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 give 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 published in 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.