing that they could sell them to art patrons at a considerable profit. But it seems that these dealers were rather doubtful as to fresh incursions by popular artists in subjects hitherto evaded by them.

“Yes! very fine, Mr. Murray,” one Philistine had said to David; “but I am afraid that your admirers don’t want any sea-scapes from you. They love your moors and your Scottish hills . . . you understand . . . but very fine . . . very fine . . . but I, for one, could not venture to buy . . . I know your admirers . . . etc. etc . . .” David was furious and said some very rude things about dealers in general, for it seems that with one accord they all began to make the same excuse: “Yes, very fine Mr. Farquharson . . . the trees . . . the Spring of the year . . . but I am afraid your admirers don’t want spring and summer from you. . . . Sheep, you know, Mr. Farquharson . . . in the snow . . . you understand . . . but very fine . . . very fine. . . . Only I, for one, could not venture to buy . . .” and so on, and so on. And the two great Scots, being Scots, would not see the humour of the situation which appealed very strongly to W. B. Leader. The latter was smiling quietly inside himself congratulating his own sound English sense which had made him stick to his usual popular subject, ‘Spring and Summer in leafy England’.

How many artists, how many writers have had to suffer in the same way in their career? the demand of the public—of their admirers for what they were accustomed to receive from their favourites—a sort of slavery in fact. Fetters which will always require an almost superhuman effort to break a kind of set down in artistic aspirations, above which only a transcendent genius is strong enough to rise. I suppose that these days if an artist (?) accustomed to painting naked ladies with green thighs and faces like acidulated pumpkins were to offer to his patrons a beautifully drawn female figure of classical proportions, it would be rejected by them as not quite . . . quite . . . what was expected of him; and if he persisted in following his new inspiration, his income would go down to zero and the number of his admirers vanish from out his ken.

Let me confess at once that though my incursions into an artistic career are not worth recording and my attempts at pictorial art were anything but glorious there is a thing for which I shall always be profoundly grateful, and that is that my artistic training enabled me to see pictorially what later on I attempted to describe with my pen. Quite apart from that wonderful experience in Edwin Long’s studio when he made me visualize those glowing presentations of ancient Egypt, I obtained through my training in pictorial art the faculty of seeing the scenes, the characters, the movement of what my imagination was evoking for me.

In the same way as I originally saw my Sir Percy Blakeney on the platform of a railway station, so did I see the seething mobs in the Paris of the Revolution, the tumbrils, the guillotine, the prisoners in the Conciergerie, the Scarlet Pimpernel plotting and planning for their release; I saw him in his various disguises, I saw him feigning sleep at midnight at Lord Grenville’s ball with Chauvelin vaguely puzzled at first, then with the dawn of comprehension lighting up his thin sallow face. Pictures! Yes! they were all pictures before me, real vivid pictures! to transcribe them with my pen was a comparatively simple matter.

Readers have so often said to me, “How you can think of all these things, I don’t know. How you can describe those scenes that happened years and years ago—and make them so real that one can almost see them.” And that is my answer. “They are real to you—Bless you!—because they were real to me, because I saw them as pictures before I put pen to paper.”

* * * * * * * * *

But above all things (and one for which I can only thank God on my knees) which came to me during the none too glorious years of my artistic career, it was during that time that my life was turned from darkness into light. It was in the studio at ‘Heatherley’s’ that I met the man who from that day became and remained all the world to me. The subject is secret and sacred to me so I will not speak of it except to say this, that the whole of my life, every step in my career has been bound up with what Swinburne glorifies in such exquisite words: Love that keeps all the choir of lives in chime. . . . My marriage was for close on half a century one of perfect happiness and understanding, of perfect friendship and communion of thought. The great link in my chain of life which brought me everything that makes life worth the living.

Book 4 - Early Married Life

Chapter 9

The first weeks of our married life we spent in the strictest incog. In the studio flat we had taken in Holland Park Road, next door to Val Prinsep’s beautiful house and cheek by jowl with so many beautiful artistic houses. Lord Leighton’s, Watts’, Marcus Stone’s, and others. Phil May had a studio flat opposite to us in the same block as ours; so had Herbert Schmalz (who during the 1914-1918 war changed his name to Carmichael, as there was such an inveterate feeling against names that sounded German). In fact that little backwater behind High Street, Kensington, was a regular artist’s colony. And there we spent our honeymoon.

We didn’t go away in the orthodox fashion, as the weather was in one of its worst London moods. Dark, damp and foggy, one simply shuddered to think what it would have been like in the country or by the sea. And our little home was very cosy. We had engaged a very efficient and understanding female domestic, a German woman of the old-fashioned type. Her name was Minna, and hers was a type which, alas! has vanished out of existence for ever. She was awaiting us at the flat with an excellently cooked little dinner. We were supremely and childishly happy.

My dear father was dead, my mother who was in delicate health and who had never really cared for England—not as my father and I did—had gone back to Hungary as soon as she saw me happily and contentedly married. Travelling across the continent of Europe was no longer the slow and complicated affair of one’s young days and one could get over from London to Budapest in less than thirty-six hours without stepping out of one’s comfortable lit-salon.

However we were not thinking of lits-salon and of Hungary just then. We were going to settle down to work and to work very hard. My mother-in-law was in the last stages of a severe illness and every evening, wet or fine, we went over to see her in her pretty little house in Bedford Park. To get to it we had to go through Hammersmith Broadway, then a very rowdy and none too reputable a district, especially when the customers of the many public-houses were turned out into the streets at closing time. But we were never molested or in any way annoyed.

London crowds, even in their cups, are like that. There is always something in them, even amongst the worst, that restrains them from being offensive to quiet passers-by. At least that has always been my experience; my husband and I went about a great deal in all sorts of highways and byways in London which would have been called disreputable in those days, the like of which in Paris or Brussels or Vienna it was always prudent to avoid.

This was the year when the whole of London was stirred to excitement by the criminal activities of ‘Jack the Ripper’. Before I was married I knew little if anything about it, but I know that friends made up parties to go and view the scenes of those horrible crimes. Strangely enough it was during the first week of our marriage that one of those abominations was brought very close to our door. We were returning from our nightly visit in Bedford Park when turning into Holland Park Road we were met by Mr. Alfred Praga, the miniature painter who lived quite close to us. He said hurriedly to my husband: “Take your lady in quickly before crossing the road. Something very unpleasant has happened.” And it had.

My husband deposited me in the flat in the care of good old Minna and then went out to see what had actually happened. A wretched woman was lying on the pavement outside Val Prinsep’s door, obviously another victim of the mysterious Jack the Ripper. Prinsep, roused by the sound of talking, for a small crowd had already collected and a couple of police had been loudly summoned, begged for as much quiet as was possible. “My wife,” he said, “has just given birth to a son. She is none too well. The doctor is with her.” I don’t know why but this juxtaposition of horrible death and a new innocent life took hold of my imagination as something weird and mystically predestined. And when, twenty or thirty years later I met the man who had been that baby, I wondered whether his inner being had in any way been affected by his quasi-mystical birth.

* * * * * * * * *

My husband (it seems funny not to speak of him by his Christian name but his god-parents had treated him very scurvily. ‘Montagu’ was quite impossible, and its diminutive even worse). Well! he had for some time been engaged in black and white work, illustrations for books and magazine stories—pot-boiling he called it. It certainly was pot-boiling, but in those days it was of a very lucrative and often interesting kind. Such brilliant artists as John Tenniel, John Charlton, Phil May, Linley Sambourne all on Punch, Lucien Davis, the several Wilsons, the Pagets, Raven Hill, and also my husband, held the field. Full-page drawings by those artists in magazines and in the weekly Press were, I venture to say, more appreciated then than are to-day ‘Lady Somebody Something walking in the Park with Sir Matthew thingummy’ or ‘the Duchess of X.Y.Z. at Their Majesty’s drawing-room wearing her superb diamond tiara’.

Well! it is all a question of taste and of fashion, of course, and I am the first to admit that editors of magazines and of the illustrated Press know their public and have learned from experience just what Tottie Hoots of Balham and Lilian de Montmorency of Tooting desire to see in their Daily Sketch and Mirror. These modern young ladies don’t want to see ‘pretty pictures’ any more; they want ‘actualities’, and like to know just how Lady Somebody Something looks when she walks in the Park and how a superb diamond tiara would become them if they happened to possess one.

During the final years of the dying century, a humorous periodical aptly called Pick-me-up was launched under the joint direction of Raven Hill and Arnold Goldsworthy. The former did the weekly political cartoon and Goldsworthy wrote articles on the leading questions of the day and reviewed books and plays in his inimitably witty style. Sime also contributed a full-page drawing every week which shocked the general public just sufficiently to make Pick-me-up one of the great financial successes of humorous publications. He called his series of drawings: ‘The Shades’. The first one represented the nether regions with a lot of little demons running helter-skelter about, as if in a state of terror, and the legend below the picture was “Look out, you fellows, she is coming,” and the other little demons enquiring “Who?” and the first little demon in awe-struck tones “The new woman!” Another had the approach to the nether regions for its background and sturdy little demons were trundling along barrows laden with paving stones ‘First consignment for the New Year’ was inscribed below. There were others that were often less funny and sometimes blasphemous.

Whether this had any bearing on the ultimate decline of the circulation of Pick-me-up I am not in a position to say. It certainly was at its apogee during the last years of the century and during the years of the South African War. My husband was commissioned to do a weekly front page drawing for it—in a sort of politico-classical style . . . Britannia and so on, more ‘classical’ than politico, I’m thinking.

Anyway, the public who loved its Pick-me-up loved these ‘classics’ to the extent that the editors decided to issue reproductions of the original drawings on ‘plate-paper for mounting’. And then Messrs. W. H. Smith, the autocrats of the railway bookstalls, thought fit to object to all ‘classical’ drawings as well as to ‘The Shades’, and I imagine that Pick-me-up died a lingering death about this time—I certainly lost sight of it.

There were several others; there was Fun and Judy and Lika Joko, and others the names of which I ought to remember and don’t, just as good in their way and often far more amusing than the immortal Punch—immortal in very truth. Nothing has ever ousted Punch from its supreme position as the one and only humorous English periodical, the only comic paper worthy to rest on the tables of reading-rooms in the select clubs of St. James’s and in houses of ‘the county’. Its politics have always been ‘sound’. Perhaps this accounts for its ‘immortality’.

* * * * * * * * *

And we did enjoy life the two of us. These were the last years of the dying century. London was still ‘good old London’ then: the London of the ‘eighties and the ’nineties so much derided, so mercilessly satirized by young moderns to-day.

Living so much abroad as I have done during the past years, but seeing London fairly regularly four months out of twelve, it seemed to me every time that I came over for my annual visit that something of its dear old face had undergone change. It seemed already at the beginning of this century that London had been to a beauty parlour, had had its wrinkles smoothed out, its face massaged and lifted. Oh, yes! lifted! There were times when I hardly knew it, times when it seemed a strange unknown city, without its Nash’s Quadrant and its ancient Piccadilly Circus. At others it just seemed as if it were peopled with ghosts: ghosts and pictures of the past.

It seemed strange even all these years ago to see London without its old horse ’bus going clippety-clop up the Edgware Road or along Oxford Street . . . the ‘Royal Blue’ was the one I remembered best. It used to ply from somewhere near Oxford Circus to Victoria and took three-quarters of an hour doing it. Nominally there was room for twelve inside; it usually held eighteen. There was straw on the floor, which on wet days . . . well! never mind about the straw on wet days. The conductor, insecurely perched on the step at the rear, would collect fares, and the door there was a square tablet on which he chalked up the amounts which he had collected.

I remember being very much puzzled as to the mathematical process by which, when he had taken fourpence from me, he chalked up threepence, and once, quite innocently, I asked for an explanation of this abstruse calculation. But only the once! The explanation, I may say, was neither satisfactory nor relevant. I forget in what year the punching-clip and ticket system was introduced into the omnibus service, but I do know that this ticket system was greatly resented by the ’bus conductors. And one of the earliest strikes I recollect was an omnibus strike in protest against that unpleasant innovation.

Of course, one never went on top of ’busses until what was poetically termed ‘garden seats’ were introduced. Before that there was what was called the ‘knife-board’ by way of seating accommodation, and only the lords of creation were able to negotiate the iron ladder which led up to it. One passenger was privileged to sit on the box beside the driver, but how he obtained that privilege I have never known to this day. Needless to say that this privilege, too, was reserved for the great sex.

When the ‘garden seats’ first came into use the iron ladder, too, was made more accessible, and some of us, more venturesome than others, made our first attempts at climbing to the top of a ’bus. Punch at the time had a joke about the shy young lady out for a country walk. She comes to a stile over which she will be forced to climb. To her consternation a man is standing close by, and she marvels how she can possibly negotiate the stile without showing her ankles, whereupon the stranger remarks, genially: “Lor, don’t you be afeeard, miss, I am a ’bus conductor; ankles ain’t no treat to me!” Autres temps, autres moeurs. Ankles, methinks, ain’t no treat to anybody these days.

Being a mere woman, one’s mode of locomotion in old London in varying degrees of plutocracy, consisted—if you only had pennies to spare—of the aforesaid horse-’bus, or you could also go by Underground. They were the well-named ‘bone-shakers’, consisting of one very tall and one very small wheel, impossible for any woman to mount. I think it was about ’95 that the ‘safety bicycle’ came in, together with the inflated rubber tyres and the curved cross-bar, capable of being negotiated in skirts. I have a very distinct, though not altogether pleasant, recollection of the introduction of the safety bicycle.

It was in the days when I considered myself an artist by profession, not having yet discovered that I could write novels and I had been commissioned by Messrs. Raphael Tuck & Sons to illustrate a coloured picture-book for bairns. All the pictures were to be comic animals doing everyday things. One of the pictures I had devised represented a bicycle race run by comic green frogs. Of course, I had drawn them on the old ‘bone-shakers’, but the cyclist frogs he rejected. “If you have a bicycle race,” he said to me, “you must have the modern safety kind.”

I had to do my picture over again, and was in great trouble to get a correct drawing of the wonderful new safety machine. Directly after its introduction, however, bicycling at once became not only of general utility to women, but also very fashionable. In the late ’nineties the great thing in London was to go and watch the bicycling in Battersea Park. After tea-time the Park was thronged with all the smartest women in London. I remember seeing the beautiful Lady Warwich there on one occasion, most exquisitely dressed, and countless others, if not equally beautiful, at any rate equally smart.

But, of course, bicycling then was for the young in the same way as riding in omnibuses was not considered ‘the thing’ for a Society woman to do. She might—if she did not keep a carriage—go in a ‘growler’.

Fifty years ago any fashionable woman would have done so; more particularly as it was not thought decorous for her to ride in a hansom alone. The hansom was the height of smartness. Lord Shrewsbury and Talbot, the smartest man about town at that time, launched the hansom-cabs in London. They were called ‘Talbots’ for a long time. He himself drove a private one. It was painted canary yellow, and certainly was the smartest affair to be seen in the Park.

But the fashionable Society woman drove either in her brougham, her victoria, or the family landau—with ‘C’ springs, if you please! In these she could do her shopping and pay her calls. After tea her business—and, no doubt, her pleasure—was to drive in the Park for an hour or more, up and down the Lady’s mile. Everybody who was anybody had to be seen there at that hour.

Duchesses in landaus with ‘C’ springs; on the box a bewigged coachman and a powdered footman, who looked like a stuffed dummy if he was properly trained; smart society in elegant victorias; elderly dowagers in closed broughams. It was bad form to drive two horses unless you had a footman on the box. Soon after five o’clock the then Princess of Wales, with her daughters, would drive once or twice up and down the Lady’s Mile, smiling and bowing to right and left practically without ceasing.

There was a generally-accepted legend at the time that the Princess had a hidden spring in the back cushion of the carriage, which rocked her forwards and back without any effort on her part. Personally I should think that was very likely, otherwise I do not see how any woman could have gone on bowing to right and left so unceasingly and so regularly without turning giddy and faint.

The Princess of Wales—I am, of course, referring to the late Queen Alexandra—unlike many other Royal ladies had a great influence over London fashions. I don’t say that London fashions were universally accepted, say in Paris or Vienna, but there were certain modes which she originated and kept to in spite of dictates from the fashion kings and queens of other countries.

The Alexandra bonnet for one thing: that close-fitting little affair, which framed her beautiful face so exquisitely and was thought so becoming. It had narrow strings tied under the chin and was ‘trimmed’—we always ‘trimmed’ our hats and bonnets in those days—either with a velvet bow or a flat bunch of flowers.

One always went to church in a bonnet, never in a hat. It was thought very bad form even for a girl just ‘out’ to go to a fashionable London church in a hat. Nor would our mothers—however beautiful or young-looking they were—have worn a hat in London for calling or driving in the afternoon: always a bonnet tied under the chin and a veil reaching exactly down to the tip of their nose. And at home a cap. Yes, Madam 1946, a cap!

The Princess of Wales, one of the loveliest women of her, or any, time, always wore a cap. At the theatre, at her own intimate tea-parties, or when receiving friends at Marlborough House, if she did not wear a cap it was because the occasion was grand enough for her to wear a tiara.

The matron’s cap—you were called a matron very soon after you had turned thirty-five—varied in fashion from year to year: it could be quite diminutive, no bigger than a large butterfly or large like a miniature Alsatian bow; it could be made of the most exquisite filmy point d’Alençon or of a length of velvet ribbon. The Princess of Wales invented one made of a twisted coloured silk handkerchief over a buckram shape. Of course, it was called ‘the Alexandra cap’. I remember seeing her at the opera one night in a pale blue cap with a huge diamond brooch pinned into it in front. Of course she looked beautiful as she always did, but imagine a young woman of the present day—one with complexes and inhibitions and I don’t know what not—going to the opera in a cap!

Of course, on great occasions—gala nights when the de Reszkes were singing, dinner-parties, dances, and so on—you wore a tiara, if you had one; if not, you wore some kind of jewellery in your elaborately-dressed hair. Pearls were nothing like the rage that they are now, and on gala nights at the opera the boxes were literally a blaze of diamonds. For more ordinary occasions one wore pendants, brooches, necklaces, all rather on the large side; and I remember the time when a gold locket on a gold chain round the neck over a high dress was not considered at all—shall I say—out of place.

For one thing, if for no other, must we be eternally grateful to post-war fashion-kings or queens and that is the introduction of the short dresses. Whatever fault the old-fashioned fogies may find with the present promiscuous display of legs, there is no doubt that the short skirt is infinitely more comfortable and more hygienic. Quite apart from athletics, don’t we all remember the hideous discomfort of walking in London on a muddy, rainy day, holding up an umbrella with one hand and our dress with the other?

When I was a girl, and officially ‘out’ the dresses had what was called a foundation, with a flounce round the bottom and an inside ‘frilling’ besides. And when you thought you had your dress well in hand and out of the mud, lo! when you got home you found that your foundation had escaped you and that not only was it smothered in mud, frilling and all, both inside and out, but it had also splashed your boots and your stockings up to your knees.

It was in ’92, if I remember right, that the ‘umbrella’ skirt first came in. Cut on the cross—on the principle of an umbrella—and lined with silk throughout and free of any drapery, it seemed then the acme of comfort, even though it did not reach the ground. It was about that time too, that we gave up all ideas of artificial excrescences about our body. Until then we had a series of them. The ‘bustle’ in the late ’nineties, followed by the ‘waterfall back’. The latter was an indescribable nuisance when getting in and out of ’buses and cabs: but it was generally admitted that it gave grace to the wearer’s movements when walking!!!

The waterfall back was a series of steels of graduated lengths reaching from the waist to the hem of the gown: each steel tied back with tape so as to form an arc. There was an art in swinging this erection behind one as one walked.

I remember in the early ’nineties some lovely ball-gowns I had. Tulle skirts and satin or moiré bodices to tone were all the rage for girls, and I had a dress, the skirt of which consisted of four layers of tulle one over the other shading from pale lemon to deep chrysanthemum orange. Under the top layer and going from the waist-line on the right across the front, to the hem on the left was a cascade of shaded chrysanthemums: the top layer of tulle veiling the flowers; the bodice, cut in a deep V back and front, and laced up at the back, was of chrysanthemum orange moiré; on the left shoulder a bunch of shaded chrysanthemums. Another dress was of saffron-coloured tulle, with a flight of tiny bright blue birds down the side, again veiled by one layer of tulle.

That was also the time when the tight ‘eel’s skin’ dresses were fashionable. One wore a skin-tight bodice of jersey material above a pleated skirt. The jersey moulded the figure like a skin. The great thing was to have a small waist—the smaller the waist, the more marvellous the figure. Every girl aspired to an eighteen-inch waist, but there was a very celebrated London beauty, Mrs. W., whose waist only measured thirteen. Of course, one wore the ‘hour-glass’ corsets with what was known as the ‘spoon’ busk down the front, and the more often that spoon-busk—which was of steel, mind you—broke across in the region of your waist, the prouder you were of your figure.

In spite of those corsets, however, I can assure you young ones that dancing was extremely graceful—more graceful in the strict sense of the word, though of course, not so acrobatic as it is now. I don’t pretend to know how girls played tennis in the ’nineties. Apart from the corsets, the long voluminous skirts, and hats pinned tightly above an elaborate hair-construction cannot have been either suitable or comfortable.

I suppose you would all say that they must have looked supremely ridiculous. Perhaps they did. I don’t know. I did not play tennis in those days, but I do know that the old valse à six temps, danced to the tune of ‘Myosotis’, or ‘Bingen on the Rhine’, by two perfectly-matched partners who looked as if they were moving as one body on soundless roller skates was a lovelier thing to behold than the fox-trots (or whatever they are now called) of to-day.

One did not dance all day and every day then, and it would have been thought the height of bad form to dance in an hotel or in any public place. But everybody who had a house of any size in London gave private dances—one or two during the season. If you had a parquet floor in your ‘double drawing-room’ so much the better; but there was a special kind of drugget, very shiny and very slippery which could be stretched over your Wilton carpet and was excellent to dance on.

After a while public dances did begin to creep in; at first, for those who stood on the less exalted rungs of the social ladder in the shape of Cinderellas at the local town halls. Those at the Kensington Town Hall were very popular, and, of course, there were others; but until well within this century entertaining by a Society hostess in an hotel or other public place was out of the question. Nor was it good form for ladies to dine in restaurants. As a matter of fact, London, in the matter of restaurants, was far behind every other city in Europe—restaurants, that is, to which ladies could go. It is quite amazing, when you come to think of it, how recent some of these innovations actually are with which we are so absolutely familiar to-day.

Tea-shops, for instance. I remember when I first was an art-student in London there wasn’t such a thing as a tea-shop anywhere near where we—the girl-students—could go and get some lunch or a cup of tea. The only places of the sort were the ‘Zoedone’. In the ’nineties they were very rough and quite impossible to go to, though perfectly well conducted. Tea, coffee, or cocoa was served over the counter at three-halfpence a cup. I remember the joy and excitement caused by the opening of the first A.B.C. shop close to Oxford Circus. I can only speak for art-students, but I am sure that every girl or woman-worker in the neighbourhood felt that the era of luxurious living had dawned on good old London at last.

* * * * * * * * *

Did we enjoy life less, I wonder, then? Did we find those restrictions irksome? I don’t know. We didn’t miss cocktails or cigarettes simply because we had never tasted them. And as we did not lead quite such a strenuous life—driving in a brougham or a growler was nothing like so nerve-racking as taking your life in your hands in a two-seater in London traffic to-day—we had no need to ‘buck ourselves up’ with gin and vermouth.

Slowly, however, the cigarette habit crept in more and more; but it was not so very long ago—I was already married at the time and dining in restaurants had become more general—that I went with my husband and two other men friends to dine at what was the old Florence in Rupert Street. When we came to our after-dinner coffee we all lighted cigarettes, and I was at once pounced upon by the manager and told that smoking for ladies was not allowed in a public room.

* * * * * * * * *

We had never, of course, heard of night clubs, and I think I am right in stating that the only two ladies’ clubs in the London of the ’nineties were the Albermarle and the Alexandra in Grosvenor Street. The Albermarle was what was then called a ‘cock and hen’ club, men being admitted both as members and visitors, but the hall porter at the Alexandra would not have permitted a creature wearing trousers into the club save over his dead body. It was said of the Alexandra in those days that it was easier to enter the Kingdom of Heaven than the membership of the club.

A motion put to the committee to permit husbands or brothers to enter public rooms and have tea with a member was rejected by an overwhelming majority, the ladies of the committee remarking that were such a thing allowed it would become impossible for a member to leave her daughters unchaperoned at the club whilst she herself went out shopping.

Music-halls, of course, were out of the question until the happy day when the Princess of Wales went to the Alhambra—I think it was the Alhambra or else the Empire—to witness a special gala performance. Her presence then at a music-hall gave the latter the required cache and from that time forth ladies went openly to the better-class music halls. They had done it before, of course, but always hoping that none of their friends would be there to see them.

It was in ’ninety-two that Lottie Collins sang her celebrated song ‘Tarara-boom-de-ay’, at the old Pavilion. Everyone flocked to see her and I can’t help thinking that Lottie had as much to do with bringing society ladies to the halls as the gracious Princess herself.

The days of Vauxhall and Rosherville Gardens were dead and gone before my time, but the exhibitions at Earl’s Court were immensely successful and bore a great share in the social life of vanishing London. ‘The Fisheries’, the ‘Healtheries’, the ‘Colinderies’; I have often wondered why they were given up, with their pretty gardens, their outdoor cafés and bands; they were a solace and a joy to jaded London workers. The labyrinth of flats which occupy the site on which those exhibitions were held are so much less attractive.

The Earl’s Court exhibitions were very successful for a time. In the neighbourhood of Kensington, with its teeming population, they must have been a great boon. For the large sum of half-a-guinea you could go in every evening for three months; if it was fine you could sit outside and listen to the band, and if wet, the buildings were large enough to accommodate you and the band as well. And now a wilderness of flats has taken the place of the pretty Earl’s Court Gardens.

One of the charms of those old gardens for those of us who lived on the unfashionable side of the Park were the evenings which one could spend there during those summers when we had what got to be known as ‘Queen’s weather’. Dear old V.R. was always credited with bringing fine weather with her whenever she drove out (she could no longer get out of her carriage, poor dear), and there were some lovely evenings when one could stroll about the very pretty gardens and listen to one or other of those really fine military bands which are second to none anywhere in Europe, whatever our German cook might say.

* * * * * * * * *

Apart from those unsophisticated amusements the military pageants were always a great joy. They were exceptionally fine during Diamond Jubilee year and were constantly to be seen in the streets of London for the delight of us all, young and old, London and visitors. Crowds of sightseers followed in their wake, as they marched past with their splendid bands and joined in with them to sing (or yell?) ‘Soldiers of the Queen’ and ‘The British Grenadiers’. Were there ever before or since such splendid inspiring tunes?

I know we have ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ now, and I for one adore it, but try ‘Soldiers of the Queen’ next time you see the Guards ride by in their glittering panoply of cuirass and helmet, on their magnificent horses and you will see what I mean. All I know is that in that wonderful jubilee year men, women and children were boisterously happy and proud to witness ‘the glory and pageant of our world-wide Empire on which the sun never sets’.

Our German cook said to me one day in her halting English, “Madam, please what it means the sun never sets? I saw yesterday a bee-utiful sunzet. The English are liars. Not?” I tried to explain but failed to convince. Nor was Minna over-impressed by the galas, marches past, the pomp and array of our military parades. She had seen, so she assured me, much finer ones in Berlin.

I must say I loved it all. Colour, movement, the splendid appearance of the Guards, the horses, the uniforms, all those things always appealed to me. And I felt a little lump in my throat when I saw the crowd outside St. Paul’s cathedral waiting to catch a glimpse of a little old lady in black who was too feeble to get down from her carriage, while the organ pealed from within the sacred building and the voice of the Archbishop of Canterbury, of the clergy and of the immense congregation inside and out intoned the prayers for her health and welfare.

* * * * * * * * *

Skating-rinks had in the meanwhile become the rage all over England as great a rage as dancing is to-day. But even the huge buildings built at enormous cost for this passing whim failed to hold the fancy of later London. Yet the ‘moderns’ of forty years ago loved their skating. They went to the rinks in huge parties, and experts and beginners went round and round and round, very much in the way that they go round and round a dancing-floor to-day. The only difference that strikes one now is that at the skating-rink at a given moment, an attendant would blow a whistle when every skater had to turn and go round the other way. Why this was done I do not know.

Society, however—I mean Society with a capital ‘S’—did not patronize roller-skating. Against that, skating on artificial ice at Prince’s Club in Knightsbridge was the height of fashion in the middle ’nineties. But the craze was of short duration. Skating requires more practice, i.e. hard work, than most fashionable women of those days cared to bestow on mere sport, and nothing in the world is quite so dead as a fashion which has ceased to please.

Indeed, London has had its nice old face lifted. There is hardly a shop on its new Regent Quadrant that was there when the houses were low and stuccoed and coated with London grime and redolent of the sentiment of a bygone age. Louise, the great and wonderful hat-shop; Lewis & Allenby, reminiscent of lovely Kate Terry, afterwards Mrs. Lewis’ the Stereoscopic Company where one stood and gazed at the photographs in the shop windows of the fashionable beauties of the day: lovely Lillie Langtry, Mrs. Cornwallis West, Lady Londonderry in gorgeous tiara, Lady Dudley, and always, always, the exquisite Princess of Wales. . . .

Chapter 10

One of our greatest delights was the theatre. The English stage was waking out of its three-hundred-year-old torpor, and beginning to realize that it was heir to the great traditions, not of Shakespeare alone as so many seemed to think, but of Wycherley and Marlowe, of Massinger and Beaumont and Fletcher and of Sheridan. The days of artistic insularity which acclaimed everything that was foreign and condemned everything that was English were slowly but surely passing away, the days when The School for Scandal was hissed off the stage and Sheridan bowing to the hostile audience spoke his prophetic words:

“Ladies and gentlemen you have seen fit to damn my play: let me tell you that my play will live, long after you are all dead and . . .”

The English stage was then and for many years after on its hands and knees in unqualified admiration of France. The days of the glorification of Russia had not yet dawned and France, of her Corneille, and of her Racine, her Molière and her Beaumarchais, of her Dumas and her de Musset, of France who had proclaimed with trumpet calls the glories of her immortal stage, whilst England remained meek and dumb and accepted the rebuke that but for Shakespeare (who according to his continental admirers was not English at all but a sort of international freak) there was no such thing as English drama, no such person as an English dramatist.

Oh! France does know, none better, how to appreciate her great men, and how to compel the rest of the cultured world to join in her glorification of them, and we honour and admire her for that, but at the time England was all jumble and content to accept adaptations of La Dame de chez Maxime, of Le Contrôleur des Wagons-Lits, or Occupes toi d’Amélie, and of the melodramas of Victorien Sardou or Victor Hugo.

But that time was surely, if slowly, passing away. Tom Robertson and Albery had delighted us with their charming innocuous comedies, H. J. Byron was making us laugh at Our Boys without having recourse too often to that perfectly revolting form of humour, ‘puns’, and Henry Arthur Jones was showing us in the Middleman and the Silver King what a fine and impressive work of art a good well-constructed melodrama could be.

Irving, of course, in conjunction with lovely Ellen Terry showed us all that could be done in the way of artistic excellence in theatrical production. Not only did he give us Shakespeare at his best as the great Phelps had done it before him, but he introduced to us that delightfully romantic dramatist W. G. Wills. Irving’s impersonation of his Charles I, or of The Vicar of Wakefield (how lovely Ellen Terry was as Olivia) stand out as among the finest theatrical events of those barren years.

And presently A. W. Pinero burst upon the theatrical firmament as a newly-discovered star of the first magnitude, as great in thrilling dramas as in side-splitting farces. We loved him when he gave us The Second Mrs. Tanqueray, loved him more than ever when he gave us The Gay Lord Quex (which by the way was severely criticized by a goodly section of the Press), and just adored him when we laughed ourselves silly over The Magistrate, The School Mistress, and so many others. Indeed the theatre was now giving us ardent playgoers all the intellectual enjoyment we could possibly crave for.

We used to have great fun with the plays which we saw, for we had invented a special game of our own, which will sound not only silly but certainly very cheeky to many highbrows. The game was not quite original but was an adaptation of one which the great Victorian Sardou had indulged in in the early days of his brilliant career. Whenever a new play was produced we would go and watch the first two or three acts until the great scene when the plot had become a tangled skein of dramatic surprise. This, in most cases, would take place at the end of the third act, with the fourth act to come. But we did not wait for the fourth act.

We took ourselves and our impressions home and there, in our inexperienced way, attempted to unravel the tangled skein of the drama as we in our ignorance thought it should be unravelled. Or else we would deliberately miss the first act (of a new play), watch the building up of the story, of which we did not know the beginning, and at home reconstruct the plot, introducing the characters whose acquaintance we had made in the subsequent act; and finally, on another occasion, we would sit through the whole play and see how far we had been wrong or right in our ideas of dramatic construction.

It was great fun, and proved most useful in after life, though we did not know that at that time, and my husband was just as keenly interested in these intellectual acrobatics as I was. I know that we both learned a great deal that way, both about the construction and characterization, and as I was able to help in the arrangement and composition of pictures, so he was of immense help to me later on . . . later on when . . . But I am not there yet.

* * * * * * * * *

Let me own up at once that our enjoyment of the theatre was not always of an intellectual kind. It was not only at the Lyceum that one could revel in fine productions of Shakespeare and Irving did delight us in presentations of other characters than Hamlet, Shylock, and so on. He was thrilling as Bill Sykes in Oliver Twist, and gave us a marrow-freezing impersonation of that most villainous villain, Louis XI. As for Mephistopheles in Wills’ adaptation of Goethe’s Faust, it really seemed as if Nature herself in fashioning Irving’s exceptional personality had deliberately endowed him with every physical attribute necessary to perfection in the part.

Irving first played Mathias in The Bells (what an exciting play!) the year that I was born. He woke the next morning and found himself famous, thus fulfilling the prediction spoken by Charles Dickens on an earlier occasion: “You may take it from me,” the great author had said, “that in a few years young Irving will be the leading actor on the English stage.” He certainly was that for close on half a century, until his tragic death at Bradford after his remarkable impersonation of Lord Tennyson’s Becket.

* * * * * * * * *

The greatest fun of all in the theatrical way we used to get at the outlying theatres: the old Surrey in Blackfriars Road, or the Standard Shoreditch. Here we got real melodrama, hot and strong, especially at the West London theatre just off the Edgware Road—to which we often went when we wanted a good laugh. Melodrama there was what ‘Carados’ so wittily called ‘sanguifulminous’, and farce was of the broadest. The stalls cost 1s. 6d. and the dress circle 9d. or 1s. The gallery was 3d. I forget the name of the street where the West London was situated. Huge flats occupy the old site now. But when I was first married the pavements were lined on each side with street-vendors and their stalls lighted up by flares. Shouts of “Buy! Buy!” greeted you to right and left as you tried to make your way through a dense crowd to the theatre door.

Outside the theatre your eyes were gladdened by a magnificent giant clad in what had once been a gold-braided uniform. He controlled the ‘queue’ with a mixture of chaff and physical energy which would have done credit to Patrick Mulvaney. Having paid 1s. 6d. for your stall and thus belonging to the élite among the public a ‘chef’, dressed in traditional white, cap and all, was there ready to sell you ham sandwiches, while the programme girls offered you lemonade and oranges. There was also a chucker-out of large proportions, gorgeously attired, standing down in the stalls, who, whenever gallery of pit-ites became at all boisterous or started pelting the audience with orange peel—which they often did—would shout up to them in a stentorian voice: “Now then, ladies and gentlemen, up there, horder; horder! Or do you want me to come up to yer?”

Apparently the ladies and gentlemen did not desire such an eventuality for ‘horder’ was soon restored. Those who had personal acquaintance with this magnificent chucker-out avoided contact with him. I saw him once ‘come up’ to two young men who had had ‘one over the eight’ and were shouting out rude remarks at the leading lady, whilst throwing a shower of orange peel at the audience in the stalls. After two stentorian but ineffectual summons of “horder! horder! gentlemen in the pit”, he seized the offenders by their coat collars, lifted them over into the back of the stalls, ran them out of the house and pitched them out into the street, the whole operation not taking more than a few minutes. He was worth his salary, whatever it was. It was said of this athletic gentleman that he had been a famous boxer at one time and a great man in the ring.

* * * * * * * * *

Oh! we saw some wonderful thrillers there. All the best that men like Paul Merritt, Andrew Melville, Arthur Shirley and so on had given to West End audiences at the Adelphi, marrow-freezing dramas like Susan Hopley or The Vicissitudes of a Servant Girl (what a perfect title for a play!, Lady Audley’s Secret, The Lonely Man of the Ocean, and so many others the names of which it would take too long to enumerate. The one thing all these thrillers had in common was their moral tendency. This was always above reproach. Virtue was inevitably triumphant in the end. Vice, as exemplified by the villain, brought about its own chastisement; and comedy was always on the side of virtue.

The low comedy couple got all its laughs against the villain: and the latter never got a laugh save one of derision at his final discomfiture. Yes! the ‘trend’ of melodrama at the Surrey, the Standard and the West London was essentially moral and ‘elevating’, and magistrates who nowadays when passing sentence on youthful delinquents so often ascribe their fall from rectitude to the baneful influence of the cinema, had never a word to say against the theatre.

I remember there was a very successful play in which the villain was a Turk. You knew at once that he was a Turk because he wore a scarlet fez and a huge diamond crescent on his breast. He arrived on the scene in a motor-car—a cardboard one but most realistic. It honked in the wings in a most impressive manner. He was dressed in a frock coat and pepper and salt trousers. He was a real sanguinary villain. The moment he appeared you knew at once that he was a villainous villain because of the effect of his black moustache, the points of which stuck up almost to his eyes. The low comedy couple saw through him at once, for they were very rude to him and spoke of him always as ‘the black-and-tan beauty in a tea cosy’.

But the most remarkable and successful play we saw here was The Worst Woman in London. It had a long run of thirty performances as against the usual weekly change of programme. There was a villainess this time. She was a ‘vamp’ and a French governess. In the opening scene the lady of the house said that she was not altogether satisfied with the new French governess whom she had engaged for the children indeed she felt there was something amiss with her. This was scarcely surprising for that lady presently appeared for luncheon in what was described on the playbill as an ‘aristocratic English country house’ dressed in a very low-necked black satin dress covered all over with sequins; she displayed also a vast expanse of back and a very magnificent pair of arms and wore a huge black hat decorated with long trailing feathers. Moreover, she was smoking a cigarette in a very long holder.

The audience with a sigh of excited anticipation, ‘settled down to it’, as it were. They had spotted the villainy concealed behind these gorgeous appurtenances of sequins and cigarette smoke even though the dignified lady of the house was no more than slightly puzzled at the governess’s appearance. We didn’t see the children. Presumably they lunched upstairs.

In Act II as the plot warmed up so did the governess’s attire. She wore a gown of the same cut, very low back and front and diminutive about the shoulders, but this time it was green and covered with shimmering green beads. (Fortunately in those days dresses were always long or I shudder to think of the length of leg she would have displayed.) In Act III the lady wore yellow and a multitude of glittering gold sequins; and in the final act, which took place in her bedroom, her dress—what there was of it—consisted exclusively as far as we could see of bright red sequins. On this occasion she forestalled modern fashions by showing a generous leg encased in red silk stocking which she displayed when reclining on a sofa, through a slit in her skirt right up to her waist. She made no attempt at first to go to bed, but she appeared very agitated.

Things were obviously coming to a climax. She became very nervous about something or other, and finally gave us to understand that she would ring for the maid to help her undress. She rang the bell . . . and immediately through both the windows two policemen appeared and apprehended her whilst the comic couple entered by the door and said rude and funny things to her. The audience applauded frantically and shrieked with delight. There were a number of curtain calls and the villainess was loudly hissed. The audience always hissed the villain of the piece and reserved its applause for the dauntless hero and persecuted heroine. All went away happy and satisfied and filled with good resolutions and orange juice.

In connection with The Worst Woman in London it was rather amusing at the time to note that during its run at the West London Theatre the stalls (still at 1s. 6d.) were filled with a fashionable audience who drove down in their broughams and landaus—and in full evening dress too—to see this much advertised play. The management, dazzled by this unexpected success thought to transfer the drama to a West End house and opened what he hoped would be a long run of The Worst Woman in London at the Adelphi in the Strand. But, funnily enough, the fashionable playgoer would have none of it there. Hardly any broughams or landaus deposited lovely ladies in Paris gowns and gentlemen with starched shirt fronts at the door, and the drama that had thrilled hundreds at the dirty old playhouse in the Edgware Road played to empty houses for a fortnight in the West End and was then withdrawn.

* * * * * * * * *

Whenever we were away in the country—either staying with friends or just on our own—-we always made a point of visiting the local theatre if there was one fairly close by and many an amusing incident did we witness at these unsophisticated play-houses. Of course towns like Leeds, or Nottingham, or Bradford, not to mention Liverpool, Manchester or Birmingham do not come under this category. The principal houses in those towns known as the T.R. usually were anything but unsophisticated. The most important London companies with their latest successes and full array of scenery, costumes, and properties paid them annual or bi-annual visits of a week’s duration, and the aspect of the houses on what would be called the fashionable nights when the élite of the neighbourhood drove over in full force to see the show rivalled Covent Garden in magnificence in the way of Paris gowns, diamonds, and immaculate shirt fronts.

But in the small provincial cities, travelling companies—reinforced by local aspirants to the stage—afforded great delight to the inhabitants and sometimes intense amusements to us two young Bohemians possessed of an unquenchable sense of humour. Just think how delighted you would have been when witnessing one of Shakespeare’s historic dramas to hear local talent announce with imperturbable solemnity: “My Lord, the Dook is wown-ded.” And the response: “What? wown-ded sayest thou?” and local talent again responding: “Aye! Mor-tally I fear.”

And then there were the witches in Macbeth wherein local talent was very much to the fore. One of these weird characters was enacted by one of the scene-shifters who had been in the Dragoon Guards at one time, and had also been a noted amateur actor in his day and a master of theatrical ‘make-up’. It seems that at rehearsal he had greatly worried the producer by slightly misquoting a certain line in Act IV, scene i. The words in the text are: “Cool it with a baboon’s blood, etc. etc.”

The producer pulled him up once, then again and even a third time when he repeated the offence, but the ex-guardsman wholly unperturbed, invariably gave him the playful advice: “Keep your ’air on, mister,” and added reassuringly, “it’ll be all right on the night.” But ‘on the night’ it was not all right; reminiscences of the old days were too strong for the ex-guardsman, and out of the mouth of the witch came the sonorous words loud as a clarion call: “Cool it with a dragon’s blood . . .” followed immediately by a resounding expletive: “My crumbs! I’ve said it again.”

Tableau, as the witch clutched her hair (which being a wig came off in her hand in its entirety) in an agony of self-deprecation. As a matter of fact I don’t think there were more than half a dozen in the audience who noticed this lapse from rectitude.

But by far the most amusing ‘lapse from rectitude’ I ever witnessed occurred in the T.R. of a small city in an industrial district somewhere in the Midlands. I won’t name the town, but I am sure there are many of the local townsfolk of to-day who remember the incident and how thrilling that incident was. It happened like this. The programme consisted of three one-act plays. The first a gentle little comedy of love, the scene of which was laid in an English garden. The second, a real thriller, was set in the wilds of Africa, and the third in a London drawing-room.

Local talent was requisitioned for the African scene, savages in chocolate-coloured tights and head-dresses fashioned of feathers collected from the neighbouring chicken-runs. They were taught how to brandish tomahawks and to emit yells of brutish delight at sight of the English party who had apparently come to the wilds to explore this outlying part of the British Empire, bringing several ladies with them who had their hair beautifully waved and wore the daintiest high-heeled shoes for the purpose of tramping about in the African jungle.

Of course there was one specially lovely lady (the others hadn’t much to do) whose hair had recently been ‘inecto-ed’ and who had been far-seeing enough to bring her best frocks and silk stockings along with her. And there was the gallant hero who was in love with her and who had brought her along with him on this expedition for the express purpose of winning her regard with his dauntless courage when fighting lions and crocodiles on her behalf. We did not see the lions and crocodiles but the lady told us all about her young man’s valour in fighting the denizens of the jungle and how safe she would always feel under his protection even if a whole herd of cannibal savages were to attack her and threaten her life.

The cannibal savages in chocolate-coloured tights had been instructed as to the exact moment when with wild “whoops!” they were suddenly to enter with a rush upon the scene and there behold the hero and heroine in the jungle having a heart-rending love scene locked in each other’s arms. They were then to bounce with unearthly sounding yells upon the loving couple and tomahawk the hero or rather endeavour to do so, and only failing owing to the latter’s superhuman valour in defending his beloved with a revolver, killing every one of the cannibals who fell in a heap all over the floor, raising a cloud of dust from the boards.

It was a most thrilling, marrow-freezing scene which, the theatre posters announced, had drawn crowded audiences for hundreds of nights in one of the most fashionable theatres in London. The pay-going public of the city was agog with expectation. Those who had been privileged to witness the dress rehearsal, friends or relatives of the manager or the producer declared that never in all their experience had they witnessed anything so sensational and so entirely engrossing. The applause on the nights after the final curtain drop would shatter the roof of the house. This was the opinion of the producer, the prompter and the leading lady with the ‘inecto-ed’ hair. Only the manager felt rather nervous. It is an old tradition in the theatre that if a dress-rehearsal goes without a hitch there is sure to be trouble ‘on the night’.

Local talent had been well drilled. The savages knew to within a few seconds the moment when they were to rush with wild yells upon the stage. It was a very hot day in mid-July. Local talent like most other talents was very hot and very excited . . . also thirsty. The dress-rehearsal had lasted till past six and the turn of the cannibals was ‘on’ at thirty-five minutes past nine. There was plenty of time for supper . . . and drink.

As ill-luck would have it, a slight defect was discovered at the last moment in the African scenery. Nothing serious and could easily be repaired. Seamstresses were at once set to work, but it was going to be a somewhat longer job than had been anticipated; the manager was appealed to and he said, “It’s quite simple, we’ll change the whole programme. We’ll have the drawing-room comedy first, then the pretty little set in the garden, and keep the African play to the last; that will give plenty of time for all the mending that is necessary.” The stage manager was ordered to inform all the actors of this change in the programme, including of course the talented local performers who were killing time and enjoying life in the bar of The Running Footman round the corner.

How it all came about and whose fault it was no one ever knew. It was generally attributed by the Company to the potency of the Running Footman’s whisky. Certain it is that during the second item in the programme when in the lovely English garden all flowers and moonlight, the hero was clasping the heroine in his arms and their lips met in a lingering kiss, the cannibal savages in chocolate-coloured tights and a multiplicity of feathers came rushing and scrambling on the stage tumbling upon one another, and to the accompaniment of unearthly yells and “Whoopees” effectually ‘tomahawked; the hero and heroine who, still clasped in each other’s arms, tumbled headlong into the flowing shrubs below. Tableau and quick curtain.

Thus we certainly had plenty of variety to amuse us during our early theatre-going days. As one grew older and more sophisticated one certainly got more intellectual pleasure out of the theatre but not nearly so much fun. We both enjoyed a good laugh, as I think most theatre-goers do; even the high-brows. Pinero gave us the best of laughs in his farces at the Court Theatre, and the wit in Tom Robertson’s naïve little comedies and later on in those of R. C. Carton was always pleasant.

There was one side of stage-craft which has completely died down since the early days of this century and which, until then, afforded pleasure to a great many theatre-goers; this was burlesque. Every successful play and every popular actor had to go through the ordeal, not always a pleasant one, of being satirized in a one-act resumé of his success, often very cleverly written and constructed. Some dramas lent themselves more than others to burlesque. The more ‘intense’ and soul-stirring they were, the more easily did they lend themselves to Francis Burnand’s or H. J. Byron’s or Chance Newton’s caustic pen. One of the most successful burlesques was Paw Claudian. It lent itself so admirably to travesty.

Wilson Barrett, whom we all loved for the sake of the past, had just started a décolleté style of costume which displayed his manly chest, and he rolled out W. G. Wills’ verses with his round, sonorous voice and sentimental diction. Claudian in the original drama was a tyrant of ancient Rome who, because of some flagrant crime against morality, was condemned by the gods to live on for ever. Only love could redeem him in the end and this was accomplished by Miss Eastlake as a beautiful slave who called him: “Master! dear Master.”

In the burlesque, Johnnie Toole that prince of English comedians, travestied every attitude, every mannerism of our W. B., the bent knee with the pointed toe of one scarlet boot lightly touching the floor and the wide sweep of arm and hand. And the beautiful slave spoke to him in mellifluous tones calling him, “Masher! Dear Masher!” for this was the period when smartly dressed young men subsequently called ‘knuts of Piccadilly’, ‘Johnnies’, and other things, were known as ‘mashers’.

And that fine actor E. S. Willard, who made such a name for himself as ‘the Spider’ in The Silver King, played a sanctimonious patriarch called the ‘Holy Clement’. In Burnard’s travesty he was called the ‘Coal holey Clement’ and the Tetrarch of the drama became the Tea-Tray in the burlesque. . . . Ah, well! !

Another very good burlesque was The Lady of Lyons Married and Settled, a travesty of Bulwer Lytton’s very successful play. The lady’s vicissitudes in the humble surroundings of the Melnotte household as well as the unfortunate Claude’s grandiloquent lucubrations did certainly lend themselves to satire. But there! All that is as dead as the dodo. Either taste in such matters has undergone an entire volte-face or the pens of our light-hearted dramatists are less caustic than they were, or what is certain modern drama does not lend itself to burlesque. I know not. What could any Burnand or Chance Newton do with Bernard Shaw’s plays, with The Walls of Jericho, or The Only Way, or even Monsieur Beaucaire, all highly successful plays with great popular favourites in the principal parts? I think that The Scarlet Pimpernel would have lent itself admirably to burlesque, had not burlesque been sacrificed by then on the funeral pyre of popular taste.

* * * * * * * * *

I have been tempted to speak more of our theatre-going days than I had originally intended: but as a matter of fact the theatre did play a very important part in the first days of my married life. We had made the acquaintance of Robert Arthur, proprietor of the Coronet and one or two other suburban theatres of a high order where West End successes were always presented for a week’s run each in their turn, and with the original West End companies during the autumn months. The manager of the Coronet in Notting Hill Gate, Mr. Edward Lytton, was always very kind in placing a box at our disposal whenever we wanted to go, which was pretty often. Since then the Coronet has fallen from grace and finally succumbed to the tentacles of the cinema, as did most—if not all—the suburban theatres in London. But at the time it was as smart and as comfortable as any West End House and the audience, from South Kensington and Belgravia mostly, was as fashionable as anyone would have wished to see.

There were no ‘amusing incidents’ at the Coronet comparable with those at the Surrey or the West London Theatre; no tomahawking at the wrong moment or doubtful speaking of the text of the ‘immortal’ bard. But I do recall one rather funny incident which amused us very much, but greatly upset the genial manager of the Coronet. It happened during the rehearsals of the Christmas pantomime. There was no suburban theatre in those days without its annual pantomime, fairy queen, principal boy, comic relief, harlequinade, transformation scene and all: and all very decorous and ‘vestal virgin-ish’ tights and so on, not in the least à la Folies Bergère or what the English public simply called ‘French’ in those days.

But it seems that on this occasion, the fairies of the ballet complained to the stage manager and to the costumiers that the tights which had been put out ready for them to put on were ‘damp’: they had just come home from the wash and had not been properly aired. Indignation of the ladies in charge of the costumes and of the stage-manager, for the fairies threatened that they would not come on in damp tights. The stage manager complaining to the manager in the presence of the obstreperous fairies said in his wrath that he supposed these ladies would prefer to ‘go on’ without tights, i.e. with naked legs.

Whereupon the fairies, a prey to virtuous indignation declared that they had never been so insulted in all their lives and threatened a general strike unless a complete apology were immediately tendered them. Well! if those same fairies could have seen a vision of the fairies and other denizens of the ballets of to-day, what I wonder would have been their thoughts on that vital subject.

* * * * * * * * *

It was also about this time that we laid the foundation of very friendly relations with ‘old Man Russell’, as he was familiarly called and with his family. The old man was the writer of those famous songs: ‘Cheer boys, cheer’, ‘There’s a good time coming, boys’, ‘To the West’, and many others which did so much good work in bringing the minds of young people to the thought of starting a new life in the colonies. They were excellent propaganda, those songs, far more stirring than the speeches in Toynbee Hall. The Government thought very highly of them and of their composer—whom it aided financially in their publication and dissemination.

Old Man Russell was the father of that one very popular nautical novelist, W. Clark Russell. At the time that we first knew old man Russell he was already very much an old man but he was full of fun and vitality, and many a jolly evening did we spend in his house while he played and sang (yes, sang, thought I think he was over seventy then) not only his own stirring ballads but the latest music-hall ditties.

* * * * * * * * *

It was not till towards the end of the century that ladies ever went to music halls. It was not thought to be ‘the thing’ for them to be seen there; there was supposed to be a certain atmosphere in the halls which was not pure enough for young or old ladies to breathe. Anyway, the variety shows were taboo to the fashionable world (except of course to the men who never dreamed of bringing their family with them to these abodes of iniquity). One didn’t go to music halls and that was that. It was not until Mrs. Ormiston Chaunt carried on her successful campaign against the ‘promenades’ in the halls and their habitués that the taboo was gradually lifted.

Smart ladies who held liberal views on subjects such as the independence and privileges of women joined in the controversy which raged around Mrs. Chaunt, familiarly known in the Press as ‘the prude on the prowl’, and her purity campaign. They were classed as New Women, wore divided skirts, smoked cigarettes, and discussed the case of Oscar Wilde in public. What their views were on the subject of ‘promenades’ is rather difficult to determine. They certainly flooded the daily Press with correspondence, this sharing public favour and self-advertisement with those ladies who had such a lot to say on another engrossing subject: ‘Is Marriage a Failure’ carried on the Daily Telegraph by a well-known feminine light in contemporary literature.

And suddenly the whole controversy was settled in an unexpected manner, when H.R.H. the Princess of Wales went to the Alhambra to witness a variety show organized for the benefit of some charity or other. This of course settled the matter. Where the Princess of Wales went, there could every Duchess and every Mrs. Ponsonby de Tomkins be also seen to advantage, diamonds, Paris gowns and all. There followed the golden era of music halls and variety talent. Where the smart set went, the respectable masses who had hitherto held aloof naturally followed suit. This golden era, however, did not last very long. It has in its turn been largely ousted by the cinema.

Personally I never cared much for the ‘halls’. There were, of course, a few real artistes among the usual variety talent whom one could not fail to appreciate and admire, but there was such a lot of vulgarity and boredom to endure for the sake of a few minutes of real pleasure (such as Vesta Tilley’s male impersonations, Marie Lloyd’s songs or Albert Chevalier’s pathos) that we very seldom wasted an evening that way. The only hall which appealed to we two inveterate Bohemians was a funny little one under the arches of Charing Cross Bridge where aspirants to fame were given a trial with a view to a possible engagement in one or the other of the important halls. Thus they were ‘tried on the dog’, as the ordeal was called, and many a famous artiste started his or her career under the ‘old arches’.

I remember seeing there the début of the Levy sisters, who became such favourites and made such fortunes afterwards. There was no stage at the ‘Old Arches’, only a platform in the centre of the hall, where sat enthroned the manager at a rostrum when he announced each item of the programme together with the name of the artiste about to perform and tapped the desk before him with a wooden hammer. The audience sat on seats and benches all round the central platform, very much as they do round a prize-ring. A few privileged members in the audience were permitted to sit on the platform with the manager, but this privilege entailed the obligation to pay for that gentleman’s drinks.

* * * * * * * * *

Yes! those early days of our married life were indeed jolly and happy and, above all, care-free. We had plenty of work to occupy us and plenty of ways to amuse ourselves. Our boy was born the last year of the century.

We were both of us great readers and it was interesting—yes! and stimulating—to witness the gradual infiltration of American light literature into the hitherto rather close borough of English fiction.

Many of us had always loved our Bret Harte. I was a passionate worshipper at his shrine. I still feel, even to this day, that no other author with the exception of Dickens has ever come near him either in pathos or in humour, and I loved his own devotion to Dickens.

Dickens in Camp is such a wonderful tribute from one great writer to another. I hate to think of Bret Harte as being ‘out of date’, as I was assured by a young highbrow recently that he certainly was: and, talking with young moderns sometimes about books and so on, it has often made my heart ache to hear them quite casually say that though they may have heard of Bret Harte—“Wasn’t he U.S. Consul at Glasgow?” they would ask—but they had never read any of his books. Fancy never having read: How Santa Claus came to Simpson’s Bar, or The Outcasts of Poker Flat. Well! well! Of course since then Mr. Sinclair Lewis has come along and Mrs. Edith Wharton and Anthony Adverse and Gone with the Wind, and thousands of us subscribers to circulating libraries are profoundly and humbly grateful to them for the many happy hours we have spent with their enthralling works, imbibing knowledge of their wonderful country and their social conditions, getting to know America and casting away our silly prejudices and ignorant imaginings.

Oh yes! we say “Thank you!” to them with a full heart, but don’t let us forget in our admiration for them their fine ‘old-fashioned’ authors: Hawthorne, their poet, Longfellow, and above all their sublime Bret Harte, the man who poetized the Wild West which the cinema has since then done its best to vulgarize. I for one like to think of him in his own beautiful words:

“We’ll always think of you
As the thing we could not take away
The balsam that dwells in the wood
The rainbow that lives in a spray.”

Book 5 - The Scarlet Pimpernel

Chapter 11

And then it all happened. Everything happened when I least expected it. I didn’t know it was coming. Three months before I didn’t know that it was coming. But it came. And in such funny ways. Step by step. Silly steps, that did not seem of any importance as they occurred. Links in the chain of life! That is what they were, but I didn’t know it. I didn’t as much as feel that the chain was nearing its completion with all those links so closely connected one with the other, the first in the plains of Hungary and the last in a London suburb.

Our lease of the studio flat had come to an end. The block was about to be pulled down to make room for more commodious flats. Anyway, we would have to move if not this year at any rate soon, and in the meanwhile my husband had a lot of work on hand and needed a studio. Residential studios were not easy to find. But there was a house, a dear little house at the back of High Street, Kensington, a house with a bit of a garden and in the garden a really good studio. Well! that was going to be all right, but the house would not be vacant for another year.

Worth waiting for? Why certainly. It was quite ideal, and we would manage somehow, though we really had to move out of the studio flat right away. Our plans were quickly made. This was the last year of the century, and it was nearing its end. In six month’s time the great exhibition in Paris would be full on and we had long ago made up our minds that we would go to Paris and see the exhibition. There were only six months in which to be uncomfortable and homeless. No matter. We would go as p.g.’s to some nice people and take a separate studio somewhere close by. Go as p.g.’s to some nice people! Little did either of us guess what we were going to owe to that inspiration.

The ‘nice people’ we hit upon, thanks to an advertisement in The Times, were Derbyshire folk. These were father and mother and two girls: well-bred, well educated the lot of them. Soon we discovered that the mother and both the daughters had literary ambitions. They wrote stories which they sent round to magazines on the principle that ‘hope springs eternal’ . . . always in the hope that these stories would be accepted for publication.

We became quite friendly with the family after a week or two and presently they told us about their literary ambitions and asked us to give our opinion of their authorship. Taking our consent for granted they took to reading their stories out loud to us on the rare evenings when we happened to be in. We listened patiently, feigning an interest we were far from taking, and gave as favourable an opinion of these amateurish productions as we possibly could without perjuring ourselves too flagrantly.

And then one day great excitement in the house. A story by one of the girls had been accepted for publication by a magazine belonging to the Aldine Press. The payment for the story was to be £5. And that is how it all came about. That same evening I said to my husband: “Think of these people who have come from the wilds of Derbyshire, who know nothing of life, and never have spoken to anyone who might have taught them something, and yet able to write stuff good enough for publication!” and I added with a funny kind of twirl in my heart, half shame-faced and half-appealing: “And here I am who have known so many brilliantly clever people, who have travelled and seen and appreciated so many marvels of this wide, wide world, who have studied art and music, history and drama, why shouldn’t I try to write something I would like to know.” And my beloved simply replied: “Why shouldn’t you?”

And that was the genesis of my literary career.

* * * * * * * * * * *

My first effort was a story which ultimately developed into that popular novel and film The Emperor’s Candlesticks. My husband, who was doing a lot of work at the time for various Pearson publications, took it to Mr. Everett (as he then was), one of their principal editors. Of course, like all beginners I had not taken the precaution to find out anything as to the technical requirements of magazines: the question of length for instance. My story was 25,000 words long—too short for a book and too long for a magazine story. And so my first effort came back, but not with that hateful slip, ‘Returned with thanks’, but with a well-gilded pill, a message of encouragement from kind Mr. Everett. I was of course too inexperienced to contemplate the lengthening of my story, nor perhaps sufficiently ambitious to think of it as a work of fiction. What I did do and should have done from the first was to buy a number of popular magazines and read their stories, not only for length but for the style and type of narrative that would answer to their requirements. If only young aspirants to success would take this precaution how many disappointments, how many rejection slips would they be spared. (I have known young writers send a detective story to a religious publication or a ‘pussy-foot’ propaganda one to the Bystander.)

Anyway, common-sense kept me from committing that kind of error. I felt somehow that Mr. Everett would give me a chance if I could give him the type of story which his readers liked to find in Pearson’s various magazines. I wrote two, ‘The Red Carnation’, and ‘Juliette: a Tale of the Terror’, and sent them to him—by post this time. Three days later I had his reply. He accepted both the stories for publication, one for Pearson’s the other for the Royal, and his letter ended with a charming invitation to lunch with him and talk over the future. Both stories accepted and an invitation to lunch to talk over the future! My future! My joy was unconfined. When I remembered lunches with the great ones of this earth, with Franz Liszt and Sir Frederick Leighton, with diplomats and plutocrats various, they faded into insignificance beside the honour of being asked to lunch by the editor of a popular magazine who thought I had a future.

Well! the primary result of that never-to-be-forgotten lunch was firstly a promise from me that I would submit everything I wrote to Pearson’s in the first instance, and secondly that, at any rate for the time being, I would be paid £10 for every contribution accepted for publication. I was in the seventh heaven of delight: and so was my darling husband, whose joy in my initial success was as great as mine. How true is the proverb: ‘A joy shared is twice a joy!’ Now we could go to Paris with a happy heart—and we went.

My husband collected a plentiful supply of orders for illustrations, both black and white and coloured illustrations, among others for my story ‘Juliette’ to be published in the Royal. Editors liked the idea of these being done, and of course inspired in Paris. “Send us something, Mr. Barstow,” they said, “that is really Parisian. Just get your inspiration from that exhibition we hear so much about and put some of your beautiful touch into the work.” That was as encouraging for my dear one, as Mr. Everett’s final words to me: “Send us as much stuff as you care to write.”

My first reaction to Mr. Everett’s encouraging words began on one dank and foggy evening. We had spent a happy afternoon (weren’t we always happy?) in the National Gallery, where we had gone to see the Velasquez recently purchased by the nation: the exquisitely painted nude figure of a woman’s back (flippantly dubbed by the impertinent: ‘One good stern deserves another’). We came home by ’bus—the good old horse ’bus it was then—which took us past Westbourne Park Station, over the bridge on the canal known in those parts as ‘The Cut’.

It was while we were lumbering over the bridge that I had an inspiration, I simply can’t call it anything else for it meant a great deal to me for some time after that. The fog had descended in all its grim-faced abomination. The horses were going at foot-pace. Through the darkness and the fog one could just vaguely distinguish the turbid water of The Cut, and the dim outline of a barge slowly drawing out from under one of the arches. All so dark, so gloomy, so silent and mysterious, and the thought came to me of the many deeds of darkness that could be (that were probably) accomplished under this cover of fog and of gloom.

It was out of that first thought and from that grim background of murkiness which could almost be felt, that the whole concept of a series of stories of detection and crime came to my mind. I had never thought of crime and detection before, but I did then. All I knew of the subject was what I read in the newspapers; the crime, the coroner’s inquest, the police court and all the rest. But as soon as I got home I broached the matter to my husband, as I always did. He liked the idea and thought that if written in not too ‘sanguifulminous’ a way the stories might be very successful. He was nothing if not practical, and the first advice he gave me was to try and think of an original character—yes, original, he insisted, around whose personality I could build my stories of crime.

That personality must in no way be reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes, that at the height of that interesting gentleman’s popularity. And I must ‘say it as shouldn’t’, that ‘Old Man in the Corner’, as I conceived him, was in no way reminiscent of any other character in detective fiction. I thought of him even before I embarked on that popular series of stories, of him and his big checked ulster, of his horn-rimmed spectacles, his cracked voice and dribbling nose, but above all of his lean, bony fingers, fidgeting, always fidgeting with a bit of string.

That was my first reaction to definite encouragement. The second was my determination to reconstruct my story, ‘The Emperor’s Candlesticks’, which had been found to be too long for a magazine story and too short for a book. As a matter of fact this did not turn out to be as difficult as I had anticipated. My brain was then seething with all sorts of ideas, and the nucleus of ‘The Emperor’s Candlesticks’ was a good one! It had been written in a hurry, avoiding all explanations and descriptions which I then thought would be irrelevant and unnecessary. I thought that brevity was an invaluable asset in the armoury of short story writing. The work of making the story a suitable length did not take me more than a fortnight. In its revised form I sent it to Mr. Everett, who was kind enough to approve of it and recommend it to his firm for publication.

The Emperor’s Candlesticks was duly published in the autumn of 1899. Its appearance coincided with Kruger’s ultimatum to Great Britain, immediately followed by the outbreak of the Boer War. My first effort, like many first efforts during that eventful year, fell quite flat. I believe that only ninety copies were sold. Somehow I did not break my heart over that initial failure. I was interested in my stories of detection and crime and in my funny old man with his piece of string, and ready to give my whole mind to the proposed series.

And so we were both of us well-armed with work that would keep us busy for some time and we went off to Paris gay and happy.

 

Chapter 12
1900 - 1901

We found Paris all over exhibition and fin de siècle. Everything was fin de siècle, revues, plays, dress, manners, customs, everything. The emancipation of women was in full swing. The French, hitherto in the rearguard of the movement, threw themselves whole-heartedly into it to celebrate the death of the old century. French ladies became reckless: they danced, they puffed at cigarettes, they went unaccompanied to restaurants, they qualified for admission to one or two of the liberal professions: they passed their doctorat and qualified for jurisprudence. Only of votes for women there was no question. That was English and, of course, ridiculous.

We were well-hated during this time. The French man in the street was heartily pro-Boer. The English were after the gold over there. S’ils n’avaient fait que planter des pommes de terre . . . was the slogan. (If they, the Boers, the brave, peaceable agriculturists had only planted potatoes the wicked grasping English would never have molested them.) The comic papers were full of virulent articles and pictures representing the British lion in every kind of humiliating posture.

There was one absolutely scurrilous cartoon which confronted us at the kiosks and corners of every street, and which those of us who happened to see it then, cannot quite forgive even now. It showed Queen Victoria lying across Kruger’s knee and being whipped by two attendant Boers. In the music-halls there was invariably a one-act sketch representing the handsome manly Boer and the long-legged cringing English soldier in short scarlet tunic tilting at the Boer with a tin sword which curled up as soon as it touched the enemy’s noble bosom, and the Boer then knocking the English soldier down, putting his foot on the latter’s neck and inflicting chastisement upon him with a riding-whip.

The Englishman on the stage and in the comic papers always had red hair and side-whiskers and a huge mouth with large yellow teeth. English women were represented wearing early Victorian dresses, yellow straw boaters, long moth-eaten fur boas. They had huge feet and hands and huge teeth. There was a scurrilous publication called V’là les Angliches with a picture cover of Joan of Arc at the stake, of English sportsmen decoying crocodiles by tying children to stumps of trees on the shores of infested rivers, and English women in early-Victorian dresses photographing emaciated Hindoos and children in the last stages of starvation.

In the shops the former legend ‘English spoken’ was changed to ‘U.S. spoken’. One amusing incident I recall which made us laugh, for it was characteristic of the attitude of every class of Frenchman at the time. A couple of cochers were having an altercation on the Boulevard. Each driver had drawn rein in order to give his language full scope. What the origin of the quarrel was we didn’t know, but abuse and a variety of expletives flew backwards and forwards together with copious spittings and cracking of whips. Neither of the antagonists was getting the last word. Both were egged on by the crowd that had speedily gathered round them. They had called each other every kind of abusive name under the sun, cochon and chien and lâche being the most favoured. Backwards and forwards did the insulting words fly from mouth to mouth, and it seemed as if they would go on flying until the middle of next week, the gendarme, by the way, never attempting to interfere, when suddenly one of the belligerents, standing upon his box and shaking his fist at his antagonist, yelled at the top of his voice the one word, “Fashoda!” and immediately the turmoil ceased. There was no answer to this supreme insult.

In addition to hatred of the English over the Boer War there was the Fashoda incident, which was looked upon by every French man and woman as the deadliest insult ever inflicted on the French army.

* * * * * * * * * * *

We were in Paris on that great day in November when old Kruger came to visit the capital. We had left London soon after the great Mafeking night—when all London was mad with joy and thronged the streets shouting and singing. The worst of that horrible war was over. It would not be long now before the final capitulation of Kruger and Cronje, and De Witt and the rest of them. The certainty of victory, the hope of seeing the boys come home before the spring, was an intoxication of joy. Let joy be unconfined.

Well! Paris was going mad with joy also. The brave Boers! The fine old man Paul Kruger! Those abominable grasping, brutal English! Yes! the war would soon be over, the English would be brought to their knees, driven out of Africa! and wouldn’t this be just the beginning of the final break-up of that much vaunted, arrogant British Empire. Indeed we all found Paris as full of joy as London had been when we left. Paul Kruger, the heroic President of the Transvaal, was coming to pay a visit to the great capital. To see the great exhibition? Oh dear me, no! He came to see what financial and military support he could get out of his French admirers. Demonstrations and shouts of ‘Vive les Boers’ was all very well. The old villain wanted something more substantial than that.

Well! he didn’t get it, but cheers he got in plenty on the day of his arrival; and for days afterwards the streets were thronged; the access to the station was a veritable ant-heap of humanity; the roofs of neighbouring houses and factories were black with throngs of enthusiasts, many of them in work-a-day clothes, pushing and jostling for a good place from which to see the great arrival. The streets were beflagged; at every window women and children waited with flowers and confetti to shower upon the open landau when it would come rattling along the Boulevard Diderot with its eagerly awaited occupant. Senators and deputies, presidents of councils, municipal bigwigs from Rouen, Lyons, and Bourges were all there waiting at the station to give a rousing and respectful welcome to the heroic defender of his country’s liberty.

And suddenly the noise and hubbub subsided. A solemn silence fell over the assembled multitude as the huge locomotive of the presidential train came puffing into the station. Then a terrific cry of ‘Vive Kruger!’ ‘Vive les Boers!’ The train came to a standstill and a shabbily dressed and none too clean old gentleman then stepped on to the platform. A military band blared forth the ‘Marseillaise’ with much trombone and multifarious brass. The crowd yelled itself hoarse. The women and children pelted the landau with flowers. Unfortunate pedestrians were pushed and jostled, some seriously hurt, others swallowed mouthfuls of confetti. Everybody was happy.

The reception was a great success.

* * * * * * * * * * *

We saw all that from a window in the Boulevard Diderot, in the house of English friends, who had a grocery shop in the Boulevard St. Michel where we used to purchase various delicacies for our picnic lunches. We saw a good deal more of Paul Kruger after that. He went about sightseeing and among other places he came over to the Latin Quarter to visit the Pantheon, where France’s eminent dead are buried. He came chiefly on the invitation of the students of the Sorbonne and of the several schools and colleges there, the Beaux Arts, the École de Medecine, and so on. These young people turned out in their thousands to acclaim him when he drove in the open landau along the Boulevard St. Michel (familiarly known as the Boul’ Miche).

We had rooms in the Hôtel des Etrangers, at the corner of the Boulevard St. Michel and the Rue Racine, and we had a splendid view of the huge and boisterous crowds of Parisian youths. We had frightened our landlady to death by telling her that we would hang a Union Jack out of our window which gave on to the boulevard. Of course we had no intention of doing any such thing, for the mob would most certainly have smashed all the windows and doors of the hotel and probably have set fire to the whole place.

The students from the École des Breaux Arts were in the forefront of the particular show to welcome Kruger on his arrival at the Pantheon. In the fullness of their hearts they presented him with a statue of Victory, modelled by one of their best sculptors. Unfortunately, the complete success of the demonstration of sympathy was marred by the fact that Victory was not wearing early Victorian clothes such as Mrs. Kruger would have approved of. In fact, she wore no clothes at all. And when she was finally deposited in the suite occupied by the old man in the Hôtel Scribe, she had to be swathed in antimacassars hastily dragged from the red plush chairs of the sitting-room so as not to offend the chaste eyes of the austere President. He was staying in the Hôtel Scribe and when on his return from the Latin Quarter, he opened wide the window of his room and stepped out on the balcony to receive further ovations from the enthusiastic crowd, he beheld exactly facing him the gaily illuminated shop fronts of ‘Old England’.

As a matter of fact the crowd in this fashionable part of Paris was not nearly so demonstrative in its enthusiasm as the youthful denizens of the Latin quarter. There certainly was quite a good crowd round and about the Scribe, but there was no noisy cheering and English visitors were not molested. We certainly had nothing to complain of. We drove down the Grands Boulevards in a small open voiture fully expecting to have eggs or cabbages hurled at us in execration, but nothing of the sort happened. While we sat outside a café opposite the Scribe, a small boy shouldering a Boer flag marched up and down the pavement, shouting: ”A bas les anglais”. We called to him, promised him a few centimes if he changed his tune for A bas les Boers, which he promptly did and pocked his centimes with a grin. Old Kruger spent about a fortnight in Paris, during which time excitement over his visit gradually cooled down.

Another great—far greater—event now occupied the mind of the ‘man in the street’: the illness and subsequent death of Queen Victoria. The ‘man in the street’ certainly took a great interest in that event which filled us and our English friends with sorrow. It was such a great passing away of the most outstanding personality of the past hundred years. The morning that the news appeared in the Paris Daily Mail we were greeted by all our friendly tradespeople with subdued voices and a certain awed expression of face: ”Vous savez?” they all said, even before they answered to our ’bonjour’ “Votre idole est morte”. Your idol! That is how they talked of Queen Victoria.

She was to their minds (more insular than those of our own people) something quite apart. Not altogether real. A fetish that we, the hated English, almost worshipped, and to their credit be it said that with her death, all scurrilous cartoons and postcards disappeared from the kiosks, nor did any derogatory or disrespectful article appear in the Press.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Well! all through this period of excitement we two continued with the work which we had made up our minds to do while we were in Paris. My husband was busy with what he always called pot-boiling work for Messrs. McKenzie, one of the most important firms of colour printers in London. This left him sufficient leisure to make ready his pictures for the Paris Salon, for the Spring exhibition of the Royal Institute of Painters in water-colours, and eventually for the Academy. Daylight, alas! was of short duration, but we had a very nice room with a good North light and on the whole the winter was bright and often sunny. We breakfasted and lunched in the hotel. And when the weather was fine we dined at a restaurant on the other side of the river and had our coffee on the Boulevard, watching the passers-by.

I was busy for some time with the series of detective stories (six in number) which I had planned around the personality of the old scarecrow with the piece of string and of the lady journalist who discussed crime-lore with him in the A.B.C. tea shop. Under the comprehensive title of The Old Man in the Corner.

That, of course, was all right as far as it went and £60 for the six stories was quite pleasant, but already I felt inside my heart a kind of stirring that the writing of sensational stuff for magazines would not, and should not, be the end and aim of my ambition. I wanted to do something more than that. Something big. Something that would spread my name throughout the country, that would make it known and repeated by people who read, people who mattered, people whose opinion I would value.

Had I the power to accomplish this? I had no idea. All I knew was that this was to be the aim of my life, that every thought and every aspiration of my soul must tend that way and no other. I just believed that if only one longed for something with the whole of one’s mind, of one’s heart and of one’s strength, it would come. Come eventually. For to my mind ambition is the primum mobile, the key-stone of success. The striving after one aim—and one only. Not to be satisfied with small things, with easily-gained successes. Not to aim at an eagle and then be content if one has brought down a sparrow. Dash the sparrow!

And so I went on thinking and planning while hand in hand with the one being in the world who thoroughly understood my varying moods and to whom I could confide my every thought, we wandered through the streets of that quarter of old Paris which held enshrined the whole of her marvellous history and along the pavements which to my ears still echoed with the footsteps of Robespierre and Danton, of Charlotte Corday and Madame Roland, with the clatter of the tumbrils and the shouts of ‘Ca ira’ of the revolutionary mob thirsting for freedom at the price of the tyrant’s blood.

Thoughts and pictures crowded in upon my mind. With every step we took up the Boul’ Miche or the Rue École de Médecine, past the house where Marat was assassinated, through the Palais Royal where Camille Desmoulins had stood upon the table and inflamed his hearers with the fire of his own hatred and enthusiasm, and where Rouget de l’Isle had first sung his ‘Marseillaise’, and past every corner of this old Paris I seemed to be thrust back into a life which I had lived not so very long ago.

These were, of course, the final links of the chain of my life which culminated in the conception of the Scarlet Pimpernel. His personality and that of the minor characters in the story had not yet begun to shape themselves in my mind. I did not then as much as think of him nor of Chauvelin nor of Marguerite, but the background was there: the pity for the victims of that terrible revolution, which had been brought about by injustice and tyranny and of which so many were the innocent sufferers. And during the last month of our stay in Paris the outline of my story began to take definite form in my mind. The shell only: the vital core was yet to come.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Back in London in the Spring of that year I was still aiming at an eagle; but, in the meanwhile, one or two little sparrows fell to my gun, and for these I was sincerely grateful. The most important of these small pieces of good fortune (I refused to call them successes or to take pride in them) was the suggestion from kind Mr. Everett that I should continue the series of my Old Man in the Corner stories which the Royal was bringing out now month by month, but with this difference that the various crimes, whatever they were which the old scarecrow elucidated for the benefit of the lady journalist, should occur not in London but in one or other of the great cities in England or even in Scotland. He even suggested one or two towns as possible backgrounds for the stories, Glasgow might be one, York another, and so forth: any town, in fact, that I happened to have visited and to know.

Well! I was not fool enough to grumble at this piece of good fortune. I was promised good publicity for the stories in the several towns where their venue was laid, and with a half-sigh of regret I put the notes I had already made for my magnum opus away in the innermost recesses of my mind as one would put away some jewel of great price but not immediately wanted for wear, into a precious casket, and gaily set to work on the new set of stories.

I had thought out a capital and mysterious murder full of surprises destined to baffle the most astute body of police in the kingdom and decided on Glasgow as its location. I knew Glasgow fairly well and, anyway, it was only a question of choosing the street and the house where the crime would be committed. I had everything pat: the coroner’s inquest, the several witnesses, the contradictory evidence, the activities of the police. . . . Let me say at once that both the editor and the reader of the Royal were delighted with the story, and even assured me that they were looking forward with pleasurable anticipation to the rest of the series.

Little did they and I guess what was in store for us. The story appeared . . . and within three days, editor, reader, and the unfortunate author were absolutely snowed under a voluminous correspondence. Letters poured in by the dozen, by the score, and yes! by the hundred, from every town in the kingdom—chiefly in Scotland—where the Royal was read. Angry letters, sarcastic letters, letters written more in sorrow than in anger, but all to the same purport: There is no such thing in Scotland as a coroner’s inquest. Didn’t the author know that? Of course she didn’t; then how had she the temerity to display her ignorance? Didn’t the editor or the reader know that there is no such thing as a coroner’s inquest in Scotland? That the first investigation of a misdemeanour is carried on by the Procurator Fiscal? Very much in the same way as this is done in France by the Juge d’instruction?

Oh! I know all about that now, but at the time. . . . Imagine, my shame and my despair! I saw myself jeered at, discredited for ever, my career blighted, even before the great work was begun. Would it ever be begun now? Would any reader or editor ever look again at any manuscript submitted by that stupid, ignorant author who did not even take the trouble to verify the most important facts relating to her lucubrations?

I felt thoroughly cheap and ashamed. It was only my husband, always kind and understanding, who found the way to lay salve on my wounded vanity. His advice to me was: “Carry the war in the enemy’s camp. Hit out before you yourself get hit. Ask the editor of the Royal and his reader how it came that neither of these clever gentlemen, or anyone in the office for that matter, knew anything about criminal procedure in Scotland, no more that you did in fact. Then see what happens.”

Well! nothing happened. I did write the letter my dear consoler had suggested, it was a nice simple, not too humble a letter. Fortunately for me the clever gentlemen in the office of the Royal Magazine had a sense of humour. They certainly did not know anything about the Procurator Fiscal, either, but they saw the humour of the situation, threw the two hundred and fifty letters they had received into the waste-paper basket and advised me to do the same with those which had been addressed to me. And so ended on a happy note this very distressing episode. But the lesson it contained was a severe one, and I certainly benefited by it in after life, for I never again embarked upon a statement of facts before feeling satisfied that I knew—yes, knew, what I was writing about.

In the case of historical romances this was of course of vital importance. I won’t say that I never stumbled; I would not be so arrogant as to suggest this for a moment, but in writing of times that are past and gone there are such countless little details to remember and so much study needed to master them all that I venture to say mea culpa with a persistent but not too shamefaced a spirit.

* * * * * * * * * * *

And thus did I bring down many little sparrows at which I had not aimed but for which I was indeed immensely grateful. I was gathering confidence and, above all, experience all the time. And it is experience—of this I am absolutely certain—which is the only word to real and lasting success. Experience of life, of humanity, of its virtues and its failings. Mine has been a long life, and I have seen much and studied a great deal, and in my old age now I am more convinced than I ever was that youth is far too readily inclined to give out to the world all that it has learned and absorbed in the very few years of development out of childhood. In the essence of things that ‘all’ can only be very little. Against that it may be very fine and the world may welcome it with enthusiasm. But having given its all and having tasted the sweets of success, youth no longer wants to study or to absorb. It has already absorbed all that it needed for the making of success, for astonishing the world and bringing that world to its feet. Why should it trouble itself any longer? Why continue to study life when one knew by the instinct of genius all there was to know? and the result is almost invariably the same.

How often has that initial success, gained by the flicker of genius, survived the years that followed? How often has a young prodigy continue to bring out work equal in quality and staying power to that first wonderful book or play that the select few had proclaimed immortal. And this applies not only to the making of books, but very much to music. Think of the great number of ‘infant prodigies’ in the musical world who seemed to fade out of recognition as they passed from adolescence into manhood. You will think of Mozart, of course, but how many more can you remember?

During the course of my musical life I heard and admired a great many, but twenty years later their very names had faded out of one’s ken: “Oh yes! So-and-so,” one often heard musicians say; “I remember hearing him play at the Philharmonic Concerts, or in Paris, or Vienna, I forget which. He was marvellous, and only ten years old at the time, and with a technique that would take all that time and more to acquire. I have often wondered what became of him. I haven’t heard of him for years.”

Yes! that was just it, the admirers of this or that infant prodigy so often wonder in the years to come what had happened and why they had not heard of him for years. Strangely enough there has been no infant prodigy among artists (meaning painters). With the exception of Millais, who was said to have had a picture exhibited in the Royal Academy when he was ten years old, I know of no other. My readers will probably put me right if I am wrong there. But I do wonder whether this means that art (again meaning painting) requires longer study than music, and more years of maturity than the making of books.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Among the many little sparrows that fell to my gun about this time there was one which I facetiously called a blackbird. He was too big to be called a sparrow. The firm of C. Arthur Pearson who, in the person of Mr. Everett, continued to show me both kindness and encouragement, had launched their great scheme of bringing out a daily paper, very much on the lines of the Daily Mail (by way of a rival to it, so everyone thought). It was to be called the Daily Express and to be distinct from its great rival by various new features, even if it would necessarily perhaps wear the same old face. Among other things, the editor desired to run a serial and I was asked, among other unknown writers, to submit a long story of adventure, not a detective story, but something equally exciting without the paraphernalia of police and amateur investigations of crime.

My mind, of course, jumped at once to the great (!) story conceived in the Latin Quarter of Paris, and not as yet in its initial stage. What a joy to set at once to work with the certainty of its appearing in print as soon as complete (and it wouldn’t take long), first as a serial in a widely read paper and then in book form. The editor of the Daily Express granted me an interview, and I told him quite vaguely what I had in my mind. But I got a cold douche as soon as I mentioned the two words ‘French Revolution’. “No! no! no!” was the emphatic response, “we must have something modern. The public doesn’t care for France and her revolution. Let’s have something that the man in the street will understand and feel that it might happen again to-day or to-morrow, and not the romantic imaginings of the past.”

Very much subdued, but in no way discouraged, I did write a modern story of adventure which I called The Shamrock, and which duly appeared in the Daily Express as a serial. But my mind at this time was so engrossed with my beloved great story and the adventures which those six months in the Latin Quarter of Paris had helped me to conceive, that something of their spirit crept into The Shamrock, and which duly appeared even though the scene was laid in Russia, and the period was entirely of the day. I don’t think that the serial was particularly successful. I certainly never made the slightest effort to offer it for book publication.

And so The Shamrock died a natural death.

Chapter 13

One of the great lights in the literary world said to me once: “The greatest misfortune that can happen to any writer is an outstanding success early in his career. That outstanding success will always be his enemy, because all his subsequent work will be measured by that one standard and in the opinion of the unintellectual will always be thought to fall short of it.” Of course, there is a good deal of truth in that pronouncement. It goes back to what I said just now on the subject of early, youthful success. But the great man’s general condemnation of an early success was mitigated by his qualification, ‘in the opinion of the unintellectual’. There is no doubt that the general public, having taken one particular work to its heart, will measure the author’s further creations by that one standard. Well! if that standard be a high one, there is nothing to grumble at. And I, for one, refuse to look on The Scarlet Pimpernel as my literary enemy, and I am certain that Conan Doyle never looked on Sherlock Holmes as anything but his dearest and most valued friend.

Anyway, here I am ready to come to grips with the inner history of that creation of mine, The Scarlet Pimpernel, remembering all the success that came to him and to me through him during close on fifty years since his original conception. I have so often been asked how I came to think of him, how did his personality first present itself to my mind. It was during our stay in Paris that the background and the nucleus of the story were first conceived, but what I wanted—and I knew that I wanted it more than anything to make my story worth while—was a real live, outstanding personality. I remember Arnold Bennett saying once to me: “A book will live by the characters that people its story, characters that make the story real; it will never live by the story alone, however well-constructed or interesting it may be.” And he in his dry, sarcastic way: “Do not be afraid about the future of your Scarlet Pimpernel. It will live because of its character long after far finer books have gone the way of oblivion.” He did not mean this either ironically or carpingly.

We went on talking about Dickens’ immortality as against Thackeray, in many ways by far the finer writer of the two, certainly the more literary: however contemptuously modern youth may refer to Dickens (whom for the most part they have never read), there is no getting away from the fact that Mr. Micawber, Mr. Mantalini, Pecksniff, Squeers, and all the rest, are as alive to-day as they were when enthusiastic readers fought for the privilege of being the first to read the installments of Pickwick Papers or The Old Curiosity Shop as they appeared week by week in Household Words.

Does Esmond or Barry Lindon, fine as they are, ever mean the same to millions of thoughtful readers as does Mr. Pickwick or Mr. Pecksniff and so many others? And even in the case of that greatest writer of all time, does not one’s mind dwell on Hamlet and Othello, Lady Macbeth and King Lear rather than on the story of Two Gentlemen of Verona or Love’s Labour’s Lost. But this, perhaps, is beside the point. The conversation with Arnold Bennett occurred long after my book had overstepped its umpteenth edition. For the moment I was intent on the personality which would make my story live.

Strangely enough that personality of the Scarlet Pimpernel came to me in a very curious way. I first saw him standing before me—don’t gasp, please—on the platform of an underground station, The Temple. I had been to see someone on the Daily Express, à propos of some minor work, and was waiting for my Inner Circle train for Kensington. Now, of all the dull, prosy places in the world, can you beat an Underground Railway Station? It was foggy too, and smelly and cold. But I give you my word that as I was sitting there, I saw—yes, I saw—Sir Percy Blakeney just as you know him now.

I saw him in his exquisite clothes, his slender hands holding up his spy-glass: I heard his lazy drawling speech, his quaint laugh. I can’t tell you in detail everything I saw and heard—it was a mental vision, of course, and lasted but a few seconds—but it was the whole life-story of the Scarlet Pimpernel that was there and then revealed to me. The rest of the day has remained a blur in my mind, but my thoughts were clear enough for me to tell my beloved husband about the wonder that had occurred; the birth of the Scarlet Pimpernel.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Everything else was easy. I set to work the very next day and wrote The Scarlet Pimpernel, as it now stands, in five weeks. I wrote it as a book; I thought of it as a possible play. Scenes, pictures, love-scenes, adventures both comic and tragic, thrilling moments, dramatic scenes, and above all character—always character—after running riot in my brain all settled themselves down into a simple and complete whole.

I think that I may look on those five weeks as some of the happiest in my life. To feel my creation become more and more real, to feel it growing into something that would live, into something vivid that would not fail to stir the imagination of all those who, on reading about that imaginary personage, would in their turn feel that he was absolutely real, that he had indeed lived and laughed and loved, that was my happiness and my joy. And I know that Sir Percy Blakeney has become such a real living personality to so many millions of readers that books of biography and history have been consulted by the studious to discover his prototype somehow, somewhere; that for over forty years now I have been bombarded with letters from all over the world demanding a pronouncement from me, ‘Who was the original of your Scarlet Pimpernel?’

The literary critic of an important colonial paper paid me, I think, the most subtle compliment I ever received (not meaning to, of course) when he said that the author had not quite grasped the real character of the original Sir Percy Blakeney. Subtle, wasn’t it? For Sir Percy Blakeney is mine, and mine only, just as I have given him to the world, to the French, to the Italians, to Poland and Denmark and Norway; it has been translated into sixteen foreign languages, including Japanese, and in several Eastern dialects, notably Urdu. Its crowning laurel was when, in the early days of the Russian Revolution, it was translated into Russian. But, above all, I gave him with my whole heart to the English-speaking world: the world that best understood him. “I love your character so,” said Joynson Hicks (afterwards Lord Brentford) to me one day, “because he is so very English. You have put your finger on what is best and truest in English character.” And another great politician said with a sigh: “I like your Blakeney so much; he is such a gentleman.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

Well, anyway, there he was, quite ready now at last to make his bow before the reading public. His triumphs of course came a bit later, for let me tell you at once that things did not go quite so easily for me as I had so confidently anticipated. The book was ready for publication: the most important thing now was to find a publisher. My husband and I had put the play together in collaboration, and it was ready for production. The thing was to find a theatrical manager who would produce it. But the book first. In my ignorance I thought that the choice of a publisher for my book rested with me. And so it started on its weary way. Yes! weary way indeed, for my beloved book on which I had built such hopes was refused by a round dozen of publishers in London. Starting at the top of the publishing world, I sent it to Macmillan and to Heinemann, to Murray, and so on, and always with monotonous recurrence came that fatal rejection slip. However, I was not discouraged. I thought and thought. I tried this, that, and the other. Personal introduction, personal interviews.

In the offices of the powers that be people were always very kind and sympathetic. I spoke about having dramatized the book and this aroused a glimmer of interest, for I remember Mr. Heinemann, to who I had a personal introduction, saying to me: “Well! if your play is produced and is successful, you bring me back your book, and I’ll see what I can do.”

The reader at Cassell’s liked it too and recommended it for publication. It was kept three weeks in the office pending final decision. And ‘final decision’ was again the rejection slip. One firm offered me publication and a certain amount of publicity if I paid all expenses connected with the printing and general advertising of the book. That I never would agree to; and never throughout my whole life did I ever spend one penny for the pushing of any of my works. I don’t believe it ever does any good, though I have heard of several young authors who have been lured into this trap by promises that never materialized. A publisher’s business is to publish, and if he does not consider it worth his while to spend the few pounds necessary for the publishing and advertising of any particular book, then it certainly is not worth the author’s while either to risk his money in an undertaking which is not his and the success of which he cannot control.

Another firm, a more important one this time, offered to buy outright all rights in my book for the sum of £30 down. Now though I won’t admit for a moment that I was getting discouraged by then, nevertheless I will own that the offer was tempting. Why? I cannot say. We were not in need of £30. We had enough to live on and have a bit of fun into the bargain, but my spirits were rather droopy under the weight of those abominable rejection slips. The future looked somehow foggy and grey, nothing very rosy about it in the literary way.

Was I wrong in my estimate of what a reading public would care for when it wanted to be not only entertained, but taken out of itself? Out of the drabness of its surroundings, of its daily duties or even of its amusements, out of the daily round in ’buses or trains, or swagger Rolls-Royces, of lunches at Claridge’s or the A.B.C. tea-shops? Rich or poor, life was all the same: so often drab and monotonous and I had thought I would give them romance, stories of the past that would bring back to their minds happy days of youth and carefree adolescence, love, laughter, adventure, gaiety.

Was I wrong? Were those business men right who kept their fingers on the pulse of the reading public and said to me with a shrug: “Yes! I rather like your book, but the public does not care for that sort of thing. The days of old Dumas and The Three Musketeers are as extinct as the Dodo. Give them something modern, true to the life of to-day, not the romantic imaginings of a past they care nothing about.” “So unreal!” most of these gentlemen would add, sometimes with a sigh which I was at a loss to interpret.

Well! I was gradually being forced into thinking that perhaps they were right. After all they ought to know. It was their business to know, and anyway as not one of them was willing to put their opinion to the test by publishing my book, there was no way of knowing whether they were right and I was wrong. The long and the short of it all was that I suddenly made up my mind to accept that miserable £30 and part with every right in my Scarlet Pimpernel and, pending publication, to see whether I could get in touch with a theatrical manager who might be willing to put up the play.

As a matter of fact I had no difficulty in this. I had at one time made the casual acquaintance of an actor, who during periods of inactivity in his stage career, busied himself with theatrical agency. He was a very poor actor and his appearance rather told against him, but he was a magnificent reader, with a beautifully modulated voice, and knew how to get the best out of every line written by an inexperienced dramatist. His advice, too, was always sound. He seemed to know by instinct what would ‘get across the footlights’ and what would not. Anyway, I submitted the play to him. My darling and I had spent a great deal of time in trying to get it as good as we possibly could make it; “as good in its way as the book”, my dear collaborator would say. The actor-agent thought it good. “A charming play,” he called it, and added that he happened to know that the Terry management (Fred Terry and his wife Julia Neilson), who were now running a highly successful romantic drama, Sweet Nell of Old Drury were on the look-out for something equally romantic to follow.

Our friend submitted our play to them and on Friday the 13th of May, 1903, it was definitely accepted for production at some future date. Friday the 13th. The conjunction of day and date had always been lucky for us. That of 1903 certainly was so. And there we were now full of happy anticipation. We had seen Sweet Nell, and felt quite satisfied that production and caste would all be everything that even an established dramatist could desire. Our contract with the management didn’t seem any too bad. It had been drawn up by our old family solicitor, who, experienced as he was in such legal matters as wills, or conveyancing, knew nothing whatever about theatrical contracts, or the value of any kind of work of art. He didn’t foresee any of those eventualities which gathered fast and furious as the play continued in its successful career.

But there were many tribulations before that happy event came about. Nearly two years went by before anticipation became realization. In the meanwhile the enterprising publisher who had made me the generous offer of £30 for all rights in my book, thought better of it and entrenched himself behind a condition that the offer would only hold good if the play was produced and was a success. This gave me the chance of refusing the offer then and there. The publisher didn’t mind; at any rate he expressed no regret, and I was left to thank my stars that I had not fallen into the temptation of ‘selling my birthright for a mess of pottage’.

Armed with the certainty of the production of the play on a grand scale by an important management, I had another try or two at getting the book published. My idea was that production of the play should occur simultaneously with the publication of the book. You see I had more belief in the book than in the play, and I thought that even an unsuccessful play would be publicity for the book. But, as before, publishers thought otherwise.

Anyway, no one wanted to publish The Scarlet Pimpernel until—almost in desperation—I bethought myself of a small firm who brought out a weekly publication, The Play Pictorial. I argued to myself that the powers that be in that particular firm were especially interested in theatrical matters. I obtained a personal interview and offered my book, explaining about the play and its future production. Mr. Greening was very kind, though a little doubtful, as all of them were. I left the book with him and when I saw him he was good enough to say that personally he liked the book but was not inclined to back his opinion; “but,” he added, “I’ll tell you what I can do. When I am doubtful about a book I submit it to my dear old mother, who lives down in Cornwall. She is, quite unsophisticated but knows what she likes. If she likes the book I publish it, because I take her to be a criterion of the taste of the great reading public for whom I wish to cater.” That was in substance what he said and what he did. Evidently the unsophisticated old lady from Cornwall liked the Scarlet Pimpernel, for the firm of Greening & Co. accepted the book for publication (publication to be co-incident with the production of the play) and gave me quite a good contract for it, considering that I was then an unknown writer.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The play, on the other hand, which, by the way, had its 2,000th performance in London alone, went through certain vicissitudes which it is amusing to recall. Definitely accepted for production in May, 1903, it had its tentative production at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham, in the autumn of that same year. We went down to see it. In the theatrical jargon such a production is called ‘trying it on the dog’. It usually goes to show how the great theatre-going public in London would take to a play. The Nottingham public was theatrical-minded. It knew what it liked and gave its approval or disapproval ungrudgingly. In the case of the Scarlet Pimpernel, lavishly produced and cast to perfection with Fred Terry as Sir Percy Blakeney, a rôle which fitted him like the proverbial glove, and Julia Neilson, beautiful and emotional as Marguerite, approval was not only ungrudging but enthusiastic. So much so that a large portion of the audience who had come some little distance to the show and did not possess a motor-car stayed in the house applauding and acclaiming author and performers, regardless of time, and missed their last ’bus or train to the suburbs. “I have never known anything like that to happen,” the stage-door keeper said to me as I tried to make my way out of the theatre. “Missed their last train, they did. Wouldn’t go till the last fall of the curtain. That shows it’s got ’em.” And it certainly had. The local Press was enthusiastic in its praise; the few kind friends with whom we had become acquainted during our short stay in Nottingham talked freely of an outstanding success. We went to bed as happy as the proverbial ‘b— in a rug’.

The next day, however, there came a snag. The Terry-Neilson management, faced with an unusually heavy and expensive production had asked the late Frank Curzon to come down and see the show with a view to partnership. Frank Curzon was one of the most experienced and most progressive managers of the day. He came and saw, but was not conquered. “I hope you’ve got something else for London, my dear fellow,” was his verdict. “This is all right for the provinces, but it won’t do for London. The Press for one will never stand it.” But Fred Terry stuck to his guns: “I bet you five pounds,” he retorted, “that it will do for London”; and Curzon also stuck to his guns: “I bet you fifty pounds it won’t.” Whether the bet was taken or not I don’t know. Frank Curzon was all wrong, of course.

Years afterwards I met him at the 999th performance of the Scarlet Pimpernel, and he said quite frankly: “Well! I was wrong. I admit it; but then if we none of us ever made a mistake, we would all die millionaires.” He did hedge a little, however, by adding: “As a matter of fact I couldn’t stick that fourth act. It was enough to damn the whole play.” That act followed the end of the book quite closely, as indeed did the whole play. But there is no doubt that the outdoor scene, the sea, the rocks, the soldiers, the general atmosphere in fact might easily bring the level of the play down to melodrama and handsome, debonair Fred Terry did not like the idea of making his final bow to the public in the unattractive disguise of an old Jew. This last was the determining factor.

I was only too ready to fall in with his views, and before the next trial production—fixed for Newcastle—a new fourth act had to be constructed. I was down with an awful attack of the Spanish ‘flu—then very prevalent in London—so my dear collaborator set to work one morning, and by the late afternoon he was by my bedside flourishing a few sheets of MS. Paper covered with his neat calligraphy. “I have got the fourth act,” he said, with his infectious laugh; “no sea, no rocks, no soldiers, and Terry bowing his last as handsome as ever before.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

The play with its new fourth act (as you, dear reader, have no doubt seen it) was tried out at Newcastle and later on in Dublin; after which it was ready for its London production. We hoped that this would be some time in 1904, but once again we were disappointed. Soon we heard from outsiders that the Terry management, unable to secure the theatre they wanted for the Scarlet Pimpernel—namely, the New—were putting up an altogether smaller production, Sunday, at the Comedy. It was already in rehearsal and the Scarlet Pimpernel was shelved for the time being until a larger theatre could be secured. Our play was put into rehearsal the following autumn. The rehearsals took place in the Shaftesbury Theatre. We attended only a very few of them. We felt that we were not wanted, and did not indeed feel inclined to submit to the inferior position allotted to the creators of a work that was destined to bring fame and fortune to all those who had a hand in its production.

One felt that the remarks or criticisms of the merest scene-shifter were of more importance to the theatrical mind than those of the author of the play. I remember on the occasion of the first rehearsal—before we had learned our lesson of self-effacement—we turned up at the stage-door and after we were allowed to pass through we found our way to the stage. Only one or two members of the company had arrived as yet and were pacing up and down looking over their lines. Oh! it was cold! We were too early. Some of the stage hands were placing tables and other furniture about for the Inn Scene in Act I.

A diminutive, but seemingly very important call-boy approached us and in a patronizing way asked us if we were members of the company. We informed him modestly that we were not exactly members of the company but just happened to be the authors of the play, whereupon he indicated a quiet corner up O.P. and remarked: “You’d better sit here. You’ll be out of everybody’s way.” I think that small boy had already some experience of theatrical affairs. Neither our opinion nor our advice were wanted, so we never offered any. I remember some time afterwards speaking about this to an eminent playwright who was also a friend, a man who had learned by experience all there was to know about these matters; his comment was very pertinent. “You see, you were not anybody of importance, yet. And,” he added with a twinkle of his shrewd eyes, “you were not paying for the production, were you?”

* * * * * * * * * * *

I only recollect one or two trifling incidents which helped to break the monotony of those dreary rehearsals. All artists, in every branch of the arts, are notoriously temperamental. Musicians terribly so, and actors too, but actor-managers most of all, so I have found. I suppose they have more at stake than minor members of their company. Money and prestige in addition to artistic success. Fred Terry was the most temperamental man I ever met. His nerves always seemed to be on edge. Sometimes he would let himself go, giving his ebullient temper free rein, as when, on one occasion, a minor member of the company was called and did not happen to respond on the very second, he was called to account for wasting time and delaying rehearsal. For over ten minutes did the unfortunate man have to stand by and listen to abuse and a string of swear words that made the lights turn blue. Everyone was upset and the rehearsal was delayed, and time of course was wasted.

Nevertheless, there never was a more kind and patient teacher than Fred Terry when the mood was upon him. I watched him one day for twenty minutes teaching the Prince of Wales in Act II how to manage his sword, and how to sit down gracefully without getting his legs entangled in it. Twenty minutes—and never once losing patience! In his beautifully modulated voice he would go over and over certain lines with his wife until she spoke them in the way that pleased him. But I would not have liked his many admirers to have heard him when we—oh! so modestly—objected to his singing the verse of a song one minute before the final ending of the play. I ask you, would any man sing a song after the vicissitudes he had just gone through in the last act and with his adored wife just waiting to clasp him in her arms.

All the same I have often, even to this day, been asked who came nearest in the flesh to my ideal of the Scarlet Pimpernel, and unhesitatingly I always name Fred Terry.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Well! everything does come in time doesn’t it? And the day did come when, sitting in a tea-shop in Oxford Street rather anxiously discussing our prospects, on an omnibus which came to a halt opposite the shop we saw a big advertisement in flaring-letters: ‘New Theatre: The Scarlet Pimpernel, Julia Neilson and Fred Terry’, and in much smaller type our two names. We had by now sufficient theatrical experience to know better than to expect being ‘starred’ in any way. The limelight was for those who were paying for it, not for a mere pair of unknown authors. Still! it was our play that was being advertised and we were such a pair of young ninnies that to see The Scarlet Pimpernel in large flaring letters all along the side of the ’bus thrilled us to the very marrow. The fact seemed to us so wonderful! Wonderful, from the very fact that our theatrical experiences of the last two years had not given us the chance of getting spoilt or given us ‘a swollen head’. Our feelings were like those of a child when first beholding a Christmas tree. We hastily called the waitress, paid our bill, and rushed out of the shop only to see the ’bus disappearing down the street.

We swallowed our disappointment and walked down to Oxford Circus and, lo! and behold, there we saw another ’bus bearing the same advertisement in flaring red letters. It was heading for the city and we were making our way to the Marble Arch, but the desire was irresistible. We climbed up to the top of that ’bus and sat happily enthroned behind the magic placard all the way to Tottenham Court Road. Weren’t we fools? But oh, such happy fools. Of course we reckoned to see heads turned and eyes fixed excitedly on those wonderful lines. But no! the crowd on the pavements just hurried along, seemingly unaware that the title of a great work was being freely displayed for everyone to see. Not one person looked up at the advertisement, not one gleam of intelligence flashed from the eyes of that indifferent crowd, so we quietly paid our pennies, descended from Parnassus, and boarded a ’bus going the other way. I noticed that its side bore the advertisement of Quaker Oats.

* * * * * * * * * * *

 Then came the first night of The Scarlet Pimpernel at the New Theatre in London. We two in a stage box, very nervous, hid ourselves as much out of sight as possible. We had no wish to satisfy the curiosity of Press or public; but we need not have worried, for not a soul took the slightest interest in us. We had asked for a few free tickets and about half a dozen of our friends were in the house. Once or twice a smile of encouragement was directed towards us, and at the end of Act I one or two friends came to our box and said kind things to us. It was going to be a big success, so they all declared. This bucked me up a bit until—when the curtain went up once more—I looked down into the stalls and saw row upon row of sleepy-looking, obviously bored, men grinning at one another and shrugging their shoulders before composing themselves to another snooze . . . the critics!

Up in the gallery a controversy was going on which we knew nothing about at the time, but heard of afterwards from a friend who had gone up there on purpose to hear the opinion of ‘the gods’. This was the era when a small number of young hooligans (I can’t call them anything else) had banded themselves together for the express purpose of attending first nights and ‘booing’ any and every new play save those that came from the pen of an established dramatist. It was a cruel and entirely unwarranted action on their part, because they did succeed more than once in turning a likely success by an unknown author into an admitted failure.

The critics who are not usually kind to unknown authors, were ready to comment upon this ‘booing’, which they termed ‘the expression of disapproval on the part of the general public’—which it often was not—and the new play would be put down as a failure, when it might have been worked by timely publicity into a success. And the management lost its money and the poor actors their jobs. And that was the controversy that went on in the gallery and was overheard by a friend, unbeknown to us on the first night of The Scarlet Pimpernel. ‘To boo or not to boo?’ that was the question. What the answer was I know not, for I was too dazed and too excited to hear anything but the rapturous applause which greeted the final fall of the curtain.

It was indeed rapturous, no other words will describe the ovation to which the Terry’s responded with smiles, repeated bowings and the usual speech: “On behalf of Miss Neilson and myself . . . and so on.” Then a number of voices from every part of the house called: “Author! Author!” and Fred Terry glanced up at our box. I suppose that it was dark and he didn’t see us; he thought perhaps we had already run away, anyway he stepped forward and said: “I regret to say that the authors are not in the house.” And that was that. But we didn’t care. Nothing, we thought, could hurt us now. Our play was a success. A triumphant success, and there was no room in our minds for anything but thankfulness and joy.

Our half-dozen friends who had been in the house drove round with us to the flat for a picnic supper. Of course they all praised the play and predicted a lasting success. Most of them though were sorry that ‘the English damn’—which in the book comes from the Scarlet Pimpernel after the terrible ordeal he has gone through, and which is to my thinking really the best line in the book—had been omitted from the play. But the exigencies of the fourth act as it stood did not permit its retention and, after all, success was there, hot and strong, and the reading public which does not necessarily comprise the theatre-goers could still enjoy the ‘English damn’.

The next morning we sent out for the papers.

We did want to know what those somnolent, flaccid gentlemen of the Press would have to say after this overwhelming success. Well! we had the surprise of our lives: and such a surprise! Hardly a good word from any of the critics. A. B. Walkley in The Times was mildly sarcastic; a few of the others gave us an encouraging little pat on the back, telling us to try and do better next time. Our names—Baroness Orczy, Montagu Barstow—had been condensed to ‘Orczy-Barstow’, and this gave one or two pleasantly-minded gentlemen the opportunity to say something facetious about that. But it was the Daily Mail that, to put it mildly, did the management and us almost in. I don’t know who the pleasant gentleman was who wrote the paragraph concerning “the new play at the New”. He started his notice by saying that “the only good thing about this play is its name” —I am quoting verbatim—“the Scarlet Pimpernel is a little flower that blossoms and dies in one day, which is the obvious fate of this play,” and the gentleman went on to say: “Fred Terry was laboriously light and Miss Julia Neilson gave a rather poor imitation of Mrs. Patrick Campbell.”

I have said before that Fred Terry was temperamental and hinted that his command of language was both forcible and varied. I was not present when he read the above paragraph in the Daily Mail, imagination recoils before the picture it presents to the mind. I believe it was many years before Fred Terry allowed a representative of the offending paper to be present at one of his ‘first nights’. I wonder if the writer of the paragraph felt at all cheap when on the hundredth night of the play he saw the box-office besieged and notices ‘House Full’ outside the theatre night after night. But at the time it was a real hammer-blow.

Arthur Garret, Terry’s manager, came rushing round to us with something like despair in his face. “Something has got to be done,” he said, all a quiver with consternation. “The Daily Mail, with its huge circulation, will turn the show into a flop.” And it very nearly did. The following night there was not £50 in the house, and the night after that barely £60. The first matinée was a shade better, but the receipts still fell far short of three figures. Free seats were showered upon us for our friends (they had become valuable assets). “You must help to dress the house,” Garrett went on to say. “We are doing our best. We can’t have rows of empty seats. . . . Mr. Terry won’t give in to those blighters. . . .” And so on.

Well! everyone, including ourselves, made a great effort to ‘dress the house’, and on the Saturday night there was a slight rise in the barometer of the box office and the house did not look so desolate as it had done the night before. Hope springs eternal, etc., etc. And it did . . . until the following morning when the Sunday Press came down upon the play with hammer and tongs of abuse.

Mr. J. T. Grein, en tête in the Sunday Times: “As I sat for three mortal hours,” he wrote, “trying in vain to find something to praise,” and so on in the same strain, which seemed really to have an element of spite in it so virulent was it. ‘Something to praise’? surely there must be something to praise even by the most inveterate highbrow in a play that has since held the theatre-going public enthralled half over the world for over thirty years. Anyway, with but very few exceptions such as the Referee and one or two others, the Sunday Press came into line with the dailies. Another slump in the box office. Was the play which had been acclaimed to the skies by all those who had seen it (except the critics, of course) really going to fail lamentably? really going to be like its namesake, the little flower that blooms and dies in one day? Ne’er a bit of it. It slumped against a bit on the Monday, revived a little on the Tuesday . . . and on Wednesday the illustrated weeklies came out with criticisms as damning as the daily and Sunday Press.

Another slump. More dressing of the house. Then a slight rise in the barometer in the middle of the week and a decided rise for Saturday both matinée and evening. Three figures for the Saturday matinée! We met Arthur Garrett in the foyer of the theatre, mopping his streaming brow: “We are saved,” he declared.

Yes! we were saved. Failure had turned into success. From that moment there was no retrograde movement in the barometer. But how near we were to failure, we and the management who must have felt anxiety and disappointment just as keenly as we did. Honestly, I was as grieved for them during the past anxious week as I was for ourselves; and quite apart from the happiness success brought to us, we both in our hearts gave an ungrudging admiration to Fred Terry and his beautiful wife for the pluck and tenacity with which they stuck to their guns, and were genuinely thankful that they reaped their rich reward.

And that is how The Scarlet Pimpernel, one of the most popular plays ever staged in an English theatre, was on the brink of failure.

* * * * * * * * * * *

But not so the book, which was published early in 1905. Its first appearance on the bookstalls coincided with the production of the play. Unlike the play, however, it was an immediate success. Praise from every section of the Press was whole-hearted. It takes longer than young authors imagine to get really known. Messrs. Greening always warned me of that. “You have got to get known. You must not rest on your laurels. You must go on pegging away as hard as you can. Follow up your success. We’ll do all we can for you, but you must back us up with the very best work you can do. The play is all very well, that shrewd business man went on to say, “but you must remember that there are thousands—not to say millions—of men and women in this country who never dream of going to the theatre. As a nation we are not theatre-goers, not like the French, who go to the play as a matter of habit.” He was quite right there, and many years went by before those same men and women who used to avoid the theatre (an old Puritanical strain in them so I always thought) took to going in their millions to the cinema.

But in the meanwhile they took my books to their hearts. Bless ’em!

* * * * * * * * * * *

And I was thankful to put all thoughts of plays and theatres behind me and to think only of my books. The books I was going to write: the books, the scenes and stories of which were seething in my brain. A regular whirlwind of scenes and adventures they were. My Scarlet Pimpernel! Well! he was not going to rest in idleness in London and in Bath, no! Not even in the arms of his beloved Marguerite while men, women, and children were being tracked down, tortured, and killed the other side of the Channel. Of course he would continue his life of devotion and self-sacrifice in their cause. He and his brave, loyal henchmen. There were at least half a dozen adventures into which I knew that he must plunge whilst I had the power to put his glorious deeds into words. So I began by setting to work and writing I will Repay, the first of a whole series I intended to write on my favourite subject. Oh! there were no rebuffs, no disappointments in my career now.

How many times have young authors said to me, “Oh! if only I could write a play! A play is so much more exciting than a book. The production must be such a wonderful thrill! To see the scenes which you have conceived and hear the words which you have put in the mouth of your characters! It must be too wonderful!!” Well! I dare say it is, but I don’t want any of that excitement. I can quite well do without that thrill. Give me the thrill of creating a character, a scene, a situation, of putting it all into words of my own imagining and then placing it before the public without the aid of actors and producers and scene painters and what-nots. Give me the unalloyed joy all the time of writing a book for a public which has learned to understand you and who loves you and there is no greater thrill to be had in all the world.

I remember on one occasion, during a performance of a play of mine, Beau Brocade, at the Queen’s Theatre under Frank Curzon’s management, he and I were having a talk over that same subject: play versus book writing, and he was much amused by my declaring that I would far rather be the writer of successful books than of successful plays. “To begin with,” was my argument, “there is no dramatist living, however great a success he might have had with a play who can be sure that his next venture will not be a failure. He depends on so many outside factors. Think of the actors who have to interpret his work and so often misinterpret it. Then there is the question of fashion, of the temper of the critics, of outside circumstances such as the weather or a death in the royal family and down goes the barometer of the box office and the play is a failure.” “But what about a book?” he argued with a good-natured laugh. “Aren’t you equally dependent on outside factors? What about the critics?” “No,” I said, “a novelist once he has established himself in the heart of his readers, has nothing to fear from the Press. One book may be less successful than another, he may be attacked by some of the reviewers, but at all times good or bad, fair weather or foul, people must and will read, and they will always turn to their favourite authors. And that is where we novelists get the pull. There are no actors between us and the public. What we have written is there for the public to read and to judge for itself.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

It has also been argued that play-writing is more lucrative than book-writing, and the question of money naturally looms large in the hopes and ambitions of young writers. But that also is a fallacy. Putting aside the precariousness of a play being an outstanding success, a successful book is worth far far more from a money point of view than any play even if it runs to many thousand nights. Play-writing is a great, a wonderful, art. I am only too ready to admit it. Success in it does come to a few. All I mean is that success in it is more precarious, and is more fraught with disappointments, and even with heartache than is the art of the novelist. As a matter of fact to say that a book is a failure is an anachronism. A first book by an unknown author may fail to attract, the sales may be confined to a few orders from the circulating libraries, but it does not mean that it is a failure, i.e. that it will be relegated to the scrap heap of literary endeavour. If only a few copies have been sold, those copies go on existing, they are bound to pass from one hand to another if only over the counters of the libraries. Nor does it follow that a second book by the same author will not be published and find appreciation and the desire for more work from the same author.

My contention is that there is no such thing as stark failure for a book. Not the stark failure that attends a play which does not happen to please the public and which has no chance of being given a second hearing. It is dead. It is gone. No manager will want to look at it again. And great dramatists, popular dramatists, have known that kind of failure, and not once only. But a novelist has not that disappointment to contend with. Readers may say: “Oh, I don’t care for that book of yours,” but they will always add: “I don’t think it’s a patch on your X.Y.Z.” But they will have read it and will have discussed it with others. The book will always be there for every thinking reader to judge for himself.

“Young authors, stick to your books,” is the advise of an old stager like I am; “don’t bother about plays; put all that is best in you in your books; peg away at them till you are well known. Appreciation will come in the end.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

 As soon as The Scarlet Pimpernel was an established success in the theatre, I was approached by foreign dramatists who desired to translate it for their own stage. Oh! if these clever gentlemen had only been content to translate the play, keeping its original root-idea such as I the author had conceived it, and above all keeping the original characterization, I for one would have been quite happy to hear the words which I had written given out in a foreign tongue.

Unfortunately those same clever gentlemen desired to adapt the play to what they declared were the requirements of their own public, a public which I was naturally not supposed to know anything about. I agreed to this idea of adaptation. As a matter of fact our own dramatists here in England had for years been busy adapting French farces and French dramas for the English stage, and very successfully too. I will only cite The Marriage of Kitty as an example, and adaptation of La Passerelle which, in the rigid translation, would certainly have shocked the prudish British nation, but as a clever adaptation, just a little twist here and there, was perfectly ‘chaste’ and most amusing.

There were others of course, and I, remembering these readily agreed to the adaptation of my Scarlet Pimpernel for the French, the Italian, the German, and Spanish stage. The play was very successful in Italy; it was performed not only in Rome, but also in Milan and one or two of the other important towns. I didn’t see it, nor did I see the script. I have the German script where the play was called Cour As! (Ace of Hearts). The language appears to me ponderous and the dialogue entirely lacking brightness and humour. It was first performed a year or so before the outbreak of the 1914 war. I was not in touch with anyone in Germany then, the agent who drew up the contract and saw that it was properly carried out was certainly not enthusiastic about the production. He told me that in the opinion of the critics the story and characterization were too essentially English, and as the English were very unpopular in Germany already the play was not to the taste of the Anglophobe public. Funnily enough I have since then been approached more than once (both during and after the War) by German musicians for permission to adapt the play for opera or operette.

The one ‘adaptation’ I did witness, however, was the French one. It was done by Monsieur Jean-Joseph Renaud, who in addition to his literary fame (he was a well-known novelist and journalist) was one of the fencing champions of France. I understand that he has figured more often than any other man as second in affaires d’honneur (otherwise duels). Well! he may have been (certainly was) an expert in the noble art of duelling, but he was apparently not expert in knowledge of the public taste—his own public, mind you. Of course I was supposed to know nothing about the taste of the Parisian play-going public, but M.J.J.R. knew all about it having been mixed up with the theatre since boyhood and being on intimate terms of friendship with every journalist and most theatrical managers of Paris. My dear collaborator and I then gave him permission to adapt the Scarlet Pimpernel for the French stage.

We had promised that we would go to Paris for the first performance and we went. What I suffered that night is indescribable. It was a mixture of agony of mind and—of positive rage. My beloved Scarlet Pimpernel which had so often been spoken of as the perfect presentation of an English gentleman was the perfect presentation of a French bourgeois, rotund, loud of voice, heavy of gait, profuse of gesture. He was for ever clenching his fist. Sir Percy clenching his fist!! But what positively outraged me was that the adapter had introduced an intrigue between—whom do you think—Sir Andrew Ffoulkes and Marguerite!! Sir Andrew in love with his friend’s wife! Even the film people didn’t do that . . . but more of them anon.

How I sat out the evening I know not. After the first act everything became a blur and I remember nothing more. We were staying at the time with a dear friend, Mademoiselle Cugnier, a charming, cultured French lady, who had certainly read the excellent translation of the book, but she had never been in England and had therefore never seen the play. She knew what my dear collaborator and I were both suffering, and she did and said all she could to soften the blow—for it was a blow. I felt as if that rotund, rubicund gentleman on the stage had knocked me on the head with his clenched fist.

To add to our troubles, several friends of Mademoiselle Cugnier came into our box to be introduced to the authors and they spoke such flattering, such obviously insincere, eulogies of the play and of the acting and prophesied a lasting success. In that they were so very charming and so very French. I was never one to suffer from ‘nerves’, but that night . . .!!!

The only comfort I derived from the whole thing, and it was a funny sort of comfort, was that obviously the play was a failure from the very first. But how a well-known French author could so misunderstand the taste of the highly cultured public of his own country has remained a puzzle to me. Subsequently The Tangled Skein, from my own romance of that name was also adapted for the French stage; I forget who was the adapter at that time. The play was produced at the Theatre Sarah Bernhardt, and that is all I know about it. We didn’t go over to see it. Once bitten, twice shy.

But worse was to come a few years later when the film people worked their wicked will on so many of my books.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Since the days of The Scarlet Pimpernel I have written a number of historical romances. History always fascinated me, and as I never really cared for social life I didn’t find that modern thought and modern views of life attracted me sufficiently to place my romantic stories in the setting of to-day. I don’t mean to suggest by that that there is no romance in the life of to-day. There is plenty and to spare, more perhaps than there was in the olden days. All I mean is, that somehow I am not in tune with it. Never, even in my young days, was I fond of social life. I am something of a hermit and the company of my husband and a few intimate friends was all I ever craved for in the way of society. I always found going to parties a terrible waste of time. How much happier one is in the midst of an intimate circle, where one does not have to contend with well-meaning, garrulous gushers such as I met once, I remember at a ‘party’, a pleasant enough woman who approached me with a glass of sherry in one hand and a sandwich in the other, and exclaimed in a loud voice somewhat marred by the piece of sandwich she was munching, “Dear Baroness Pimpernel!” (Oh! how I hate that; I meet it so often.) “How I loved your lovely book! I think Chauvelin is one of the most lovely heroes I have ever read about.”

What can one say on such occasions?

The book that gave me more pleasure to write than any of the others is By the Gods Beloved, not only because I could allow my imagination to go roaming in hitherto unexplored realms but because I could give it full sway in picturesque descriptions of places that did not really exist, and in people and characters who could have no attributes that were entirely normal and modern. My friendship with Edwin Long in the past was a great incentive for me to embark on such an imaginative subject. He made me feel the reality of it all, and had brought before me pictures of those scenes which I now trained myself to describe and as he had the wonderful talent for achieving pictorial effect, as all his canvases were rich and colourful creations so did I try now to achieve the same effects, the same colourful descriptions, with my pen.

He taught me many artistic truths, and confessed to me the secret of his success, and this was that he never allowed backgrounds to dominate the human figures in his pictures. The central figures always stood out prominently, and throughout my long career I have always tried to emulate him in this: ‘Character’, has been my watchword all through. As my old friend Arnold Bennett impressed it upon me so vigorously, “By characters your books shall live, not by their story or their back-ground.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

Another period of history which has always fascinated me is that of the struggle for independence of the Netherlands and the ultimate overthrow, after heroic struggles, of Spanish domination and tyranny. I just got to love those old Dutch burghers with their obstinate desire for religious and political liberty. To me they were never prosy and always picturesque and wandering as I did sometimes through the cobbled streets of Haarlem, that picturesque and thriving little town, where they lived and plotted and fought like heroes, the hard ground always seemed to me to send forth a memory echo of the firm heavy footsteps of those valiant old fellows; and the old gate of the Spaarne through which they used to pass seemed to me still haunted by the sound of their gruff voices calling out guten mittag or guten abend as they dispersed to go back to their homes after their gossip over their mugs of beer at the ‘Lame Cow’.

The two characters that most fascinated me in their picturesque setting were the ‘Laughing Cavalier’ and ‘Leatherface’. No one knows who was the original of the ‘Laughing Cavalier’, that truly marvellous portrait by Frans Hals, one of the most precious possessions artistic England is lucky enough to boast of. With me that picture is almost an obsession. I admire it with a kind of passionate fervour for which I can never account. That smile, that attitude of his, his swagger, his dress, the twinkle in his eye fascinate me, and nothing would do but I must try and make him live before my readers in the same vivid way in which he always appears before me.

Strangely enough the history of the original of the ‘Laughing Cavalier’, of the man who sat as model for that sublime picture, had never been written before. And yet countless thousands must, during the past three centuries, have stood before his portrait: we of the present generation who are the proud possessors of that picture now, have looked on him many a time with sheer joy in our hearts, almost forgetting the genius of the artist who portrayed him in the very realism of the personality which seems to laugh at us out of the canvas.

Anyway, I soon ascertained that no biographer had ever attempted to tell us anything of the man’s life, nor had anyone attempted to lift the veil of anonymity which hides the identity of the ‘Laughing Cavalier’. Am I so very wrong in thinking, as I certainly do—that he was the direct ancestor of another man with the same laughter on his lips and the same twinkle in his eyes, of Sir Percy Blakeney in fact, the Scarlet Pimpernel.

Do go and look at the picture one day. It is a part of the Wallace Collection, and tell me if I am wrong.

Chapter 14
1908

It was about this time that we finally decided to settle down in the country. We were both of us country lovers at heart; neither of us cared for social life, and we had had enough and to spare of town life, its bustle and noise. What we wanted was peace and quietude. What we hoped for was the opportunity of buying some small property not too far from town but with a nice garden where we could indulge our passionate love of flowers and trees and birds and the broad expanse of heaven above us. But of course that was not an undertaking that could be gone into in a hurry, and in the meanwhile we rented a nice old dower house near Minster, in Thanet. Thanet is not a beautiful part of England. It is flat; there are no hills, few trees, only big fields and wide spaces with the tang and smell of the sea all around. We spent three very happy years there.

My reputation was now on a solid foundation. I could write just whatever I wanted to. I could let my imagination and my love of romance have free play. Whatever I wrote was eagerly sought for publication and welcomed by an ever widening circle of readers. Bless ’em for their goodness and loyalty to me. It was in Thanet that I wrote The Nest of the Sparrowhawk, the scene of which was laid in our neighbouring village of Acol. That book in one of the few romances of mine with an English background. I have often been asked why that was so. English history is every bit as colourful, and picturesque, and as romantic as that of any other country, and I loved it and studied it with all the ardour which my love for my spiritual home had engendered in my heart. So I was always a little bit at a loss how to reply to that question.

The real reason was the difficulty of dealing with names of places and persons. I have never disguised these in my romances, as fiction-writers almost invariably do. In writing of Paris and Boulogne, of Clichy or Anjou they were always Paris or Boulogne, and so on in my books The streets of Paris and Nantes bear the same names to-day as they do in Eldorado or in Lord Tony’s Wife. I have old maps of all the towns which, to my ears, still echo the footsteps of the Scarlet Pimpernel and his devoted followers. There is not a country lane the configuration of which I have in any way distorted. To me, had I changed the names or the positions of any actual place I would, I feel sure, have lost something of their reality and been unable to infuse that reality into my narrative.

Now with English places you would have to be almost superhumanly careful. Place but an oak tree twenty yards further than it is standing to-day and you would bring the wrath of a score of local readers on your head. Speak of some tiny footbridge over a rivulet one hundred and fifty years ago and of a certainty you would be told more in sorrow than in anger and with the addition of documentary evidence that that footbridge had only been in its present place one hundred and ten years ago. I remember speaking to W. J. Locke about that and venturing to upbraid him for disguising the names of places in his books as if he wanted to mislead his readers, and his answer was very much what I have been trying to explain. “You must do it,” he said, “especially when you have got any part of England as a background, because at the slightest error in topography, however insignificant it might be, you would simply get a deluge of correspondence upbraiding you for your misdemeanour; correspondence too, to some of which self-preservation or merely courtesy would compel you to reply, and the life of the worker is too short to be wasted in that way.” “What about French topography?” I suggested. “That is not so important,” he said; “you can do pretty much as you like provided you make no glaring errors; but the French reader is not nearly so inclined to be captious as your English one. I don’t know about other countries. And anyway,” he went on in his charming, modest way, “our great master, Thomas Hardy, set us the example didn’t he, with his Wessex and his Casterbridge?”

* * * * * * * * *

But our time in Thanet didn’t necessarily mean all work and no play. We spent some lovely days in Transylvania—the home of my mother’s family—an altogether different part of Hungary than Tarna-Örs, and the Lowlands; they had their origin there. Transylvania is the Eastern part of Hungary; it was then an integral part of that Kingdom and the family owned extensive properties over there. Transylvania, before the 1914-1918 war and the disastrous Treaty of Trianon was politically and racially very much on a par with Ireland, that is to say, the owners of the land—as well as the professional and middle classes—were Hungarian. The peasantry, more numerous but entirely uneducated, was Szlovak, i.e. Roumanian. The Treaty of Trianon, which transferred the whole of Transylvania to Roumania, dispossessed those landowners who refused to swear allegiance to its King, and Transylvania itself has ever since been tossed battledore and shuttlecock, from Roumania to Hungary and back again, in accordance with the political views first of Clémenceau and then of Hitler.

But before the 1914 war it was a fine country, entirely agricultural, surrounded by the high range of the Carpathians, the forests of which are the haunts of bears and wild boar and herds of wolves, and on the higher peaks of which the adventurous sportsman can oft descry the timorous chamois, a graceful silhouette against the intense blue of the sky. We always took our boy, Jack, with us on our yearly visits to Czege, my maternal uncle’s place; and for him the outdoor, somewhat wild, life was just Paradise, although he was not yet in his teens and had only known the sophisticated life of towns. But my uncle often took him out with him when he was after chamoix or small game; hare, snipe; and wild partridge abounded, and there was wild duck on the lake three miles long which was close to the château.

The local gunsmith made a small gun for Jack and he quickly learned to handle it in a childish fashion. He never hit anything, but this did not worry him. He had had his fun. When I asked him if he had brought any wild duck down he replied quite happily: “No; but they flew away, and they were so frightened when I shot at them.”

My uncle and aunt, Countess Wass, and all the cousins simply adored ‘the English family’. They thought my English husband the handsomest man they had ever seen, the free and easy intercourse between us and Jack appealed to their hearts. At first they wondered a little at what they thought must be a want of respect of the boy towards his parents, but presently they realized that it is through friendship between father and son that the fine characters of Englishmen are allowed to develop early in life.

* * * * * * * * *

Czege, my uncle’s place, was more primitive than Tarna-Örs or Tisza-Abád, but we loved it all the better. My uncle drove us round to call on the nearest neighbours, the nearest one to Czege was distant over twenty miles, and motor-cars had not yet penetrated to the mountain fastness of Transylvania. There were a few taxis in Kolozsvár (the capital town now called Chy) where my old aunts pulled down their blinds so as not to see those inventions of the devil stationed outside the mediæval cathedral, and there was a rich cousin somewhere close by who owned the one and only modern car in the land and was the terror of the entire population of Transylvania. We drove about in the light carriages that were specially suited to the soft sandy roads, and to the dear little Arab horses who galloped away with them, sometimes in teams of four or in teams of six, as if they had only a load of feathers behind them.

Among many other activities my uncle was a great breeder of horses. As he naïvely used to say to us: “You know, my dears, a wretched landed proprietor in this wild country has very little coin of the realm to bless himself with. The sale of my horses is my great mainstay whenever I am short of money—which I very often am.” We got him to tell us just how the business of buying and selling was carried on, and how he had made a start with the fine stud which had become one of the most important ones in Eastern Hungary.

“The Hungarian and the Egyptian Governments,” he told us, “are two of my best customers, and I also sell to the Serbian and Bulgarian armies. The breed of our horses in Eastern Hungary is splendid for military purposes, as the beasts have boundless endurance and though they are small they are very strong and hardy. I know,” he went on to say, “that at the time of your South African War our horses came into disrepute, when a lot of dishonest middlemen came here to purchase horses for the British Government. These men were hopelessly dishonest. They were Polish Jews for the most part, and they lined their pockets by buying all sorts of worthless horses and palming them off on the unsuspecting British remount officers who sat smoking cigarettes in the Hôtel Hungaria and were entirely in the hands of those Jews as they did not know a word of Hungarian.”

* * * * * * * * *

And then one day we had a most thrilling experience. The Hungarian Government was sending two remount officers to Czege to select and purchase a certain number of horses.

“You are going to see some fun,” my uncle said to us that morning. And we did.

To begin with in the early morning the stud which we used to see grazing on the hillside far away had been driven into a field below, close to the château. After lunch we all went down into the field. There were some five hundred horses there then.

The chief herdsman was there with my uncle, stud book in hand, to select and check off the beasts. We, who had never seen anything of the sort before, were just enthralled. Firstly the pick of the herd was checked off, those that were not for sale to the Government but would be kept for the owner’s own use or for sale to his friends.

How different to the staid, solemn business of a horse fair in England.

As a matter of fact the Hungarian csikós the herdsmen are a race apart. Their knowledge and handling of these wild creatures surpasses anything the Wild West has ever shown us, and they wield the lasso as skilfully as the most expert American or Argentine cowboy.

All I know is that at the end of the day all was peace and quiet once more. The remount officers had been and made their purchases. The horses which they had chosen had been branded with the Government stamp and number, and this with the young untamed animals was neither an easy nor a pleasant process, nor was the work of the troopers who had to lead the horses afterwards some eighteen miles to the nearest railway station for entrainment. The horses that were too young or too small, the valuable brood mares and the very promising two-and three-year-olds, were allowed to return to their free life unhampered on the hillside far away.

* * * * * * * * *

While Jack was still at his prep. school in Stanmore Park we once spent two autumn months, October and November, in Czege. My uncle was ‘a great hunter before the Lord’ and we were keen on seeing some of the great trophies that fell every year to his gun and those of his friends. The most interesting trophy to me that year was the magnificent skin of a huge brown bear which my uncle shot in the forest of the Carpathians, a skin which adorned the hall of Snowfield for some years and is now spread on the floor in the dining-room of my little villa in Monte Carlo—sic transit gloria . . . He must have been a magnificent fellow, standing in life not far short of ten feet on his huge pads. Count Wass shot him in the dense forest at ten paces. “It was either the bear or me,” he used to say with a laugh; “for he came at me quite unawares from nowhere seemingly, and with outstretched arms; but he made a good target of himself and I was the lucky one.”

The bear in the Carpathian Mountains is the grizzly or Russian bear, and as powerful as he is fierce if attacked. This one’s skin had been promised me by my uncle if he happened to bring him down. A close relation of his adorned the Paris Exhibition (Hungarian section) 1900. He, to, had fallen to my uncle’s gun. He had not been skinned but stuffed, and stood upright, fully ten feet high from his pads to the crown of his splendid head. He was black, except for a white waistcoat and collar. A rich Armenian bought him for the adornment of his house in Alexandria.

* * * * * * * * *

The forests of the Carpathians are also the abode of a large breed of wild boar, and of course the haunt of wolves. The year we were there in the late autumn, winter had set in very early and was very severe. The mountains were already deep in snow, and the wolves were hungry and extremely unpleasant, because at night they came down in herds to the foot of the mountains, close to the château, and there set up a howling fit to wake the dead. A weird sound at night. I didn’t like it. Of course battues were organized and wolves were rounded up and encircled as an enemy army would be in wartime. Most of the peasants were armed with guns and were a valuable addition to the gentlemen who joined in the razzia in a sporting spirit. A number of the ravenous beasts were invariably shot and the rest would get away and lope back up the mountainside, and I imagine that they were a prolific lot for it seemed to me that the nightly howlings after a few days’ respite when calm appeared to have descended on the forest restarted as unpleasant and as loud as before.

* * * * * * * * *

We did some delightful journeyings from Czege into Roumania, Moldavia, and over the Carpathians into Bukovina. No motor-cars—just that perfect means of getting about, four or six sturdy little horses and the light carriages which skimmed over the excellent mountain roads and over mountain passes which no motor (at any rate those of thirty years ago) could have tackled, except to the great inconvenience of travellers and constant wear and tear of tyres and mechanism. We spent a very happy month in Tusnád, a watering place with hot sulphur springs which was close to Brassó, the last Hungarian town on the Western number of visitors during the summer season, rich Roumanian and Bulgarian Jews and other merchants.

Granting that everything in the way of hotel accommodation was primitive, it was always spotlessly clean and the cooking super-excellent. The hotel we stayed at was right in the middle of the forest, and one had all one’s meals out-of-doors under the trees with the scent of pine, of cedar and of rich earth in one’s lungs, and the air as invigorating a tonic as the most modern vitamines could possibly devise: in fact, so invigorating was it that I—who was never a great walker and certainly never much of a mountain climber—was able to go up to the ‘Anna Tô’, a lake two thousand feet up, as blue as the Mediterranean on a sunny day.

We also went over to Sinaia, on the Eastern side of the Carpathians, the summer residence of the King of Roumania, as beautiful a spot as any sovereign could wish for, in which to rest from politics and forget the turbulence of his people. Here we had the pleasure of meeting the Queen of Romania, known to the literary world as Carmen Sylva, and had the honour of being introduced to her. She was a Princess of Wied, rather plain with a red face and heavy German features, but she was very gracious, speaking to us in English (fluent with a German accent).

I had never been an admirer of her Thoughts of a Queen for the ‘thoughts’ had not seemed to me either original or exalted. Probably she had no opinion of my works either, though she admitted being ‘conversant with them’. So we threw bouquets at one another, she very condescendingly to me, and I with the respect due to her rank and her attainments, which must have been considerable seeing that she was honorary Doctor of something or other of the University of Budapest.

Not very far from Sinaia, but still on the Hungarian side of the mountains was Dorna Watra, a watering-place with some kind of curative springs. It seemed to us both as the exclusive abode of Jews. There are a great many Jews in every part of Hungary, but never had I seen so many people of the old faith congregated in one town. We struck it in mid-September, the day of their great festival. There they were, young and old, men, women and children; the men and the boys in long kaftans down to their heels, round fur bonnets on their heads, and all of them with the characteristic curl down each cheek in front of the ear. Though they came from various parts of Hungary and of Roumania, they were of the race of Polish Jews.

I cannot bear to think now of that crowd as I saw it that day, knowing what unspeakable misery, what hideous mental and bodily torture those brutish Nazis have inflicted since upon those same people whom we shouldered on that peaceful day in September so many years ago. Of course as a race they had their faults—and they were grievous faults. No nation is more aware of these than the Hungarian, where the peasantry has groaned from centuries under their exactions and their rapacity, but it was not for the barbarous and sadistic Nazis to retaliate with murder and butchery.

Chapter 15

The happiest of all memories we had of our visits to Transylvania were the five lovely little horses from the pick of the stud which we bought from my uncle one year. We sent the coachman over to Hungary (we were still living in Thanet then) to fetch them and bring them over to England. They arrived quite safe and sound, but they had been very sea-sick in the North Sea (so much for those wiseacres who will have it that sea-sickness is the result of imagination, and therefore easily controlled by will-power). They were a real joy to us and to our friends. We had the greatest fun in breaking them in. They had, as a matter of fact, been broken in for harness and saddle but they had never seen a motor-car in all their young lives and the scampering that went on when first they met that unbelievable horror was as exciting to the driver as it was to them. Thanet, as a matter of fact was a perfect country for this breaking-in. I am talking of forty and more years ago. There were no hedges to break the even carpet of huge fields which lay under deep snow during the winter and were just rough pasture and grazing ground the rest of the year. We went warily and gradually to work. The coachman—a Thanet man—was immensely interested in the work and was wonderfully efficient and patient. I had of course to bide my time patiently until it was decided by the powers that ruled lovingly over me that it would be safe for me to hold the reins.

We used to get up at five o’clock in the morning that first autumn, when, harnessed to a light wagonette which we had brought for the purpose, we first took those dear timorous things out on the roads between Acol and Minster, and many a scamper we had over fields at the first approach of a motor and its ominous honking. Well! I was not called upon to wait very long for the happy day when first I was allowed to hold the reins. I drove the two beautiful greys first in a light phaeton and lovely they looked. But the great joy was when first we harnessed the five in the light wagonette, Hungarian fashion, three leaders and Goldie—lovely Goldie with the burnt sienna satin coat and the golden mane and tail, the loose one between the other two leaders.

To say that we created a sensation in the sleepy backwater of Minster-in-Thanet would be to put it mildly: but the team was a delight to the schoolboys of Mr. Hawtry’s school whenever they caught sight of it. Only Mr. Hawtry didn’t like it. When we drove the team of four he was angry and jumped off his bicycle muttering some rather rude words: but when he met us presently with our team of five he was outraged and shouted after us: “How many more of these abominable beasts are you going to drive about the place?”

Well! the fun and delight of those dear little Hungarian horses did not last more than a very few years. So very many things happened. Events followed events in quick succession. For one thing our lease of Cleave Court, the old Manor House in Thanet, was up. The house was really rather inconvenient and we didn’t care to renew it. The lease was subsequently bought by Sir Edward Carson, who greatly improved the house and made it his week-end quarters for several years.

Chapter 16

In the meanwhile we had been in treaty for the purchase of Snowfield between Maidstone and Ashford. It was about the size that we were looking for, some twenty acres of garden. The house was very ugly, but thanks to the architectural genius of Mr. Andrew N. Prentice, backed by my husband’s artistic conceptions, it was soon transformed into a thing of beauty. By the time those two artists had done with it there was nothing left of the old villa, except the inside walls. The outside became lovely and mellowed, beautiful in line and in colour, backed by a hill which we very soon planted with rhododendrons and flaming azaleas out of which rose here and there on the brow stately Austrian pines and lower down clumps of mountain ash.

We were passionate gardeners, both of us, and the making of that beautiful Kentish garden was one of the joys of our life. The hill behind the house was a protective screen against north-easterly winds, and roses are flowering shrubs revelled in the mild climate of south-eastern England and gave us all that we could wish in the way of colour and beauty. Here we lived a happy and prosperous life until the close of the war in 1918. In 1906 I inherited, through the death of an uncle, the greater portion of the Hungarian property of Tarna-Örs. Some amusing stories were soon current in the Press about this inheritance of mine. Of course its proportions were swelled in print to most wonderful and impossible proportions; but, apart from that, the imaginative journalistic mind had woven a romance all its own around the ‘fortune that had come unexpectedly to the author of The Scarlet Pimpernel’. I do believe that journalists beat us novelists hollow in imagination.

I had just published my book, A Son of the People, the scene of which I laid in Tarna-Örs itself, describing the house in which I was born and the life of the territorial magnates of Hungary with which I had been familiar in my childhood. As a matter of fact the love story which I wove into the plot actually occurred in the next village to Tarna-Örs, and the daughter of the territorial noble who owned that property did actually marry a highly educated and rich peasant who had fallen desperately in love with her. Her father had been brought to financial disaster through the same agrarian troubles that had nearly ruined my own dear father, and he gave a reluctant consent to the incongruous marriage. It was a romantic episode ready to my hand when I wrote A Son of the People.

What did my imaginative journalistic friends do but seize upon the publication of this book and weave around it the romance of my inheritance? According to them I had been lost to the Hungarian world. No one knew what had become of me, where to find the owner of the fortune which had, as it were, fallen from heaven and was drifting ownerless somewhere in mid-air (as a matter of fact I was at the time in treaty with a publisher in Budapest for the translation of A Son of the People into Hungarian). But never mind, the journalistic romance was too good to be lost to the world. A Son of the People had revealed to the lawyers in Hungary that the Baroness Orczy was very much alive and ready to take up the inheritance which was hers by right.

Everyone set to work to bring about the reunion of lawyers and family with the fortune author and, incidentally, caused much perturbation in the Income Tax Department of His Majesty’s Exchequer. How to ascertain its exact amount? How, above all, to assess the sum due by the lucky Hungarian legatee to His Majesty’s Income Tax and Super Tax Departments? Well, these were problems which took a lot of time and trouble to unravel to the satisfaction of the above departments. Luckily, Dr. Herschel, our lawyer in Hungary, spoke English fluently. He came over to London armed with all the information necessary for the elucidation of the financial puzzle. But my dear husband was the principal victim in this affair, with the amount of time he had to spend cooling his heels in the bureaux of the powers that be, in satisfying them that the gigantic fortune boldly assessed originally at £20,000,000 was in reality only a few thousands.

* * * * * * * * *

After these incursions into romance, peace reigned in Snowfield. Work, hard work, was the order of the day. My husband had built for himself a studio in the garden, and I had my library and desk in the house. But the distance between the house and the studio was only fifty yards across the rose garden and as there was no light in the library for painting, I soon took to establishing myself and my books and my desk in the studio. In the early days of our married life we had always worked together in one room—my darling at his easel and I at my desk—that I found it impossible to concentrate on my work sitting in a room all alone. And to this day, until the light went out of my life, I have always done my work either in Snowfield, in London, and finally in Monte Carlo, with my dear one working beside me and more often than not with his model posing on the throne a few feet away.

Though I got through a great deal of work during the next few years—as a matter of fact I brought out two historical romances a year, and after a time three in two years—we did not spend the whole of our time in Snowfield. We were always there for Christmas because my boy Jack, then at Stanmore Park, always brought two or three of his special chums with him to spend the holidays—boys whose parents were somewhere abroad—and we certainly had a riotous time during their stay with us. Our nearest neighbours were the Pelham Warners who had a boy and girl of their own, and during the whole of Christmas-time the fun at Snowfield and at Charing—the Warner’s place—was certainly fast and furious.

Christmas Day was always spent at Snowfield, so was the evening, and the Christmas tree was always set up in the dining-room there. The next day we all went over to Charing. We drove over with our beloved team in time for lunch and were fetched after dark by the coachman in the staid and sober landau. But even this happy arrangement did not last very long. The Kentish roads round about us were narrow and twisting. Motor-cars soon increased in numbers and took possession of the roads to the detriment of peaceful driving which I loved.

* * * * * * * * *

When the war came our little Hungarian horses were taken over by the Kent Yeomanry for officers’ chargers, and for some months after that I used to get letters from both officers and men giving me news of Goldi or Netti or Tatiana, who were always treated as pets. Then news became more scarce and finally ceased to come.

Chapter 17

The happy holidays in Transylvania came to a sad end in 1913 with the death of my uncle. And after that came wars and rumours of war and the whole world as we knew it seemed all to crumble up and change its face of joy and merriment into one of gravity and at times even of gloom. At first it was war in the Balkans with an attendant collapse on the Stock Exchange, the tumbling of securities that had seemed as safe (or very nearly as safe) as the Bank of England, down to unheard-of levels, and so many friends had been hit right and left with financial troubles and there was constant talk of selling houses that were too expensive to keep up or properties that were falling in value.

We never worried about all that. We had plenty of work to do, and the work was congenial and remunerative. We felt secure financially as to our future whatever happened. I wrote two romances during 1912, Fire in Stubble and Meadowsweet and started (at I am happy to say, public request) yet another adventure of my always popular Scarlet Pimpernel, namely, Eldorado, which was completed and finished the following year. It has always seemed to me strange how universally popular that hero of mine had become. In fact his popularity had grown and spread with the years.

The Terry management were reviving the play time after time either in London or on tour in the big towns, and since the first publication of The Scarlet Pimpernel itself I had written I Will Repay and The Elusive Pimpernel and still my readers seemed to be asking for more—so much so, in fact that I began at times to feel weary of that elusive personage, but never for a moment did my imagination give out as to his adventures. He had always been so intensely alive to me that at any moment I could conjure up pictures of him in the turmoil of revolutions and persecutions, ready to help and relieve sorrows and sufferings with his boundless energy and resourceful brain. I loved all his friends: Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, Lord Anthony Dewhurst, Lord Hastings, and above all I loved Marguerite, his brave and devoted wife. I knew them all personally. They were more real and more vivid to me than the friends of this world.

* * * * * * * * *

These were the exciting times of the great feminine movement, ‘Votes for Women!’ The slogan was everywhere. Discussions were hot and strong between those for and against the movement, discussions which often ended in loss of temper and sometimes alas! in the snapping of ties of old friendships. Needless to say that we took no part in the movement at all. We were workers and artists, not politicians. Frankly, I didn’t care one way or the other. I knew—as certainly as I knew anything—that for good or ill women would get their parliamentary vote, sooner of later, and I was content to wait till that time came along. But in the meanwhile we knew, as indeed every thinking English man and woman knew also, that nothing in the political world is ever gained by gentle and peaceful methods. It is only by shouting and beating drums, by noise and untiring activity, by loud insistence and perseverance that anything in the way of reform is ever attained in this country or in any other.

In our village (Bearsted) the population, those at any rate who thought about things at all, were decidedly ‘anti’. Mr. Lushington, the vicar, was getting on in life, and I don’t think worried himself much about the matter. He certainly never expressed an opinion on the subject either in the pulpit or out of it. Against that his curate was violently anti-suffragist, and looked upon Mrs. Pankhurst and her adherents as something akin to female anti-Christs. (There were people like that in those days, both men and women.) He was practically in charge of the parish, and fired by the accounts in the Press of outrages perpetrated by the ‘suffragettes’, as they were called (including certain raids on London churches and demonstrations in Downing Street and Westminster), he organized a corps of day and night watchers, whose duty it was to guard the church and its approach, as well as the village green, against possible depredations.

We had spent Jack’s Easter holidays in Switzerland and on our return found the whole village in a turmoil of excitement against the ‘suffragettes’. Among other duties these watchers undertook the unpleasant task of ducking in the village pond all those women who attempted any demonstration or depredation of any sort or kind in the village. Thus were many men and women who declared themselves to be devoted to the cause of law and order, kept on the watch and out of their beds night after night. But no untoward incident had occurred up to now, and we were at the end of April. I imagine that gradually the zest for keeping watch o’ nights— with the likely pleasure of ducking one’s political opponents in the village pond—had begun to cool down a bit.

Then came the great day of the cricket match, Bearsted versus Royal Marine depot. There was not a soul in the village or in any of the villages round who would not be present on that great occasion. There had even been a vague, if unconfirmed, rumour that Pelham Warner who had promised to come over and see the match, would give hundreds of spectators the delight of seeing him play—on which side and under what rules were not stated. We were giving a monster tea-party at Snowfield to all our friends and acquaintances and we had engaged the Royal Marine depot band from Deal to play on the green, where my secretary, and one or two of our old servants, would dispense tea and cakes in a tent in the intervals of play. The weather had been glorious for the past week and the barometer was behaving splendidly, as steady as a rock.

And lo! In the early morning Bearsted was confronted with an outrage as abominable as it was unexplainable. The village green was dotted all over with small flags each bearing the legend in bold, black lettering:

“NO VOTES FOR WOMEN, NO CRICKET FOR BEARSTED.”

Who had perpetrated this gross offence against order and decency? Who had dared launch this flagrant menace and proclaim this insult against the whole population of Bearsted? The reaction was terrific. The villagers were up in arms. They patrolled every approach of the village green, armed with their scythes and their sickles and their spades. They cast longing eyes on the village pond into which they hoped to hurl those female miscreants as in the olden days witches were hurled till they drowned.

In Snowfield we know nothing. We guessed, but we did not know: nor did any of our servants with the exception of one who had perpetrated the outrage and he had done it by way of a joke. But who that one was we did not know till long afterwards. He was instigated and aided in the writing on the flags by my secretary, a nice girl, as quiet and simple and as a little mouse, but she worshipped at the shrine of Mrs. Pankhurst & Co. Anyway, though the menace was emphatic and categorical, nothing followed. Nothing happened. The cricket match was a great success (I forget which side won), so was the tea and so was the band; and all of us from Snowfield were able to go about with the air of complete innocence, for not one of us knew anything at all. I think that the man who felt the keenest disappointment in the whole affair was our poor curate, who had so looked forward to the delight of ducking a few militant suffragettes in the village pond.

I find it amusing to see in my dear one’s small diary for that year (1913) that ‘2 aeroplanes passed over Bearsted on that eventful afternoon’.

* * * * * * * * *

Eldorado was published that year and I made a start on a book to which I had looked forward with immense joy for some time. This was Unto Cæsar, a romance of ancient Rome in the time of the Cæsars. I had spent many days and months—not to say years—of study of that fascinating epoch, and we had gone on a long holiday to Rome recently so as to enable me to consolidate the pictures which my mind had created of that magnificent period. My idea was to place in the midst of opulent, pagan, gorgeous Rome, a man in high position and therefore of influence who had been present in Jerusalem at the time of the death of our Lord, had in fact been an eye-witness of His death upon the Cross and had thereafter become a Christian. The likely reaction on a strong, dominating character after such an experience fascinated me and set me thinking, so did the contrast that presented itself to my mind of such a man’s character and way of thinking, as against the thoughts and feelings of those who had been his close associates in the past in the service of the Cæsars; so did, above all, the idea of love for a woman to whom that which had altered the whole course of his life and had completely changed his character and his every thought would be only a mere incident not worthy of notice—just a very ordinary event, the punishment of a malefactor.

As in all my books the dominant idea for me was always character rather than story. I have always begun my books with the conception of a character and then built my romance round that. Unto Cæsar gave me immense pleasure to write: that book and By the Gods Beloved have always remained my favourite works—leaving The Scarlet Pimpernel as one apart from anything else I have ever done. In those books I could allow my imagination and my love for the picturesque to run absolutely riot. I am happy to say that both have been among the most popular, the most widely read, and the most frequently translated into European languages.

* * * * * * * * *

In this same still peaceful year I wrote The Laughing Cavalier, which was also one of the romances I most rejoiced in. There was no difficulty in creating this character. It was all there, glowing out of Hals’ vivid and magnificent picture. All I had to do was to imagine what he would do, what adventures would befall him and above all how the serious business of love as well of political and religious conflict would affect him. The Laughing Cavalier was published the following year—the great year. But more of this anon.

Chapter 18
1914

For it was the great year, though we didn’t know it when in beautiful, peaceful Snowfield we heard the bells of our little church ring in the new-born year. All was peaceful and happy during the first six months. I was completing my romance of The Laughing Cavalier; my beloved husband was painting. He had contrived to arrange for models to come down to Bearsted and sit to him in his studio while they stayed in the lodge at Snowfield. One of these was a West Indian girl named Helen Cox, beautiful in her wild, dark way and as graceful as a Persian cat. A large picture of her hangs in the studio of our villa in Monte Carlo. I often look at it now, for somehow her pose and her set smile remind me more than anything else of the quietude which we enjoyed during those first six months of the eventful year.

We had football matches at Maidstone and cricket matches on Bearsted Green. We bought our first motorcar, often went up to London in it to see our new plays or interview Mr. Watt, still (and I always hope) my literary agent. We spent a week or two in Rome, where Sir Rennell and Lady Rodd entertained us most charmingly at the Embassy. We saw a good deal also of the beau monde of the Italian capital. I may safely say that nowhere in any of the great European capitals have I seen so many magnificently beautiful women.

There was a Princess Colonna who was, to my mind, a veritable queen of beauty, tall above the average with her regal figure and creamy skin, her small head crowned with a wealth of soft black hair, her wonderful jewels and exquisite Parisian gown, she was to me a sight never to be forgotten. She seemed to carry with perfect ease on her superb shoulders the burden of her aristocratic ancestry and of her historic name, and her presence carried with it the authority that only great beauty confers.

But there were others of course whose names escape me after all these years, and I was always very bad at names but a whole-hearted admirer of beauty, and at the reception in the fine rooms of the British Embassy in Rome I could indulge in this admiration to my heart’s content. Somehow I couldn’t help thinking all the time of those Roman matrons of the period of which I had dealt in my book, Unto Cæsar. In my mind, giving my imagination full play, I forgot their Paris gowns and their diamonds and draped their beautiful bodies in rich folds of crimson or purple togas and confined their dark tresses in fillets of gold.

Most of the men I met that evening only spoke very indifferent French and only a few, naval officers for the most part, could say a few words of English. Luckily I was fairly conversant with Italian, sufficiently at any rate to understand the charming things that were said to me about my books. La Primula Rossa was apparently as well known all over Italy as was The Scarlet Pimpernel in England. Nearly all of my books had by this time been translated into Italian, and had appeared serially in the monthly editions of the Corrière della Serra.

During the rest of the days, which we still spent in Rome after the wonderful party at the Embassy, I was kept quite busy autographing copies of those charming volumes of my works issued by the Florentine firm of Adriano Sanani, beautifully printed and most artistically bound and sold at the low price of five liras (four shillings at that time). I couldn’t help thinking that our seven-and-six-penny editions compared unfavourably as to get-up with the Italian editions as did our cheap reprints with the four-lira editions issued by Casa Editrice Sanzogno of Milan.

* * * * * * * * *

We went to another memorable party while we were in Rome: not so brilliant a one as that in the British Embassy but certainly more amusing and original. This was at the house of Conte Luigi Primoli, great grandson of Lucien Bonaparte, younger brother of the Emperor Napoleon, who had married his cousin Zénaïde, also a Bonaparte. So our host was Bonaparte ‘all over’, and showed it in the decorations and appurtenances of his house in the Rua Sallustiana. It certainly was a remarkable house. A short flight of stone steps led up to a perron and to the front door. These were lined by flunkeys (I can’t call them anything else) clothed in extraordinary livery: tail-coats that had once been scarlet but were now a dull, faded shade of pink, yellow plush breeches, white cotton stockings, buckled shoes, and white cotton gloves. Their hair was powdered and worn in eighteenth-century fashion, with a black tricorne hat on top.

The two reception rooms were already crowded when we entered. They were as remarkable as the outside of the house, crammed with Napoleonic relics of every sort and kind; a few of real value such as a fan of lace and mother-o’-pearl which had belonged to the Empress Josephine, and a satin shoe which had been worn by Marie-Louise; these things and one or two others of genuine interest were in a glass case, but cupboards, shelves, and tables all over the two rooms were simply loaded with the veriest bazaar trash in the shape of busts and statuettes of the great Napoleon. Busts of every conceivable size, some life-size, others no more than an inch or two in height; busts and statuettes of marble and busts of plaster; statuettes carved in wood, the figure draped in roman toga or clothed in military uniform. And on the walls pictures and reproductions of pictures representing various phases of the great man’s meteoric career.

And the company was as remarkable as the setting in which it moved about and chattered. The noise as we entered the rooms would have drowned the sounds of the parrot house at the Zoo. Some of the ladies would have put the nymphs of the Folies Bergère to shame by their semi-nakedness; others were in simple, often quite shabby, day dresses; and it seemed as if the descendant of the great Bonaparte family had gathered round him representatives of all the countries of two continents. One heard French and Italian, a very little English, any amount of Spanish and Portuguese.

There was a celebrated French artist present—a much-admired painter of the nude who could have found inspiration for his pictures in the daring décolleté of some of the South American beauties. Altogether an exceptional and, in its way, an amusing party. There were two or three of our Italian friends present and with them we wandered round the rooms looking at the extraordinary mixture of a few beautiful old pieces of Empire furniture with so much that was trash and glaringly vulgar, and of a few obviously great ladies exquisitely dressed (or undressed) with some who looked shabby and even unwashed.

As we were leaving Rome for Naples the next day we didn’t stay late, but I don’t think I shall ever forget this amazing party in that very remarkable museum of family relics. The host received his guests with all the charm of manner peculiar to well-born Italians. I don’t think there was a hostess present: at any rate I was not introduced to one. Our kind friend, Madame Cortazzo, had procured us the invitation and I am very glad we had been able to accept as I had never seen any gathering quite like it, or any house like that of the Conte di Primoli in the Rua Sallustiana in Rome.

* * * * * * * * *

Our Italian holiday was quickly at an end. We had many engagements and duties to attend to in Snowfield: foremost amongst these was the court Ball to which we had been honoured by an invitation. I had been to such a great function before and always loved it, because I have always loved glitter and pageants and, to my mind, none other in the countries which I had visited ever equalled the beauty and glamour of Buckingham Palace on great occasions. This one, I knew, would be more glamorous than former ones. All the younger members of the Royal Family would certainly be there, and the Corps Diplomatique would be in full force and in full array of gorgeous national dress.

Our dear friends, the Karolyi’s, had been succeeded in the Austro-Hungarian Embassy by Count Deym who was Czech by birth and had a German wife: and we certainly would miss the Hungarian element and the gorgeous Hungarian national dress which became the former dignified ambassador so well. But one always met friends among the brilliant throng and there was always the chance while the more exalted among the guests were at supper to dance to the strains of that wonderful Artillery String Band, alternating with the Guards Band, both of which are to my mind supreme among all the military bands of other countries I have ever heard. The date fixed for the ball was 28th June, and we had arranged to spend a few days in London after it.

The weather was very hot, eighty degrees in the shade in the garden. We drove up to town by motor, and as soon as we reached the suburbs we were faced with the huge placards in the afternoon papers: ‘Assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne.’ Of course one knew at once that there would be no Court Ball this day, but we drove on into town for further news. The Ball was, of course, postponed, but a subsequent date would be announced later in the Press. The news was even more appalling than had at first appeared; at least, to me it seemed more appalling, because the wife of the Archduke had also been killed by the side of her husband while they were driving in Serajevo, the capital of Bosnia which they were visiting: she was one of the many daughters of Count Cothek, of the Czech nobility, who had been Austro-Hungarian minister in Brussels while my parents stayed there and my sister and I were at convent-school. This same Countess Clothilde Cothek I knew very well as a child, as I did all her sisters (but I never saw her again after the Brussels days), so very naturally this horrible crime, to which she fell a victim, affected me very strongly.

* * * * * * * * *

We drove back to Snowfield that same evening, but had another outing in London three days later. We went up to Harrow for prize-giving day. I always love the school songs; ‘Forty years on’ is one of the most affecting songs I know and the cheering on the terrace and general atmosphere. My Jack didn’t get a prize. He never did. We took him and other boys who were non-prize winners to the tuck-shop where they consoled themselves with numerous ‘dringers’—horrible concoctions of variegated ice-creams mixed with lemonade.

The Court Ball eventually took place on 16th July. It was very brilliant. But, looking back on it, I feel that somehow there was an atmosphere not exactly of gloom but of unrest in the midst of what should have been unmixed gaiety. There must have been a good many there, men in high places or in official positions who must by then have had an inkling of the trouble that was brewing, of the trouble which we, the common herd, had no idea of as yet.

Thus on the night of the Court Ball, the usual atmosphere of heartiness and gaiety seemed somehow absent. The brilliance, the pageant, the gorgeousness were all there, the supper was magnificent, the dancing general. The Prince of Wales was there but he seemed moody and rather bored. The quadrille d’honneur which opened the ball was danced by the Queen, who had chosen the ambassador of one of the great powers (I forget which) as her partner: she looked most beautiful and exquisitely dressed, her lovely fair hair crowned with a superb diamond tiara. His Majesty, on the other hand, looked serious. He could not have been feeling very well for one thing, and there was a decidedly troubled look in his eyes. The Prince danced the quadrille d’honneur with one of his aunts. I suppose this was a question of etiquette; but he did not look as if he enjoyed it.

A striking figure that evening was the Russian Ambassador: the last to be seen at the English Court for many years to come. He wore a magnificent kind of tabard, stiff with gold embroidery and below this his thin legs appeared clad in black silk breeches, silk stockings and curiously shaped thin black boots. The Austro-Hungarian Ambassador was of course not present owing to his court’s deep mourning, and to me the American Ambassador appeared most conspicuous as he was the only one among his more or less gorgeously clad confrères who wore plain evening dress.

A fortnight later came the crash.

Chapter 19

I am not going to talk about ‘the crash’. So many books have been written about it. Everything has been told and retold, and so much has been lived through, and so much remembered, so little forgotten. My son was too young and we were too old to be of any use ‘out there’: and all that I want to recall is the way my home life and my work were affected by that terrible cataclysm.

After the first shock of those awful headlines in the morning papers of August 4th ‘England declares war on Germany’, what intruded most persistently on my consciousness was the ever-flowing stream of Belgian refugees which threatened to submerge our small towns and villages in this part of Kent. Hospitals could not, of course, cope with it; the stream overflowed into every house, every cottage, every stable and barn from Chatham to Rochester, to Maidstone, to Ashford.

Devoted, impecunious old gentlewomen gave up their beds, denied themselves every comfort to house these poor people who descended like locusts upon the entire neighbourhood, expecting everything, demanding everything; every attention, every comfort. Dear Belgians! How we loved them, how we pitied them, how we were all of us happy to do what we could for them . . . for a long time. All the same we were very thankful to our authorities when the whole of the Maidstone district was included in the military area where no alien, whether friend, ally, or foe, was allowed to dwell within its boundaries. And we saw our Belgians depart without shedding too many tears.

* * * * * * * * *

Naturally, as far as I was concerned, the question of my work soon cropped up. My latest book The Laughing Cavalier was ready for publication, but was this the time for publishing light-hearted works of romantic fiction when the whole nation was plunged in anxiety and sorrow? Well! The whole question was soon settled for me personally and I was overwhelmed with work. ‘Carry on!’ was the slogan that was dinned into the ears of all us professional people. Carry on! Remember all those hundreds and thousands of workers whose existence depends on what you can give them to do, how by keeping up your own work, you can keep so many going on with theirs. As far as we writers of fiction were concerned there were the printers and compositors, the bookbinders, the newsvendors, the booksellers—all these corporate bodies had to be kept going.

I consulted Messrs. Hodder & Stoughton, who had The Laughing Cavalier in hand, and they also said unhesitatingly, “Carry on! as we also mean to carry on”. Moreover, they were bringing out books for the benefit of different big charities that needed help, and those of us who had the privilege of popularity were necessarily expected to contribute to the making of such books, which were to be printed and sold in their thousands and tens of thousands. ‘Short stories, long stories, articles, drawings, sketches. Send us everything you can’, was the order of the day. I remember that several members of the Authors’ Society raised a protest against the publication of these books, which flooded the bookstalls and the counters of booksellers, of Harrod’s, Selfridges, and so on, arguing (and justly some thought) that since they were produced at the mere cost of printing and binding without remuneration to contributors they could be sold at a paltry price in direct competition with other works of fiction that in many cases were the sole means of existence for authors already hard hit by the troublous times.

The controversy on the subject raged for some time I remember and several popular authors undertook to refuse contributions to the ‘charity books’. I took no part whatever in the dispute. When I was asked to send a story or an article for one of those books I wrote what I was asked for, and thought no more about the rights or wrongs of the whole question. I didn’t seem to have any time for polemics and, anyway, there was obviously something to be said for both sides. And so King Albert’s Book was published and Princess Mary’s Book and many others—all of them with contributions from my pen and all sold at fantastically low prices and in equally fantastic numbers.

I was also constantly requisitioned for conferences, addresses, or lectures, and these of course needed careful preparation. Indeed my time was full up. A committee of ladies in our district who had not the vocation for nursing, for tending the wounded, or serving in the numberless canteens that had sprung up all over London for the entertainment of the soldiers moving to and fro, arriving or departing for the front begged me to give them conferences of lectures, something in fact to ‘take their mind off’ the war. They found time, so they said, hanging very heavily on their hands. I naturally agreed to this for I have never in all my life learned to say “No!” to any appeal of that sort. So I said “yes!” I won’t say reluctantly, but hesitatingly, for I knew what a lot of preparation and a lot of reading such conferences would entail. The committee representing the audience were to choose the subject of the conferences.

Well! it seems that the ladies desired to know more than their old history books had taught them about our war with Napoleon Bonaparte. I pointed out to them, that as this conflict lasted from first to last two-and-twenty years, the subject was on too vast a scale for cosy talks round the fireside at Snowfield. For it seems that this was what they wanted, ‘just cosy talks’, no more. I disclaimed any attempt at military history. It was the political side of the war that they wanted to hear about. What had brought on the conflict, and why had England remained such a fierce antagonist of the great Napoleon who had been the national hero of France even in the midst of his final failures and his humiliating downfall? Even without the military side of this all absorbing period in history the subject was a big one.

However, I tackled it and the ‘cosy talks’ were immensely appreciated. So much so that when I had come to the end of all that I wished to say on that particular subject, the audience wanted something more. Would I deliver a few ‘cosy talks’ on English literature, especially on contemporary literature? This was, of course, a less strenuous subject for me to tackle. It only meant brushing up what had been one of my most constant studies for the past twenty years.

* * * * * * * * *

In the meanwhile the question of the publication of The Laughing Cavalier was definitely solved. I had demurred long enough and the romance was published early in the autumn. The following ‘publisher’s note’ was included in every copy of the first edition of the book.

Publisher’s Note

On the outbreak of the war the Baroness Orczy decided to postpone the publication of The Laughing Cavalier. In response, however, to many requests from the novel-reading public and from those employed in the bookselling, printing and binding trades which will suffer greatly if fiction is not published as usual, the author of The Scarlet Pimpernel agreed to the publication of this book—for which we render her our thanks.

A few of us members of the Society of Authors and Composers formed ourselves into a small committee of assistance for those of our colleagues who were severely hit by the war . . . and by the ever-growing sales of the charity books. We met in town every Tuesday, and every member of the committee brought forward any cases of distress that had come under his or her notice. It was a difficult business: difficult, because one so often came up against pride and reticence. Our chairman in the beginning was John Buchan (he was Colonel Buchan then), but soon he was called up to his military duties, and my dear friend, W. J. Locke, took his place and continued in that capacity till the end of the war. As a chairman he was just perfect, with his charming manners and perfect understanding of all the difficulties that beset his colleagues less fortunate than himself and that beset all of us who tried our very best to be of help to them.

We were quite a small committee but it was a representative one: Alfred Sutro, Alice Perrin, May Sinclair, and that kindest, most self-effacing Charles Garvice. From time to time Anthony Hope, Always exquisitely dressed and full of charm, shed the light of his countenance upon us and gave us most welcome help and advice.

As a matter of fact we found that musicians—both composers and executants—had been the hardest hit, more so than authors.

But with all these activities and the several duties devolving upon me, and with the many hours of the day which I put into my literary work, I soon found that my health was not standing the strain of it all as I had hoped it would. To put it mildly, I had a bit of a breakdown. Our dear old medical adviser said, “Change. You must get away somewhere,” very tentatively. How and where could one go for a change when the whole of the world seemed to be in the grip of war? England, anyway, would be no use. “You would only get dragged in again into conferences and opening of bazaars and committee meetings. No! no! not the British Isles for you.” Then where? France, of course. The only country possible. Preferably the South. But we had never been to the South of France. There was Nice and Cannes and Mentone, where friends used to go in the happy days of peace, and they used to tell us all about the ‘earthly Paradise’: but somehow we had never been tempted to go. Rome or Holland or Belgium had seemed so much more attractive, and so often we went to Paris without thinking of pushing on further South. And there had always been Transylvania and its wild and glorious holiday moods! We knew nothing, absolutely nothing, about the play-ground of Europe.

But once again, unsuspected by me, here was yet another link in the chain of my life. The last link of all, which brought me and my beloved to anchorage in Monte Carlo. A very dear friend, a widow with an only son, was possessed of a small villa in Monte Carlo. She wrote to say that her son had just been given a job in the Foreign Office. They had been spending the Christmas holidays in their villa and were now returning to London for the whole winter. The Villa would be empty: why not go down and occupy it until their return?

Why not, indeed?

Links in the chain of life.

A fortnight later we were in Monte Carlo. And there I stayed and I wrote twenty of my most popular romances.

 

NOTE

The whole of this book was written between the years of 1938 and 1945. The political aspect of the whole of Europe has since that time undergone a radical change. The small insignificant Principality of Monaco has had its changes also. At the time of writing this chapter on the subject of Monte Carlo these changes had not yet taken place and what the future would bring for the Principality in its political, social and economic aspects was still in doubt.

Chapter 20 deals exclusively with pre-war Monaco.

Chapter 20

The majority of people who have never been in Monte Carlo invariably think of it as the abode of every kind of misdemeanour, such as robbery and violence, fraud or forgery, or any other delinquency that has money for its driving power.

But before I go any further I would like to explain one or two things with regard to Monte Carlo which I find are unknown to ninety percent of foreign visitors, and even residents who come out to this land of gaiety and of sunshine. The principality of Monaco, of which Monte Carlo forms an important part, is not France, as so many people seem to think. It is an independent territory which has its own sovereign Prince—an autocratic ruler of the House of Grimaldi, the oldest reigning family in Europe, whose power is as absolute as was that of the Bourbon Kings or the Tsars of Russia—it has its own constitution, its own laws and courts of justice. Its people are neither French nor Italian. They are Monégasques and speak a language of their own which is a mixture of Italian, French, and Spanish. The customs are leased to France but not the post, and French stamps are not valid in the Principality nor are the Monégasques ones in France.

The only thing Monaco has in common with France is the money, and certain laws and usages with regard to banking business which France has virtually imposed upon it. The Principality is under the protection of France, but is not her vassal. It has no obligations towards her in the way of foreign policy or of military duty. In the case of war Monaco proclaims its neutrality and maintains it, and if Monégasques desire to fight on the side of France or Italy, all they can do is to join the French Foreign Legion.

There are several other points of interest in connection with the internal affairs of the Principality, not all of them relevant to my present subject. One is that the chief officials in the Government are, with very rare exceptions, French, and so is the Commandant of the tiny Monégasque army. But the French Courts have no jurisdiction over crimes committed in Monaco and, in connection with that, it is interesting to note that there is no capital punishment in the Principality.

At a point quite close to my own home the territory is at its narrowest, less than three-quarters of a mile wide—at its widest it is about a mile and a half—and its whole length is only eight miles. France encircles it. It will at once ‘jump to the eyes’ of students of criminology how easy it is for a malefactor to skip across the frontier from Monaco to France or vice versa, according as the laws of either country react in his favour or not, because the police of one country have no power of arrest in the other.

There was a very curious case not so long ago when an English solicitor was charged with fraud and out on bail made his escape into France. The machinery of extradition was at once set in motion at home. France was willing to give up the criminal and set her police to work to find him. He was known to have gone South. As a matter of fact he was in Nice, got wind that the French police was after him, and came to Monte Carlo. For a time he was safe enough here. The French police had no power to arrest him inside the Principality, and Monaco had not entered into a treaty of extradition with any country except France. She would not harbour a fugitive from French justice, but in this case the criminal was English and his offence had been committed in England. And in any case, the Sovereign Prince, whose final word is the law of the land, was away shooting and no decision could be got from him as to what was to be done with the foreign solicitor.

But although Monaco ignores all extradition treaties, her police have the right to turn any person out of the Principality at a moment’s notice without trial or appeal. The Sovereign Prince also retains and often exercises this right of expulsion. Over here we often say that if His Serene Highness does not like the look of your boots he can turn you out from his tiny dominion at a few hours’ notice. Under pressure from France, the Monégasque police therefore decided to turn the gentleman out of the territory bag and baggage. For obvious reasons he had never applied for a permis de séjour which, in the Principality, takes the place of cartes d’identité required in France. This neglect made his crime doubly heinous in Monégasque eyes because it was looked upon as a defiance of the laws of the land.

And so the farce began. The French police were after the delinquent on one side of the frontier, and the Monégasque on the other. And there are one or two houses on the actual frontier here and there, one half of which—a garden, perhaps, or a separate wing—is in French territory and the other in the Principality.

The English solicitor was astute enough to take up his abode in one of these houses and, as there is a decided rivalry between the police of the two countries, they never work together in harmony, with the result that in this case they did not come to any understanding either as to their joint action. At times the Monégasque authorities would make a descent on the Monaco side of the Englishman’s apartment, when he would at once skip over into the French side. When he heard rumours that the French police were coming to arrest him, back he would skip into the Principality. It seems unbelievable, but this farce lasted a whole fortnight before the man was finally cornered and sent back to England to serve a sentence of several years’ penal servitude.

As in France, Monégasque justice is very lenient to what is called crime passionnel. A young governess at the High School in Monaco thought that her lover, also a teacher, was being unfaithful to her. She waylaid him one evening as he came out of the school building and deliberately shot him in the back. There was no question about it. It was premeditated murder. She was acquitted, the jury expressing sympathy with the poor girl driven out of her mind by jealousy. A number of cases of the same sort occur at least twenty or thirty times in the course of a year, and always with the same result: sympathy for the criminal (man or woman) mad with jealousy or unrequited love.

One curious case occurred here a few years ago. A man whom I will call Briano (it isn’t his name), an Italian proprietor of a second-rate hotel in Monte Carlo, married, and father of two children, suspected his wife of infidelity. To one of his race and temperament the death of the delinquent was the only means of allying his jealousy. So one night he cut her throat and, as the children who slept in the same room as their mother, started screaming, he cut their throats also. Alarmed by the screams, the night porter came rushing into the room, arriving just in time to pick up the little girl aged nine who was bleeding from a wound in the neck and carry her away out of the reach of the raging madman.

In spite of Briano’s sworn assertion that his wife and the children had been murdered by the woman’s lover, whom he, Briano, had traced to his wife’s bedroom and there discovered in flagrante delicto, the testimony of the night porter and the little girl weighed heavily against him. He would undoubtedly have been acquitted on the usual grounds of crime passionel but for the fact that he had killed one of his children and meant to kill the other. This revolted the jury, who found him guilty. As there is no capital punishment in Monaco, the murderer was handed over to the French authorities for deportation to Devil’s Island, the Principality having no penal settlement of its own.

Briano, then, was duly deported. After a couple of years he contrived to escape and made his way to Trinidad. Here the English authorities refused to give him back to the French, he having established his Italian nationality as well as Monégasque residence. They simply sent him back, under police escort, to Monaco, the scene of his crime and of his trial for murder. And here another curious point comes in.

The Sovereign Prince, for reasons which none of us here could ever fathom, granted Briano a free pardon. He had a perfect right in law to do that if he chose, for his word is law in the Principality, and against it there is no appeal. Briano, I believe went to live in Italy.

NOTE

As I write this chapter in the year 1944, I am still in the dark as to what fate the final ending of this terrible war has in reserve for the Principality of Monaco and its jealously guarded neutrality and independence. Whatever that fate may be it will have to submit to it.

I am quite sure in my own mind that the great victorious powers, desiring nothing but ‘peace upon earth and goodwill towards men’ will respect the wishes of the population of this hitherto independent little abode of quietude and gaiety: ‘the playground of Europe’ where strangers from every land will of a certainty continue to come in search of health and respite from the troubles and sorrows brought upon them by the war.

Chapter 21

I cannot say at what precise moment during our two month’s stay in Mrs. French’s villa in Monte Carlo we were first seized with the desire to have a kind of secondary home—just a pied-à-terre for the winter months in that beautiful place. We felt its beauty from the very first, were shaking a large slice of the world to its foundations. When I say placidity I don’t mean that there were no incidents, no actual circumstances connected with the war which touched Monte Carlo. There were some that brought sorrow and anxiety right home to one’s consciousness the whole time. We had not been in the villa a week before that terrible debacle of Mons brought large numbers of our retreating armies, including a great number of wounded, seeking shelter in this peaceful part of France.

There was no question of disagreement then between us and our ally. She was whole-heartedly with us and remained so during the whole of the war. Disagreements only cropped up with the peace! At any rate, our retreating army was made very welcome all along the shores of the Mediterranean. Everything was done by every class of the population to make their lot easier for them. Gentle pity, unselfish devotion on the part of the poor and of the well-to do alike, met them at every turn, in every home however humble. Gentle pity! Mrs. French had left her faithful old cook in the villa to look after our comforts—incidentally, she was an excellent cook. She came to me one morning to tell me that she had seen ces pauvres messieurs straggling into Monte Carlo, tired, haggard, and hungry. Among them I gathered there were several men belonging to one of our Highland regiments, and good old Estelle, with tears streaming down her cheeks, went on with a heart-broken sigh: ”Oui, Madame, ces pauvres messieurs, pensez donc, ils n’avaient même pas de pantalons”. (Think of it, Madame, these poor gentlemen, they haven’t even got their trousers.) It sounded so much funnier in polite French: ”ces pauvres messieurs”! And when one tried to thank some of these peasant or working folk, some of them very poor, for their kindness to our soldiers, they just shrugged their shoulders and said: Que voulez-vous? On fait ce qu’on peut puisqu’on combat la main dans la main.” I heard that phrase quite often. (One does what one can. Are we not fighting hand-in-hand?)

There were a great number of Senegalese here, the French African troops. Funny, good-natured fellows as black as your hat. Unable to stand the climate in Flanders they had been sent down here to recuperate from its baneful effects. They were quartered in Mentone, and had seemingly a jolly good time there, judging by the bevy of young Mentonese beauties who hung about round their quarters and walked out and flirted with them to the loudly expressed disapproval, not to say horror, of the American visitors. In France, of course, there is no such thing as differentiation between white and coloured races. Black or yellow or white, if enfants de la France (‘children of France’), all are alike in the eyes of Frenchmen and, seemingly, of Frenchwomen also.

The ladies of the foreign contingent, both residents and visitors, did all that was possible for the entertainment of ces pauvres messieurs, both officers and men. These were not allowed to enter the gaming rooms of the Casino in uniform, this being a hard and fast rule of that great institution, and a wise one too, but a number of English officers who were provided with mufti were able to have their flutter incognito on the tables if they were so minded. Neither my husband nor I were ever bitten with the gambling craze, not from any principle but simply because it did not amuse us.

We both thought it ‘a mug’s game’, as did the American millionaire, Jay Gould, when he was first initiated in the intricacies of roulette. “You put your money on red or black,” he was told, “on a number or on three consecutive numbers or on a consecutive dozen, on this, that, or the other. If your number or colours turns up you win; if it doesn’t you lose. Simple, isn’t it?” and the millionaire put up a small stake on red; black turned up and he saw his money swept away. “Simple?” he murmured angrily. “I call it a mug’s game.”

There are any number of English people who either come down regularly to Monte Carlo every winter and many who have taken up their residence here who have no wish nor inclination to play ‘the mug’s game’ either. But it is always amusing to watch the players. What a study of character for the writer of modern fiction. I have often been asked when I would publish a real Monte Carlo novel. “You know Monte Carlo so well,” friends have often said to me; “you know the casino in and out, all its exciting adventures and all its romance. Why not put it all into a book?” Well, that’s just it. To me there is no romance in the casino or even in the adventures, so often ending in tragedy of its habitués; somehow this throwing money about (it was gold when first we visited Monte Carlo) on the chance of a diminutive ball tumbling into one tiny groove rather than into another, always seemed to me rather sordid and certainly futile. What is it but the craving after wealth without having to work for it? Well! I have many friends, some of them very charming and very dear who will call my point of view futile and stupid. It is all a question of temperament. They have had thrills in those adventures with the diminutive balls and elusive grooves which, I for one, never experienced.

* * * * * * * * *

There is romance, however, in the old history of Monaco and in that of the house of Grimaldi, but somehow it has never tempted me to write a story round those early days of the Principality. There was always too much fighting and bloodshed from the days of the Roman conquest of this part of ancient Liguria, conquest which is not more interesting than that by the same mighty hordes of other countries including our own. Too much fighting and bloodshed during the invasions of the Saracens, of the Vandals, of the Goths and so on, the struggle for possession between the great parties of Guelfs and Ghibellines, the occupation ending in the domination and tyranny over Monaco by the powerful republic of Genoa.

There are one or two poetic little legends that cling to the old rock, and which tradition has kept alive for many centuries. The prettiest is that of Sainte Dévote, the patron saint of the Principality. She was a young Christian girl who suffered martyrdom in Corsica sixteen hundred years ago. A priest and a fisherman between them gathered up her remains, and set out to convey them secretly by sea to Africa. The wind blew their barque towards the North, and the martyred saint appeared to the two men in a dream and ordered them to sail to the port of Monaco to the spot which a white dove flying out or her mouth would indicate. And effectively a white dove did come to rest in the valley of Gaumette. But the wind was so adverse that the men could not make the port. They tried to bury the saint higher up in the valley but whenever they attempted to lower her into the ground a terrible storm would break out which hindered their work. In the end, after equal vicissitudes, there came a fire which destroyed the boat just when she was in sight of the harbour. Nothing could be done with her any more and the two good and pious men were thus compelled to bury Ste. Dévote there where she had desired to be interred.

And now after sixteen centuries, with never a break, on the day of the feast of Ste. Dévote, a procession of pious Monégasques march with banners flying from the church on the rock which is dedicated to their patron saint down to the shore, where a boat is brought in and set alight and burned down at the water’s edge. It is a pretty sight, with the banners flying, the flames reflected in the smooth waters of the port, and the everlasting stars winking down on this pious manifestation of faith and devotion to tradition. The Prince of Monaco, with members of his family and ladies and gentlemen of his little court usually attend the ceremony. A special tent is erected for them and there is always a crowd of local people who must have witnessed the event dozens and dozens of times, who nevertheless foregather year after year to see this burning of a little boat all over again; but I have never seen any foreign visitor or resident among them.

* * * * * * * * *

Among the English friends who were in Monte Carlo that year there were Mr. And Mrs. C. N. Williamson, the distinguished authors of The Lightning Conductor, and many other delightful works. They had just completed the building of a beautiful villa, ‘La Pausa’, on the hills of Roquebrune just outside Monte Carlo; the situation was just perfect with exquisite views right across the Baie des Anges as far as Bordighera. ‘La Pausa’ remained their home until Charlie Williamson’s death which occurred, alas! a very few years later. It was indeed a beautiful home with a delightful mingling of Italian artistic expression and of English comfort. Many charming afternoons and happy luncheon hours did we spend there that year. Both these distinguished authors were habitués of the gaming rooms. Charles Williamson played a good deal, and played high. Whenever I happened to be watching him he was winning, and always took up his winnings or saw his stake swept away with the same good-humoured smile of complete detachment.

A very noted gambler at the tables was the beautiful Madame de Bittencourt, the wife of the Argentine Minister at the Court of St. James. She would arrive soon after dinner and remain at the tables till the small hours of the morning. In those days the Casino was kept open till all sorts of hours whenever there were players, if only one or two, who were putting up big money. Madame de Bittencourt was certainly among these. When she arrived (it would be about nine o’clock) she looked perfectly lovely, exquisitely dressed always, with magnificent jewellery, her eyes bright, her lips smiling; but once or twice we happened to wander in with friends after the fall of the curtain at the opera, and it really made my heart ache to see the change in that beautiful face; the tired look, the unnatural brilliance in the eyes, the haggard lines of the cheeks. Ah, well! As I say, people tell me that there are marvellous thrills to be got by watching that miserable little ball twirling round and round and bringing fortune or disaster; a thrill perhaps, but at what a cost!

Another equally noted gambler was Her Imperial Highness the Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia, nicknamed ‘Satanasia’ in the Principality. She was the mother of the then Crown Princess of Germany. I have seldom seen a more unpleasant looking old woman with the face of a lizard, and claw-like hands which one shuddered to watch as they grabbed at the money whenever she happened to make a win, which occurred very seldom—for she was a persistent loser. So much so that in the end she came to a very tragic end, after she had lost every penny of any fortune she may have had in the past. Her death was so sudden after her last throw on the table that she could not be conveyed all the way to her villa on Cap Ferrat (it was four o’clock in the morning) so she was taken to the neighbouring hotel where she died.

Personally I sedulously avoided her, though one could not help meeting her in restaurants or in the Café de Paris, where she was always to be found at the luncheon hour surrounded by a bevy of young girls, amongst whom I was really sorry to note a few English ones, who hung round her with every mark of affection and respect (!!). I suppose the magic words, ‘Her Imperial Highness’, fascinated them, and Satanasia was always ready to the last to entertain them with cocktails and other strong drinks.

* * * * * * * * *

We had some real pleasure that year in Monte Carlo, and that was in music. Monte Carlo has always been, and still is, in the forefront of great musical centres, and in spite of war conditions the Casino provided us all with some wonderful treats in the way of concerts and operas. Caruso was there, and so was Litvine; also Vanni Marcoux and Maguenat, two of the finest baritones I have ever heard. Thus we had Aïda with Litvine in the name; she was a pupil of Jean de Reszke and had a glorious voice and her teacher’s unparalleled method. Caruso was Radamès. He was still in splendid voice then. What a loss it was to all opera lovers when he died in the prime of life. He also sang Pagliacci, a part one felt had been created specially for him, and Manon.

During the war years we often had what they called here ‘auditions’ of grand opera, which meant the whole work sung by all the singers with full orchestra and chorus but without scenery or costumes. The singers were grouped on the bare stage with the chorus and the orchestra behind them. One paid twenty francs for one’s very comfortable stall, a matter of sixteen shillings in those days. I must say I enjoyed these auditions. Somehow one did not miss the scenery or the costumes, and the orchestra was perfect. The two noted Belgian musicians, Lauweryns and Jehin, had sought refuge down here after the occupation of their country by the Germans. The Casino at once offered them each an important post as chef d’orchestra. Leon Jehin became the conductor whenever grand opera was given either in its entirety or as an audition, and Lauweryns wielded the batôn for lighter music.

Leon Jehin often came to see us. He had known my parents in the olden days in Brussels and, I think, was happy to meet me again, though he had not seen me since I was a flapper. His wife was a noted singer both in Brussels and in Paris where she had created the principal rôle in the Saint Saëns great opera, Le Roi de Lahore. Jehin adored his wife, and held that there never was, or ever would be, a singer who could hold a candle to her. She was getting on in years and was very ill when she finally arrived in Monte Carlo, and it was pathetic to hear the old musician say quite simply as he so often did: ”J’adore la musique et j’adore ma femme”.

Of an altogether different standing in the musical world was Louis Ganne, so well-known as the composer of Funiculi-Funicula and a number of tuneful operettas which we all enjoyed during those anxious days in Monte Carlo. One did need to be taken out of oneself sometimes and Louis Ganne did that for us with his light-hearted music.

 Out of the many pleasant evenings we spent in the opera-house, two have a special place in my memory. One was the production of l’Ancêtre was his latest work, and he came over to Monte Carlo to conduct the performance in person. He was a very old man then and most venerable looking with a flowing white beard and a wealth of curly white hair. Remembering his exquisite Samson et Delilah we all of us here felt thrilled at the prospect of seeing him and of acclaiming his latest work to the skies. We certainly did acclaim him—we of the English contingent especially—but I imagine that the general public did not take to the music, for the opera was only performed the once in Monte Carlo and, I believe, never subsequently.

The same sad, and to me unexplainable, fate attended the performance of Cléopâtre which surpassed in melody and beauty anything the composer had written before (not even excepting Manon). Maguenet, that exquisite baritone, sang Mark Anthony, and Royat was a beautiful and dramatic Cleopatra; but here again it appears that general public opinion did not coincide with mine, for Cléopâtre was considered to be a failure and was never performed again, not even in Paris.

* * * * * * * * *

Another distinguished Belgian who had sought refuge in Monte Carlo was the artist, Jan van Beers. He had a French wife who looked after him and gloated over him as a fond mother over her son He had been very successful in his work both in the 1890’s and the beginning of this century. I remember hearing a lot about him when I was a girl and was first ‘out’, for he spent more than one season in London, where he went a great deal into Society and entertained lavishly. Since then his fame had somehow declined. The younger generation called him old-fashioned. Perhaps he was that, with what was now contemptuously called anecdotal pictures. They were genre pictures, somewhat after the style and technique of his greater compatriot, Alfred Stevens, but the dresses of 1880 and 1900 which unmistakably ‘dated’ Jan van Beer’s paintings were not so picturesque as those which Stevens had chosen for the expression of his more serious art. One saw chromos of the van Beer’s pictures all over the place, cheap reproductions, unfortunately; I think most of us will remember ‘The Husband’s Boat’, a girl in a white pleated skirt and eel-skin tight jersey descending the companion ladder down towards a young man with a heavy cavalry moustache who was standing up in the boat, hat in hand ready to receive her. The technique was very like that of the Belgian Stevens and our own equally great Sandys, but the ugly 1880 dress of the principal figure and the cavalry moustache of the other did somehow vulgarize the picture and bereft it of that absolutely unexplainable attribute, ‘feeling’. The artist entrusted us with a few of his pictures which he had painted during his stay in Monte Carlo, which he would have liked to exhibit and sell in London, and when we returned to England we took these pictures with us and saw one or two Bond Street dealers about them, but I am very sorry to say that everywhere we met the same criticism, that terrible bugbear of nineteenth-century artists: ‘Old-fashioned’.

* * * * * * * * *

It was during our short stay in Monte Carlo in 1915 that I first conceived the romance which I think was, next to the Scarlet Pimpernel books, my most popular one. Already in The Laughing Cavalier I had indulged in glimpses of the Low Countries and of their heroic fight for independence against the political and religious tyranny of Spain. I had for some time before this been absorbed in that romantic period of history. Mottram’s Rise of the Dutch Republic and his John of Barneveld had thrilled me and sown in my mind the seeds of those imaginings which were now about to bear fruit. It was while sitting on the terrace of the little villa during those months of February and March of that year—months so full of sorrow and anxiety for us and for all those we cared for—that I mapped out the romance of Leatherface. Meanwhile, Messrs. Hutchinson had published A Bride of the Plains, a story of peasant life in the Hungarian Lowlands, and I had also completed The Bronze Eagle, a story of Waterloo. This romance had been written at the suggestion of my valued friend, Mr. Robert H. Davis, of Munsey’s Magazine. It was published both in America and in England in June 1915, the centenary of the great battle.

By that time I was deep in Leatherface, the writing of which gave me an immense deal of pleasure. It was published the following year. Indeed, those terrible years 1914-18, on which I cannot bear to dwell in thought even after all this long time, were—as far as my life’s work was concerned—very fruitful for me. In the midst of so much sorrow what a joy it was to receive letters—countless letters from men at the front, from highly-placed officers and Tommies, from nurses, and prisoners, telling me of the pleasure that my books had given them—taking them out of themselves, as they always put it. “Hardly ever does a parcel go out to Flanders,” my publishers would tell me, “or to France without one of Baroness Orczy’s books being included in it.” Nor did the public in England seem to tire of the play. Ten weeks’ tour in the spring always, then sometimes a season in London, and finally the big autumn tour in the large towns. How hard the Terrys worked, poor dears! And during one season in London there was a terrible catastrophe. They were playing The Scarlet Pimpernel (at the Strand, I think it was) when during an air raid a bomb fell just outside the theatre and one of the employees, a young lady who was standing close to the entrance, was hit by fragments of heavy masonry and killed.

* * * * * * * * *

Except for those few weeks in Monte Carlo in 1915 we did not indulge much in holidays. We did spend a week or so in Bath from time to time. It was quiet and restful, and the climate is decidedly more agreeable than London and its fogs. Two events dwell in my mind in connection with our visits to Bath. One of these was amusing and the other happy. We stayed at the Empire Hotel which was, during the war, a kind of stronghold of conservative ‘die-hards’ to whom the very name of Lloyd George, the “robber of hen-roosts,” was positive anathema. Many of the people in the hotel formed a circle of actively antagonistic, anti-Lloyd-Georgites. So much so that when the Prime Minister came to Bath for the wedding of his son and when he entered the lounge of the Empire, not even a glance of curiosity met his ingratiating smile.

The lounge was quite full at the moment. It was the tea hour. No one moved. Not a word was spoken or a sign made, the only sound that greeted one of the most important men in Europe at this time was the rattle of the tea-cups. Only the two page boys at the entrance door bowed low to the distinguished guest. To be quite frank, though my husband and I were anything but admirers of the great little man, we felt a little bit ashamed of the attitude of our fellow-guests in the hotel. We were crossing the hall at the moment and stopped in order to allow him to pass in front of us. He gave us a nice little smile and went on.

Well! he stayed the best part of the week in the hotel, during which time there were luncheon—and dinner—parties given for him by his friends and there was the great day of his son’s wedding with the traditional bride-cake, and sumptuous luncheon, the die-hards keeping ostentatiously out of the way. But the little man appeared quite impervious to black looks and even to some rather shameful acts of discourtesy. He was amiability personified. He smiled at everybody and nothing was easier than to enter into a conversation with him if one was so minded—and after a day or two many were so minded. He talked, he chatted, he smiled: oh yes, he smiled all the time and even some of the die-hards remarked that ‘the fellow certainly had a way with him’. The staff in the hotel adored him. And the amusing part of the whole thing was the departure of ‘the robber of the hen-roosts’.

Again the lounge was full of visitors. It was after luncheon and there was a rattle of coffee-cups and silver spoons when he came down the stairs. But as he stopped in the lounge, coffee-cups were pushed aside and everyone rose. And he bowed to them all as he passed by and said: “Good-bye, good-bye! I hope this fine weather will continue—lovely place this. . . . Good-bye!” And the die-hards all said: “Good-bye sir,” and everyone remained standing until the swing doors had finally closed behind him.

It was a question of personality I think: ‘the robber of hen-roosts’ had a way with him.

* * * * * * * * *

The second event which will always dwell in my mind in connection with our war-time visit to Bath was my first meeting with Rudyard Kipling. He was also staying at the Empire with his wife and daughter. It was soon after his only son had been reported missing, and it was heartbreaking to note that those three dear people all equally believed that the report would presently be contradicted and that the dear one would soon return. But he never did. I had many a talk with that very dear and very great man. It would be impossible to imagine anyone distinguished as he was, more simple and unaffected, so full of charm and understanding. He made me very happy with his generous praise of my work, telling me just what he admired in it, and why in his opinion it had been so successful and popular.

Of course his deep love, his fetish in fact, was the Empire. The very words, ‘British Empire’, would kindle a flame of ardour in his deep-set eyes. One felt that here was a man who would sacrifice everything in the world for the grandeur and glory of his idol. I know that since then many a jeer has been flung at what the modern youth chooses to call his ‘Imperialism’, and that these young vandals have even tried to drag Kipling down from the pedestal on which the hearts of millions of English readers have enthroned him. Well! they may succeed for a time, but there is one thing very certain and that is that Rudyard Kipling’s work will live through the coming centuries because of his sincerity, his lofty patriotism, and his comprehension of everything that is noblest and best in this Empire which he loved.

Chapter 22

My boy, Jack, came out to Monte Carlo for his Easter holidays, after which we returned to England—the three of us—having thoroughly enjoyed a lovely, all too short, holiday. We had a lot of trouble—amusing trouble really—about passports and visas. Our British Vice-Consul in Monaco, Mr. Charles Sim, was most kind and helpful, and so was the British Consul in Nice; but it was the authorities of France, on the one side, and of the Principality, on the other, that were quite ludicrous with their red tape. There seemed to be a kind of jealousy between them as to their respective administrative importance. We were sent from pillar to post between the two of them—or rather three—because presently the Prefect of the Department joined in the fray. Each one of these three officials declared that it was their authority that was paramount, and that their visa on our passports was all that was required. So we went from one to the other.

In the end it was agreed between the lot of them that in any case a permit to leave Monte Carlo was absolutely essential, and this only the Commissaire de la Surete Publique of Monaco could deliver to us; at any rate, without it, the railway refused to sell us tickets. So off we went to see the Commissaire, whom by the way, we had already interviewed twice before with varying results. This time we ran him to earth just after the lunch hour. He had lunched not altogether wisely but certainly too well. He was very hilarious and most amiable. He wouldn’t sign anything, but he was ready to affix an official stamp on anything and everything we presented to him. So he stamped, and he stamped, papers and passports and identity cards, but ne’er a pen would he take in his hand; he smiled benignly at us and assured us that everything would be all right, as he of course was the supreme authority, above all those other authorities which we had been foolish enough to interview before. Well! that was that.

We got our tickets for London (no sleepers to be had of course, but that we did not mind) and trusted to Providence to see us through. In the end, still somewhat disturbed in our minds, we wired to the British Consul in Boulogne asking exactly what we should require for going through from here to England. And lucky we did do that, for the kind man wired back saying that passports with a French visa and permit to leave Monte Carlo from the Commissary of Police would be sufficient. And it was that telegram that saved us a lot of trouble at Boulogne, where the local authorities, customs, and so on did not condescend to examine our passports and looked askance and Monsieur le Commissaire’s numerous stampings thereon, but they appeared to be very much impressed with the fact that we were of sufficient importance for the British Consul to have given himself the trouble of sending us a telegram. Apparently no French consul would have condescended quite so far towards ordinary mortals.

For some obscure reason British-born civilians were very unpopular with French officialdom just then. We all appeared to be under suspicion of espionage. A very well-known English society lady had had a slight altercation in Paris with the Customs authorities where she was held up for some formality or other. Her name, as a matter of fact, was as familiar in French society as it was in London. But she was rather autocratic in her ways, and—as I am afraid is often the case with English people travelling abroad—she was rather off-hand with the French officials.

In the end she got her way and was allowed to go on to Boulogne, but not before the Jack-in-office in Paris had muttered a curt threat as she left his bureau: ”Vous verrez, Madame,” he mumbled; ”vous verrez.” (“You will see, Madame! You will see!”) And she did. Presumably the Jack-in-office of Paris sent some sort of a report of the incident to his colleague in Boulogne. Certain it is that the poor lady on her appearance there was taken into a private room and stripped to the skin; the female searcher even made her take her ‘transformation’ off and fumbled about in her hair.

How lucky for me that we had had that blessed telegram from the British Consul. We were allowed to proceed quietly on our way and arrived safe and moderately sound in England. But the journey through France had been terribly trying and nearly ended in disaster. Railways and all transports in France were—as was to be expected—in a pitiable state. Sabotage, too, was rife. In time of national trouble the discontented are always to the fore, and so are the mischief-makers. In our case a very serious railway accident close to the station at La Ciodad, some thirty kilometres from Marseilles, was only averted by the presence of mind and quick action of the engine-driver.

Two coaches, including the one we were in, were overturned. We, happily, were immune, and there was no serious casualties, but I for one was very much shaken by the shock. We managed to crawl out of the overturned coach as others did, helped by two soldiers and three sailors. It was four o’clock in the morning and bitterly cold. The station was closed and pitch dark, no one apparently in charge; the few houses close by displayed an equally inhospitable front. And there we were left some forty or fifty of us, keeping ourselves as warm as we could be stamping up and down the railway platform. There was no one to see to the injured and no chance of anything to drink—not even water. It was not till seven o’clock in the morning that a relief train came along and the line was cleared. The station was opened up and we were able to get some tepid coffee.

But all that, bad as it was, was not the end of our troubles. We spent the whole of that day in the train, and arrived in Paris in the middle of the night. There were no porters, no taxis, and we had to run about from hotel to hotel before we could get a room. Ah, well! there’s no reason to dwell on those very minor troubles and discomfort. We were so thankful to be in England once more. Back in Snowfield. Back to our work.

* * * * * * * * *

I had two important projects in my mind and started on them right away. One was the writing of Leatherface, which I had planned in Monte Carlo, and the other one more Pimpernel book, probably the last, which I had promised to complete for publication in 1917. I had also promised a series of short stories for one of Messrs. Cassell’s magazines, ultimately to be issued in book form. Leatherface was publishedin 1916, and Lord Tony’s Wife, the Pimpernel book, in 1917. No! I certainly was not idle during those terrible war years. I tried to ‘carry on’ as I had been asked to do. Two books in 1917, two in 1918, and two in 1919; nothing made me so happy as the knowledge that my work was not only appreciated but also loved, and with it all there was I the happiest woman on earth in my home life, in the love and tenderness of my adored one—husband, lover, and friend. No wonder that my work did not suffer in quality or quantity.

* * * * * * * * *

I often grieved over the fate of Hungary during those days at Snowfield. Poor little Hungary, the country of my birth, tied to Austria as co-partner in the Empire fighting for a cause she cared nothing about, with nothing to look forward to but devastation in the near future and certain ruin in the years to come. My mother was now living with us in England. We had built a dear little house for her in the grounds of Snowfield and though she was, technically, an ‘enemy alien’, all those in authority in the country were full of kindness and consideration for her. For a time letters came through for her from her relations in Transylvania through the kind offices of a Dutch shipping firm. Messrs. Kuyper van Dam & Smeer, who were also instrumental in getting her her Hungarian money. The letters for the most part were quite cheerful during the first four years of the war.

It seemed as if the Germans and the Austrians kept all true information from their unfortunate partner, except what tended to their own glorification and military successes. Practically until the early autumn of 1918 they knew nothing in Hungary of what went on in Flanders and in France. They had heard of the German Army’s initial success in Belgium, the occupation of Brussels, the destruction of Louvain and Ypres and Rheims. They had heard of the disasters that had overtaken the Russian armies; and in the great agricultural districts of the Hungarian Lowlands, and in the forest lands of Transylvania, the soldiers who came home on leave from the Russian front (the Hungarians never fought in Flanders) declared naïvely: “There, now we have beaten the Russians, it won’t take us long to beat the Prussians.” (And this is all on a par with some of our old folk in the Kentish villages. One old lady said to me one day, “Yes! yes! the Proosians, the Proosians is sly, but it’s the Russians as I am afeeared of.”)

* * * * * * * * *

It was in June 1918 that my poor dear mother got it into her head that she was doing us harm (especially to my husband) by living on our property. She was an ‘alien enemy’ and although the neighbours around, the police and the authorities were most kind, there were some village folk, either malicious or merely ignorant, who were not. And my mother made up her mind that it was everyone’s duty to be in their own country in war-time. The British Government were then engaged in repatriating such aliens as were not interned in concentration cramps for political or military reasons, and who desired to return to their own country. There were several neutrals among these. A Swiss friend of ours was returning to Bâle; my mother joined her and off she went.

We had a telegram from her saying that she had arrived, minus her luggage, at Tapió-Ságh, the property of her nephew Count Szirmay, which I knew well; it is quite close to Budapest. Then no news whatever for over two months, during which our feelings were harrowed by accounts in the English papers of the outbreak of Bolshevism in Hungary. It was Bolshevism in its now ancient, and then in its worst, form. The Premier of Hungary, count Károlyi, a cousin of our old friend the Ambassador, had sold his country to the Bolshevik part in Hungary, headed by those unspeakable scoundrels Béla Kuhn and Számuely. Their rule of terror (for such it was) did not last long. The Hungarian peasants drove them out of the country. Khun and Számuely fled into Austria, where the former committed suicide and the latter disappeared.

But a detachment of those terrorists had descended upon Tapió-Ságh: it was so near Budapest. They demanded the owner’s blood. The peasantry, loyal and devoted to a man, scenting trouble had arranged a hiding-place for Count Szirmay in the forest and there they supplied him with food and such comfort as they were able to give him in the way of blankets and rugs, for to light a fire was of course out of the question. My poor dear mother was too old and feeble to contemplate fleeing and hiding in the forest, but my cousin’s servants were both devoted and quite fearless. They remained in the château in order to look after her.

I only heard some months later the authentic account of what happened there during a ten weeks’ occupation of Tapió-Ságh by the Hungarian Bolsheviks. They were never numerous in Hungary; they descended on the château in full force, bringing a number of ugly depraved women in their train. They ransacked the place from attic to cellar, and stole everything of value they could lay their hands on. My darling mother saw her dead sister’s rings and bracelets on the fingers and arms of those horrible women. She was commanded to sit at meals with them: and this she did, never for one moment losing her presence of mind or her supreme dignity. From time to time she was interrogated as to the whereabouts of Count Szirmay. Her reply was: “I do not know and if I did I would not tell you.” She was threatened with death if she persisted in this attitude. Her reply was: “I am seventy-five years of age. I have very little time to live, anyhow. So shoot away if you have a mind to. What difference does it make?”

All these details I heard long afterwards from a dear, devoted maid at Tapió-Ságh who was with her the whole of these terrible ten weeks. Her fortitude and unshakable dignity never left her for a moment. She said to me afterwards—long afterwards, “I didn’t really mind much. I felt like Marie-Antoinette going to the guillotine.” Well! the triumph of this ugly offshoot of Russian Bolshevism did not last long. The agricultural population of Hungary, hating and despising them, drove them out of the country, chased them with their sticks and their scythes and garden implements. Many of them they hung on their village lamp-posts. Bolshevism in Hungary was as dead in that country by the end of 1918 as with Stalin’s statesman-like and beneficent rule it is now dead in Russia.

* * * * * * * * *

But poor little Hungary did not see the end of her troubles with the downfall of the Bolsheviks. The Roumanians who had marched into her territory, ostensibly on the pretext of protecting her against them, did her more material harm than an army of those terrorists would have done. They pillaged, they stole, the disregarded every clause of the treaty of Trianon, which had fixed the frontiers of Hungary. They began by gobbling up Transylvania. Well! that would have been all right, since Mr. Lloyd George, President Wilson and Monsieur Clémenceau had allocated that large portion of the country to them. But what they did in the rest of Hungary was not all right, for here they commandeered and drove away every head of cattle in the country—some of which had actually been a gift to impoverished Hungary by the Americans—they robbed the peasants of their crops, of their rich cornfields in the lowlands, and of their lands. They devastated their homes. They stole every locomotive, every piece of rolling stock, and every vehicle usable for transport.

Hungary had been impoverished by the war; she was irretrievably ruined by the Roumanian occupation effected in defiance of the Treaty of Trianon. Ah, well! The Roumanians after sitting on the fence for three-and-a-half years with their guns pointing sometimes one way and sometimes the other, had at the eleventh hour turned them against their former allies and ranged themselves on the side of the victorious armies of Great Britain, of Italy, and of France. They had apparently come to the tardy conclusion that being a Latin race they should be allied to their Latin sisters, Italy and France. They had come to this conclusion because Verdun had not fallen and because Great Britain was very obviously winning the war.

I received letters from relatives and friends in Transylvania giving me an account of what they were going through under the iron heel of the Roumanian soldiery. Through the kindness of the Protestant pastors (the Roman Catholic priests and the monks had been dispossessed and driven into exile, and many had been murdered) I obtained documentary and sworn evidence of all that was going on in that distressful country, and what I knew to be the truth I embodied in my romance, Pimpernel and Rosemary, which was published by Messrs. Cassell in 1924. I was writing of a country which I knew intimately and of a diversity of people with whose lives I have always been in close touch, both the peasantry, the industrials, and the landowners.

The incidents (save those of the love story) are taken direct from the events which occurred directly after the Peace Treaty, and the whole picture of post-war Transylvania is true in every detail. The vicissitudes through which pass the principal characters in the book are faithful transcripts of actual events which occurred soon after the Armistice of 1918. The place which in Pimpernel and Rosemary I have named ‘Kis Imre’ is actually a château in which my husband and I spent many happy days during our visits in Transylvania.

I was very glad that translations of the book were published in many European countries. I wanted those countries—-most of them had been neutral during the war—to know what was going on in the most distressful among all the defeated countries. Translations of Pimpernel and Rosemary were published in Swedish, by the firm of Isberg of Grunbaum in Norwegian and Danish, of Ranicimientae in Spanish, of Kirberger and Kisper in Dutch. There was, of course, a Hungarian translation; there was the Tauchnitz edition, the Italian translation brought out by that very go-ahead firm of A. Salani, the Polish translation, the Portuguese and several others; the German and Roumanian alone were conspicuous by their absence.

Roumania had been our ally during the final stages of the war when victory was assuredly on our side, and no one was supposed to say or write a word that would be defamatory to an ally. And so, unlike all my other books, Pimpernel and Rosemary never appeared serially in journal or magazine. As a book it ran through the usual number of editions and these are alive to this day. It did not suffer from any criticism of its political bias. I don’t think readers in 1924 bothered their heads as to whether Roumania had been our ally or our enemy in 1914-1918. During the four-and-a-half years of the war be it noted that Allies were always angels of light and of goodness, and enemies . . . well! they were enemies and that was that.

Chapter 23

I think it was ‘La Pausa’, the C. N. Williamson’s beautiful home in Roquebrune, that finally caused us to make up our minds to have a kind of secondary resting-place in this lovely part of the world.

After the European monetary debâcle, following the Armistice of 1918, I had lost the whole of the private fortune which I had inherited in 1906—the fortune round which imaginative journalists had woven such a wonderful romance of the lost heiress only traced through the publication of her book, A Son of the People. Well! that fortune came as unexpectedly in 1906 as it vanished in 1918. It vanished owing to the economic collapse of Hungary which followed that of Germany: the Hungarian kronen was devalued as the German mark had already been. Ah, well! keep on smiling was always our motto, and though we had something to lament over, we had plenty to be thankful for. My husband was anything but a poor man and I could still write; there were royalties galore on books and plays and cinema still to come.

It was then that we decided to buy a villa in Monte Carlo. We had tested the amenities of that delightful place and found them very much to our taste. The climate, for one thing, was a great attraction, perhaps the greatest, for my husband had in recent years developed a very delicate throat and English winters and English springs were ‘playing old Harry’ with that throat. So climate was the first attraction and inclination a good second.

At first we had great difficulty in finding a villa that would meet all our requirements. We wanted to be in the centre of town, we wanted a garden, we wanted this, that and the other, and there were very few (hardly any) villas to be sold in those days. We could not then spare the time to run down to Monte Carlo and villa-hunt for ourselves. Through the kindness of Mrs. French, whose villa we had rented in 1915, we heard of the Villa Bijou. Our kind friend viewed and rented it for us.

She wrote to say that in her opinion it was just the house we were looking for. It wold require many alterations and improvements: the garden was there but would have to be made anew; the number of rooms was adequate and . . . it was for sale. But the matter was urgent, the villa would be snapped up if we did not hurry. Well, we hurried by telegram! We wired our acceptance of the price asked for the house and Mrs. French wired the reply that the house was ours; she had paid the deposit asked for, clinching the bargain.

There was, of course, a great risk in buying a house one had never seen, but we trusted in the taste of our friend who knew our taste, and knew Monte Carlo out and out: she had lived there for over twenty years. But never for a moment did we regret our bargain. In the course of one’s life one commits more than one act of folly which one has to regret later on, but our purchase of the Villa Bijou (a pig in a poke as it were) was, as it turned out, an act of supreme wisdom.

Six months later we went South to view our bargain. What we saw was a pink house standing square inside a ring fence with a tall iron gate, and in shape like an inverted match-box: at right angles to the house but with no direct access to it. There was a sort of annexe which in its day had consisted of stables down below and four or five small rooms on the floor above. That house now, with its annexe, is a thing of beauty, but it took some time to effect the transformation. We began by turning three small rooms of the annexe into a large studio with a North light: we connected the annexe with the house by a short oak staircase, and transformed the inverted match-box by adding a porch, two terraces and a loggia till all its ugly squareness had been transmuted into beautiful lines. In fact what we did not do with the inverted match-box would take too long to relate.

Of equal interest to us was the question of the garden. As a matter of fact there was nothing there that could be called a garden. There were a few seedy looking orange trees all overgrown and smothered in scarlet geraniums. There was a huge ficus tree in the wrong place, a pepper tree also in the wrong place, and the angle between the house and annexe was just a huge pebbled court where presumably carriages driving through the iron gate were turned, and horses groomed in front of the stables. Well! that pebbled court is now an Italian garden with—in the centre—a pond and a dear little marble fountain of the Florentine bambino hugging a fish—who spouts water to the delight of the wild birds who come to preen their feathers and have their daily bath under its pleasant trickle. The south wall of the sunken garden is covered for ten months of the year by a gorgeous mauve curtain of that lovely Lantana Delicatissima, which begins to bloom early in March and is still in full bloom at Christmas. Lantanas do marvellously on that wall because it is in full sun all the year. There is a gorgeous red one which we call General Du Cane, and a daffodil yellow, but the Delicatissima reigns supreme.

On the other hand bougainvillea (usually so abundant in this part of the world, even running wild on the rocks in many places) does not do very well with us. We have sacrificed the best wall to the Lantanas, and the two pergolas are given over to the roses. The finest rose season here is April and early May, after which the sun is too hot for those dear things and the weather more often than not too dry. (I have known as many as ten months without a drop of rain in Monte Carlo.) Against that the second period of blooming—the autumn—lasts well from October until Christmas.

It takes an English amateur gardener, such as we both were, some time to learn what will simply not be coaxed into luxuriance; for Monte Carlo is altogether different from other gardens on the Riviera, like Beaulieu, Mentone-Garavan and so on. It is built on rock and the drainage question, especially for roses becomes acute. But in the rock there are crevices and hollows. We imported good soil from Garavan to cover the garden to a depth of 60 centimetres and trusted to luck that we would hit on such few crevices as there were that would accommodate the roots of climbing roses for two pergolas.

The two pergolas indeed have done very well. One of these goes from the outside gate to the new porch. Madame Abel Chatenay, Noella Nabonand, and Paul’s Scarlet Climber make a lovely, sweet-scented corridor from the gate right up to the front door. The other pergola is at the south end of the garden, parallel with the containing wall there. Here Folette is a dream of beauty in April in juxtaposition with my favourite Eglantine. The climbing Mrs. Herbert Stevens is in its gorgeous second blooming in November right up till Christmas. We have to avoid the Wichurianas. They are at their best much later in the spring when we are already on the wing for England, and offer no autumnal blooming.

For this same reason we never attempted to plant the perennials which I love, though I have often sighed for the blues of delphinium which would be such victorious rivals to the blue of the sky and of the Mediterranean, and our garden is too small for the planting of the gorgeous Ischium in sufficient masses such as it demands for the proper display of its wonderful colouring.

I hope I have not tried the patience of those of my readers who are not garden fans by this long dissertation on our efforts. There is just one feature in our garden which I think is interesting from an almost historical point of view. The olive trees of the South of France are larger and more imposing—they certainly are older—than those of Northern Italy (one notices this difference directly one has crossed the frontier). The reason may be that the trees in Italy were planted closer together originally and had not the same chance of development. They form clumps here and there. A number of them have been made to enter into the composition of Riviera gardens: their age is determined by the size and condition of their trunks and by the formation of their growth and of their roots. We found a most venerable old fellow in our bit of garden on a small eminence in the very ‘rightest’ of positions. Experts in arboriculture assure us that it is well over a thousand years old.

And here legend has stepped in. This is a country of legends, and here is another very pretty one. It is generally believed that Saint Paul rested under that tree when proselytizing on the shores of the Mediterranean. Some pious old folk go even further and will have it that our Lord also wandered along these shores preaching the Word or God and that He, too, rested under that solitary giant tree. So poetic and naïve, like all the legends of Provence! There is a deep hollow in the trunk at about eight feet from the ground and inside it our predecessor (an old lady who had been Maid of Honour to the Empress Eugénie) had arranged a small shrine with the statuette of St. Anthony of Padua, a toy candelabra and a couple of small china pots with china flowers in them. Very pretty and charming. We never interfered with it. It is there to this day.

* * * * * * * * * * *

There are few things in life more interesting than watching the development of a city from waste land to the slowly spreading accumulation of street upon street and houses upon houses. When first we came on a visit to Monte Carlo, in 1915, the enormous agglomeration of houses down in the valley called the Condamine between the rock of Monaco and the heights of Monte Carlo had not yet been started. There were a few streets—one important one which was the direct tram road to Nice—there were one or two unpretentious hotels, there was a tennis court on which only the local people played, and there was the port; as for the rest, there were olive trees isolated or in groups through which a few palm trees raised their melancholy heads.

It was after 1918 that the land butcher and the builder got to work, and the grove of olive trees where half an acre of land was then worth a few shillings, rose in price within a couple of years to as many pounds, and by 1920 to as many £100 notes. Soon land was unobtainable save at an exorbitant price, dearer than freehold land in the City of London. The curious part about this fantastic rise in value is that no original proprietor—they were peasants for the most part—made a fortune out of these transactions. They sold their bit of land at the first small rise in the price, the buyer resold within a few weeks at another rise, and this buying and reselling went on in that way month by month, almost week by week, always with a small profit, but never with a big one. The French peasant is cautious; when he saw his profit he was content to take it however small it was.

Now the whole of the Condamine is like a huge rabbit-warren and where from the terrace of our villa we looked down once on the soft grey-green waves of olive trees, we see houses upon houses so closely built one against or over the other that they seem as if they were about to push one another over the slope of the hill into the port. At one time, while this frenzy of building was going on, we felt akin to despair. What would this once so picturesque, so tranquil, Monte Carlo come to? The quarter where our Villa Bijou is situated is luckily quite immune from the activities of the speculative builder. It is, if I may so call it, the Mayfair of Monte Carlo, but outside its circumference which is not extensive, rabbit warrens abound. There seems to be no artistic control over the designs (save the mark) of new buildings: they are no longer inverted match-boxes but just immense blocks of stone with row upon row of small windows and mean-looking front doors, Germanic in character and wholly void of artistic features; just hideous skyscrapers which mar the beauty of distant mountains and of forest land.

Well! as I said before it was interesting to watch this development of waste land into an important city. Interesting, but oh, really heart-breaking. The place might have been made so beautiful; Nature had done her best for old Monaco, had expended her priceless treasures of beautiful colour, of mountains bathed in mists of rose and purple and delicate grey, of blue sea and sky and the varied greens of olive and palm, of orange and lemon with their shiny metallic leaves, of tall cypresses and distant horizons of silvery moonlight and the glint of sunshine through the trees, of fiery sunsets and of pearly dawns. Yes, Nature had been more than kind, and man did his best to spoil those priceless gifts which she had so lavishly showered on this privileged corner of the earth. Ah, well!!

Chapter 24

 There is a very apt French proverb which says: Heureux le peuple que n’a pas d’histoire (Happy the people that has no history). And this I may amplify by saying the same thing about individuals: ‘Happy they who have nothing to put on record.’

I, for one, have very little to put on record once we were definitely installed in Villa Bijou, Monte Carlo. I went on with my work steadily, if not quite so prolifically as before. One historical romance now became my average yearly output, sometimes interspersed with short stories such as Castles in the Air and The Man in Grey and sets of Pimpernel stories which had been commissioned for magazines before they appeared in book form.

My husband went on with his painting, and found it difficult to keep pace with the demands of a small colony of rich Americans who after the war took to coming to Monte Carlo winter after winter. They were great admirers of his pictures. I was always selfishly very sad when some of these, usually those I was fondest of, were shipped off to the States, but of course one has to remember that after all, most pictures are painted for the purpose of being sold.

We had an interesting time with the building and consecration of the English Church. There has been none in Monte Carlo since the war, but a project had been on foot of building one for the last few years. In view of this the old church which was not in the Principality but in the neighbouring township of Beausoleil had been closed—rather prematurely as it happened—and demolished. With the increasing number of English visitors and residents the question soon became imperative. The trouble was the difficulty of getting land in the centre of Monte Carlo, a site easily accessible to those who could not always afford car or carriage all the time. “We must have a place where we can sing ‘God Save the King’” was the demand of all loyal English people, rich and poor alike (there were a great number of English employees in shops, bureaux and private houses by this time); but the cost of land had become absolutely prohibitive.

My husband and I set to work with heart and soul to solve the great problem. We felt sure that we could get the money together for building the church. We had an estimate of 450,000 francs (i.e. £7,500 at the then rate of exchange), but land would run into nearly a million in addition. Well! we did set to work. We interviewed the Monégasque Government: we were honoured by then with the friendship of the Prince of Monaco, who came frequently to our house and often dined and lunched with us; we enlisted his sympathy; we obtained for our efforts the priceless support of H.R.H. the Duke of Connaught, that magnificent type of English loyalty and . . . thank God! we succeeded. The Princely Government gave us a site for our English Church in the very heart of Monte Carlo.

It is interesting to note that the site, splendid as it was, was not as might be supposed, a flat or at any rate horizontal piece of land, but a vertical one, i.e. the side of one of the many rocky elevations on which few booths and woodsheds—mostly derelict—were then standing. These were expropriated. The patrons of the Chaplaincy (the S.P.G.) appointed a chaplain in succession to the former one who had retired, and the foundation-stone of the English Church was graciously laid by H.R.H. the Duke of Connaught and (strangely enough perhaps, she being a Roman Catholic) in the presence of H.S.H. the Hereditary Princess of Monaco. I suppose she had a special dispensation for her share in the ceremony.

The Bishop of Gibraltar was of course present, and there were a number of clergy from various neighbouring chaplaincies. All this vast concourse of distinguished people caused great excitement among the local population. A great crowd watched the ceremony from the adjacent streets and from the windows of the houses close by. It was our Bishop who caused the greatest sensation. He was robed in cope and mitre and the people here, accustomed as they were to their Protestant pastor and utterly ignorant of the status and tenets of the Anglican Church, could not understand that we, too, had a Bishop seemingly so very like their own.

And so the building of the English Church was forthwith begun. The architects and builders in this part of the world are really amazingly clever in the way they tackle the erection of buildings on these often sheer sides of rock formations. They have, of course, any amount of experience in that line. Remembering the first sight one had of that truly priceless gift of this generous government, the almost sheer rock, all chasms and crevasses, its desolate aspect which to us—ignoramus as one was—appeared indeed hopeless, and two years later saw the result, one is lost in admiration of the local building craft. There is the church on what had been the top of the rock—it accommodates close on four hundred people and a small vestry; connected with it by an inside stair-case there is a very nice apartment for the occupation of the chaplain with sitting-room, dining-room, study, three bedrooms, bathroom and usual offices; below this again a large recreation room the use of which became invaluable) with a small flat attached to it of one bedroom, sitting-room, and bathroom; and finally below that a flat of three rooms and a kitchen for the use of the verger and his family.

The recreation room was soon put to most excellent use. A club for English maids, valets, and chauffeurs was presently instituted, with English papers and magazines for their use, accommodation for making tea for themselves and their friends, and, oh joy! for the entertainment of the crews of English ships which happened to put into the Baie des Anges or in the port of Monaco. This pleasure—it was a pleasure for us all as you may well imagine—was quite frequent during the next few years. At first it was the coal-boats which came into Monaco: the Uskvale, the Uskmouth, and the Uskdale. The crew, their skipper, and their mates were royally entertained in the Church club as it came to be called. It possessed many amenities by this time: a draughts’ board, ping-pong, card tables and cards for whist drives, and—best of all—a gramophone with a number of the best dance records; there was a dance every Tuesday evening in the large recreation room; there was a canteen with light beer and soft drinks and plenty of sandwiches. Our English maids, valets, and chauffeurs loved it, and so I assure you did the crews of the English coal-boats.

Presently, however, we were honoured and overjoyed with the visit into the Baie des Anges, into the port of Monaco, or into Mentone, of British warships. In turn we had the joy of entertaining the officers and crews of the Royal Sovereign, the Delhi, the Hood, the Repulse, as well as of the surveying, scientific Ormond, and others.

We at the Villa Bijou had thés-dansants, dinners and evening parties for the officers; and the members of the Church Club were half-crazy with the joy of entertaining the crews at different times. In return the ships gave us all most magnificent entertainments. There was always a dance for the members of the Church Club and a splendid tea for them, when they were permitted to go all over those splendid units of the British fleet.

It was during the visit of the Delhi at Mentone that we had the pleasure of receiving Admiral Brownrigg in our house. We know that ‘every woman loves a sailor’, but how could we help loving those who came to visit us during those happy, happy years, when peace seemed to have at last descended upon our troubled world and appeared to have come to stay. Ah, well! . . . Admiral Brownrigg, on leaving Mentone, wrote me such a charming letter to thank me and my husband for our hospitality to his officers and to his men, and I look on that letter as one of my cherished possessions. He was such a delightful personality; a true British sailor: no wonder that his men always called him ‘Papa’.

There was a rather amusing incident in connection with the visit of the Delhi. As usual, when a British ship touched into Monaco or the Baie des Agnes, a certain number of the crew and officers came on parade—with band playing—to the English Church. It was such a beautiful site to see those handsome men in their dark blue marching up along the avenue which skirts the port, and the streets adjoining as well as the Gardens of the Casino were thronged with sightseers who cheered them as they passed. Their way led them past the Casino, and the next day our padre received a letter from the S.B.M. (‘Société des Bains de Mer’—in English, the ‘Society of Sea Baths’—which is the official name of the Casino Company), asking that the British sailors should stop the music when nearing the Casino ‘so as not to disturb the players at the tables’. We thought this was too lovely for words. It had its humour; but in the future the bands always stopped playing when passing close to the Casino so as not to disturb the gamblers at their work.

We, of course, loved those Sundays when our little church was filled to overflowing with men and officers in blue, and we sang our hymns to the accompaniment of their splendid band. I had a very happy afternoon when we gave a thé-dansant for the officers of the Royal Sovereign. They came in full force, as many as could get leave to come; but what delighted us both was to see our guests arriving, each with a smile on his good-looking face and a something scarlet in their button-hole. I thought at first that the French Government had decorated the entire staff of officers of this British ship with the Legion of Honour for some conspicuous act of bravery—it does that sometimes with a regiment or a ship—but not a bit of it. All those dear chaps had fashioned—out of red paper—little scarlet pimpernels, and wore these as a trophy in their button-holes. Happy, happy me!

* * * * * * * * * * *

Indeed, the twenty years that followed our installation in Monte Carlo were of unalloyed happiness for me. And looking back on them I often wonder what it was that I had done to deserve it. Nothing, of course. God had given me a vivid imagination which I had turned to account in books that had won the appreciation of a very large public. He had given me the companionship of one who was the perfect husband, lover, and friend always. And I? Well! I took everything for granted as it came, thinking no doubt that these years of happiness would go on and on until we both were very old and then just went on to life everlasting together . . . hand in hand.

Just as in the past I never cared much for social gaieties the entertainments which we gave or helped to give for the British ships were the only ones that gave me real pleasure. But, of course, there were other gaieties on foot from which one could not altogether keep away. The English colony had considerably increased in numbers during the years 1923-33. From a few hundred visitors and residents ten years before it now numbered just upon 1,400, and one’s own circle of acquaintances waxed therefore in proportion. Ever since 1924 we had made it a point to ask our friends to a tea and cocktail party on New Year’s Day. That first year we sent out sixty invitations. Three years later we could not ask fewer than two hundred without offending a number of acquaintances who would naturally expect to be asked.

Chapter 25

 But through all these days of gaieties and of varied experiences of life and character I carried on assiduously with my work. Between the years 1920—after we were finally and comfortably settled in Villa Bijou—and 1940 I brought out some of my most successful books: The Uncrowned King, A Spy of Napoleon (a story of the Second Empire), The Hon’ble Jim.

The Scarlet Pimpernel had not lost his hold upon my readers, and many adventures of my dauntless hero did I put on record during those happy Monte Carlo years, both in long and short stories. As a matter of fact there are now no fewer than ten full-length romances dealing with him and two volumes of short stories. The play, too, was also constantly before the public either in London or in the provinces. As was only to be expected I was often approached by cinematograph companies for licence to make a film of that ever popular story. Personally, I would have been quite willing; but not so the great Mr. Fred Terry. The contract for the play as between him, together with his wife and partner, Miss Julia Neilson, and ourselves had been drawn up by a solicitor who had had very little experience of theatrical matters and persons. It was very loosely worded. Fred Terry was an avowed and bitter enemy of the films, which he looked upon as successful rivals of theatrical enterprise.

There had been a good deal of correspondence as to whether I as the author of the original book or he as the owner of the rights in the play held the cinematograph rights in the story. Ultimately we were advised to go to law about the whole thing and get a decision from the Court on that very moot point. Well! the case went against us in this way, and whereas the copyright in the book was indisputably mine, the rights in the play were equally indisputably the Terry’s. Neither side would be allowed to negotiate cinematograph rights without the consent of the other. And Fred Terry was adamant. There was no question of sharing either. When the word cinematograph cropped up Fred Terry saw red.

* * * * * * * * * * *

And then it was that the great Master of us all put an end to all controversy. Fred Terry had been ailing for some time. I believe it was a question of gout, which became very acute and finally touched the heart and carried that ideal Sir Percy Blakeney away when he had scarcely passed the prime of his life. For he was, and always will be in my opinion, the ideal in the flesh of my favourite creation. He had the charm of manner, the beautifully modulated voice, the humour, and the dominating personality. Soon after his death the cinema companies got busy again. The London Film Productions had recently been formed and had already attained a great outstanding success in Henry VIII with that fine actor, Charles Laughton, in the name part. It certainly was a magnificent film and deserved the reputation which it conferred on Alexander Korda, in my opinion, the finest film producer, bar none, the cinema world has as yet known.

One of the directors of L.F.P. was that well-known actor, George Grossmith, and I suppose that it was through him that the company learned that Miss Julia Neilson was not adverse as her late husband had been to the filming of The Scarlet Pimpernel. She was approached and so was I. By the decision of the Court the consent of both of us was essential for obtaining the right to produce the cinema version of the ever-popular book and play.

I had never been averse to this and willingly gave my consent: Miss Neilson and I to share equally in the proceeds. It gave me great pleasure to meet Alexander Korda, for I had long been interested in him. He and his two brothers were a trio of young Hungarian Jews with brains enough between the three of them to furnish a dozen and more artistically minded and ambitious youths. They betook themselves to Hollywood and there learned all there was to know of the trade they had decided to make their own, and Alexander, the eldest, burst upon the cinema world as the film producer par excellence. What his brother Zoltán did not know about designing and constructing scenery was not worth knowing, and the last of the three was the great technical expert: a marvellous trio forsooth to come from a small Hungarian village not far from Tarna-Örs where I was born. The Scarlet Pimpernel was shown subsequently over half the world. It is not for me to speak of its success. I understand that it was one of the most outstanding among the many successes achieved by English cinema companies.

* * * * * * * * * * *

There was one amusing incident in connection with the production to which I cannot help referring here. Alexander Korda had announced in the Press that Charles Laughton had been engaged by him to play the part of Sir Percy Blakeney. . . . Whereupon both he, by private correspondence, and the Press, by way of open letters, were bombarded with protests by film ‘fans’ as to the unsuitability of that excellent actor to impersonate the Scarlet Pimpernel. Physically he certainly might not have looked the part, though a great actor can always rise above mere physical defects (we had an example of this in Henry Irving), and Laughton is indeed a great actor. But no! the film ‘fans’ were relentless in their demands: ‘Charles Laughton was unsuitable for the part of their favourite hero of romance.’ Korda, open-minded as he was, gave way and engaged Leslie Howard instead.

I have so often been asked whether I had been pleased or disappointed in the film version of The Scarlet Pimpernel. Leslie Howard was certainly very attractive, very charming, he knew how to make love, but he was not Fred Terry. Fred Terry was the ideal Sir Percy and there cannot be two ideals in one’s mind of the one character. Howard had physical defects just as Laughton had: he was short and could not look strong enough to dominate certain situations, nor could he tower over Chauvelin, played, as it happened, by a very tall man.

As for the working-out of the story, I thought all the scenes as near perfection as any producer could conceive; they also followed the book closely . . . until the end. But the end . . .!! Well! I suppose that by that time film ‘fans’ were satisfied that all was well with Sir Percy and his lovely wife and were not too critical as to how this had been brought about. This being so, I think I may safely say that my pleasure in the presentation of my romance on the cinema outweighed any disappointment I may have felt.

* * * * * * * * * * *

There had been one or two amusing experiences in connection with the filming of some of my books. One, in particular, was so awful that it became amusing. This was the presentation in France of The Scarlet Pimpernel. Although the book published by Nelson’s and admirably translated, was known all over the country as Le Mouron Rouge and formed part of many important school libraries, the French film censor, not liking the title, had it changed to Le Chevalier de Londres. But that was a small matter compared with the—I was going to say outrage—of turning Sir Percy and his devoted band into French émigrés as it had been done in that never-to-be-forgotten play at the Ambigu. He would not allow a Frenchman (Chauvelin) to be ‘downed’ by un anglais, even an eighteenth-century one. But the worthy official did not rest with that stricture. He went a step further and would not permit any scene to be shown in which the guillotine could be seen, except quite small and nebulous in the distance. (Was he not aware of the fact that every French boy and girl had learned their history at school and knew all about the revolution and the guillotine?)

Anyway, ‘doubled’ as it was and shorn of some of its finest scenes with Leslie Howard and Sir Andrew Ffoulkes looking unlike any French émigrés that ever crossed the Channel, the whole show was so bad that it became ludicrous. I had been asked to be present on the opening night and bouquets of red roses were most kindly showered upon me, but you must imagine what it cost me to say something pleasant, even appreciative, to all those concerned in what was nothing but the caricature of my beloved book. I have often asked myself since, why—if the whole setting of The Scarlet Pimpernel was objectionable to French patriotic feeling—it was ever shown in France. Why not have left it alone.

In Italy—as in the case of the play—the film was presented in its original form as Alexander Korda had produced it. Italians are too artistic to play tricks with works of art. Though several of my books were filmed after that and shown not only in England but in most of the European countries, I must confess that I never took great interest in those productions. I certainly never had the wish to go to Hollywood. What was the good? The cinema people—principally U.S.A., of course—would ‘gang their ain gait’ whatever the author might say.

It is always stated most emphatically in the contracts that ‘no alterations in the story should be made without the consent of the author’. Nevertheless, whenever I have been lured to witness a film based upon any book I had read and loved by some favourite author of mine, I invariably came away wondering mournfully why a charming story had been so foolishly mauled about. There is always the story of the author who had witnessed a film based on one of his popular books, remarking to the producer: “An admirable show, Mr. So-and-so. Very interesting. Who did you say was the author of the original book?”

That delightful author, A. E. W. Mason, told me of an amusing incident which occurred in Hollywood during the filming of one of his historical romances. In one scene there was a crowd shouting and making a great noise. One of the principal characters witnessing this from a balcony demands peremptorily: “What is the meaning of this clamour?” The producer interrupting: “What’s he saying? Clamour: what’s that?” The prompter: “Clamour means noise, sir.” The producer: “Then why doesn’t he say noise?” The prompter: “It’s in the text, sir.” A pause. The producer is wrapped in thought. Then peremptorily: “Send for the language expert.” The ‘language expert’ arrives and explains: “Clamour is archaic, sir, and as the story . . .” The producer, angrily: “A cake? A cake? What kind of a cake?”

I also recollect one really amusing incident which occurred in the filming of my Beau Brocade, a highwayman story of the eighteenth century. The scene is laid in England and the film was produced by an English company and beautifully done. There were some charming pictures of English countryside, moorland, heath, old-world villages, and so on. The producer, while motoring through Surrey and Sussex, had come across an old coaching inn, creeper-clad and entirely unspoiled; even the sign-post ‘The Running Footman’, looked ancient enough for his purpose. He was delighted with his find. It was just what he had been looking for. Arrangements were soon made with the landlord and some of the best outdoor scenes in the film were enacted in front of the old inn. Only one little thing had been overlooked in the excitement of the rehearsals and this was the notice—black lettering on a white board swinging on a bracket to the right of the front door—‘You may telephone from here’. It was only revealed during a private show done for my benefit of a few scenes in which I was specially interested. Of course, these had to be done all over again with the offending notice removed. Luckily the frontage of the inn did not occur more than twice in the scenario; but, even so, getting everything together again, the company, the accessories, the supers, and especially the arrival and drawing up of a coach and four, entailed a great deal of extra expense.

* * * * * * * * * * *

I want to ask my readers in the kindness of their heart to forget the captious remarks I have made on the subject of cinematography generally, especially those aimed quite good-naturedly at American producers. I am more than willing to acknowledge the pre-eminence of the U.S.A. film productions and of film stars. They got ahead of us all, English, French, Italian, Germans, during the four-and-a-half years that we were busy fighting. They perfected their technique of that intricate art while Europe was engaged in perfecting the technique of war and the flower of her youth were laying down their lives for the honour of their country and the defence of their homes. We owe some of the finest films ever made to American producers. I need only name: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and Intolerance, or Broken Blossoms, and there are many, many more which we all remember as reaching the acme of what photography and perfect dramatic presentation can achieve.

We in England reached the peak at that time in Henry VIII, as did France in those delightful comedies, Sous le toits de Paris and Marius. And if we owe the inimitable Charlie Chaplin to the U.S.A., France can boast of her Raimu, and we in England of Wallace Beery and Cicely Courtneidge.

Chapter 26

And all through these years, 1920 to 1939, Monte Carlo kept up its high standard as one of the great musical centres of Europe. L’Opéra de Monte Carlo was celebrated throughout the musical world and the greatest artistes of the time looked to a season in Monte Carlo as one of the crowning glories of their career. Caruso, alas! was no more; and of the two de Reszkes, Edouard had died during the war in misery in his native land, Poland, and Jean had retired from the operatic stage and was living in Nice, teaching singing to a privileged few. But we had that fine Greek tenor, Lapas (who caused much amusement among the audience once when singing Parsifal, which he did divinely, he forgot to take off his wrist-watch), and the French artiste Thill, we had Vanni-Marcoux, we had Fanny Heldy, and Melba gave her absolutely final appearance on any stage as Marguerite in Faust. Anyway, we had everything that heart of amateur or musician could desire.

When there was no opera we had the Russian Ballets with Diaghileff still in command; or else comedies, sometimes with Sacha Guitry and his wife, sometimes with artistes of the Comédie français come especially from Paris.

About this time, too, there was instituted in Monte Carlo a Société des Conférences. Monsieur Labande, Keeper of the Archives of the Principality, was its moving spirit. He was a charming, highly-cultured old man and under his rule the Society quickly grew into artistic importance. He had enlisted the support and patronage of Prince Pierre de Monaco (this was before the divorce) who made it a point of being present at the conférences which were held once a week. Great personages in the French literary world, as well as distinguished military and naval men, gave some very interesting lectures in the Salle des Conférences, specially built to accommodate the Society and its many patrons. The lectures were, of course, held in French, but whenever we two went, which we did as often as we could, we invariably met a small number of our English friends who were conversant with the language and enjoyed them as much as we did.

Monsieur Labande then did me the honour to ask me to give one of these lectures. He also asked Commander Spicer-Simpson, of the International Hydrographic Bureau, to do the same, as he, like myself, spoke French fluently. For my lecture (I do so dislike the word) I chose Les Beaux et les Dandies des Grands Siècles en Angleterre (otherwise the Beaux and Dandies of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. I spoke of the Duke of Buckingham, Beau Nash, and Beau Brummel, and spoke without any notes—of course in French. It was a great success, so much so that the Society had it printed and distributed among its members and a copy now rests among its archives.

That same year Commander Spicer-Simpson gave us a most interesting account of a mission under his command to Lake Tanganyika, entrusted to him by the British Government. He showed us some wonderful magic-lantern slides which he had taken and developed himself. Both he and I were subsequently asked to repeat our lectures at two special galas given in aid of our Church Building Fund, each gala being graced by the presence of H.R.H. the Duke of Connaught. On those occasions both the Commander and I spoke in English, and the hall of the Hôtel Metropole was crowded with English visitors and hosts of our friends and acquaintances.

After that I was asked, year after year, to give a conference, which I did. The members of the Société seemed to like them. Two of my most successful ones were ‘historical mysteries’, when I sedulously avoided the Man with the Iron Mask—it would have been too trite for a French audience, even in the manner so cleverly elucidated by Andrew Lang—but the audience liked my version of the mysterious Comte de St. Germain whom Horace Walpole had met in England in 1742, whom Madame de Pompadour flirted with twenty years later, who is spoken of by the noted French archæologist, Grosley of Troyes, in his memoirs, as an exceptionally handsome young man in 1813, and Van Damme in the same eulogistic terms as gracing the salons of Louis Philippe, i.e. circa 1840.

My account of the great mystery connected with the false Jeanne d’Arc was also very much liked, especially by my American auditors, and of course the Gowrie Conspiracy is always intriguing; and there are several more which suited my purpose admirably.

Another successful conference I named: “Books fatal to authors’. The wretched Urbain Grandier who was burned at the stake for publishing an attack on Cardinal Richelieu, the all-powerful minister of Louis XIII; our own Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, a strong partisan of the Nonconformist cause who published a pamphlet entitled, The Shortest Way with the Dissenters, in which he ironically advised their entire extermination. Parliament condemned his book to the flames and the author to pillory and prison. After that he gave up writing controversial pamphlets and gave us his immortal Robinson Crusoe. I also tackled Literary Frauds and Amours de Reine, both in English and in French.

The getting together of material for these conferences gave me a very great deal of pleasure. The French ones were usually for the Société des Conférences and the English ones in aid of one or other of those English charities which interested us all, my own efforts in the matter being, of course, honorary.

There was for every conference a good deal of ‘material’ to be got together as I was expected to talk for an hour and a half without notes though all the French lecturers I noticed always had their notes in their hands, but I always think that to see the speaker’s head bobbing up and down, now looking at his notes and then at his hearers, is very irritating to the audience. Luckily for me my memory was then still very excellent.

One of the English charities we of the colony on the Côte d’Azur were most interested in was the Victoria Memorial Hospital. As its name implies it was built in memory of Queen Victoria and was entirely kept up by private subscription, principally English of course. Like every institution in France, permission for the founding, the employment of an English nursing staff, and for subsequent upkeep had to be obtained first, that so many wards must always be retained for patients of French nationality; and secondly, that if ever the hospital had to close down for one reason or another, the French Government would then enter in possession of the building and carry on with its own staff at its own will.

However, at the time there was no question of ever being obliged to close down. Subscriptions and donations had flowed in freely from the first and the hospital was free of debt. A small number of beds were already endowed by generous members of the English colony for the accommodation of English patients, the donor having first call on any vacant bed; to this number we did our best to add a few more. I, for one, desired to endow one of these beds to be known as The Scarlet Pimpernel bed. So I set to work with the help of that fine amateur actor, Captain Chadwick, who had often sung in grand opera in Monte Carlo, to arrange two matinées of The Scarlet Pimpernel with himself in the name part, one to take place in Monte Carlo and the other in Nice. The proceeds were to be in aid of The Scarlet Pimpernel bed in the Victoria Memorial Hospital. Captain Chadwick got an excellent company together among his friends in the Monte Carlo theatre, and they all most generously gave their services; he himself was so very good and sympathetic in the name part. The result was most satisfactory, and there was, and still is to this day, the endowed Scarlet Pimpernel bed in the Victoria Memorial Hospital with happy, happy me having first call on a vacant bed for any necessitous English patient.

Soon, as was only to be expected, the beloved hospital got too small for its needs. The building had to be enlarged, the interior modernized, accommodation for the ever-growing number of patients and consequent nursing staff had to be provided. No less a sum than £9,000 was required for all this. Onward Christian soldiers! I mean, Onward, English Colony of Monte Carlo! We organized a super-gala in the opera house, which H.R.H. the Duke of Connaught, with his usual goodness of heart, graced with his presence; there were superb attractions and the prices of seats were raised to what would have been impossible heights but for the liberality of the English and American colonies. The money was got together in that one afternoon and was subsequently amplified by other entertainments, galas, amateur performances in the theatre, lectures, whist drives, bridge tournaments, and so on. By the end of the season £18,000 was got together and the Victoria Memorial was free of debt and able to carry on.

Chapter 27

Two important events in our lives occurred in the course of those two happy decades. One was sheer delight and most fortunate in every way, the other was only fortunate at the outset and then very much the reverse; it was one of the great mistakes that one unconsciously drifts into at some time or other; in our case I may call it the only great mistake we ever made.

It had its origin in the conviction which gradually grew upon us that Monte Carlo was getting too big for its boots. It was growing and growing in size and in importance far beyond what we had expected of it when we decided to make our winter home in what was then an earthly paradise, the favoured child of Nature, all sunshine and beauty and, above all, peace. Houses upon houses, flats, hotels, villas were being constructed and piled one upon the other; and soon whenever one’s eye wandered in search of those lovely views it used to delight in, the groves of grey-green olives, the sunlight glinting through the lace-work of palm trees, the glimpses of the blue Mediterranean, and the mountains of Italy far away, it was met by hideous white and glaring buildings, scattered all over the purple hills and blocking out those fairy-like visas that one only remembered now as one does a dream.

Monte Carlo was getting big and bloated; it bulged out in every direction like a great ogre that was devouring more than it could swallow and threatened to burst its sides. It reminded me of that nursery tale of La Fontaine: the frog that desired to be as big as the bull (La Grenouille qui voulut se faire aussi grosse que le Boeuf). He puffed himself out and puffed and puffed, frequently asking the opinion of his friends whether he was getting anywhere near the realization of his ambition: ”M’y voici donc?” he would ask (Have I got there now?). ”Point du tout,” was the reply. So he went on puffing and puffing himself out until he burst. Well! Monte Carlo, figuratively speaking, was like that frog. It wanted to be as big as . . . I don’t know what, but the boundaries of the Principality could not be expanded seeing that there was the territory of France to the west and to the north, of Italy to the east, and the Mediterranean to the south, so that was that.

And still the ogre went on gormandizing. The number of American and English visitors who desired to find a permanent home in the ‘earthly paradise’ where there were no fogs and no taxes, was increasing year by year and every building was snapped up even before it was completed, whilst hotels, also increasing in size and numbers were full to overflowing. At first this trek to the Riviera was confined to the winter months; but presently, when Monte Carlo laid itself out for a summer season with a wonderful summer Casino and Country Club, with tennis courts galore, swimming-pool, and speed-boats, there were only two months left in the year—July and August—when peace and freedom from social duties which we had hoped to find permanently here, came for that brief while like a beneficent dispensation. Two months, and they were two out of the five or six which we always liked to spend among our friends in England. The rest of the time, with so many dear kind friends who came here season after season as visitors to avoid the English winters, we soon found ourselves so full of engagements that we literally got the wind up, feeling that work was bound to suffer a set-back from so much interruption and distraction.

Did our love for Monte Carlo and for our happy winter home which we had adored and perfected until it was the real representation of its name, Villa Bijou—the Jewel—actually begin to waver when we saw the place of our dreams turned into a huge rabbit-warren, I cannot say. Certain it is that we began to long for some place where we would be more completely shut out from that social world which we neither of us cared for, and which seemed to be drawing us away, with its multifarious tentacles, from the simple life which we loved.

As luck would have it we had a few years before this made the acquaintance of a very charming English resident of Mentone, Mrs. Cochrane, who had a second and very beautiful home in Italy. On one occasion she asked us to come and spend a few days there with her, and we accepted joyfully. Rezzola—such was its name—was revealed to us as a dream of a place. Built on the hills that overlook the Gulf of Spezia, it commands a view of the most beautiful vista on God’s earth, with the white-streaked Carrara mountains way out to the left and the little town of Lerici, with its mediæval tower, where Shelley had lived and suffered, of Spezzia, backed by the spurs of the Apennines with the old fishing town of San Torenzo at their base. And then there were the gardens of Rezzola, down the side of the hill, a-glow when we first saw it with the munificent Eglantine rose running riot over terraces and balustrades, the Judas trees flaunting their crimson blooms between sober grey olive trees and the shiny green of graceful waving palms, and around the lawns violets and crocuses and Poet’s Narcissi, giving out as it were—with their gentleness and their humility in the midst of so much gorgeous vegetation—something that spoke to one of England. It really was enchanting.

During that first visit to Rezzola we got to know Italy and the Italians better than we had ever known them before, when we wandered through the country more or less as tourists; that is to say, we got to know the Italian people as they were then, after Mussolini had restored order among the turbulent communistic elements who were getting the upper hand in the country by continuous unprovoked strikes, malicious destruction of private property, damage to industrial plant, and frequent banditism, often amounting to murder. Yes! looking back on that period in Italian contemporary history, one could not help acknowledging that Mussolini and Fascism in its infancy were, during those first years, the salvation of Italy. And I think we all remember how the vast majority of thinking English men and women—men especially, and hard-baked Tories—so often gave utterance to the pious wish: “Oh! why has not England got a Mussolini?”

* * * * * * * * * * *

It was at Rezzola that we consolidated, as it were, our friendship with that fine English sailor and scientist, Admiral Reginald Bacon, a friendship which I am proud to say will, please God, endure to the end of my life.

And then one day we heard that Admiral Bacon had bought a piece of land adjoining Rezzola and was building a villa destined to be his and his family’s winter home in the future. Like ourselves, he was longing for winter sunshine, for the peace and quiet of this beautiful part of the world. He couldn’t bear Monte Carlo and was not enamoured with any part of France. The villa which he built and called ‘Primazzina’ was not beautiful, but it was roomy and comfortable, the garden could be made beautiful and the view over Lerici, its Bay, and its ancient tower, over Carrara and the Apennines was just as lovely as the one from Rezzola.

And so we pondered over all these things while we wandered through the gardens of Rezzola and the thought of all the quietude that reigned over this happy part of the world, gradually took on the shape of a desire to abandon the turbulence and worldly turmoil of bloated Monte Carlo for this abode of peace. A piece of land—which for some unknown reason was called ‘La Padula’ (i.e. The Marsh)—adjoining Admiral Bacon’s ‘Primazzina’, was for sale. We bought it and in our turn built a delightful little Italian villa on the mountainside in the heart of olive woods which, in the spring, were carpeted with Roman hyacinths and Poet’s Narcissi. There was a great dearth of house accommodation at this time in Italy, and Mussolini had decreed that every house completed before 1927 would be free of all taxes for twenty-five years. That finally decided us, as we had heard very disquieting rumours about taxation on landed estate in Italy. As it was, we did not spend much money on the building, and the design of the villa was so charming, its situation so unique, and its accommodation so convenient that one felt there would never be any difficulty in letting it for so many months in the year. With our passion for gardening we soon transformed the forest of stunted olives into a lovely garden with tiled paths leading down the hillside to an avenue of many-coloured hydrangea and standard oleander trees. We still had a quantity of furniture left over from Snowfield and warehoused in London; we sent for it; it came over by sea as far as Genoa in a coal-boat, and the transport in that way cost very little. Anyway, we had transformed a wilderness of stunted olives into a place of beauty, just as we had transformed an inverted match-box in Monte Carlo into an architectural jewel, and an ugly suburban house in Snowfield into a stately Queen Anne house. Somehow we felt that we had done our best to enrich the world with those three works of genuine art, works that would abide long after we ourselves will have passed away.

I don’t think we ever seriously thought of selling the Villa Bijou, even though the value of the house and land had increased enormously since we originally settled down in Monte Carlo. Anyway, we put off final decision as to that—oh! how thankful we were later on that we did—and in the meanwhile we spent two autumn and two spring months in ‘La Padula’ and two winter ones in Monte Carlo, and the rest of our time in England.

Chapter 28

It was while the building of ‘La Padula’ was in progress that the second great event in the happy decade took place. We had the joy and honour of receiving an invitation from the Canadian Pacific Railway Company to visit Canada as their guests, travelling on their system, and staying in their several beautiful hotels on the way. To say that we accepted this munificent invitation with delight is to express very inadequately the gratitude and joy which we felt.

I never could have believed, had I not experienced it, that kindness, consideration, and courtesy could reach such perfection. The Company and its directors said that they wished to do honour to the author of The Scarlet Pimpernel, but oh! had I been the most distinguished literary light that ever was, I could not have received more generous cordiality or more friendly courtesy during those happy ten weeks which we spent in that magnificent country.

Of course ten weeks is a very short time in which to gather together the great mass of impressions which crowded in upon one in the face of so much that was both new and unexpected. There was so much to see, so much to try to understand, to try to appreciate that one’s mind could not grapple with it all. It was all so wonderful! from the moment when representatives of the Company met us at Liverpool and saw to our embarkation on board the Montcalm, and to our comfort even to the smallest detail, I felt as if I were in a dream. And what’s more, I felt that I knew what it feels like to be a royalty, when everything is done for you to save you the slightest trouble and done with whole-hearted kindliness and understanding.

And the same kindliness and understanding followed us all the way, in those magnificent C.P.R. hotels where the finest suites were always reserved for us, where on arrival we always found our rooms filled with flowers and a bottle of champagne set ready for us. I cannot begin to enthuse over those hotels, which far surpass in luxury and good taste anything that New York can give. Our first experience was of Château Frontenac in Quebec, where we first met Mr. Murray Gibbon, who was then publicity manager of the C.P.R. Company. He is a distinguished Canadian author and he it was who had planned and organized the whole of our trip. On our first meeting he gave us our railway and steamer passes over the whole of the C.P.R. line. He went through the itinerary with us and told us of the wonderful arrangements he had already made for rooms at all their hotels on the way. Under his guidance we would see all that was possible in the short time at our command and gather unforgettable impressions of a great and glorious country. We were indeed overwhelmed by the kindness we received.

Often did my dear one and I say to one another: “If we were twenty years younger we would settle down in Canada.” One could not help feeling in the very air the spirit of youth and of ever growing and developing incentive to labour and to create. I cannot, of course, attempt to give a detailed account of everything we saw and experienced during those ten weeks. So many books on Canada have been written by authors far cleverer than I with greater knowledge of the country and far wider experience of its sentiment and of its people.

* * * * * * * * * * *

We spent four happy days in Quebec in perfect weather. It was all so new to us, this strange admixture of old France and ultra-modern England: the French dialect as it was spoken by the early pioneers, the old French habits and customs, the domination of the Roman Catholic Church of which the Province of Quebec is the impregnable stronghold, with its quaint superstitions and elaborate rituals, its forty churches inside the city, its numerous monasteries, convents, and seminaries; the huge church of Ste. Anne twenty miles outside Quebec, with its holy relics and healing springs and its sacred staircase of thirty-five stone steps over which one hundred and thirty pilgrims had gone up on their knees during the previous year; the primitive life of the ‘habitants’ in their old cottages and patriarchal manor houses on the outskirts of the city and on the Ile d’Orléans, which reminded me of the homes of Hungarian peasants in Tarna-Örs. We loved the old-world charm and the historical and sentimental associations all centring in Quebec. And then, by way of contrast, there was the gorgeousness of Château Frontenac (the C.P.R. Hotel) with every modern comfort and luxury, with its magnificent dining-room and sumptuous meals, its jazz-band and dancing floor, and the beautiful English homes of those charming friends who so graciously entertained us at luncheon; such a contrast! and oh! what an interesting one!!

Montreal did not appeal to me quite so sentimentally. There was still the feeling of old France surviving in its language and some of its unfashionable streets; and it felt quaint and bewildering at first to ask one’s way in French from the policeman on point duty, or to buy one’s stamps and register one’s letters at the Bureau de Poste; to order a fine at the local café and to ask for an apéritif when one wanted a cocktail; Montreal in the Province of Quebec was ‘dry’, but there was apparently no difficulty in getting what drinks our kind host, Mr. Murray Gibbon, had ordered for us and his numerous guests at luncheon in the luxurious University Club, nor any in the comfortable C.P.R. Place Viger Hotel, where our breakfast waiter turned out to be a Derbyshire man who (just imagine how small the world is!) had been present in the Theatre Royal, Nottingham, on the first performance of The Scarlet Pimpernel!

The rest of the happy day we spent in Montreal was taken up with a beautiful drive to Mont Royal, with its fine park on the high hill and its glorious views.

Toronto, our next halting-place, I didn’t care so much about. King Edward’s Hotel, where we had beautiful rooms on the fourteenth floor (our first experience of sleeping so near to the sky), was most luxurious and ultra-modern in all its appointments, even to the head-waiter, who as soon as we sat down to our luncheon, offered to get us whiskies and soda; this he did in a whisper in my husband’s ear, as Toronto (Province of Ontario) was also ‘dry’. Thus we had gone through two ‘dry’ provinces (as ‘dry’ as the U.S.A.!!!) all except on the trains and . . .

* * * * * * * * * * *

We both loved our trip over the Great Lakes on board the C.P.R. steamer Assiniboia, such a fine boat, such comfortable sleeping accommodation, and such excellent food as ever was. There were two hundred and fifty passengers and it was among these that I became acquainted with one lady who was a teacher in a girls’ school in Toronto, who had never read or had even as much as heard of The Scarlet Pimpernel. This, I am sure, sounds a fearfully conceited remark to make; but, as a matter of fact, I never had met anyone to whom the words ‘Scarlet Pimpernel’ just meant nothing at all. I found the experience most refreshing.

How beautiful those Great Lakes are! The Captain was—as C.P.R. officials invariably were towards us—most kind; he invited us to go up on the bridge when we passed through the locks and where at Ste. Marie we could see the Rapids and the wonderful iron bridge which on a pivot carries the heavy C.P.R. trains to the U.S.A. side.

We had rather an alarming night of it when steaming through Lake Superior where we lost sight of land on either side; the ship’s sirens started off at 2 a.m. with their monotonous and portentous calls. We were in a thick white fog which did not lift till past six o’clock in the morning. When on arrival at Port Arthur we bade good-bye to our Captain and thanked him for all his kindness and consideration, we felt bound to confess that we had been rather alarmed at the density of the fog which was so much thicker than any we had experienced when steaming on the Atlantic or in the Channel between Gibraltar and Southampton; we expressed our gratitude to him for having brought us safely to shore. He said with a grave shake of the head: “You are not more thankful than I am, I assure you. These fogs on Superior are sometimes the very d . . .”

* * * * * * * * * * *

Though I have done a great deal of travelling by railway on the Continent of Europe during my life, I have always hated it. I have, of course, seen the growth of its (so-called) comfort from the old first-class compartments with their red velvet seats and antimacassars during those weary days and nights on the express! to Budapest, to the present-day wagonlits on the train bleu; from the halts for meals at various stations in Germany with the scramble for a hurried snack at most inconvenient hours, with the ‘turn-out’ in the middle of the night for Customs examinations on the German and on the Austrian frontiers down to the present-day wagons-restaurants, of which the least said the better. I have hated it all from those days to this. But of all the discomforts that I have experienced in the past, I cannot picture to myself anything worse than the accommodation for night journeys on American trains. How the luxury-loving Americans can ever bring themselves to travel by rail from San Francisco to New York passes my comprehension. Of course there are a limited (very limited) number of quite comfortable drawing-room compartments with private wash-basins and so on—we had the benefit of these throughout our journey across Canada—but the usual first-class cars with twenty-four bunks on two tiers in each car—and a narrow passageway through the centre with no standing room, and just a curtain screening each bed; and oh horrors! only one toilet place with lavatory so that the twenty-four passengers have to wait their turn for their morning ablutions!!

Well! never mind! we certainly had no cause to grumble and the distance to Winnipeg was quite short. We had only a brief halt there, while kind Mrs. Rogers took us to her beautiful home, gave us cocktails and took us for a drive round the town. But it was on the return journey that I had the real impression of Winnipeg, one which will always abide with me as being some of the happiest hours of that thrice happy journey through a splendid and hospitable country.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Is there anyone who, having had the privilege of spending a few days in Banff, does not treasure the remembrance of it and of the Banff Springs Hotel—so comfortable, so luxurious, so ‘homey’? I just loved every moment we spent there, the view over the beautiful mountains, the hot springs, the bathing pool. I even loved the train journey down from Winnipeg. I loved the enormous expanse of flat country through which we passed, and the immense cornfields which brought back the Hungarian puszta so vividly to my memory. On the train we met Mrs. Coleman, the wife of the vice-president of the C.P.R.—and such a pretty woman—with her two little boys, her friend, Mrs. Parker, and her secretary. They were on their way to Lake Louise. Our black conductor was a native of St. Lucia in the West Indies and therefore a British subject. He was very proud of this and was very chatty. He had read the Scarlet Pimpernel and many of my books; had passed his matric in the Cambridge examinations and was studying engineering; whilst the head-waiter in the dining-car was a Swede, whose brother was a doctor and had served with the English during the 1914-1918 war.

Unfortunately it poured with rain the whole of the next day, but undeterred we tramped about Banff, went to their delightful Zoo and made friends with the ‘Bob-Cats’; then, when the next morning the place was bathed in sunshine, we motored over to the Camping Park, the holiday playground of the same sort of people who in England jostle one another on the sands of Margate, or Blackpool, or perhaps Ostende, after tumbling one over the other in over-full trains, tired even before they start on their way, hot and covered in dust, worried into irritability by tired and fretful children and by anxiety over numerous baskets and paper bags and finally finding a resting-place and tepid stewed tea with stale bread and margarine in a crowded lodging-house.

In the holiday Camping Park, in Alberta, there is nothing but quietude and peace; there are primitive but perfectly clean huts wherein to sleep in unfavourable weather. But on fine nights there is the most perfect sleeping accommodation heart of man can desire: its walls, the stately pine trees of the forest; its roof the star spangled sky; no crowd—for the Park is one of the largest in the world and there is room for everybody—no bustle, no worry with the children who have plenty of room to play about, or with catering, for holiday-makers bring their provisions with them on their bicycles and cook what they require on huge communal kitchen stoves.

We both kept on thinking of the sands at Margate or Southend, the nigger minstrels, the noise, the heat, the jaded nerves of harassed mothers, and full of enthusiasm for what we had seen in the Camping Park we determined to move heaven and earth (or what is more difficult, to move the British Government), into establishing such ideal holiday resorts in over-populated England. You think we could move them? Interest them in our enthusiastic description of the ideal holiday ground we had seen in Camping Park? Not a bit of it. We were told politely, but most firmly, that our ideas were all wrong. The English matron and the English family man want their seaside, their sands, their donkey-rides, pier and wholly inadequate shelters against the rain. As for sleeping in the open air by moonlight and under the stars . . . Ah, well! No doubt they are right and perhaps one day pioneers more eloquent than we were would succeed in bringing the English official mind to try an experiment in an ideal holiday ground.

* * * * * * * * * * *

How lovely is Lake Louise, and how beautiful the view from the hotel over the blue waters! (My heart did ache a year later when the hotel was burned down.) Everything in that part of Canada was unbelievably beautiful and no words of mine could possibly express the delight that filled my heart when we were driven to Lake Moraine and the Valley of the Peaks (what a romantic name!) to Yoho Camp and Falls, Whisky Jack, and Takakhaw Falls. Nature at her grandest and most romantic. Wapton Camp, where we were entertained by a charming English lady with a perfect Oxford accent, Miss Dodds, and were rowed across the lake by an undergraduate of Toronto University who acted as porter for our luggage. Oh! how I admire all these young men whom we met during these trips across country, students who, not being in a position to pay for all their studies in college or university, just set to earn what money they required for fees as well as for their living expenses; the stewards on board the Assiniboia, the waiters in the great hotels, the porters at railway stations, such fine fellows all of them, so plucky, so determined to attain that which they had mapped out for themselves, for their future as potential citizens of this grand young country. Work! work! so long as it was clean, scrubbing floors, or shouldering grips; God bless them and help them in their endeavour.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Emerald Lake (yet another romantic name) was lovely too; so was its delightful chalet—something between an hotel and a camp where there was a central house with bedrooms, kitchen, dining-room and club-room, and a few enchanting log huts with guest-rooms, bathrooms, and so on. We had one of these huts all to ourselves, two bedrooms and most luxurious bathroom. We only stayed there the one night as we were in a hurry to get to Glacier. As a matter of fact we had a scare re the latter place. We were told that the hotel was due to close on the 15th for the winter, whereas we were booked to arrive there on that very day. However, all was well, and we were made most welcome; the little hotel (it was a wooden one with the guest-rooms in more or less separate buildings) had been kept open specially for our arrival. There were flowers and fruit for us in our sitting-room, and oh! the view of snow-covered Mount Glacier which dominates the little town!

We stayed two days and nights in Glacier. The caretakers had already arrived for the winter season, three Swiss men who looked the part, sturdy mountaineers all three of them. Our first visitors were two darling bears. Yes, bears! Not the big Russian bears that haunt the Carpathians of my young days and the skin of one of which—nine and a half feet from nose to foot—adorns my dining-room in Monte Carlo, but dear little fellows the size of Himalayan bears, and so tame. They were padding out of the forest towards the porch of the hotel and we fed them with sugar which they took greedily from our hands.

We met Captain Russell who was (probably still is) the ‘boss’ of all the forests of British Columbia. He lives at Field and is English born, married to a Canadian wife from Victoria, and has been in the country for thirty-five years. Like all experts who know everything they are talking about he was most interesting on the subject of National Parks and of every branch of arboriculture, and he enlightened our ignorance about the taking up of crown land and the pegging out of claims for minerals and so on.

Presently the rain came down which was getting ready to turn into snow, but we got a good walk on both days and felt all the better for the invigorating mountain air and high altitude.

On the third day we took the train for Vancouver. Some of the Glacier Hotel staff travelled down also and we all had a splendid view of Albert Canyon, of Sicamous and Kemloops. We met some dear friends in Vancouver, Mr. and Mrs. Henshaw, who have a lovely very-English home in North Vancouver, and Mr. and Mrs. Rogers—he is ranger of Stanley Park—they have a very beautiful house and were most gracious and hospitable; they gave us a delicious lunch at the Country Club. How delightful and ‘homey’ are those Country Clubs! We got to know quite a number by now; every city of any importance has got one and there is something peculiarly attractive in the atmosphere of every one of them.

* * * * * * * * * * *

My dear husband and I both decided that only if . . . if . . . and if we were ten years younger and if . . . if . . . and if aviation had become a regular means of travelling from one end of the world to another, we would fly over to Victoria, British Columbia, and there spend two months out of every twenty-four at least! What nonsense! But Victoria is so lovely, the climate so perfect! the life? everything that is best in England and Southern France, and friends—the kindest friends all ready to welcome you. To start with there was the sea-trip across, past those picturesque islands and then the Empress Hotel . . . ! How can any traveller venture to extol the charms of the Hôtel de Paris in Monte Carlo, or any of the most noted hotels in Lucerne or Le Touquet if he has not enjoyed the beauty and homeliness of the Empress at Victoria, British Columbia, and experienced the kindness and attention of its manager, Mr. Wilson—such a perfect host (I wonder if he is still at his post?) Of course, Brentwood—the home of Mr. and Mrs. Butchart—with its enchanting gardens, is famous all over the world. Mr. Butchart drove us out there in his motor and we were royally entertained by those dear kind friends. Here we met Mr. Oliver, Premier of British Columbia, and we and other guests were taken by our host for a run in his motor-boat; the picturesque coast scenery and those lovely little islands, the colour, the atmosphere all contributed to our delight. We felt in a kind of enchantment.

* * * * * * * * * * *

It was in Victoria that I first had the honour of being asked to lunch, and to give an address at the Canadian Women’s Club. I had already, in London, heard from Sir George Maclaren Brown, the English manager of the C.P.R., something about these Women’s Clubs, but the one at Victoria was my first experience of them; here I first learned to appreciate Canadian women in their marvellous life of intellect and of activity; and this appreciation grew into real admiration. You cannot find anywhere, women more versatile, more competent in anything they give their mind to, either in their home or in their intellectual life. They are just as splendid in the quiet and efficient management of their home as they are in the conduct of any business they might be engaged in, or in any artistic or literary pursuit. Here’s to the women of Canada! My unqualified admiration to them, and may God bless them and give them joy and prosperity all the days of their life.

Well! I had the honour to meet three hundred of them at Victoria, British Columbia. The time after luncheon was fixed for my address to the members of the Club. There was rather an amusing incident when my husband who had been one of the guests at luncheon, accompanied me to the hall where my ‘talk’ was to take place. He was stopped at the gate and told quite politely but very firmly that gentlemen were not admitted into the hall. He tried to argue I know, but I did not hear the altercation—if there was one—for I had already been conducted to the platform and I could neither see nor hear what went on at the door, nor did I see my husband again during the time spent, first in my introduction to the audience by the chairman, Miss Agnew, who said far too kind things about me, then in my address, and finally in the usual votes of thanks. The audience was absolutely charming to me, about my work and about the address which they declared they had thoroughly enjoyed.

It was when the bulk of the audience had left and the hall was being cleared, that a dilapidated and very dusty black tie was picked up from the floor and held aloft by the finder who announced amid laughter and cheers: “See! all that is left of poor Mr. Barstow. He must have been torn limb from limb.”

The next day we had the pleasure of a visit from Mrs. Adams Beck (Mrs. Barrington), the distinguished Canadian author, whose The Divine Lady had delighted us all both in book form as a perfect historical romance and also as a film which, in my humble opinion, was admirably done.

In the evening we were present at a great dinner at which Mr. Beatty president of the C.P.R. Company was the guest of honour; we were very glad to meet him as well as Mr. Coleman, the vice-president, whose charming wife had been so very sweet to us ever since we first met her on our way to Banff. There were forty-two guests at the dinner; but it was all most intimé and friendly.

We left soon after 11 o’clock and got on board the S.S. Princess Louise on our way back to Vancouver.

The return journey across this glorious country which we had already learned to love and to admire had begun.

* * * * * * * * * * *

In Vancouver we were again the guests of those kind, hospitable friends, Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Rogers, who I am happy to say have remained our friends ever since, for they often came on a visit to Monte Carlo.

In the evening I was asked to address a meeting of the Canadian Women’s Club at Vancouver Hotel. It was another unforgettable occasion. There was a crowded hall of four hundred present, whose kindness and enthusiastic reception of me could never be surpassed, even in the case of far more distinguished persons than myself. The next day we were the guests of the Canadian Authors’ Club, where again I was asked to give an address which I did without repeating anything I had said the day before. The company drank our health in water and sang “For they are jolly good fellows”, with much lusty cheering to follow.

The next day we took train for Banff and struck snow just before Lake Louise. It seemed so strange after the warm sunny days of British Columbia. At Banff it was quite deep, and we were greeted at the station with many laughing “A Merry Christmas!” We were childishly glad to see the snow, it looked like the real Canada, and it was amusing to watch the girls bathing in the pool of the hot sulphur spring in the hotel garden being pelted with snowballs from the rising ground above.

Our second visit to Banff, with its luxurious Banff Springs Hotel, only made us love it more and more. Our first walk through the snow was to the Zoo to renew acquaintance with the darling ‘Bob Cats’.

Then the long train journey back to Winnipeg, where I had an exciting and very happy surprise. I had known before this that there was a considerable colony of Hungarians settled in the great middle plain of Canada. I remember Mr. Murray Gibbon telling me that though Canada did to a certain extent discourage immigration, she always welcomed Icelanders and Hungarians because the best agricultural labourers came from these two countries. The news of my odyssey across Canada had been very much spoken about in all the local newspapers and, when it reached the ears of the Hungarians in and around Winnipeg, a deputation of them came to meet me at the station. They met me with music—real Hungarian music—as the train steamed into the station and soon the music was drowned in cheers. To any Hungarian—more especially to those from the great plains where lie Tarna-Örs and Tisza-Abád, where most of these in Winnipeg came from, the name of Baroness Orczy the famous authoress is as much cherished as that of . . . what shall I say? . . . Bobbie Burns to the Scot, and I must say that the sight of all those fine fellows in their work-a-day clothes, with their music and their rough hands stretched out to grasp my hand gave me a choky little feeling in my throat.

Here, too, we were again the guests of the Honble. and Mrs. Rogers in their beautiful home, and at dinner that evening there was, among the guests, a Hungarian friend of theirs, Mr. Hódosy, whom we met again the following evening at a delightful dinner at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Andrews and their four lovely daughters. There were two Hungarian musicians on this occasion who discoursed sweet music during and after dinner. And presently they struck up a Csárdás, and at the request of our hostess and her guests, Mr. Hódosy and I took the floor and danced the national Hungarian dance. I was a little out of practice, I am afraid, as I had not danced the csárdás since that great evening in London when I had the honour of being partner to H.I.R.H. the ill-fated Archduke Rudolf of Austria. But the whole evening was delightfully informal and great fun.

The next day was the great day for me. The Canadian Women’s Club and the Authors’ Society had jointly organized a grand luncheon for me at the C.P.R. Hotel, at which I had promised to give an address. There were seven hundred and fifty guests. My address took an hour and a half and was voted a great success; I was often interrupted by cheers and laughter. All those present declared that it was one of the most spirited and amusing speeches they had ever heard. Mrs. Rogers was in the chair, and I sat next to Ralph Connor, the distinguished Canadian author of that ever popular romance The Sky Pilot. He and I laughingly decided that we would undertake a joint lecture tour one day in the United States. Neither of us, however, had the least idea of ever doing so.

* * * * * * * * * * *

After that happy event we had to face a day and two nights in the train on our way to Toronto. In spite of the beauty of the landscape, the comfort of our drawing-room car, and the kindness and attention bestowed on us in the dining-car, I felt very weary and never got a wink of sleep during those thirty-six hours.

But we were so kindly received by friends and well-wishers in Toronto that my heart warmed to that fine prosperous city as it had not done on the occasion of our first visit there. The Canadian Women’s Club gave us a most beautiful lunch. There were over five hundred guests, all women, with the exception of my husband (who was not excluded from the sacred hall on this occasion) and Dr. Locke. I had promised to give an address and this I did, and everyone seemed very happy and all were certainly most kind and loud in their praise and enthusiasm; the cheering when I finally sat down was loud and prolonged. I was happy on that occasion to have met Mrs. Fergusson, the wife of the Premier of Ontario, Lady Poynter, and so many other charming and distinguished ladies. In the evening we were entertained at dinner by Colonel and Mrs. Maclean; Colonel Maclean is, with Mrs. Tyrell, co-proprietor of Macleans Magazine. Mr. and Mrs. Tyrell were also at the dinner, so were Mr. and Mrs. MacKenzie—he being the editor of the magazine. It was an altogether charming dinner party.

I gave two more addresses while in Toronto, one at the Canadian Press Club, where I met Mrs. Steward of Stewart and McLellan, the publishers and agents for Messrs. Cassell & Co., and the other at the Riverside Technical School where I had a splendid reception and I shudder to think of the hundreds of copies of The Scarlet Pimpernel which I autographed on that occasion.

* * * * * * * * * * *

After a short leap over into the United States, where we spent three very happy days with Mr. and Mrs. McKay—he the owner of that fine American publication, The Spur—in their charming home, Stone Crest, New Windsor, we returned to Montreal and to the care of our munificent hosts the C.P.R. Company in the Place Viger Hotel. In spite of an awful cold, which descended upon me just when I least wanted it, I managed to keep my promise to lunch at Mount Royal Hotel where a number of ‘Publicity’ gentlemen gave us both a right royal welcome and were most appreciative of my short address which I delivered, first in English, and then in French. The P.E.N. Club also gave us a delightful dinner at the Ritz Carlton, where we met Lady Drummond. The Authors’ association joined up with the P.E.N. Club after dinner and I was asked to make a speech, which I did. It caused much delight.

The weather was lovely the next day and though my wretched cold was no better, I managed to put in a very full day. Lunch with Colonel and Mrs. Watkins, who very kindly took us on to the Ritz Hotel where I addressed the Women’s Press Club (there were only three men from McGill University present), and in the evening we dined with Mr. and Mrs. Beardmore in their beautiful English home on Pine, Mount Royal. Here we met Sir Robert Horne, so nice and gay, and looking exactly like the pictures of him in the English illustrated papers; also Sir Frederick Taylor, the jovial and distinguished head of the Montreal Bank, whom we often met subsequently in London.

The next day we went to Ottawa, where we met Lady Perley, the wife of Sir George Perley, M.P. for the Constituency of Argenteuil (Quebec) and until recently High Commissioner of Canada, and the Hon. M. Burrel who was so terribly injured when the Parliament Houses were destroyed by fire a few years previously. We were asked to lunch at the Canadian Women’s Club where I gave an address, as I did later in the day at the Author’s Association in the Café Daffodil, where my husband was again the only male creature present. This caused much amusement and I gave a lively address. We had a very gay time there. We dined with Sir George and Lady Perley, who were so charming to us; their daughter and her husband were of the party. I was very tired and was glad to get to bed early.

The day after that we had a very jolly lunch at the Golf Club, Hull (Quebec), after which we left for Montreal and Quebec.

We were very happy to see Hôtel Frontenac again and so many of our old C.P.R. friends. We again had the Royal suite, and as we arrived late in the evening we were glad to renew our impressions of all those wonderful historical associations which meet one at every turn outside and inside the town. The Rotary Club gave us a delightful lunch; there were some fifty or sixty guests present, mostly French-Canadians. I gave an address in French, and my darling husband who simply hates speaking in public was also called upon to make a speech—also in French, of course. The guests sang in chorus, a number of old French songs; it was very charming, and reminded us both of the old Harrow songs on prize-giving day.

The following day I was called upon to address the Canadian Women’s Club in the Ball Room of Hôtel Frontenac. Mrs. Power, president of the Club, asked me to speak in English, but somehow I wished she had not asked me to do this. I am equally at home in either language, and somehow I had the feeling that the English tongue was not so popular in Quebec as it might be. However, I naturally had to defer to the wishes of the President. There was a fairly large audience, but somehow I felt rather chilled from the first when I faced two or three very stolid faces, and realized that by speaking in English I was offending the French elements in the Club. I had the feeling that there was not the same whole-hearted loyalty as there had been in all those other Canadian Women’s Clubs throughout the country where the proceedings were always started with the lusty singing of the Canadian National Anthem, and invariably concluded with an equally lusty “God Save the King”.

And after that day, good-bye to beautiful, glorious Canada and the many, many friends we were lucky enough to make there, friends we can never forget. We saw several of them now and again in Monte Carlo or in London, but the remembrance of them all, of those splendid Canadian women and those fine, so noble, so ardent, so true young men, will remain with us always. We had a wonderful send off after a jolly luncheon party with the Hon. Frank and Mrs. Carrol. We missed dear Mr. Murray Gibbon at the last. He was detained on serious business; but Mr. Stoles of the C.P.R. gave us a farewell dinner and we drank to our next happy meeting in champagne; he came with us to Shed 18, where we had to wait for the steamer Montclare. I was presented with a beautiful basket of flowers from Mr. Beatty, the president of the C.P.R., for a friendly au revoir. While waiting for the steamer we saw the most magnificent Northern Lights; the local people who were standing there close to us declared that they had never seen finer ones. It was an enchanting sight.

* * * * * * * * * * *

We had a rough journey homewards on the Montclare. Heavy seas were our portion during the whole of the way, the waves breaking right over deck A, but as usual everything was done for our comfort by every employee of the C.P.R. Bless ’em! There were only one hundred and twenty first class passengers on board, among them a score or so of young Mormons from Utah; we were greatly interested in them, chiefly I think because just before we left England there had been a great deal of talk and some very unpleasant rumours anent the activities of the Mormon Community of Salt Lake City all over the country. Whether these were true or not I do not know; certain it is that a number of young women had been signalled to the police, about this time, as having left their homes for some destination unknown. Most of my readers will no doubt remember the trouble there was about these rumours and the many allusions made to it, both serious and sarcastic, in theatrical productions and music halls.

We saw very little of the young Mormon passengers on board the Montclare because they never put in an appearance in the dining-room whenever the sea was rough—much to the amusement of the dining-room staff. Whether they really were going to Europe for recruiting purposes we none of us knew.

Major General Sir Fabian Ware was on board: we felt so honoured and happy to meet him, he had done such wonderful patriotic work as Permanent Vice-Chairman of the Imperial War Graves Commission and was twice mentioned in despatches (1914-1918). His interest in the welfare of all seamen never slackened, nor did the help which he was always ready to extend to them ever fail. He gave the best part of his life to the cause he had so much at heart. At a concert given one evening on board the Montclare in aid of the Seamen’s Home in Liverpool, Sir Fabian took the chair and made an eloquent appeal for this greatly deserving charity. He honoured me (I felt it was an honour to be associated with him in this) by asking me to second his appeal, which I did although I must admit that the swaying of the ship was very unpleasant; there was a regular squall that evening. However, all went well and between us we collected £23 10s. 0d. for the Home, which was not bad considering that there were not more than a hundred cabin passengers (bar the Mormons who did not attend the concert) on board.

* * * * * * * * * * *

And so ‘good-bye’ dear, dear Canada! God bless and prosper you and your children always. And good-bye to our kind and generous hosts, the C.P.R. Company, who gave us the time of our lives and whose officials only saw the last of us at Euston after they had seen us safely installed, luggage and all, in a taxi. Generous and hospitable beyond what words can express: “May God bless and reward you,” will be my constant prayer, for I can do no more than say “Thank you,” with all my heart.

Chapter 29

After our happy time in Canada came the happy days in Padula. It was a lovely home in one of the most beautiful spots on earth. Le Bon Dieu a créé la terre, il a sculpté l’ Italie (God created the world: he sculptured Italy); the old saying was never more truly justified than in the case of this exquisite part of Piedmont with the snow-white heights of Carrara on the one side and the blue Gulf of Spezzia on the other, the little bay of Lerici down below, the old castle on the rock, the lateen-sailed little fishing boats like golden butterflies with wings outspread skimming the placid waters; no wonder the poetic soul of Shelley sought this heaven-moulded place wherein to dream and to rest.

We loved our Padula . . . we loved it all along, even when we began to realize that life in Italy was not what we had hoped it would be; not what so many of our Italophile pro-fascist English friends had so confidently predicted for us. Yes! we did love our Padula. The villa was homely and comfortable, the garden and the views dreams of beauty. My small household—all Italian except for my English maid—were seemingly happy and devoted; and very soon I had the pleasant surprise to find that in Italy my work was almost as popular as in England. On one occasion, going to lunch with a friend in Florence, I was amazed when the Italian butler made me a profound bow and said: “I salute the author of La Primula Rossa (the title under which The Scarlet Pimpernel is known in Italy), and a prominent officer of the fascist militia told me that my Pimpernel books had roused the enthusiasm of the young ‘black-shirts’, who looked upon Sir Percy Blakeney as their ideal hero.

For the next six years after the completion of the villa we mapped out our time by spending the autumn and spring in La Padula in perfect quietude, the summer with dear friends in England, and only two or three hectic months in Monte Carlo. Dear little Villa Bijou! Thank God we were never seriously tempted to sell it, although the offers we had for it at different times were sometimes verging on the fantastic. There was a regular ‘ramp’ during these years for house and landed estate in the Principality of Monaco, with its easy laws and light taxation, and Villa Bijou was considered a unique property with its pretty garden and its situation in the very centre of Monte Carlo; strangely enough whenever an offer for its sale appeared more than usually tempting, there always seemed to be something, some unseen force that held us back and warned us not to sell. And Villa Bijou remained our beloved home for the time being. As a matter of fact it was not in the peaceful and poetic atmosphere of La Padula that I did my best work at this time, but rather amidst the hectic surroundings of social life in Monte Carlo. Wasn’t it George Gissing who said, in his New Grub Street, that an author is never at his best in the tranquil air of the countryside, but rather in the turmoil of a back street in suburban London, with the blare of a barrel-organ coming to him through his open window and the tramp of his fellow-lodger on the top floor over his head?

I have never tried the latter environment, but I see what poor dear Gissing meant. The effort of concentrating is the breath of life to imagination and good work. Many a pleasant talk did I have on the subject with my dear, unforgettable friend, W. J. Lock, some of whose finest and most poetic work was done in Cannes, where the exigencies of social life were even more strenuous than in Monte Carlo.

* * * * * * * * * * *

All the same, the years which we thus spent partly in Monte Carlo and partly in Padula were very happy ones. We were both of us very hard at work during those years and I believe that some of my best work was done at that time. It is universally said that an author is never a good judge of his own work, but The Scarlet Pimpernel aside, I venture to think that A Spy of Napoleon, The Uncrowned King, and especially No Greater Love, were three romances as interesting as any I had written before. A Spy of Napoleon was considered to be one of the great successes achieved by an entirely English film company. It was produced by the Twickenham Film Studios at St. Margaret’s Middlesex.

It was also about this time that I made a short, but as it happened, a very successful plunge into historical biography. This was with The Turbulent Duchess, the life story of H.R.H. Marie Caroline Duchesse de Berri, the daughter-in-law of Charles X, the last King of France. My first thought had been to weave a romance round those troublous and convulsive times, so near really to our own, which witnessed the final and irrevocable downfall of the Bourbon dynasty. But soon I came to the conclusion that this woman’s life was so romantic and so picturesque, her character and her actions so far beyond anything that imagination could conceive, that I just thrust imagination into the background and stuck to facts and nothing but facts. I simply revelled in the writing of The Turbulent Duchess and, in putting together for my purpose those various incidents of her life which were so exciting and so colourful, I tried to keep the biography as light and as entertaining as I could, but this was not very difficult considering the wonderful material at my command. After a most successful period of publication the book was taken over by the Foyle Book Club, and it has been translated into almost every European tongue.

I have so often been asked to write another historical biography on the same lines as The Turbulent Duchess, but somehow I have never been able to find another subject that fascinated me as did the Duchesse de Berri and her madcap adventures and vagaries.

Needless to say my beloved Scarlet Pimpernel was not allowed to rest idly during this time in the arms of his beautiful Marguerite. He had to be up and doing; my dear loyal readers demanded to know something more of his adventures and I naturally felt that I must in gratitude satisfy them; and so, during one peaceful autumn in Padula, I wrote Sir Percy Hits Back. This was the sixth long romance dealing with my hero’s adventures, not counting two volumes of short stories originally published in magazines. Those dear, kind readers! How I loved and blessed them; they never seemed to tire of him or of me: nor did the theatre-going public. Over a quarter of a century had passed away since first he made his bow in the New Theatre, London, and hardly a year goes by even now without a revival of the play in London, or a tour in the large provincial towns.

I rather enjoyed the writing of A Child of the Revolution which was published in 1932. It was a question of looking from the inside at the gigantic cataclysm that devastated France and swept away some of her oldest and most cherished institutions, seeing it, I mean, from the point of view of the many intellectuals who felt that nothing short of a complete overthrow of every one of her time-worn traditions would make France, great once more, able to take her place among the cultured and progressive nations of the world. Writing that book, after serious and concentrated study of the works of one or two of the great revolutionaries of the period, was one of the most interesting pieces of work I ever set myself to do. (The Way of the Scarlet Pimpernel, from the opposite point of view, followed in the next year as a matter of course, and Sir Percy Leads the Band three years later.)

It was also in the middle of one of the most brilliant seasons in Monte Carlo that I decided to verify certain facts to be embodied in a book I was engaged on at the time: Pimpernel and Rosemary. This involved a visit to Transylvania. Transylvania was then occupied by Roumania at the command of Adolf Hitler, and my book dealt with that distressful period in Hungarian history. While passing through Budapest I became acquainted—through the intervention of my mother’s solicitor, Dr. Tolday—with an elderly Russian, a refugee from the recently consolidated U.S.S.R., who had been the staroshka of his own village (a staroshka is something rather more important than a mayor in a Russian community) a well-educated man of obvious integrity. He had often been in Hungary, spoke Hungarian quite fluently, and was well-acquainted with my literary work which he declared had given him great delight, especially everything connected with the Scarlet Pimpernel. He had fallen on evil days, it seems, had been dispossessed of his functions, and his property had been confiscated. It was not difficult to guess on which political side his sympathies tended. I was interested in the man directly I saw him. I felt that there was something mystical about him. He had the blue-grey eyes peculiar to Northerners, who gaze out over and beyond ice-covered immensities and there see things on the far distant horizon which are not revealed to those who have darker eyes, and whose range of vision is circumscribed by Nature’s boundaries. Whenever I talked with him I felt that there was something on his mind which he wanted to impart to me. Those blue-grey eyes of his would be fixed on something that was very far away, beyond the peaks of the Carpathians. He was looking through the forests of pine and through the rocky heights at something that lay beyond.

I met him again at the lawyer’s office, where we were both waiting for our interview, when quite without arrière pensée I happened to say something about the late Tsar and the terrible fate which had befallen him and his family, and Dr. Tolday put in with a sigh: “Ah! if there had been a Scarlet Pimpernel then! . . .” Nothing more was said at the time, but the next morning I had a telephone call from Dr. Tolday asking me if I would graciously receive his friend the staroshka, who greatly desired an interview with me. I acquiesced without hesitation. Little did I guess what I was destined to hear from the lips of my mystical friend.

He came accompanied by a boy, obviously of the moujik class, a boy with those same Northern grey-blue eyes and the same air of mysticism as himself, and from the lips of those two there was poured into my ears a story so extraordinary that it seemed at first as incredible as it was stupendous.

At first . . . but I listened mute and enthralled. All I can say is that to the best of my belief every event retold to me that day by the old staroshka is absolutely true. The whole story was confirmed by the young moujik who had played a not unimportant part in some of those events. I only wish some of my readers could have heard the story as it was told to me. Every word the young peasant spoke bore the impress of truth, and one felt that he could not possibly have invented the whole thing, and given the multiplicity of detail which could only have been gathered together from positive knowledge.

I will leave it at that.

Into the Russian background of this amazing story I interwove a romance after my own heart, but No Greater Love was not ready for publication until 1938, and by that time so many things had happened—so many were happening every day that I could not help feeling that perhaps this would be the last book I would ever offer to my beloved public. I chose the title because of its obvious application:

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

Chapter 30

Thinking at this moment of the past, and of those few years in La Padula, I find it difficult to recollect at what precise moment a vague fear that all was not well with Italy and her future took on a definite shape in our minds. Steeped as we both were in our work, absorbed in our art, we had never allowed our minds to dwell on matters outside that inner world of happiness and romance which for us was a paradise on this earth. And turning over the leaves of old diaries I do not find in them, during those first years in Padula, any reference to those vague fears which gradually became more insistent: which slowly but surely refused to be suppressed. Gradually at first. Slowly but surely.

Neither of us had ever been ardent admirers of Benito Mussolini, as were so many of our English friends; we never joined in the chorus so often raised in London social circles at that time, especially during the period of the Great Unrest as it was called, which culminated in the General Strike of 1926. “Oh! if we only had a Mussolini in England!” Mussolini, we were told (and at first could not help but admit), had brought order out of chaos in post-war Italy; he had built up a strong, well-disciplined nation out of unrestrained bands of terrorists and bandits. There was work for everybody now; the standards of life had been substantially raised; organizations like Dopo Lavore looked to the comfort and relaxation of workers. All this was explained to us and enlarged upon by Italian friends in every walk of life, and if down in our village and among our outdoor staff we sometimes heard queer mutterings, quickly suppressed, we did not pay much attention to these, well-knowing that in this new Italy free expression of opinion was severely punished. One could not help knowing that much. The March on Rome with the suppression of political violence, and the ridiculous but effective forcible administration of overdoses of castor oil was still fresh in the people’s minds.

Our own grumblings were not of great importance . . . at first. We kept them to ourselves, anyway. We had officially received the promise that in accordance with Mussolini’s own decree any house built from the ground and completed before 1927 would be free of taxation for twenty-five years. Houses were badly needed, and we had built one and with the garden contributed in no small measure to the beauty of the landscape. In 1926, however, tax-papers demanding payment began to pour in. We protested against this breach of faith, basing our protest on Mussolini’s decree and were told that the decree only applied to house-tax but that there was tax on the land, there was the focatico or family tax—whatever that may mean—there were taxes on olive trees, tax on the containing wall between our property and the mainroad, all of which we had to pay. There was nothing for it but to pay and look pleasant; so that was that.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The ‘Duce’ had also in the meanwhile enacted certain laws for the protection of workers which hit some of our English friends who had settled down in Italy very hard: they hit us also in a lesser degree. No employer of labour (including domestic servants) was allowed to dismiss an employee without certain compensations—besides the usual month’s notice which included one month’s wages for every year of service—to this, in the case of outdoor servants, there was compensation for house, light, and fuel. It all seemed perfectly fair on the face of it; nothing to grumble at; I only mention it because of the curious fatality that overtook some English friends of ours domiciled in Italy who happened to inherit from a relative some real estate in the neighbourhood of Florence and a small legacy. The deceased had employed an overseer on her property for the past thirty years at a salary of 1,000 lire per month. His services after her death would no longer be required; but in her will she left this man the sum of 30,000 lire—about £2,000 at the then rate of exchange. I forget what was the value of the whole estate bequeathed to our friends, something quite small I know—but not only was the 30,000 lire deducted first and foremost from the residue—which was right and proper—but as the testatrix had not stated explicitly that that amount was in compensation for the man’s dismissal, our friends were made to pay him the legal compensation over and above the 30,000 lire bequeathed to him, namely one month’s wages for every year of service; this, with the bonus for house rent, light, and fuel, came to another 45,000 lire. So there was very little, if anything, left of our friend’s inheritance; the overseer had got the bulk of it. This was just a typical case.

The law, as I say, did not hit us very hard. Our household was small and we had not been employers of labour in the country very long; but the power it gave to one’s paid servants to do whatever they jolly well pleased is pretty obvious. If your servant was dissatisfied with his place, or simply desired a change, all he had to do was to make himself unpleasant. He was not going to hand in his notice to quit. Not he; for if he did there would be no compensation for him in the way of one month’s wages for every year, together with bonus for house rent, fuel, lighting and I know not what. All he need do was to shirk work, to be as lazy, as dishonest even as he jolly well liked, until in sheer exasperation you sent him packing and paid whatever extortionate demands he chose to make upon you. If you were fool enough to go to law about the matter . . . well! the law was always on the side of the impiegato as against the principal, the employee as against the employer. But there! We were so happy in so many ways, so what did all these pin-pricks matter? And we had such kind and helpful friends in the British Vice-Consul, Mr. G. Stafford, and his family. Many a happy day did we spend with them either at Padula or in their charming apartment in the Vaile Mazzini in Spezia, and Mr. Stafford and his son were always ready to stand between us and the exactions of a tyrannical and Anglo-phobe podesta. The whole family spoke Italian like natives; the three sons had been educated in Italy, and to one of them who had a literary turn of mind I gave license to translate some of my books into Italian.

* * * * * * * * * * *

It was during the autumn of 1930 that we first became unpleasantly aware of a certain change in the atmosphere of our small establishment. We had passed a delightful summer in different parts of Europe; we had spent a little time in Rome, then in Cadenabia, and with friends in Sardinia. We had motored through Germany and witnessed the Passion Play in Oberammergau (which, by the way, had been curiously disappointing), having left our Padula household perfectly happy and contented as we thought. But when we came back there was a change . . . an indefinable change . . . outdoor men were grumbling and muttering louder than was usual. The gardener complained that his underlings wouldn’t do any work; the underlings that they were being overworked and so on. Our Italian chauffeur was called up for a month’s supplementary military service; we engaged another, highly recommended by the podesta and well-known to the local authorities. He was an excellent chauffeur, splendid mechanic, but . . . It was only when he had been duly installed in his cottage with wife and family that he made us understand that he belonged to the Fascist militia, and that there were certain obligations to which he would have to submit when called upon for service by his superiors. He wore a black shirt and various ribbons and decorations in proof that he stood high in the Fascist organization.

Well! that again seemed a small matter. We didn’t like the idea of having a ‘black shirt’ in our service very much but there it was. . . . But somehow there was a change. After this advent in La Padula it spread from the outdoor to our indoor staff; and all through that autumn the change became more definite, not exactly alarming, but certainly disturbing to our placid peace-loving minds. It was in the attitude of the female servants that the change was most apparent. They had been so happy together before, apparently so devoted to us and to their work. The atmosphere of La Padula had been entirely cheerful and so very friendly: they were dear, merry, unsophisticated creatures all of them; always laughing, ready to do anything to please us or each other. And now everything was different; an atmosphere of suspicion and of fear had found its ugly way into the house. One could not help noticing it, especially when the chauffeur was about. They followed his movements with anxious eyes. They whispered in corners and suddenly dispersed at sound of his footsteps. There was no getting away from it, they were frightened of him. My English maid was of course out of all this, but she, too, was aware of the change. “You see,” she said to me, “Ayella’s brother was killed by the Fascists . . . that awful castor oil killed him . . . he was delicate. There is a black mark against her, she thinks, and she is afraid.”

I, of course, got to hate that atmosphere of terror, those whisperings, those furtive glances over the shoulders. And no one dared to say anything. It all got on my nerves and my dear husband had much ado to keep me calm and my mind free for my work. This was the time when an unsuccessful attempt was made in Genoa on Mussolini’s life. A pistol shot out of a crowd assembled to listen to one of his harangues, just grazed his nose and took a chip off it. The perpetrator was not caught, but it was generally affirmed that it was a woman. Some said an English woman. Certain it is that during the night the body of a woman was discovered on the permanent way in one of the tunnels between Genoa and Spezia. It was said that this woman was English, but no attempt was ever made to identify her.

* * * * * * * * * * *

There was no longer any doubt that the Fascist régime as carried on in Italy was not one that could appeal to peace-loving liberal-minded English residents. It had become a reign or terror, comparable only to the Terror in the days of Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety during the French Revolution. It was the same system of espionage, of denunciations often based on nothing but private spite or revenge. Wholesale arrests of men and women one had known as quiet citizens who had always kept apart from political discussions or any kind of political organizations were followed by deportation to the Lipari Islands where all trace of them, as far as their families were concerned, effectually disappeared. A reign of terror indeed! No! oh no! we could not stand it for long. We, as foreigners, were not in danger of course. Not at the moment; and it was not for ourselves or perhaps for my English maid that we were afraid, but it soon became evident that in a way every Italian subject was in danger, and we had a dear devoted Italian chef who had been with us for over twelve years and had been several times in England with us; he did not wear a black shirt, was not member of any Fascist organization, nor did he ever enter into any political discussion with the tradespeople in Lerici; but he was in danger and he knew it. And we knew it, too; and the danger was aggravated—one could not help knowing it—time after time whenever a meeting between the two dictators Mussolini and Hitler met at Berchtesgaden, Mussolini was taking his cue—his orders, I should say—from Hitler. With the exception of ruthless persecution of the Jews (there were never many Jews in Italy) the dictatorship in Italy was exactly the same as that in Germany.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Nevertheless, in England the Fascist Régime had still a number of admirers who would gladly have exchanged good old Baldwin for a Mussolini. I remember one summer when we were in London, seeing a procession a mile long wending its way through the streets and into Hyde Park. They were the English Fascists, with banners flying and the name of Oswald Mosley was loudly cheered.

But for us the time had come to realize definitely that our beloved Padula had been the great mistake of our life. We had had some lovely times there. The autumns when avenues of blue hydrangea and crimson oleander were in full bloom, the springs when copses of olive trees were carpeted with violets and Roman hyacinths, and at evening when the glow of fireflies scintillated against the velvety darkness of shrubberies were indescribably beautiful. Nature was indeed exquisite. Only man was vile. The ambition and self-love of one man had transformed a gentle unsophisticated nation into a churlish, spiteful lot of sneaks—that’s what they were—afraid to open their mouths, afraid of their own shadows.

Never had I dreamed that the day would come when we would be thankful—both of us—to get rid of what was going to be such a peaceful little refuge from the social duties of Monte Carlo, the inevitable interruptions from work. Yet, so it was. In ’33 we were lucky enough to get a good offer for La Padula. We took it gladly. Tearfully we took leave of that lovely corner of God’s earth: of Lerici and its tranquil little bay; of the fleet of fishing boats with their golden sails; of the old romantic castle and the distant Carrara heights gleaming white against the translucent azure of the sky. Farewell to Italy—which we were destined never to see again—and a sad farewell to our dear, kind friends, Vice-Consul Stafford and his charming family, who had helped to make our sojourn in Italy a thing of unfading happy memories.

Chapter 31

I ‘carried on’ with my literary work and with my books. The Divine Folly and No Greater Love (the true and mysterious Russian romance I have spoken of before) were published during the few last years before the war, also a ‘Pimpernel’ book, Sir Percy Leads the Band, a rather gay and happy account of one of my hero’s most successful adventures. The last years of that decade were otherwise quite uneventful. Social life in Monte Carlo was much too hectic for our taste and we withdrew from it as much as we possibly could without giving offence. All the same we enjoyed the visit into the Baie des Anges of H.M.S. Devonshire, and we had the pleasure of entertaining her officers and her men in the Villa Bijou. This was in March ’39. During that year I wrote the bulk of my ‘positively the last Pimpernel book’: Mam’zelle Guillotine, of which more anon. This was published in 1940.

I must confess in all humility that, just as in 1913 and ’14 we two, who were so deeply absorbed in our work and so happy in our home life, never saw the terrifying clouds that were gathering over the entire civilized world. I suppose you would call it utterly stupid and childish, but as a matter of fact we foresaw nothing. We may take it that we believed in the might of the British Empire to keep at bay the snarlings of the ravenous beasts who threatened the peace and freedom of the world, and whenever we thought seriously on the matter of their unveiled threats and arrogant demands, it was with a feeling of confidence in the power of the great British Commonwealth of Nations to see that justice was done to those who were too weak to defend themselves against unwarrantable aggression. Yes! we were among those—unsophisticated perhaps and childish—who had faith that right always makes might and that our beloved country would do her duty as she understands it.

There were many who thought as we did. The world had hardly got over the horrors of 1914-1918; was it likely that any nation would be insane enough to throw herself into another conflict, more devastating than anything that had gone before? That was what we and so many of us felt. In ’37, ’38, and ’39 we spent our usual happy summer in England with dear friends in Norfolk, in Bucks, in Lincoln, in Scotland.

As in England, the feeling of educated classes in France was strong against Mussolini’s unwarranted aggression on Ethiopia. I think, however, that this was more because every action of Italy and its dictator was ipso facto denounced as criminal—against all the dictates of humanity, than because of any sympathy with the cause of the Emperor Haile Sailassé and his people. Here in Monte Carlo the opinion of my English friends varied in accordance with their political creed, die-hard conservatives and the obstinate admirers of Mussolini. (“If only we could have a Mussolini in England!” as some of them continued to ejaculate) and especially retired army men of high rank raked up all the old stories of slavery, of tyranny and of torture prevalent at the time of Roger Casement’s anti-slavery campaign in the Belgian Congo. I had several letters from English friends who were enthusiastic Mussolini-ites, giving me proofs of Haile Sailassé’s crimes against humanity and those of his myrmidons. Though some of these were undoubtedly exaggerated, they were probably true, but two wrongs will never make a right, and Mussolini and Co. could easily have found another way of gradually civilizing those wretched Ethiopians than by devastating their homes and enslaving their race.

My French friends, on the other hand, shrugged their shoulders, made sarcastic remarks about Wilson and the League of Nations, and dismissed the Ethiopians from their thoughts. They were far too troubled about their own socialistic government, about Monsieur Blum, Monsieur Daladier & Co. to bother about any exotic Emperor and his reverses.

Presently, however, the Czecho-Slovak question and, later the Polish one began to loom menacingly on the political horizon and there were unpleasant rumours of probable German aggression . . . of likely conflict . . . of French and British intervention . . . of war in fact . . . and there was Austria . . . and the murder of Schussnig . . . and many other rumours, all tending one way, the likelihood, nay! the imminence of another European war, with France and Great Britain in the forefront of a fight for justice and the liberty of nations and the final destruction of German militarism and tyranny.

One’s French friends no longer shrugged their shoulders, nor did they dismiss Czecho-Slovakia and Poland and Austria from their thoughts as they had done in the case of Ethiopia. For them it was nearer home this time. It was Europe. But anyhow France, they declared, was not afraid. She was ready (as she had been in 1870) to the last button on her fantassins’ uniforms; even though the educated classes mistrusted their socialist government profoundly, they had their unwavering belief and trust in their magnificent unbeatable army and in their wonderful Maginot line, the indestructible barrier that guarded their frontier against the hordes of Hun aggressors.

No! France was not afraid, but she was anxious. Great Britain and Italy were her Allies. She was angry with Great Britain for the leniency with which she had insisted that Germany should be treated and for the economic help which she had extended to her after the Treaty of Versailles.

Chapter 32

On our return from our usual holiday in England in September, 1938, we found Monte Carlo in a state resembling panic. Italians of the working class, always in the majority in Monaco, were dreading and expecting that they would be called to the colours (which they didn’t mean to obey) and anyhow turned out of the Principality and sent back to their own country which to so many who had not yet vowed allegiance to the Fascist régime was equivalent to a sentence of solitary confinement in the penal settlement of the Lipari Islands, or even of death. They ran about the place from house to house, from villas to apartments and hotels clamouring for what money was due to them for work done in the past. Some of them, middle-aged men in a good way of business or in good positions, were quite ‘dithery’. Men-servants, charwomen, and femmes de chambre left hastily in a state of terror, ignoring notice and even wages and went off somewhere, I know not where, mostly to the Pyrenees and the Basque country, I believe. The trains were crowded with members of religious communities, nuns and monks fleeing to Spain. Spain and Portugal had, in fact, become the great objectives whence England might be reached by aeroplane (dear, hospitable England!). We all thought that those who ran away so helter-skelter were very silly and we wondered whether England would be willing to shelter the entire fleeing population of Europe.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Then came the great day when Neville Chamberlain made his noble and great effort for peace by journeying over to Berchtesgaden to interview Adolph Hitler. Here in this small Principality, with its proclaimed neutrality, and its adherence to ‘unconquerable’ France, Chamberlain was the hero of the hour, as Sir Edward Grey had been in 1914. They were the apostles of peace, and Great Britain as always, the protector of the rights of the entire civilized world. Peace? Well, of course nothing but peace could come—everyone was certain sure of that—of this friendly meeting between two sensible statesmen who were bound to come to an understanding as soon as they meet and could talk over those matters which after all were only a question of misunderstandings between two great nations, both desiring that justice, truth, and right should prevail. When Chamberlain returned to England, everybody in France was convinced that he carried a Treaty of Peace between Germany and Great Britain in his pocket.

It is rather amusing to remember that a memorial to Neville Chamberlain, expressing gratitude for his strenuous efforts toward peace by going personally to confer with Hitler at Berchtesgaden, was got up in Monte Carlo on the initiative of my Italian chef. It was signed by all the employees of whatever nationality, who were in the service of English and American residents and visitors and it was sent to the British Prime Minister, who sent a charming letter of acknowledgment.

Long before this, however, relations between France and Italy had been very strained. I don’t mean politically and diplomatically—possibly not; as I say the French did not worry much over the Ethiopians, and more bitter of late, not so much among educated people and the better classes, but it was very marked in the case of workpeople, where Italians are always in the majority in the Principality. The French looked upon the Italians with undisguised scorn. Ces Italiens was as much a term of contempt as ces vagabonds or ces vauriens. There was more than one instance, to my own knowledge, of French workmen refusing to work in our villa because we had several Italian servants in the house, and all of us English residents were ‘advised’, not to say ordered, by the local authorities to dismiss our Italian employees. However, we at the Villa Bijou did nothing of the sort. Like so many others we never anticipated that Italy would turn against her former allies.

In ’39 we went to England as usual, intending to end our summer holiday at Aix-les-Bains, which we did; and here we were when Great Britain and France declared war on Germany over the Polish question just as both nations did in 1914 over the Belgian one. Even before this ominous day the peaceful little holiday resort had prepared itself for the coming conflict. All the hotels, with the exception of one or two were commandeered and fitted up as hospitals. Street lamps were being ‘camouflaged’ for future black-out. The kind and considerate manager of Barclay’s Bank, Monsieur Cascon, advised us not to deposit our ready money in the bank but to keep it by us as a moratorium was threatened, but he promised to cash our cheques on Monte Carlo, Monaco being nominally pays neutre. (We certainly hoped that this would be so, but . . .)

The government had already commandeered a number of cars and chauffeurs for transport. A day or two later telegrams and telephones were only allowed on official business, and in the evening we ‘enjoyed’ our first ‘black-out’. There was gorgeous moonlight over the lake: but all lights had to be out by 10:30 by order of the police, so we all went to bed by moonlight.

My Jack (then at work in Lausanne) was called up, and he, with his wife and children, came to Aix to see us on their way to England. He was, of course, in the reserve of officers.

The next two days saw the hounds of war unleashed—troops of chasseurs Alpins marching towards the frontier and Aix on a regular war footing. No more English papers or letters, and on the 5th we had our first air-raid alerte at 3 a.m. The ‘all clear’ sirens went an hour later. Many visitors had already left, though a number of our friends were still here. We, of course, wanted to get home to Monte Carlo as soon as possible, but the difficulties of travelling had become very acute. Trains were overcrowded, the services drastically curtailed, and we had no car. When we sold Padula we also got rid of our Italian car since we were not allowed to bring our Fascist chauffeur into France, and there was every likelihood of the car being confiscated at the frontier. As a matter of fact we had intended to buy a small French car and engage a French chauffeur in Monte Carlo. But somehow we never did. Time seemed to fly away so rapidly, and we were so hard at work that we hardly ever went outside Monte Carlo where it was so easy just to hire a car whenever we wanted one. Now we wished we had not been so thoughtless, for to hire a car to take us from Aix to Monte Carlo was not only difficult, it was terribly expensive. However, it had to be done and we finally got home in October. Lyons, and one or two other localities which we passed on the way, had already suffered enemy bombardments.

In Monte Carlo most of our friends were preparing to return to England as soon as possible. Many had the fond belief that our government would send a ship to convey us all back to where we wanted to go; and our American friends had the same faith in their own government. But nothing of the sort had happened yet. There was general talk of compulsory evacuation of the entire Mediterranean coast, including Monaco of course, though the small Principality stood firmly on the ground of its status of proclaimed neutrality. A few went so far as to hire a car to take them to Portugal, with the intention of continuing their journey homeward by ’plane. But cars were few and prices ruinous, and so the autumn and winter months went by in conditions of nervous anxiety for many and of grave anxiety of another sort for me.

My beloved husband’s ill-health had taken a more serious turn. Three doctors in consultation declared that an operation was imperative. As a long and complicated journey to England was out of the question, they advised Switzerland, and the eminent specialist, Niehans, at Clarens near Montreux. Thither we went in April, 1940, and returned in the beginning of June of that fateful year. Travelling, though very long and wearisome for an invalid, was not otherwise difficult, as far as papers and formalities on the frontier were concerned. We were going into a part of Switzerland that was whole-heartedly French in sentiment and pro-English. The Gazette de Lausanne and Journal de Genève published daily glowing accounts of the doings of our Air Force. ”Vous verrez,” doctors and nurses often said to me, ”ce sera votre R.A.F. qui gagnera la guerre.” We know now how right was that prophecy.

* * * * * * * * * * *

On our return to Monte Carlo we found the bulk of the English and American colony in a state of feverish activity. To get away from here, to get back to England somehow, but above all to get away from this coast which would be evacuated—must be evacuated—to the last man before the R.A.F. had done its work of terror and destruction. That was what everybody thought . . . and most of them feared. Forcible evacuation and internment camps for English men, women, and children was the bugbear.

Two days after our arrival here the blow fell. Italy stabbed her old allies in the back. She declared war on England and France. Now there was real panic in Monte Carlo. I wish our British colony had shown up a little better on this occasion, but I must reluctantly admit that they did not. Men of British nationality in good positions at home or those who were in official or semi-official positions in the Principality did not set a good example of quietude nor were they in any way helpful to the helpless and the weak. I daresay that they were worried to death by the crowds of panic-stricken old ladies (of both sexes) who literally besieged them in their homes and in their offices, asking for help and advice, but they themselves were just as scared as those who invaded their privacy and such advice as they gave was non-committal and varied from day to day. Sometimes they would say: “Go! by any means you can command, but go as soon as you can my train, by bus, lorry, anything . . .” At others they would be more cautious: “Don’t be in a hurry. Wait and see what happens.” As a matter of fact they knew no more than did the rest of the terrorized alien population and they had themselves to think of first and foremost . . . of themselves and their families . . . the days of altruism no longer existed; every man for himself was the order of the day. Never shall I forget the day, when walking along the bridge opposite Monaco railway station, I saw a crowd of close on a thousand men and women amongst whom were several nuns, monks and priests and a number of workmen, old ladies of English and other nationalities, charwomen and so on, all pushing and jostling outside the door of the booking office.

As for the two of us and our devoted and loyal English maid, we kept quite calm in the midst of all this turmoil. There was no definite news of any English ship being sent by our Government to take us away from this danger zone, but even if there were my beloved husband—hardly yet recovered from a serious operation—could not have borne the voyage at all; the doctors both in Switzerland, and that brilliant diagnostician, Dr. Van Tricht, said the one word “Impossible”. So we just remained quietly at the Villa Bijou, hoping that the evacuation order if it ever touched the Principality would spare us if only because of my husband’s state of health and because of his age.

Well! the evacuation order did come. Was it a blunder on the part of some minor official or a desire on the part of local bigwigs to get rid of all ‘enemy aliens’, or merely a misunderstanding as between the Sovereign Prince and his ministers? I know not. Anyway, the order was promulgated for all except the members of the defense passive, which meant doctors, certificated nurses and able-bodied stretcher-bearers—and with the exception of course of all Monégasques who desired to remain in their homes; there are about 10,000 born Monégasques who can claim to be enfants du pays (i.e. of Monégasque parentage for four generations).

And so that was that. Already the bulk of English and American residents and visitors had left Monte Carlo. Some had gone to Portugal by train or car, there to await the possibility of getting to England or America by ’plane—others were content to get as far as Cannes where there was no talk of evacuation as yet, and where official or semi-official rumour had it that a British ship was due to arrive in the harbour and take all British nationals to England. The forcible evacuation of Monaco appeared as an official order and everybody whom it touched had to go. Italy had declared war on France, stabbing her old ally in the back, at the moment when the Germans had broken the Maginot Line. Already—it was definitely asserted—the Italians were marching on Mentone. Nice was evidently their objective; they had always coveted it and claimed it as their inalienable right—as they did Savoy—and the poor little Principality of Monaco was the only way through which their army could pass to reach that objective.

Our Italian chef who had served us so faithfully and devotedly for twenty years, who never took part or even mere interest in politics was arrested by the French police without any warning, in just what he stood up in, and with the pistol of a gendarme held against his side, he was brutalized as if he were a criminal. We tried to get in touch with the Monégasque authorities: the Minister of State was a personal friend, the Sovereign Prince had often dined with us and spent many a happy evening in the Villa Bijou, but apparently there was nothing doing. Nobody wanted to interfere. All that we gained was an assurance that we would be kept au fait as to the place where our faithful servant would be interned, and that presently we would be allowed to send him his clothes and parcels of various comforts. We had really no ground for complaint. Italy was, by her own initiative, at war with France, and the internment of Italian nationals was in accordance with the usages of civilized warfare.

And the evacuation was still in force. What could we do but obey as quietly as we could this order against which seemingly there was no appeal. Pets could not for the most part be left behind and separation from them were some of the saddest moments on this day of anxiety and sorrow. (Many of them were sent to the vet to be quietly put to sleep.) Through the activity and kindness of a Monégasque shopkeeper with whom we had dealt for years we were able to hire a car to take us to Cannes. If the eagerly awaited British cruiser did come, and there was such accommodation on her as would make it possible for a very sick man to travel on her . . . well! . . . perhaps . . . perhaps . . . If not, then it might be possible to go thence somewhere inland into the country where one might be allowed to remain in peace. . . .

In Cannes the rumours about a British cruiser still persisted. Many declared that she was already sighted. . . anyway, she was most certainly due to arrive. . . . But nothing happened for the next two or three days except one or two air-raids when Italian airmen dropped a few desultory bombs on the outskirts of the city, doing very little damage. We still had letters from England forwarded from Villa Bijou and on Sunday an earnest and very young Toc H priest gave us a very nice service and Holy Communion in the English church. He preached a patriotic and enthusiastic sermon, and we sang ‘God Save the King’ with hearts full to bursting. My English maid was with us and we all felt a little bit happier and comforted.

But that same afternoon came the first inkling that Belgium had laid down her arms and that France was seeking a separate peace.

* * * * * * * * * * *

It was Cannes now that was seething with excitement. Crowds of people were pouring in from everywhere into the town. The long promised cruiser—so it was definitely asserted—would be in Cannes the next day to take British nationals to England. Everyone had got the jitters owing to the French collapse, but no details about the ship were available, not even a certainty about her nationality. Most of our friends from Monte Carlo were going on her, including our chaplain, Canon Tupper Carey, his substitute, and the young and warlike Toc H preacher.

Well! two ships did come in ready to take British nationals on board for ? destination. They were coal boats which had discharged their cargo in Toulon, and were chartered by a private transport agency. They had no passenger cabins whatever on board and no sanitary accommodation save that provided for the crew! All day they lay in the bay: a crowd of close on a thousand persons were huddled on the quay pushing and jostling to get on board. The ships, with between them some eight hundred passengers, left at 10 p.m. We did not wait to see them off.

The Headquarters of the British Legion had asked British subjects to register their name and address with them, in case another homebound ship might be available, but this, they said, was very doubtful. We tried to do this the next day, but found a crowd nearly as big as the one that went off in the two coal boats. Here again it was a perfect pandemonium. Some irresponsible people from Monte Carlo put it about that though the evacuation order was not in force there, the place was impossible; there was no gas, they said, no water, no electricity. This we did not believe and simply made arrangements for returning to the Villa Bijou the next day.

We found Monte Carlo perfectly normal, just as we expected. The Principality stood firmly on its claim of neutrality, which was all to the good. We had quite a good night, lulled to sleep by the perpetual sound of heavy guns from the Mentone side or from the sea or both, which reminded one of the four years at Snowfield when the sound of heavy guns over from Flanders and Picardy never ceased day or night.

The next day gunfire was much louder, apparently much nearer. The Italians were shelling Mentone, and our local forts—the Tête de Chien and Mont Agel just over our heads—responded to their gunfire. Fragments of shells were dropping about, and many who were foolish enough to leave their homes in order to hurry to one of the very inadequate shelters devised by the municipality were hit, though none seriously. Many aeroplanes were overhead and gunfire went on all day and through the night, when matters were made more unpleasant by a terrific thunderstorm which added to the din, and a deluge of almost tropical rain.

This went on until dawn when gunfire ceased. The Italians had occupied Mentone after four days desperate resistance on the part of the French garrison.

* * * * * * * * * * *

On July 10th, the B.B.C. announced that the two coal boats had arrived in England after twenty days of unspeakable misery. We were told subsequently that the announcement was a broadcast by Mr. Somerset Maugham, who had been one of the passengers on board, but I heard later that it was a most realistic description of his experiences. There had been a great shortage of water for the wretched passengers and they had to queue up for bully-beef. One of them had died on the way and several were so ill and their minds became so deranged that they had to be put on shore somewhere in Portugal, whilst most of those who arrived in England were in a state bordering on collapse; but, as I say, I was not listening-in when the broadcast came over the air. I did, however, hear subsequently by letter via Portugal, from several friends who had suffered the ordeal without any serious consequences and have been well and happy in England ever since. Nevertheless I thanked God with a full heart that dear Dr. Van Tricht was so dead set against my darling husband undertaking the arduous journey at his age and in his very serious state of health as he undoubtedly never could have borne the strain of such an ordeal.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Then came the day of mourning for France—mourning and humiliation. Despite France’s solemn undertaking not to seek a separate peace, and General de Gaulle’s heroic appeal to the existing self-constituted Government, armistice with Germany and Italy was asked for and signed. Hostilities ceased half an hour after midnight of June 25th. The glorious French army had surrendered and had fled across France in hopeless panic and disorder. Close on two million prisoners were in German hands, whilst our heroic forces suffered the terrible disaster of Dunkerque.

Chapter 33

It is not in any way my purpose to write even a fragmentary account of the events that followed.* *(See La Vérité sur l’Armistice by Albert Kammerer, Ambassadeur de France.) Authors and journalists who are competent to do this have said or are going to say, everything that is known of this terrible period of modern French history. They will give you all the details, for your general information, piling fact upon fact for many years to come. All I can do in my humble way is to relate such events as affected our private life here and that of our friends who were situated as we were—enemy aliens in so-called neutral, but actually occupied, territory during the first few years of the war.

The Germans now occupied the whole of France. They met with no opposition. The self-constituted French Government, such as it was, had, by command of the Germans, removed from Paris to Vichy with Maréchal Pétain as Chef de l’Etat and Monsieur Laval as Prime Minister; Pétain the defeatist and Laval the paid servant of Germany, Pétain whom the venal Press in the pay of Hitler proclaimed the ‘defender of Verdun’ to whom Clémenceau, then Prime Minister, had put the question in 1917 when it looked as if heroic Verdun could hold out no longer: “What can we do now?” “Ask for an Armistice,” had been Pétain’s reply. Clémenceau then sent for Foch and asked him the same question: “What can we do now” ”Combattre,” was Foch’s reply; “toujours et encore combattre,” and it was Foch who was the heroic defender of Verdun, and not Pétain the defeatist.

Be that as it many, active German propaganda organized in France by Laval and his clique made a tin-god of poor old Pétain. He went about the country patting little children on the head, and receiving bouquets and kisses from pretty girls, until he really thought himself the hero that Laval and Co. proclaimed him to be. And that propaganda was quite active and in a way efficient. Photographs of the ‘hero of Verdun’ were displayed in the shop windows (some of them) decorated with tricolour ribbons. That noble and patriotic soldier, General de Gaulle had indeed raised his voice denouncing the treachery perpetrated against France by the ignoble armistice brought about by German money and fed by German propaganda.

The Press—such as it was—was both mealy-mouthed and venal, and demonstrated without fear of contradiction that the true welfare of France lay in close collaboration with Germany until the final defeat of the Allies. The word Allies always appeared in the Press in inverted commas those days: this, I suppose, was by way of expressing contempt for ‘the military idiots’ who were opposed to the invincible might of Germany. To us it seemed perfectly monstrous that such a vast number of better class and presumably highly educated French men and women were collaborationistes, as that infamous party came to be called. In friendly collaboration with Germany (otherwise licking the German boots) lay, according to them, the true salvation of France. Here in Monte Carlo a certain number of our one-time French friends would no longer speak to us. Americans who were not yet in the war were tolerated, but we British were simply taboo.

The Italians had stayed their advance after Mentone, but they had occupied the whole of Savoy. They sent a commission down to the internment camp at Saint Cyprien where their nationals (including my poor chef) were kept in durance by the French. Their liberation was at once effected by their order and our loyal servant was restored to us, much to our joy. He had had a terrible time in camp and even his robust constitution had greatly suffered from privations and cruel treatment and lack of food and shelter.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The few of us who were still here were left very much to ourselves. We were not molested in any way, but we were unofficially advised not to speak English in the streets, and not to meet in restaurants more than four of us at one table. We were also advised not to cross the frontier into France. But there was no definite order about this and many went over day after day to some favourite restaurant in Beausoleile where meals were decidedly cheaper than in Monte Carlo.

The question of money began to loom unpleasantly ahead by now for some of us, I am afraid. I am speaking of 1941. Our money at home had been blocked for close on two years and many were driven to selling little bits of jewellery to meet necessary expenses. But I want to put it on the record that the Monégasque Government was most kind and considerate to us Britishers and repeatedly assured us that we were under its protection and could count on its help in case of distress.

I think we all of us felt that this sensation of being ‘cut off’ from everything at home was more cruel to bear than anything else. English and American papers were no longer allowed to come through the post, and very soon even Swiss ones failed us. Just for a few months the Press Department of our Legation at Berne succeeded in getting some papers through to some of us with ‘British news and comments’, but the French censor soon put a stop to these. And all we had by way of news in German controlled papers, was a welter of ridiculous lies and garbled versions of what was going on in Egypt and in Greece. And thus we were kept in complete ignorance of what the French—i.e. the Laval-Pétain clique were up to, and what they meant to do. Would they end by turning definitely against us and signing a treaty of alliance with Germany and Italy and declaring war against England or what? Impossible to know. One thing was certain, the collaborationistes were getting more and more numerous, and hatred of the British was fanned to devouring flames by the local papers, dirty rags all under German control. There was the incident of Mers-el-Kebir, and that of Dakar, and after a time the bombardments of French factories which were manufacturing war material for the Germans. Every man and many youngish women of whatever nationality living on this coast were forced into travail obligatoire either at home or in Germany under pain of . . . what? Death sometimes . And what could a man do but submit when he had wife and children dependent upon him for daily bread? German factories were set up all over France and our brave R.A.F. were out to destroy them. But this brought many deaths in its train, mourning and wide-spread sorrow, and the collaborationiste Press saw to it that hatred of the English grew into a passion for revenge. On August 13th, 1940, L’Eclaireur de Nice, the leading newspaper on the Riviera published an article by its editor entitled ”Responsabilités Britanniques”. It is too long for me to quote it in extenso, But a few extracts will go to prove how intense was the hatred of the French for England and everything English at this time. True, German propaganda was at the back of it all, but it must be admitted that its seeds fell on very willing—or shall I say well prepared?—ground.

 

“One must recognize,” the article declared, “that French instinct was never in favour of an alliance with England. . . . It was just a political manuvre . . . one only need recollect events like the Boer War and the incident of Fashoda or St. Helena, or Jeanne d’Arc. . . . With all of us who remember 1914 - 1918 the memory of English egoism and our army’s contempt for English military ineptitude is still very much alive. . . . At last we can speak openly of the tortuous ways by which English politicians dragged France into war in 1939. . . . But worst of all was the cowardly desertion of the British Army, which fled to Dunkerque and to England, leaving us all alone to fight the battle of France which began on June 5th when the German army broke through the Maginot Line . . .” and so on and so on ad lib.

But how intolerable was the sensation of living and constantly rubbing shoulders with those who hated us, and our country so virulently, and wrote and published such abominable lies.

* * * * * * * * * * *

In the midst of all this trouble and anxiety I nevertheless succeeded in completing my romance Pride of Race, which I had begun in the winter of 1939-40, and for the publication of which I had some time ago signed a contract with Messrs. Hodder and Stoughton. There seemed to be the greatest difficulty—impossibility, the post office here told us—to send any typescript or MS. over to England. Luckily for me a kind American friend, Commander Beehler of the U.S. Navy—who still held his appointment here in the International Hydrographic Bureau—suggested my entrusting the typescript to him. The Bureau being International and America was still non-belligerent then, and was in touch with the U.S.A.; and many official papers and documents were still being sent over regularly, and the Commander most kindly sent Price of Race along with the next batch of documents to Washington from whence—he assured me—it would be forwarded to London. And it was.

Pride of Race was published in 1942. At first our Government would not permit the publication of the book on the ground of ‘trading with a resident in enemy occupied territory’, but that kindest of friends, Lord Plender, put in a word for me, and the ban was lifted.

* * * * * * * * * * *

On August 11th we had at last the joy and comfort of a service in our little church here. The chaplain of Beaulieu-sur-Mer, came over and gave us Holy Communion for which our very diminished English and American colonies were most grateful. Our faithful organist, Capt. Welton, was still here and three or four ladies sang the hymns lustily. But we were not allowed to sing ‘God Save the King’ in our little church. Every one of the English chaplains on the Riviera from Mentone to Marseilles had gone away. The only one who remained to look after our spiritual welfare, to visit us if we were sick or to bury us when we died, was the chaplain of Beaulieu-sur-mer, an elderly man who stuck to his post and kept the flag of St. George flying. Travelling from one place to another was always very difficult, and he had only one pair of legs wherewith to do the journey, but he did it, as often as he possibly could, going to Nice one day, to us another, to Vence, and even as far as Cannes. In every case he had to make a start at 5 a.m. because there was only one train in the morning either way to take him whither he wanted to go, and only one later in the day to take him home again. The journey never took less than one hour. He visited the sick and buried the dead whenever he was asked to come, which was not infrequently. He came in all weathers, always in crowded trains or auto-cars, sometimes obliged to stand all the way, often having to wait in rain or snow for a ’bus that was half an hour or even an hour late; he was over seventy years of age. What an example of fortitude, of simple faith and spirit of self-sacrifice! We were all of us very very grateful. There were between eighty and ninety of us in Monte Carlo who supported him in every way we could, and rather more in Nice and Cannes; but in his chaplaincy of Beaulieu the English and American colony had dwindled down to less than twenty.

Our own little set was also getting thinned out gradually. Week by week one or other small party, able to afford the expense, succeeded in getting through to Portugal by car, and ultimately got to England by ’plane. One or two letters from them got through by air, but many kind messages were never delivered. The state of my darling’s health made it quite impossible for us to attempt the journey, and so, gradually but inevitably, we were more and more definitely cut off from our friends in England, and from everything English. This being ‘cut off’ we both found very hard to bear. It would have been much more so but for the fact that there were two of us to bear it together. And we still had our work. My husband, ill as he was, was always at his beloved easel while the light lasted and I made a start on a new book. A friend in Switzerland sent us English papers from time to time—a month old, but still very welcome. Then one day letters began do drop in via the Geneva Red Cross. Only messages of not more than twenty-five words were allowed, but they were a boon nevertheless.

* * * * * * * * * * *

This state of affairs went on for a little while until food became short. Milk, sugar, and cheese were scarce, and the bread almost uneatable. There were queues in the market where often many were ‘sent empty away’. My chef had to run all over the town before he could get a few potatoes and a little piece of tough meat. Bread rations were cut down to a minimum, and there were many days when we could get no butter at all. Black market was now in full swing and prices for such luxuries as potatoes, butter, flour, and so on, soared to impossible heights. Tea and pure coffee soon became the sole prerogative of the rich. Good food—and plenty of it—could always be got at certain restaurants which dealt with the black market and charged their customers accordingly. There were a number of rich French families living in Monte Carlo now who had sought safety for themselves and security for their money in the Principality, and there were a few old ladies of British or American nationality who could afford to pay fancy prices for their food; they entertained their friends lavishly at luncheon or tea, and enjoyed life morning, noon, and night.

But we kept clear of all that social circle, nor did we worry much about food. Our faithful chef did all he could for us, and that was that. Somehow our hearts were too heavy to join in with all the gaiety that found its vent in cocktail parties, in champagne and in expensive luncheons. We played bridge now and then by way of relaxation, and we liked sitting out of doors at the Café de Paris, listening to little Lartigot’s excellent band playing for our special edification and at our special request, the old tunes that we loved.

Dear friends in Switzerland or Portugal sent us parcels of food from time to time: sardines, a bit of cheese, a little bacon, or some tinned vegetables. This had been quite easy at first, but soon the Swiss and the Portuguese Governments would not allow foodstuffs to be sent out of their country except to their own nationals. I had rather a curious—but oh! so kind—letter from the Unitarian Comité de Secours of Boston, U.S.A., an institution quite unknown to me. The Comité informed that they were sending me the sum of 215 francs (equal to about 25s.), and that they would continue to send me a like sum every month for my personal use. How this came about I have not the slightest idea. I was not even a member of their community, but wasn’t it most wonderfully kind? And for the next few months not only did the 215 francs turn up quite regularly but sometimes it was accompanied by a present of chocolate or dried fruit, until America became a belligerent, when all their money was at once blocked as ours had been all along. But those letters and small parcels that came to me from unknown and kind hands will always dwell in my memory as something lovable and very beautiful I hope the Comité received all my letters of grateful thanks which I sent by way of the Geneva Red Cross.

* * * * * * * * * * *

A few letters were still coming through then from England via Switzerland and Portugal, but they were two or even three months old for the most part, and had been often cut about by the ruthless scissors of the French Censor, pieces of the letters being cut right out, even though everyone, both here and there, was most careful not to say anything that might ruffle that autocratic gentleman’s placidity. So we did know a little of what was happening. And there were still the Swiss papers now and again. They told us many things.

* * * * * * * * * * *

One piece of luck did come our way, however. Our radios were not confiscated, and there was no order against listening in. It was our great joy during these sad and lonely months. The radio calling to us from London: “This is London calling in the afternoon edition of the B.B.C. London calling Europe. And here is the news from the battle fronts.” And one had the great satisfaction that at any rate one was hearing was the Truth. Not all the truth perhaps: there was much that was withheld—but the Truth nevertheless. We heard all about the Egyptian campaign, about victorious Wavell, about Tobruk and Benghazi, and about the sad days in Greece.

We heard Winston Churchill’s wonderful speeches which always put heart into us even when he warned us against undue optimism, even when he talked of distant 1944 and ’45 as the earliest possible end of the war. And we heard that lovely message which President Roosevelt sent to Winston Churchill when Great Britain was left to fight all alone—for a whole year—against that stupendous German army which had been in preparation for twenty years and which had already subjugated nearly the whole of Europe and enslaved her populations. America, as we knew, was not yet ready to enter the war, but we had her moral support. She was our friend. She trusted us. She believed in us to the extent of looking upon us as the bulwark guarding her and all those nations who thirsted for liberty and peace, against the whole might of German military aggression. Thus we were lucky enough to hear President Roosevelt’s lovely message to Great Britain in which he quoted Longfellow’s lines:

“Sail on, O ship of State!
Sail on, O Union strong and great.
Humanity with all its fears,
With all its hopes of future years
Is hanging breathless on thy fate.”

One felt that Longfellow, when he penned those words (on the occasion of the launching of a ship) had actually in his mind a great country like ours, fighting all alone, with ‘humanity hanging breathless on her fate’.

And then came to us over the air those marvellous words spoken by Winston Churchill to America when her President had said definitely that she was not quite ready to enter the war but that the whole of the U.S.A. was at work heart and soul to provide her brave ally with all the material she required for carrying on. “Give us the tools,” was Winston Churchill’s simple reply; “and we will finish the job.” And we did. And I think—so will all the world one day—that those few words were the most wonderful expression of undaunted courage and devotion ever spoken by any statesman at a moment of crisis such as the one Great Britain was then facing all alone.

Yes! We had wonderful compensations as against all the thinly veiled hatred that surrounded us. Looking through a few old files one day I came across that beautiful article entitled ‘England is Herself again’, by Louis Bromfield, the great American novelist, in the Daily Telegraph of December 30th, 1931. It gave me a lovely feeling of warmth in my heart, for it seemed almost as if it had been written only yesterday. The author was home from a visit to England and this is one of the impressions which he put on record in that delightful article. He called it: ‘Greatness never lost’, and went on to say:

For one individual who, like almost everyone has again and again despaired of the world during these after-war years, the visit to England was an exciting experience. I went away taking with me some of the faith I found there. No matter whether one is French or American, Russian or Turk, Chinese or Armenian, it is good to believe that so great a nation as England with her virtues and even with her faults shall not be lost for the World. I left England knowing that she would have dignity and peace again. Her greatness she has never lost.

The whole of the article was on these same beautiful lines. Yes! there were compensations; but oh! the weariness of those months and years!

Chapter 34

In 1943 we were unduly shaken out of that quietude and that awful feeling of uncertainty as to the future which had begun to pall. The Italians marched into the Principality. They occupied the whole of the Riviera at the command of their senior partner: Germany. They came, very pleased with their mission and with themselves. At once they made their presence felt. They were the Fascist military authorities in occupation; theirs the power to command, to enforce any regulations they chose to make. They strutted about like turkey-cocks in a farmyard.

They began operations by summoning all foreigners of either sex and less than seventy-five years of age to appear before them at the Beaux Arts Theatre. Of course we all ‘appeared’ at the appointed time and the theatre was crammed with men, women and children of every nationality. For a whole hour we sat facing the stage, on which were three chairs, a table, a carafe of water and a glass. The military authorities did not condescend to be punctual. After sixty-five minutes of weary waiting a gentleman in gorgeous field-grey uniform, his manly bosom a regular picture postcard of ribbons, crosses, and medals stalked in, followed by an orderly and a civilian who, we understood, was the interpreter. The gorgeous gentleman spoke in Italian and the civilian interpreted.

We could not interfere in any way with the military authorities whatever they chose to do. Any interference would be severely punished . . . imprisonment . . . exile . . . death even. Well, it was soon clear what the military authorities chose to do. Wholesale arrests. The poor Jews first—the rich ones somehow seemed to be immune. In the Principality (still supposedly neutral) they were safe for the time being, but the poorer ones were living just a yard or two over the border, i.e. in France. The Italians—under pressure from Germany one could suppose—had suddenly developed violent anti-Semitic tendencies. Those wretched people were hauled out of their beds in the middle of the night, the aged, the sick, the dying, not allowed to pick up as much as a tooth-brush, bundled into lories, driven away like cattle—whither? who could tell? Children dragged away from their mother’s arms, husbands from their wives; child-bearing women. . . .

* * * * * * * * * * *

We in Monte Carlo were happily left in comparative peace and I was able to do some work, i.e. to finish my latest romance, Will-o-the-Wisp which had been contracted for by Messrs. Hutchinson before the war. Naturally there was no chance of the MS. or typescript being sent over to England. So I put my Will-o-the-Wisp away, hoping for those happy times which were so long in coming and I was left wondering if I would ever write a romance again.

After the Jews it was the turn of the British and one or two Americans. The American Army had landed in Morocco. They were now belligerents, always our friends but now our allies, fighting with us and at one with us. All of us were threatened with internment or at least with exile in what was called résidence forcée somewhere in the hinterland of the Mediterranean coast. But it always meant the breaking up of a home, leaving all precious possessions at the mercy of one knew not what, of looting, rioting, German terrorism. I didn’t think that I had anything to fear for myself or for my English maid, Julia Purkis, who was under fifty, my loyal and devoted companion in the midst of all the sorrow that was slowly but surely closing in about me now. I interviewed the ‘Military’ authorities till I was sick with fatigue and with the shame of being such a humble and persistent suppliant. I put my case before them: my age, the state of my husband’s health—which was becoming very precarious—my dependence on the companionship of the one woman who understood my anxiety and foresaw the inevitable. The ‘Authorities’ were most suave and mealy-mouthed. The young officers knew me well by name. They had read and admired my books. ”Mais non, Madame la Baronne,” they said ”on ne vous l’enlévera pas” (We won’t take her away from you).

Every ten days or so representatives of the Fascist authorities—an officer and two orderlies—called upon me, questioned me, interviewed Julia Purkis, put ridiculous questions to her: Who were her friends? With whom did she consort? Where and in what way did she spend her time? The officer conducted the interrogation, and the orderlies made notes in their books. After a quarter of an hour of this they went away, still saying suavely: ”Ne craignez rien, Madame, on ne va pas vous l’enlever” (Do not fear, Madame, we will not take her away from you).

Soon after this came the order from the Fascist military authorities for all British nationals resident in France to clear out of the Riviera. This affected our temporary chaplain of Beaulieu, who was so devoted to us and to our Church; and also his wife; also several friends who had homes in Mentone or Cap d’Ail or Beausoleil. They were given twenty-four hours in which to pack up and go. This meant more breaking up of English homes. Most of those thus evacuated went to Grenoble, which was soon crowded with refugees. But there were others—married couples, British families with little children who were sent into résidence forcée, or to somewhere in the hinterland of the Mediterranean coast.

Some were sent to Vence, others to St. Martin Vésubie; but there were many men of British nationality who were relegated to a prison camp. One or two Americans, among these my kind friend, Commander Beehler, still holding his post as American representative in the International Hydrographic Bureau. Outwardly a hale and hearty man, a delightful musician, a charming, helpful friend with a devoted young wife, he was a sufferer from tuberculosis, not yet in a serious way, but needing care, and rest. The Italian military authorities arrested him, hauled him out of bed in the night in mid-winter and dragged him away in an open lorry to a prison camp in Sospel, where he died within thirty-six hours of his arrest from exposure and want of medical attendance.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Younger people and others who were in good health had no cause to grumble at résidence forcée. St Martin Vésubie—up in the mountains—was really a beautiful spot, very healthy, and there was good accommodation to be had in one or two hotels, rather primitive, but clean on the whole and even the chance of renting a cottage or a small apartment. Of course everyone there was under supervision—in a sense they were prisoners—they had to report to the military commandant twice a day and were not allowed to wander out beyond a very circumscribed limit. On the whole those who were lucky enough to have a little bit of money did not have a bad time. They played bridge and had tea parties among themselves. But there was a large cosmopolitan Jewish population there, very poor and with a lot of children, trying to make the best of their miserable lot and living in perpetual fear that German occupation would follow the Italian. The latter did not seem to have been specially unkind to them there, but the poor wretches knew quite well what their fate would be once the Germans occupied the whole of France.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Early in 1943 the light went out of my life. My darling passed away and I was left in darkness and alone.

Epilogue

Then came the end of everything that for close on half a century had meant the very breath of life to me, and all I felt that I could do was to trail my spirit along like a bit of drift-wood tossed about by the torrent of existing circumstances.

The war went on. Men, women, even children suffered as much as I did. I know that . . . and I was sorry—oh! ever so sorry for them . . . for nothing, not even sorrow seemed real to me during those weeks, those months, those years that I supposed went on as before . . . for time does not stand still.

Only two events during the next two years reached my consciousness. I mean that I knew that they happened. One was the arrest of my devoted English maid, Julia Purkis, my constant companion who knew and who understood everything. In spite of the many mealy-mouthed assurances that I had received from the Italian Commando then in occupation, she was sent to Barcelonette in the Basses Alpes, a twenty-four hours’ journey from Monte Carlo. And then began my weekly pilgrimage up to Castelleretto, the G.H.Q. of the Italian Army of Occupation on the heights above Monte Carlo, in order to beg almost on my knees for the release of the one companion in my loneliness. Let me admit at once that the Colonel Commanding and all his officers were always full of kindness and consideration for me. They knew me well by reputation, knew and loved my books, would feel happy they said, if I presented each of them with an autographed copy of La Primula Rossa. They assured me that they were doing their utmost to obtain the release of Miss Julia Purkis, for Captain Matteotti had himself journeyed expressly to Rome for this purpose, for permission had to come from Rome, and so on. So kind, so friendly always, and already then so entirely pro-British.

Of Mussolini and the Fascist party, never a word, and already one felt that Italy was learning her lesson, and was ready to make amends for her adherence to the Axis Party, the enemies of civilization and of liberty.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The second event which reached my consciousness—it could not very well fail to do so—was the bombardment of Monte Carlo. The bubble of the status of Monaco as a neutral state had soon burst as soap bubbles are apt to do and the Germans occupied the little Principality, turning every available locality into armament works or ammunition dumps and forcing the population to work for them both with their hands and with their brains in the way of propaganda for a friendly entente with the army of occupation.

The young women—heaven forgive them—were only too ready to bring about this friendly entente with the German soldiers as they had been with the Italians and learned to say Guten Tag with as broad a smile as they had said Bon Giorno before, and a large portion of the male population worked in the local factory (once a brewery, now armament works). But there were those valiant Frenchmen who braved arrest, possible torture, and death and joined the maquis, the clandestine army, ready to fight to the last for the liberation of their country from those abominable Nazis. Well! subsequent events culminating in the triumph of the Allied Forces proved the might and valour of this nucleus of the mighty French Army, led by that great patriot General de Gaulle. But in the meanwhile the Germans had ousted the Italians from their comfortable quarters in Monte Carlo and took their place in the occupation of the Principality, and our R.A.F. were untiring in their efforts to make that occupation untenable. The systematic bombing of Monaco went on throughout the summer of 1944. The damage caused was incalculable. Those of my readers who know Monte Carlo will remember the Post Office and the Etablissement Thermal and also the huge establishment “Aux Dames de France” with the big garage in the rear and the shops in the Rue Grimaldi. The Post Office and the Etablissement Thermal, the latter with its marble staircases and bathing amenities, were pounded into fragments of stone and marble chips and a welter of twisted iron girders and derelict motor-cars, whilst in the whole avenue and the Rue Grimaldi not a pane of glass remained in shop or café window.

A small flotilla of German ships was in occupation of the port. One of these when making for shelter in Monaco harbour was torpedoed by one of our submarines. Its fragments were projected a hundred feet in the air behind and above the Hermitage Hotel, and finally deposited themselves in my garden. The damage in the garden was devastating, but I did not realize that one piece had fallen on my room until the middle of the night when a shower of rain came through on to my bed. Temporary and inadequate repair was hastily effected, but the bombardment of Monte Carlo went on day and night after that. My small staff was wonderfully brave, and if they felt ‘panicky’ at all they tried not to show it.

At midnight on August 14th - 15th, a couple of bombs from our R.A.F. once again damaged my roof. Both my English maid and I slept on the top floor immediately below the corner where a bomb exploded. We escaped death by a miracle, to the astonishment of the architect who was sent by the Government to assess the damage done to my house. As a matter of fact the villa, built some ninety years ago, stood firm and solid—its walls are of stone, even the inside ones are two feet thick, but they still bear the honourable scars of that midnight attack.

It is rather amusing to put it on record that the morning after, the commanding German Officer rang my bell and enquired whether “the Baroness had not been too frightened by the bombardment, and was well.” As the Americans would say: “Can you beat it?”


THE END

This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia