What a lovely place South East England was in those days of 1911 and 1912, before ever the shadow of the coming war had fallen upon us all.
We motored and walked through the beauty of Kentish orchards or Sussex woods and enjoyed the freedom and peace of the countryside as it is quite impossible to do today. We used to travel from Lee to Tonbridge passing, perhaps, one car on the way. We could sit outside some little country "pub" and drink really good Kentish ale and eat bread (real crusty fire-baked bread) and cheese, with no dust of passing traffic, no rushing mob of cars, no horrible "litter," and kindly goodwill and friendship everywhere one went. The English seemed a kinder, more thoughtful people than they are today.
The Honourable Mr. Tawnish came out in October, 1913, as one of Jack's very few "double events" in any year. The reason why he got two books out that year was because 'Tawnish" was originally written as a play for stage production by Fred Terry but something went wrong, I forget just what, and it was never produced. I always liked it very much indeed and did all I could to persuade Jack to alter it to book form.
"Tawnish" himself was a picture of my brother Ewart, and portrays exactly the rather langourous and tired attitude which was Ewart's usual "front" to strangers, but which hid such activity and vigour when he "got going." To see him in action in the old "purity squad" was inspiring, for all his suppressed vitality made him a deadly opponent with scathing wit with which he would taunt his antagonist almost to a frenzy. Ewart had one strange thing about him which I have never seen in anyone else. When excited or upset in any way, the left side of his face would go as white and pallid as death, while the right side would flush to a bright scarlet. not just red but an actual vivid scarlet, the division between the colours being a line down the forehead and straight down the middle of his nose, just as though it had been done with a ruler. I have asked many doctors for the reason of this, but never got a satisfactory answer.
But back to "Tawnish." All others portrayed are again of Jack's own creation. Here I may say that most of the women which he portrayed are, to me, rather too sentimentally drawn, with their "proud" but "melting" attitudes, but I am bound to say that all, or nearly all the women he met — many, many of them seemed to be like this towards him as I know from my own observation.
"The Chronicles of the Imp" his fifth novel, is one of what I have called his "double events," as it was published in 1915, the same year as "Beltane the Smith." "The Imp" was really built up around a series of short stories which he wrote in the 1890s. I had always asked Jack to write-up these stories into a book as I liked them very much indeed. It was during one of my last motor outings with him before the 1914 war broke out, that we finally discussed these stories, which had been produced in some of the penny women's papers which had flourished in the '90s, under the title of "Nicotine and Cambric," and Jack then agreed that they "might make a fair novel." So he set to on these old stories of his, working them side by side with "Beltane," and as a result his public got the finished book retitled "The Chronicles of the Imp," which again sold very, very well. I think this book is extremely interesting as it shows how little his "style" had changed over the years.
My brother's sixth book. "Beltane" was published in October, 1915, and was, like the preceding five, an immediate best seller. Not, I think, such a sweeping "winner" as the others, but still it sold very well indeed.
In the case of this book we have again living persons as the framework of two of the characters. Beltane himself was founded on one of our cousins on my mother's side of he family, the only son of mother's eldest sister, Mrs. Anna Maria Marriott, nee Jeffery. Jack Marriott, her son was quite the most handsome man I have ever known. Of medium height (about 5ft 10in.), he was wonderfully muscled and with it supple and easy in movement. He had the brightest of really golden hair tightly curling all over his head, like the pictures one sees of Apollo, and the bluest of blue eyes, large and widely set.
Jack Marriott came to stay at our house in Lee whilst he read and sat for his final examination for the Bar. He was a great wrestler and had won outright a "belt" for this sport in the Midlands, of which he was very proud indeed.
When he came with us to our evenings of boxing and weight-lifting, he would yell at me (the general dog's body of those days) and in his favourite imitation of the Scots dialect ask "Where's me ain Belt." From this saying of "Golden Jack," as we called him, as against "Black Jack," my brother, you will find the name Beltane evolved--ain belt--in reverse Beltane. My brother, "Black Jack," hammered the living daylights out of "Golden Jack" with the Broadsword, just as you will find Sir Benedict did to Beltane in the Greenwood, despite the fact that I personally saw my cousin beat Eugene Sandow at weight-lifting with the left arm. Sandow was always best man with the right arm, but "Golden Jack" had the best of it always with the left.
"Helen of Mortain" was drawn around a "Golden Girl" in both meanings of the word -- a goldenhaired and very wealthy girl, who, years before, Jack had drawn into his Amateur Pierrot Troupe, Elsie Viner by name, a most charming and gentle person with a beautiful soprano voice. All else about Jack's "Helen" was developed from his own brain so far as I know. Elsie died a few years ago now, still a well-to-do spinster, and I have often wondered why!
And "Golden Jack?" He was jilted by his 'Dark Goddess" as he used to call her and so he flung off to Canada and left her to the man of wealth she preferred. He joined the Canadians at the outbreak of the 1914 war and I saw him over in. England before he went to the "front." Poor old "Golden Jack." He was much in the very heavy fighting on the Western Front, and vanished in 1917, probably buried in a shell hole or blown to pieces, and no one has ever heard anything of him since then! A great chap he was. God rest him.
My brother seldom wrote more than one book a year, for each of them was most carefully "groomed" so that his historical and all other facts are always perfectly correct and accurate. There were a few exceptions to his "one a year" routine, but with the coming of the 1914-18 war everything changed entirely
Whilst I went off on the fourth. of August to join the Royal Artillery, Jack was considered by the "powers that be' as much too valuable a man to become a soldier, and was placed under Admiral Hall, head of Military Intelligence at that time, so that his talent as a writer and his vast public in the United States could be used to the full.
Admiral Hall sent Jack to all our great munition centres first so that he could write up this part of our "war effort," and then on various tours of the fighting fronts and great battle fields, The Somme, The Marne, Verdun, and many other places where the fighting was most bitter and severe. He came, on many occasions under heavy shell fire, but was not ever harmed. He used to come home from these "tours" completely shattered, and could neither eat nor sleep for days afterwards. Nevertheless he wrote some splendid stuff which was widely published in America, so who can say how much he did towards bringing the States into the war with us at last.
From some of these trips of his we get the little volume, ''Some War Impressions" which a great many people today do not seem to have heard of yet alone read. Poor old Jack. I was always sorry for him over these battlefield trips as I knew how deeply he hated "horrors" and death. He would never go into hospital to see any one, not even me during the years I was under treatment after my "invaliding" from West African Front. Sickness of any sort always seemed to terrify him in an. extraordinary way, for he was always so fit and well himself.
I cannot find that the powerful stuff he had published in the United States during the 1914-18 war has ever been collected into book form, which I think a great mistake as they certainly formed a vivid historical picture of the times which should not be lost to the future.
The war over at last, things began to settle down into their old form again for Jack, and he took up once again his habit of writing at night.
Bertie Pope had been found "unfit for service," so that he had carried on his work as secretary during the war years and had kept affairs running quite smoothly all the time so that Blanche never had any trouble during this time.
One of Jack's books which I like as well as any which he wrote during his life, was published by Sampson, Low in 1917, in September to be exact. "The Definite Object" was quite different to all the forerunners, getting away from the "costume" period and from England into the hustle of New York. Here we find the result of his lonely prowling around "Hells Kitchen" in his years of greatest stress, and the people in this book are largely taken from the observations he made during that bleak time.
Hermione, of course, is just an enlarged edition of his own wife, Blanche, whilst Mrs. Ann Angelina Trapes was an office cleaner who did many kind things for him, including on one well remembered occasion, settling him down in her flat parlour (described in the D.O.) while she went out and bought him "a real English chump chop" which she cooked and served up to him when he "had not eaten for a long time." A man named Maguire was the foundation of Bud McGinnis, Maguire being actually a gang leader in Hells Kitchen at about that time, a bad man and a mean "killer." 'The Spider," "Soapy" and "Spike" were all factual people who lived in the squalid part of the city, all of whom Jack knew well and spent some time with. Maggie Finlay was also a living person, and the facts of her betrayal and death are true in every respect. Jack was with the River men when' they dragged her body out of the water.
It must not be thought that the characters in this (or any other of Jack's books) were in any way "Portraits" of the living people, he used them simply as a framework upon which to hang the tapestry of his imagination.
Just about now the London County Council began to extend their Tramways from Lee Green along the Eltham Road to Eltham and Woolwich so that the great double decker trams roared part "71" all day long and far into the night. Jack did not like the noise and so he sold his beautiful old place and bought a fairly new house not far from the coast at Brighton. This was also a large and well planned "residence," which everyone liked very much and into which his wife settled with great pleasure.
Earlier, Blanche had asked my wife's spinster sister, Elizabeth Gunn (Bess) to go to her as companion-housekeeper, and a most efficient woman she proved herself. There was never a thing out of place after she took charge. The arrangements for Jack's dinner parties were always "just so" and Bess was never at a loss in any way. Even when Jack would come back from London late on a Friday evening (he nearly always went up to town on Friday) with several friends he had met during the day and had asked to stay at "Sunnyside" for the week-end!! He never thought it anything out of the way, and never even phoned down to say how many people he was bringing with him. Bess always coped with the situation without any fuss or bother.
Shortly after the move down into Sussex, poor, faithful Bertie Pope died quite suddenly and as a very young man. His death was a tremendous shock to Jack, and his loss of both a good and well-loved friend, and a more than clever and dependable secretary meant a very great deal, and was to be of even greater moment in the time to come. Bertie always had a complete grip on Jack's affairs and kept all the business matters and financial things running so smoothly that Jack and Blanche never had to speak of, or bother in any way over such worries --large or small.
A dear, good, and faithful chap was Bertie and true to the very end, left all affairs in a state of perfect order.
Matters could not be left in the air, of course, and a few weeks after Bertie's death, when I went to "Sunnyside" one evening Jack introduced me to a very smooth, good looking man, saying, "he is taking over old Bertie's job for me from now on." Unhappily I disliked the fellow on sight and told my brother that the new man, in my opinion, was one of the type who would do better as a "confidence" man than a private secretary! Jack was very cross with me indeed, and said that as the chap was a friend of his I was not called upon to offer such criticisms.
Perhaps I should not have said it at that time, but by jingo, how right I was to prove later on.
Things, and time moved on, and in October, 1910, the eighth book, "Our Admirable Betty" was published. I know very little of this novel, as I had been very fully occupied with my official job, and consequently had not been able to see much of the people at "Sunnyside."
There is one facet of Jack's character which I feel I must mention here as it had such far reaching effects upon things which followed. All his life, from very early youth, he had hated like the devil to be proved wrong, especially with regard to his own choice of friends and companions, who, as I have shown, he would stand by at almost any cost, and not being always right in judgment of men, his staunch support of his chosen "friend" sometimes led him into hopeless positions, but strangely, he would never really forgive the person who exposed his bad choice. I always thought this strange, for in most other things his nature was generous and very fair.
He was very generally "Lionized" now wherever he went, and the rather fulsome praise which he received used to rather sicken me for so much of it was pure "Toadying" of the most flagrant kind, I have seen people crowding around him in some of the London clubs accepting the drinks which he ordered for them, trying to catch his eye so that they might have a personal word with him! One can imagine them back in their own circle: "Oh yes I know Jeffery Farnol quite well, had a drink with him at the club only yesterday."
His popularity was terrific and very, very widespread amongst all types and classes, and folk hung upon his talk as though he was an "Oracle." All this sort of thing is, I suppose, usual with popular public figures, but the wonder to me has always been that it did not spoil Jack in the least. He remained as he had always been, very solidly on his own feet. The only change in him was that he became more and more sure of his own opinion, and more arrogant in his dealing with anyone who disagreed. However he still remained the charming chap he had always been, as his circle grew and widened.
"The Geste of Duke Jocelyn" came out in December, 1919, and again I can write little about it, for I was still seldom with my brother at this time.
I know that he developed his life-long love of "making music" after settling into "Sunnyside" for he bought a splendid Steinway player piano and also had a full-size pipe organ built into the end of the billiards room, and used to play upon them both for hours. His tin whistlers and ocherinas were still in favour and much use also, and it was astonishing what true music he could get out of them.
Jack had always had a desire to ride a horse, and now with the Sussex Downs all around him he made up his mind to buy himself one as he had good stabling and a paddock all waiting to be used. But as I had passed through the Army School of Equitation he asked me to teach him to sit and handle a horse before buying one of his own. I was still in uniform during my Government job in Brighton, and so I was able to arrange things so that I could do this, giving him a two-hour lesson twice a week.
I used to collect two good "hacks" from a Hove livery stable and ride out to the house where Jack would mount the spare horse and amble with me up onto the Downs. As usual he was a good and keen learner so that very soon he began to "handle" his mount very well, getting the "feel" of things and gaining a good "seat" and "posture." This was very pleasing to us both, and as it turned out, a very good thing indeed for on one of the last lessons I had given him the nicest of the two animals, a pretty chestnut mare with white "stockings." All went well for an hour or so, and we had turned for home, going at a nice canter along the ridge of the Down when a stupid sheep suddenly got up and jumped from behind a gorse clump right in front of Jack's mare, which shied aside and took the bit. Then she was off at full gallop, heading off the Down and for its stable in Hove, four miles away. Down the bridle path she went and dashed out on to the main Brighton Road straight in front of an oncoming two-decker 'bus full of people. I shook my horse up to its best speed in pursuit, but I was a good hundred yards behind before I got clear of the sheep and settled down to the chase. From a horseman's point of view it was a grand gallop, but I was filled with fear for Jack when he got onto the main road with all its traffic, for I knew the mare was not likely to slow down much as she was too fresh. Jack had taken the sudden leap away from the sheep very well, and I could see that he was sitting very well and very tight and did not appear to be in real trouble, but it was a very smooth tarmac road, and at such a pace the mare might slip. I never used my spurs on a horse in the ordinary way, but now I had to ride my beast hard, and so slowly crept up on the runaway.
People along the road stood and gaped as the well-known author galloped past them, in and out between vans and cars, hotly pursued by a soldier who was slowly gaining on him.
At last, after a run of nearly two miles, I drew alongside my brother right in front of the motor bus which had followed along behind all the time. I leaned from my saddle and, grasping the bridle and bit-ring wrenched sideways with a vicious jerk. The bit came free and soon I had the sweating mare at a standstill.
The bus driver pulled up short just behind us and leaning from his cab said, "Nice ride you had governor." Whilst Jack, who did not seem perturbed, gave me his old smile with the usual "well done old cock."
He bought himself a horse a few weeks later and asked me to go out and ride it so that he could see its action. It was a great 17-hand beast --much too large for him, and proved after I had galloped it for a few minutes to be "broken winded," a real "roarer" as the Army used to call them. As Jack had bought it from a friend of the secretary man, I found myself in an awkward and nasty position, for if I told Jack that he had been "done" I should once more be up against the man's bad faith and my brother's belief that I had got my knife into his trusted "friend."
Diplomacy seemed indicated and so I confined myself to pointing out that on a l7-hand horse Jack would look like a jockey. Pride did the trick and the horse went back where it came from!
It was about now that I quarrelled fiercely with the secretary. I do not anywhere give his name as I think such people best forgotten, and once again Jack supported him and was very angry indeed with me! It all began over the broken-winded horse, and my "interference", from which it developed and ranged over many subjects such as what was happening over Jack's money and accounts. I was told that I was ''jealous" and "slanderous", without any reason except for my feeling of inferiority to the man - this from my brother - who then told me I had said enough and had better go.
Go I did and never saw either of them again except once, when I had been subpoenaed as a witness against Jack in a case of Breach of Contract which came on at the Law Courts in The Strand.
Jack was in the wrong and his Barrister settled the affair out of court. Once again the secretary had filled Jack's mind with poison about me, that I was in league with the other side in the case for the purpose of getting money out of him and so on ad nauseam.
I ran into Jack and his "friend" as they were coming down the steps from the Law Courts into Carey Street, and walked over to speak to my brother. The secretary stepped between us saying, "I don't think Jack wishes to speak to you as you are far too expensive"
Then, of course, I "let go", and told the man just what I thought he was, quite expressive and descriptive as to his honesty and good faith to Jack and other things bearing upon his dealing with his employer's affairs. I was really going well when a very large and elderly policeman who had heard all I had to say, came down the few steps and pushed in between us, placing a large hand on my chest and saying, "Now, now, sir, you will be causing a breach of the peace soon, and that will mean more trouble," and looking up at my very large opponent, grinned at me and said "besides he is much bigger than you" During all this "noise" Jack had stood two yards away, and, now, turning away, walked off with his "body guard," as I had called him a few moments before.
And that was the last I ever saw of Jack "in the flesh."
The secretary died suddenly of blood poisoning within about two years of that time - and then the "balloon went up" with a vengeance. I never heard the exact amount of the defalcations but Jack told a mutual friend that he had suffered a very severe loss indeed, running into thousands. Now I understood why the man had worked so hard to separate me from the old chap, but Jack never forgave me for being right, and though I wrote to him four times in the years that followed I never had any reply. Did he get my letters? I just don't know.
Ah! well the old fellow has been dead many years now, and the England we both knew and loved so well seems to have passed away, also, for personal integrity, courtesy, and love for the old country of my boyhood, have given place to the grasping after money, to the scramble for "status" (most horrible word) and only self interest seems to be of any moment to the bulk of our fellow men. I am frequently called "an old square" (a queer phrase), by younger folk, who no doubt, mean to be derisive, but I am always proud to he named so, for our day it may be the "old squares," and. what they stand for, may put England back in the place of honour which she used to hold in the affairs of men. Perhaps we "old squares" are doing in a different way, what the "square" has so often done in our past history by holding the enemy— and by the fortitude and courage of our English lads who formed such squares — keeping freedom and honour alive, not only for us but for the world in general.
But this is the end of my "Memories of Jeffery Farnol," and you who read, will without doubt, have gathered that I loved him well as a brother, and admired him (in most things) greatly as a man.
Requiescat in Pace!
April in Chard, 1964.
Many thanks to Stephen Cole, Pat Bryan and Geoff Perkins
and used here by kind permission of Dr. Gregory Stevens-Cox