CHAPTER XVI

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.

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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.

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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.


©Blakeney Manor, 2001