Viva King’s revealing comments about Elvira (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/viva-king/ ) are given weight by Charles Graves, in his 1951 autobiography, “The Bad Old Days”. Charles Graves (1899-1971) was the younger brother of the poet Robert Graves and a journalist and prolific author (146 books!). He was also, in the 1920s, one of that army of gossip writers who did so much to publicise The Bright Young People.
Unlike King , his re-telling of the circumstances of his brief affair with Elvira seeks to show her suicidal rather than homicidal nature and hence support the Not Guilty verdict in the shooting of Scott Stephen. I am not entirely convinced that the facts, as he expounds them, warrant such an inference.
“I wrote “I found Lady X and her very pretty daughter who is at the Benson School of Dramatic Art to learn how to be a musical comedy star. I expect she will.”
That was the start of a brief unhappy flirtation for which I blame myself entirely. The girl was the daughter of a rich business man. Her home life was not particularly happy and I made the unfortunate error of mistaking sympathy for love.It was entirely my fault,The girl said that she would like to marry a poor man and that she was surfeited with her rich home life which was why she was planning to go on the stage. I regarded this as most romantic and we became unofficially engaged.This lasted for a couple of months and then I began to realize that I was not in love with her. So I wrote her a note asking her to break it off. By this time I had been made news editor of the Sunday Express and in consequence did not get home to my chambers (then in Royal Avenue, Chelsea) until 2.30 a.m. One Saturday night I had gone to the Hambone for eggs and bacon, before returning home, and found a young South American there short of a bed for the night. So I brought him back, although I could only give him a divan in my front sitting-room. I myself retired to bed but was woken up by my guest half an hour later. He said “There is a girl walking up and down the pavement below.She threw a pebble at the window. Her car is there and I think she has a revolver in her hand.”
Royal Avenue, Chelsea
“My worst misgivings were about to be realized. I went to the window which was on the first floor and sure enough there was the girl with something gleaming in her hand. It was a pistol all right.I hurried back to my bedroom, put on my dressing-gown over my pyjamas and returned.”I am going to try to surprise her,” I said. “When you hear me undo the latch of the front door,Philip, open the window and attract her attention. I’ll do the rest.” The stratagem worked. While the girl’s attention was distracted there was just time enough for me to grab the pistol. Luckily I knew the correct wrist to grab.She tried to pull the trigger but the pistol fell out of her hand on to the pavement with a clang, and she fainted dead away. Fortunately there was not a policeman in sight.”
“I uncocked the pistol, (it was a .32) , removed the bullets, carried her upstairs and dabbed cold water on her forehead until she came too when she became hysterical for some minutes, being evidently surprised that my companion was not some girl. I was appalled when I realized the horrible situation with which we had become embroiled, entirely thanks to me. I put Philip Perez into my bedroom and made the girl sleep on the divan while I sat out the night in an armchair to make sure that she did not run away or do herself a damage. Next morning she seemed much better and I took the risk of letting her drive me in her car, which had been parked outside my place all night, to her home in the West End where I saw her mother and told her what had happened. She was horrified….”
“…….Jumping ahead a few years, however, it is easy to imagine my discomfort when,as a happily married man, I opened the newspaper one day and found that the girl had been charged with the murder of an acquaintance of hers in the early hours. The last thing I wanted to do was to draw public attention to myself.On the other hand, I knew that I must give evidence if necessary. I wrote to the girl, who was in Holloway, and received a perfectly charming letter back from her that she would tell her counsel about in case he thought I could be a good witness. I heard nothing at all from him. The case was heard. The girl gave evidence quite wonderfully and, as I expected, she was duly acquitted.”
“I read the newsin the Stop Press of the Evening Standard during the Varsity match and gave the startled newspaper seller a ten bob note.If, of course, she had been convicted I would have gone to the lawyer and told him about the event five years before when the girl had behaved in such a highly hysterical manner – powerful circumstantial evidence that she was trying to commit suicide when the young man was accidentally shot. I only saw her once more before her death in Paris some time afterwards.”
All very intriguing – if not entirely convincing. No shot fired – as opposed to Viva King’s version and a rather excessive use of gentlemanly mea culpa. What is very significant is that these events took place in 1925 or 1926 – well before Elvira’s disastrous marriage, which was always cited as the start of her descent into emotional chaos.