‘Dornford Yates’ was the pen-name of novelist William Mercer, 1885–1960. Of all the authors whose fiction has got about my wits, none has tempted me so clamorously to find out about his factual life. Where was, and what was the real name of, Gracedieu, the dream ‘House That Berry Built’ in the western foothills of the Pyrenees? How many Rolls Royces did William, later Captain, later Major Mercer own? Why had the marriage of Boy and lovely American Adèle of the books broken up? The disappearance of Adèle left Boy free to marry his lovely, child-like, widowed cousin Jill, Duchess of Padua. Who was she in Mercer’s life?
And so on. The prime Dornford Yates characters, those inter-related five of (in Mr Smithers’ words) ‘the high-class orphans’ co-operative called White Ladies’, were so vivid, and the clues (see under ‘William Mercer’ in the post-Second World War years of Who’s Who) so teasing. For instance, Who’s Who showed that William Mercer had m. an American lady, Bettine, (‘whom he divorced’) and they had had a son, Richard: that Mercer had re-m., this time an English lady, a Miss Bowie: that his address was ‘Cockade’ in Les Eux Bonnes, Basses Pyrénées: that he