CHAPTER XXIV

 

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!

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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.

©Blakeney Manor, 2001