Read As Berry and I Were Saying Online

Authors: Dornford Yates

Tags: #As Berry & I Were Saying

As Berry and I Were Saying

BOOK: As Berry and I Were Saying
5.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
Copyright & Information

As Berry & I Were Saying


First published in 1952

© Estate of Dornford Yates; House of Stratus 1952-2011


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior permission of the publisher. Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.


The right of Dornford Yates to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted.


This edition published in 2011 by House of Stratus, an imprint of

Stratus Books Ltd., Lisandra House, Fore Street, Looe,

Cornwall, PL13 1AD, UK.


Typeset by House of Stratus.


A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library and the Library of Congress.




This is a fictional work and all characters are drawn from the author’s imagination.

Any resemblance or similarities to persons either living or dead are entirely coincidental.

About the Author


Born ‘Cecil William Mercer’ into a middle class Victorian family with many Victorian skeletons in the closet, including the conviction for embezzlement from a law firm and subsequent suicide of his great-uncle, Yates’ parents somehow scraped together enough money to send him to Harrow.

The son of a solicitor, he at first could not seek a call to the Bar as he gained only a third class degree at Oxford. However, after a spell in a Solicitor’s office he managed to qualify and then practised as a Barrister, including an involvement in the Dr. Crippen Case, but whilst still finding time to contribute stories to the
Windsor Magazine

After the First World War, Yates gave up legal work in favour of writing, which had become his great passion, and completed some thirty books. These ranged from light-hearted farce to adventure thrillers. For the former, he created the
books which established Yates’ reputation as a writer of witty, upper-crust romances. For the latter, he created the character
Richard Chandos
, who recounts the adventures of
Jonah Mansel
, a classic gentleman sleuth. As a consequence of his education and experience, Yates’ books feature the genteel life, a nostalgic glimpse at Edwardian decadence and a number of swindling solicitors.

In his hey day, and as testament to his fine writing, Dornford Yates’ work often featured in the bestseller list. Indeed,
is one of the great comic creations of twentieth century fiction; the
titles also being successfully adapted for television. Along with Sapper and John Buchan, Yates dominated the adventure book market of the inter war years.

Finding the English climate utterly unbearable, Yates chose to live in the French Pyrenées for eighteen years, before moving on to Rhodesia (as was), where he died in 1960.


‘Mr Yates can be recommended to anyone who thinks the British take themselves too seriously.’ - Punch


‘We appreciate fine writing when we come across it, and a wit that is ageless united to a courtesy that is extinct’ - Cyril Connolly



‘Golden lads and girls all must,

As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.’


To all those golden lads and girls and chimneysweepers, to whose personalities so many of my characters owe their creation.



In writing this memoir, I have endeavoured to do two things. The first is, except as an author, to suppress my personality: the second is to report nothing which will not interest either my customers or the world at large. Occasionally, I have given persons or places names which are not theirs: this, against my will, but not my judgment. Sometimes, too, I am not quite sure of my dates. For these failings, I must beg to be excused. Of ‘Berry’s monographs’, portions are matters of opinion, and portions are matters of fact. The latter are strictly true. If ever I state a fact for which I cannot vouch, I say as much. Whether this memoir proves the proverb that ‘Truth is stranger than Fiction’, I do not know. But I have nothing exaggerated, ‘nothing extenuated, Nor set down aught in malice’. Witnesses swear to tell ‘the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’. I could not take such an oath, for, even at this distance of time, I have, in some cases, no right to tell ‘the whole truth’. But I can honestly say that I have told ‘nothing but the truth’.




“Don’t talk to me,” said Berry, “about reminiscences. A year or two back I compiled an arresting record of great events. Naturally unconversant with the trivial and sordid details of publication, I charged you with the duty of presenting my memoir to a hungry world. Need I say that you failed me? With the result that an immense public has been denied a great privilege and enduring entertainment of a rare and refreshing kind.”

“Dress it up as you please,” said I. “But what are the facts? No firm would have dared to publish the memoir you wrote. Jonah and I devoured it, with tears running down our cheeks. But you can’t print stuff like that.”

“Stuff?” said Berry.

“Stuff. For one thing alone, at least six writs for libel would have been issued at once. Then, again, it was far too short. Thirty-one thousand words won’t make a book. And it’s no good arguing. I know what I’m talking about.”

“Then why return to my vomit? Why bring the matter up?”

“Because I have something in mind. I, too, have memories – some of them entertaining, most of them dull. Now if we combined yours and mine, we might make a book. We should have to expurgate yours: unless you consent to that, I’m not going to play. But if that is done and the two are added together, one of these days a volume might be produced.”

Berry leaned back, fixed his eyes upon the ceiling and fingered his chin.

“None but the great,” he said, “should write their reminiscences. For a lesser man to do so, it is a gross impertinence. Who cares where he was born or went to school? Or what his nurses smelt like, or why he fell off his pony in 1894? That is the paltry level to which the stuffed shirt descends: he will give to the world such rubbish, because
values it. These things are a presumption we
avoid. But there are memoirs of another sort. Provided he suppresses his own personality, any man, be he Privy Councillor or bricklayer’s labourer, has a clear right to set down things he remembers and impressions he has received. And that is what we shall do. You were behind the scenes in more than one
cause célèbre
. I was familiar with Paris in 1902. You were a guest, more than once, of the famous Madame de B—. The girl-friend who taught me backgammon was born in the lengthy reign of King George the Third. Such things are side-lights on history and may be set down without shame. But we must be very careful.”

“I entirely agree,” said I. “And I think we might have a stab.”

“Oh, darling, what at?” cried Jill, coming into the room.

“I know,” said Daphne, behind her. “A book.”

Berry addressed me, frowning.

“Ignore the ungodly,” he said. “You were saying we might have a stab.”

“But we must be critical. And we can’t be critical, until we’ve finished the thing. Then we read it over and knock it about. And, if what survives passes muster, I’ll see it through. But I’m damned if I’ll pad. If, when it’s done, it’s too short, it’ll have to be scrapped.”

“We shall have to make notes,” said Berry. “Whenever we think of a thing, we must put it down. Write down Calais, someone. That was where George Brummel stayed. I was sick in the street at Calais when I was four.”

“Disgusting brute,” said Daphne.

“No blasphemy, please,” said Berry. “Already the jewelled wheel of my memory is beginning to turn. I remember one night at Covent Garden—”

“Wash out,” said I. “You can’t introduce K G.”

“Why not?” said Berry. “It was a great institution. In the Covent Garden Balls the flame of Vauxhall and Cremorne flickered for the last time. And could anything have been more English? Caruso, Melba – however world-famous the singer, once a fortnight he or she had to give place, because young men and maidens desired to dance in the theatre in which they were booked to sing. And Dan Godfrey held the stage and the whole of the stalls were floored.”

“If you put it like that,” said I… “But no remembering one night.”

“I suppose you’re right,” said Berry, wistfully. “But I can’t help feeling that one or two episodes might be with decency set out. Shall I ever forget when Ruby wore your top-hat?”

“Oh, Boy,” said Jill.

“May I suggest,” said I, “that you confine your memory to your own dunghills? In any event, what Ruby wore is hardly a side-light on history.”

“I know, I know. But I decline to subscribe to a slab of unleavened bread. Such things are indigestible.”

“Yes, but your idea of leaven…”

“Nonsense,” said Berry, “nonsense. Listen to this.

“Among the more subtle disasters occasioned by the first Great War was the loss by Paris of her personality. From being a city breathing
joie de vivre
, she became a bore. This will be denied – not by Frenchmen, who know the truth, but by those visitors who were not acquainted with Paris before the outbreak of war. The very name is a lure: and, since they know no better, they are well satisfied. But the real Paris has been dead for nearly forty years.

“Entering the city in the old days, you were immediately affected by her care-free atmosphere. This was compelling – and incomparable. She never could have worn the comfortable majesty of London: but, though she wasn’t really, she always seemed to be
en fête
. Festival was in the air. Her gaiety was infectious. Everyone gave the glad eye, as a matter of course. And very nice, too. If it did nothing else, it did the heart good. And her people were so understanding. About two o’clock of one morning I left Montmartre.”

“Do be careful,” said Daphne.

“I left,” said Berry, “in what is called solitary state.” He looked round defiantly. “Now it had been expedient that during the revelry I should – no matter why – assume a false nose. This was an admirable appendage, for it was not only striking, but comfortable – so comfortable that after a while I forgot that I had it on. And so I returned from the unique inconsequence of Montmartre to the quiet solemnity of the Place Vendôme, still wearing this emblem of genial festivity. When I paid the driver of my cab, he raised his hat. When I entered my hotel, the night-porter bowed. But neither, by word or look, gave me the slightest indication that he found my appearance in any way abnormal: and it was not until I was confronted with the reflection of my countenance in the privacy of my room that I realized that the dignity with which I had invested my orders had been considerably embarrassed. Well, there you are. The French were entirely natural – impatient of any restriction, but always ready to share what joy there was. Every day was an adventure. A trivial
was a matter of infinite jest. Paris was gay. Of course she had her faults. And the strict have called her hard names. But the
joie de vivre
of Paris was a cordial such as I never tasted anywhere else. It was not for sale: it ran in the streets, as the wine used to run on high days years ago. And it made glad the heart of man.”

My brother-in-law looked round.

“You must admit that that is unexceptionable.”

“Most restrained,” said I.

“Well, now it’s your turn. What about the Old Bailey? Of course it’ll let the side down, but if, as you suggest, the sheep’s to lie down with the goat—”

“Why,” said Jill, “because he was at the Bar—”

“He didn’t have to haunt the Criminal Courts.”

“He didn’t” – indignantly. “Besides—”

“My darling,” said I, “don’t try and take the brute on. As he knows, by the purest chance I have seen more of the Old Bailey than have most Common Lawyers. I was present at and sometimes concerned in cases, to be admitted to which some people would have paid very high. And, honestly, looking back, I don’t think they would have been wrong, for much of what I witnessed is today remarkable. A lot of novels are written which deal with crime; and descriptions are sometimes given of the Court and its procedure. And when I read them, I wonder whether the Court has changed. But I don’t think it has.

“About the proceedings at the Old Bailey, there is very seldom anything dramatic. As a rule, they are almost painfully matter-of-fact. Sometimes the atmosphere is sordid: but it’s always intensely real. You get right down to the bone. And that is why, though I was very glad when my time in Treasury Chambers came to an end, I cannot regret what I saw, for it was the real thing.”

“Go on,” said my sister. “I’m getting all worked up.”

“Begin at the beginning,” said Berry, “and don’t leave anything out.”

“Well, don’t blame me,” said I, “if you don’t like it.

“Old Bailey is the name of a street which runs from Newgate Street to Ludgate Hill. The Central Criminal Court has always stood in this street. Before it was known as the Central Criminal Court, it was called Old Bailey Sessions Court; and that is, I suppose, how it came by its name. For many years the court-house formed part of the building known as Newgate or Newgate Prison, the most famous jail in the world. Claude Duval, Henry Esmond, Defoe, Jack Sheppard, Lord George Gordon, Fagin and many other famous or infamous people all lay within its walls.

“Now in 1902 Newgate was pulled down, and the Old Bailey with it: and on the site of Newgate the present Old Bailey was built. But in 1901, Coles Willing, who preceded Forsyth as our solicitor, took me to see the old court.”

“You were very young,” said my sister.

“Fifteen,” said I. “But he knew I was bound for the Bar and he wanted me to see the old court before it went. And I’m awfully glad I did.

“He took me in by a door which Counsel used and I sat with him at a table in front of Counsel at which solicitors sat.

“At the moment there was nothing doing, so I looked well about me, while Willing began to talk to a Treasury Counsel he knew. It was a winter’s afternoon, and the court was lighted by gas. It was very close and seemed to be very full. But the jury-box was empty, as was the dock, and only an Alderman, robed, lolled on the Bench. (No Judge may sit alone at the Old Bailey; that is to say, another Commissioner must always be in the building: an Alderman, as being a Justice of the Peace, will do.) On the Bench was a long divan and a row of davenports. On the carpet on the floor of the Bench were lying sweet herbs, and a posy of flowers lay on the Judge’s desk. (To this day you may see the same things; they are a survival of the time when Newgate was full of jail-fever, and it was hoped that, with herbs and flowers about him, the Judge would be spared.) What hangings there were were dingy and all the woodwork was soiled. In the body of the court there seemed to be no room to spare, and the aisles were crowded. Looking up at the mouth of the public gallery, I saw only a sea of faces: it was Hogarthian: the occupants must, I think, have been crouching on the top of one another.

“Suddenly there were two loud raps, and one of the ushers cried, ‘Be uncovered in Court.’

“Everyone stood up, and the Judge walked on to the Bench.”

“Hawkins?” said Berry.

“No,” said I, “I wish I could say it was: but Mr Justice Hawkins had already retired. I put him in
Lower Than Vermin
. He was a damned good Judge, such as they don’t breed today. But he was hard on Counsel. Tireless himself, he’d sit till two in the morning, with never a window open, because he hated draughts. And he was mad about racing – Mr Justice Hawkins never was known to miss an important race. But in this particular case, Mr Justice Phillimore was on the Bench.”

“Give me strength,” said Berry.

“Yes, he was a corker,” said I. “I’ll give you that. He was a Puritan. His Puritanism oozed – and got under everyone’s skin. The things prisoners said to him would have made a gangster blush: and they very, very seldom abused a Judge. Ridley shared that distinction. But, then, he used to buy it, as Phillimore did. But Phillimore was a good Judge, while Ridley was a bad one. But I’m getting away from my tale.”

“Never mind that,” said Berry. “More of Ridley.”

“Well, one reminiscence,” said I. “Danckwerts, QC, was appearing in the Court of Appeal – not the Judge of today, but his father. And Danckwerts’ estimate of Ridley was very low. ‘My lords,’ says Danckwerts, ‘this is an appeal from my Lord Chief Justice, sitting as a Divisional Court.’ (A Divisional Court consists of two Judges, sitting together.) Old Lord Justice Vaughan-Williams took him up. ‘But, Mr Danckwerts, that were impossible, that my Lord Chief Justice should sit as a Divisional Court.’ Danckwerts looked round at his junior, sitting behind. Then he turned to the Bench. ‘I beg your lordships’ pardon. M’ learned junior reminds me that Mr Justice Ridley was also present.’”

“O-oh,” cried Jill, with a hand to her pretty mouth.

“I can’t swear to that, for I didn’t hear it myself. But I knew Danckwerts and I knew Ridley – not to speak to, of course – and I have no doubt at all that it’s perfectly true. And now let’s go back.

“Phillimore took his seat. Then some door was opened and a jury began to return. They’d been considering their verdict. When they had entered their box, the prisoner appeared in the dock. He was a small, compact man, and looked rather like a coachman, which in fact he was. The court was more crowded than ever, for people had been coming in. Then the jurymen answered to their names. When that was over, the Clerk of Arraigns rose. He was sitting directly below the Judge. He addressed the foreman of the jury.

“‘Gentlemen of the jury,’ he said, ‘are you agreed upon your verdict?’

“The foreman rose and replied.

“‘We are.’

“‘Do you find the prisoner guilty or not guilty?’


“A rustle ran round the court.

“‘And that is the verdict of you all?’


“Coles was whispering to counsel.

“‘What’s the charge?’


“‘Oh, my God,’ breathed Coles, and got half out of his seat.

“‘No, no, man. It’s too late now.’

“Coles sank back and laid a hand on my arm.

“The Clerk of Arraigns ‘called on’ the prisoner.

“‘You have been found guilty of murder. Have you anything to say why the Court should not give you judgment of death?’

“The prisoner replied.

“‘No, sir.’

“Then an usher or the Judge’s Crier made a proclamation, calling upon all to keep silence ‘upon pain of imprisonment’. As he did so, the doors of the court were locked. I think I shall always hear the clash of the wards.

BOOK: As Berry and I Were Saying
5.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Dusted by Holly Jacobs
Home Front Girls by Rosie Goodwin
Paper Dolls by Anya Allyn
The Tail of the Tip-Off by Rita Mae Brown
The Right Hand of God by Russell Kirkpatrick
Beneath the Bones by Tim Waggoner
Fenton's Winter by Ken McClure