I FIRST met Tiger Standish in Regent Street. We crashed into each other accidentally, and I received considerably the worst of the encounter. It was whilst I was trying to dig up from my inner consciousness a few words appropriate and adequate to the occasion that I heard a lazy voice drawl: "Sorry, old son."
It was one of the most interesting male voices I had ever heard, and when I looked into the face from which it must have proceeded I found all my rancour gone and a very mellow feeling of good will towards most of mankind taking its place. I happen to be like that: a smile quickly follows a scowl—always providing, of course, that the person in question is worth the smile.
This man emphatically was. He stood nearly six feet, was broad shouldered and lean hipped. Immaculately tailored, he looked as though he had been born in this particular suit. His age, I judged, was something around thirty.
He was deeply tanned, although the month was November, and out of the sunburn a pair of startlingly blue eyes looked at me quizzically. A nose slightly askew—a relic of a scrap somewhere or other, no doubt—and a wide mouth in which strong, white teeth showed were other features that I noted. Altogether it was just the kind of face that I like in a man—attractively ugly with all sorts of possibilities latent in it. I was thankful in that moment that I was not a woman; had I been, I'm quite sure this man would have occupied far too many of my thoughts during the next few days. . . .
We exchanged the commonplaces suitable to the occasion.
"I say, I'm most frightfully sorry." The likeable grin on his face deepened.
"My fault entirely," I replied.
For perhaps ten seconds we continued to smile at each other, and then, raising a right hand that looked enormous in the wash-leather glove, he strode on towards Piccadilly Circus.
I stood watching his broad back. This is an anaemic age, in which most people seem to be turned out in the same dull, miserable pattern, but this man was different. He belonged by rights to another generation. He was a giant among pygmies; it did not require much imagination to visualize him overstriding his particular world like a Colossus. Even in unromantic 1934 no doubt he found romance—plenty of it. Indeed, it would be difficult to conceive adventures passing him by.
That, I say, was my impression as I watched him disappear in the crowd. Although the man was a complete stranger to me I experienced a distinct sense of loss: here was a fellow so far removed from the common rut of humanity that it would have been a joy to get to know him. Such encounters are rare: how seldom does one run across a really kindred spirit! Occasionally, as one walks through the crowded streets of London or another of the world's capitals, one sees a person from whom there seems to emanate a call to friendship, but generally the millions of human beings are merely ships that pass without exchanging any signals.
That night, as I sat in my study after dinner, I made a resolve: if I could not run across this attractive unknown in the flesh again, I would meet him constantly in the spirit. In short, I would turn him into fiction, write all kinds of stories about him, and generally make a pal of the bloke!
It proved quite an interesting business. And with such a model, invention was not difficult. Quickly the following words found themselves in my mind:
The truest thing ever said about the Hon. Timothy Overbury Standish., son of the Earl of Quorn, was that he was born out of his generation. He should have carried a sword instead of a malacca cane; there should have been lace at his wrists instead of silk shirting—and an enemy lurking round the nearest corner instead of a matter-of-fact member of the Metropolitan Police.
To those who may accuse me of snobbishness let me retort by uttering an incontestable truth: the fiction-reading public likes its heroes to be well born, whilst the man who had unconsciously served as Tiger Standish's prototype, if not actually the son of a lord, certainly looked like one!
After that it was comparatively easy to invent adventures for this present-day swashbuckler, who has taken, I am very glad to say, the fancy of that huge modern reading public that likes its fiction to have a "kick" in it. There are certain plays which are said to be "actor-proof": the yarns in the Standish Saga I have proved to be author-proof, claiming no credit for the fact. I found I couldn't go wrong with them. Two have already been published, Tiger Standish and Tiger Standish Comes Back, and a third, The Grim Game, is on the way.
Every novelist is bound to have his favourites amongst the characters he creates, and Tiger Standish is my own particular pet. There's no sense in denying it—I like the fellow! He is something akin to what I should like to be if Nature had cast me for the adventuring (instead of the writing) part. Let the supercilious critics say what they like about him, he is a man. And men—real men—are badly wanted in modern fiction; there are far too many emasculated twits of various nauseating species claiming the attention. What the Rabelaisian-longued compositors say as they set the type had perhaps better be left to the imagination.
Fashions change in fiction, but so long as the British nation remains what it is, for just so long will there be a large public ready to be interested in thick-ear "doings" of which my friend Standish is a leading exponent. Why?
The answer is simple: because the character appeals to the heart of the boy which is in every man—every man who is a man.
There was once a time when only men were supposed to delight in "shockers." But women's ideas have changed in all sorts of ways—from "underneaths" to fiction. And now I find in my mail from feminine correspondents an insistent demand for "another Standish story."
Like Wallace before me, I have no pretensions to high-flown literary graces. I do not even call myself a novelist. I am a story-teller, and the people for whom I tell my stories are the masses. That the cognoscenti also happen to read them—or so I am informed—is merely an incidental. Give me the good will of the man and woman in the street and I am content.
I was forced to mention the foregoing fact to explain why I have given this favourite hero of mine adventures in the football field as well as in the more perilous paths of the British Secret Service.
Tiger Standish appears to have caught hold of that same public's imagination.
This gives me—why should I deny it?—considerable satisfaction. For I tried to endow Standish with all the attributes of a thoroughly likeable fellow: I wanted him, in fact, to live up to the living model. He likes his glass of beer, he is a confirmed pipe-smoker, he is always ready to smile back into the bright eyes of danger, he has that tremendous gift, a vivid sense of humour—and he can make love in a manner which leaves me, his creator, intolerably envious. That is what touches the spot with the women, I'm thinking—the way he makes love.
When he first meets the girl whom later he marries he rhapsodizes about her to his manservant, Benny Bannister:
"Did you notice her eyes, Benny? Did you notice the deep brown of them? how gracious they were, how tender?"
Benny is not the only one in whom Tiger confides about this girl; as readers of the Standish books will know, he has a particular pal—a half-Persian cat known variously as "Richard the Lion" and "Dick." Here is Standish talking to the cat, who is devoted to him:
"I want your full attention, please. Something's happened to me, Dick—yes, something important. You'd scarcely believe it, but I'm half-way towards falling in love. . . . Yes, honestly! Of course, she's a nice girl! As a matter of fact, I've never seen anyone quite like her. Tell me, how would you like a woman about the place? No, I don't mean an old one like Mrs. McTaggart; I mean someone young and beautiful, with soft hands that you would love to feel on your fur. . . .'
I may be wrong, but the chief trick in writing seems to me to get the reader so interested in the characters of the story that he (or, perhaps even more important, she] feels he really knows them. I will make the following confession: Tiger Standish, as I sit at my dictaphone or writing-table, is to me the most real character I have ever sent out into the world to try to earn me a few pennies. Of course the superior-minded reviewers—the type who profess to prefer the life-story of a human abortion running to seven hundred closely printed pages to a tale of adventure—are apt to declare that Tiger is several times larger than life, but that does not worry me in the least; it has always been the custom amongst these gentry to scoff at the popular novel, and I do not anticipate the fashion dying out in my lifetime.
Standish is not always the soul of courtesy. Just as he has a way with a girl, so he has a way with an enemy. He is speaking now to Aubrey Hamme, the unpleasant piece of work he strangles at the end of Tiger Standish Comes Back:
"Didn't recognize you at first, but it's Ye Merrie Hamme-bone, surely? Sorry I didn't notice the frill round the neck. How's your pal Carlimero? Still in Hell? And the bloke with the pickled face—let's see, what was his name? Rahusen or something like that?"
"You ought to know how Rahusen is."
"I? Why, I haven't set eyes on the thug since I croaked his junior partner, that stinking Italiano. You were rather lucky in that direction, if you remember. And, by the way, I thought you were still at Dartmoor."
A terror to his enemies, a hero to his valet, and a male angel to his wife: that's how I like to think of Standish.
And talking about the woman he has chosen as his mate, here is a bit about her:
Stupid, perhaps, for any girl—at least, any modern girl—to remain so crazily in love and show it; but throughout that morning the house had seemed a desert. She had gone into Tiger's room, trying to picture what life would be like without her husband. The room had been filled with his intense personal magnetism—to such an extent, indeed, that she had felt overwhelmed. Looking at his pipes, his tobacco jar and the other masculine oddments, all stamped so unmistakably with his personality, she found herself praying that nothing should ever come between them. Men changed—the best of them. . . . But this was disloyal, traitorous. There was no fear of Tiger changing in that way. If evil entered her heaven it would come through another agency.
Yes, I like to think that Sonia is worthy of that beloved husband of hers, whilst "Richard the Lion," their half-Persian (the original of whom gave my wife and me four and a half years of great joy at Bournemouth), is worthy of both of them.
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Text © 1935 Sydney Horler-Allen & Unwin Layout © 2004 R.D. Collins
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