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Authors: Dornford Yates

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Ne'er Do Well

BOOK: Ne'er Do Well
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Ne'er Do Well


First published in 1954

© Estate of Dornford Yates; House of Stratus 1954-2011


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

Publisher's Note

The Author did not divide this work into Chapters

Author's Note

Plagiarism is in the air: so I feel that I should make three things plain.

The first is that I do not write, never have written and never shall write any book or article under any name other than my own, prominently displayed. This assurance should give those who know and dislike my work every opportunity of avoiding it. The second is that this is the ninth book of mine in which Richard Chandos appears as the narrator, and the fourth in which Chief Inspector (now Superintendent) Falcon plays a part. The third is that in this, as in all my books, every character and situation has been created and every line has been composed by me alone.

That this book is shorter than my others, I am unhappily aware: but that is how it came out, and I hope and believe that my public would not have wished me to pad the tale.

Perhaps I should add that all the characters, places, occasions and circumstances which I have named or described are wholly imaginary.


The Beginning

August was in. The sky was cloudless, the sun was agreeably hot, and there was no wind. No sounds but those of Nature came to our ears. The peace was absolute. It was, in fact, an old-fashioned summer's day.

Jonathan Mansel and I were sitting at ease on the terrace, our eyes on the blowing meadows that neighbour my Wiltshire home. My wife was standing between us, with a basket upon her arm.

Jenny seemed young as ever: but the war had aged Mansel, and I was rather less active than I had been before. He had done more than his duty and had justly received a bar to his DSO: but I had had a price on my head and was proud of that. To our content, he came more often to Maintenance than he had come before, “for the old days hang on here,” he said, “as nowhere else that I know.”

“I love,” said Jenny, “to see you two sitting here. You were together the first time we ever met.”

“You told us to go away.”

“I was a little girl then.”

“And we were – rather younger,” I said.

Jenny caught my hand to her heart. Then she stooped to kiss me, let my hand go in silence and moved to the terrace steps. Without looking back, she went down to the little garden which we were still able to boast. The great Alsatian, Oakham, moved by her side.

“I wish,” I said, “I wish she wouldn't take it so hard.”

“That's love,” said Mansel. “But, honestly, William, you carry it off so well that even I, who know you as few men know another, forget that the war put ten years on to your age.”

“When I'm with you – or with Jenny, I forget it myself. And I'm terribly lucky, you know. No false limbs and no disfigurement. And I can still hack.”


“Nothing to speak of. In the very cold weather, sometimes.”


“Might be much worse.”

During the war I had paid flying visits to France – by sea and by night. On my last, as I swung myself inboard, I had been hit in the throat.

“After all,” I said, “I've had a wonderful show. In peace, as in war. Look at the times we had.”

“Yes, they were very good. Remember…”

As always, when we were alone, we began to recall other days. ‘Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.' So we came back to Jenny, by way of
She Fell Among Thieves

“By the mercy of God,” said I, “she means no more to Jenny than Charlie Peace. When she killed her daughter's memory, it was the very best deed that Vanity Fair ever did.”

“So it was,” said Mansel. “God moves in a mysterious way – you can't get away from that. There's Vanity Fair – one of the wickedest women that ever was foaled. Brilliant, treacherous, subtle; completely and utterly ruthless; nothing counting with her but her own desires. Intrigue to Vanity Fair was the breath of life. And here's her daughter, Jenny – Virginia Brooch. The sweetest, gentlest, most artless and loving creature the world has ever known.”

“Jenny's a nymph,” I said. “When she was eight, her memory was killed. So much we know from her ‘stand-in'. For the next twelve years, under a rough duenna, she lived with Nature alone. Her friends were the streams and pastures, the woods and hills. And all dumb animals. She never had any idea that there was anything else. And then, at twenty, we brought her into the world. If we were to save her life, we couldn't do anything else; but you know, to be honest, she took the change in her stride. Your sister, Jill, was the
dea ex machina
. But, all the same, it was an astonishing thing.”

“Yes,” said Mansel, “it was. But she is her mother's daughter – don't forget that. And Vanity Fair had poise – an amazing self-possession. And Jenny has it, too. Nothing ruffles Jenny. Look at the war.”

I nodded.

“From all I hear, she was perfectly wonderful. There isn't a farm for miles that doesn't swear by her name. She was at Gauntlet the night that the bombs were dropped and the stables caught fire. Bell said she was like The Pied Piper. The horses just followed her quietly and then stood still in a paddock with her in their midst. And not a head-rope between them.”

Bell appeared with the letters – one for Jenny and two or three for Mansel, sent on from Cleveland Row.

“Bell,” said Mansel, “who was the biggest felon we ever took on?”

“‘Rose' Noble, sir,” said Bell. “Gedge was dangerous, too. But I was never easy until ‘Rose' Noble was dead.”

“Bell's right,” said Mansel. “He'd far more to him than the others. And he had that terrible instinct. Where I feared to assume, he knew.”

“And drive,” said I.

“Yes, he'd a wonderful drive. He'd have had the Hohenems treasure, if we'd been up against him, instead of up against Friar.”

“I'm sure he would,” said I. “We couldn't have beaten him.”

“Who couldn't you have beaten?” said Jenny, coming out of the library.

“‘Rose' Noble, my sweet.”

“Well, you did – twice over,” said Jenny.

“I know,” said Mansel, laughing. “But I never know how we did it.”

To be honest, neither do I.

As I handed my wife her letter –

“Oh, it's from Jill,” she cried.

Jill Pleydell was Mansel's sister, now in Portugal.

Taking her seat on the parapet, Jenny read it aloud.


“Darling Jenny,

“I'm so glad Jonah's with you. We've just got back from a little place in the South where we bathed all day. Next year you and Richard must come and love it with us. I think the sea-water and sun were very good for Boy's knee. So they would be for Richard. I told you Boy was lecturing at Coimbra: well now Berry's been asked and he's going to do a set on ‘The English Scene'. I think he'll be terribly good. Daphne and Bridget and I are making all the linen for the English ‘Master's Lodging' that's being built. It's going to be simply lovely – the house, I mean. The Sheres are giving the linen-fold panelling from Feathers, and the Lambournes the dining-room, as it stands, from Sillabub Hall, and the Lyvedens the table silver, beautiful stuff, and the Bagots a Queen Anne bedroom from Chancery. So it will be a real piece of England, won't it? We're all coming over for ten days at the end of September, so you and Richard must come up to London then. Boy and I shall stay for two nights at Lockley, for Nol and Julie are giving what books we like to take. So Boy's going to pick them out of the library. And a Reynolds and one by Gainsborough and one of Crome's. Isn't it splendid of them? I'll let you know when we arrive. Darling Jenny, I want to see you so much. We're very lucky, aren't we, in Richard and Boy? I mean, they are lambs. Please kiss Jonah for me and tell him I love him a million and more than that.


“Your loving



“Like to like,” murmured Mansel.

Jenny went to him and put an arm round his neck.

“For Jill,” she said, and kissed him. “For darling Jill, who loves you so very much.”

Mansel smiled into her eyes.

“Thank you, my sweet. I'm very fortunate.”

That afternoon we drove to Salisbury, to stroll in the exquisite Close and wonder at the perfect proportions of the Cathedral Church…

The evening was soft and warm, and coffee was served upon the terrace, to our content. For a while we sat there silent, watching the shadows steal upon the landscape and the lovely light of heaven grow slowly dim. The ancient ritual diminished all worldly things.

At length Jenny got to her feet.

“Let's go in,” she said, and turned to the house.

Oakham, her silent familiar, moved in her wake.

A slow wood fire was burning upon the library's hearth, and the three of us sat down about it, more grateful for its presence than conscious of its warmth.

When we had talked for an hour, I rose, passed to a table, poured Jenny barley-water and asked Mansel what he would like.

“Barley-water, William.”

“You mean that?” I said.

“I do.”

I drank it, too. Had I been offered champagne, I would have turned it down. The age of champagne was over. And beer as well.

As I set his glass by his side –

“We've had our day,” I said.

“Yes,” said Mansel, and smiled. “But what a day, William!”

“It suited me,” I said.

“And me. The open air, and doing something worth while. ‘And gentlemen in England, now a-bed…' D'you know what I value most?” I shook my head. “That our names were respected and feared in
The Wet Flag

I laughed.

“How many people today would value that?”

“Not very many,” said Mansel. “Times have changed, and the world that we knew has gone. Matters of life and death are not quite nice. Many subscribe in spirit to the price the Boche put on your head.”

“That,” said Jenny, “is because in their hearts they're afraid.”

Mansel nodded.

“I fear that's the true explanation, look at it how you will.”


The next was a fine, brave day, with the faintest breeze and hardly a cloud in the sky: and so, with one consent, we made an excursion which not everyone would have liked. Taking our luncheon with us, we drove by country lanes to The Stukely Walks. And when I say ‘drove', I mean it. With Jenny and Oakham beside him, Mansel drove the gig; and I drove the dog-cart, with Carson sitting beside me and Bell behind. It was a pretty progress: we only encountered six cars. We took two hours to cover the fifteen miles. But we saw the countryside as the countryside should be seen – as our fathers and grandfathers saw it, and felt refreshed. The Walks we had to ourselves – they are off the map. Carson and Bell were ravished: I really believe that the horses enjoyed it, too. We had brought a bucket and feeds, and the servants took off their harness and let them roll. I drove the gig back, and Jenny sat by my side, her beauty flushed with her pleasure in every mile. Her enjoyment was so infectious, I found the leisurely journey far too short. So we came back to Maintenance, just as a sinking sun was gilding the oaks and elms and casting giant shadows upon the grateful meadows, freckled with sheep. Calling back Time, we had stolen a summer's day.

The next day, Sunday, we lunched at Buckram Place. All three of us could remember when this had been maintained as a stately home – the home of, say, forty people, high and low. But now there were only four. The splendid gardens, which had given great pleasure to thousands throughout the summer months, the splendid gardens were gone, and the meadows ran up to the house. The lodges and cottages were empty – ‘We'd let them for next to nothing, but people say that they're too far from a town.' The stables lodged two horses; the coach-houses kept two serviceable cars and a truck. The whole of the house was shut, except for four rooms – library, withdrawing-room, kitchen and servants' hall. Natalie and her husband lived and ate in the library, slept in the drawing-room. Their working butler and cook used the kitchen and servants' hall. Two bathrooms had been installed to serve these ‘suites'. Somehow, husband and wife maintained the estate. The sheep, the cattle, the crops – these things made up their life.

“We don't make a farthing,” said Baldric. “In fact, we're down on the deal. But that is because we do as has always been done. Happily, it doesn't matter. As long as our capital lasts, we can live upon that. And the farms must have the best. They call us the bloated rich. I'd like to see one of them do the week-day's work we do. We think ourselves lucky if we've only a ten-hour day – and that, for nothing at all, except our
amour propre
. Give me democracy.”

“Now, now,” said Natalie.

“You make me ashamed,” said I.

“Don't be absurd, Richard. You have been shot to pieces.”

“Eleven wounds,” said Jenny. “I don't know why he's alive.”

“Now, now,” said I. “I get along very well. And our two farms are very easy to run.”

“We live,” said Mansel, “at an unfortunate time. We've seen the great days pass and the pinchbeck days come in. That's always a sorry spectacle. Plenty of Romans felt as we do, you know. And then the last crash came, and the dark ages supervened.”

“That'll learn 'em,” said Baldric.

“Yes,” said Mansel, “it will. Free wigs will be off. As for a forty-hour week, whoever wants to survive will have to fight for his life – for three or four hundred years.”

“The pansy,” I said, “the pansy won't like being learned. He'll probably ring up the police.”

“No doubt,” said Mansel drily. “But he will get no reply.”

“We must go down,” said Natalie, “with everything ‘all correct'.”

“That's right,” said Jenny. “We feel exactly the same.”

I nodded.

“One's house in order, hay carried, animals watered and fed. Of course it won't matter at all, except to us.”

“And why,” said Natalie. “Why will it matter to us?”

“Self-respect,” said Mansel. “We're all the same. If I were told that I was to die at four, I should arise at three, to bathe and shave. But I have a feeling that this time we shan't be warned.”

“In the twinkling of an eye?” said Baldric.

“That's my belief.”

Baldric frowned.

“And the roof of Odd Acre's new barn is only half on.”

“I think you'll have time for that. I don't think it's coming just yet. I may be wrong, of course. It may come tonight. But somehow I don't think it will. But when it comes, I think it'll come in a flash.”

“And fall upon us?” said Jenny.

“Yes, my sweet. Get us, and they've got the lot. Wipe England out, and the rest will be at their disposal.”

Baldric nodded.

“Machines do not a warrior make.”

“Nor boasts a man-at-arms.”

BOOK: Ne'er Do Well
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