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.