Once upon a time at the very beginning of the 20th Century, in a big, comfortable house in Chicago, there lived a little girl called Alice.
Alice’s father, William Edward Silverthorne, was a giant of the textile industry and her mother, Julia Belle Chapin, was a princess of American meatpacking royalty, related to the Armour family who owned the biggest food company in all the land. Little Alice wanted for nothing. She had all the dolls, cakes and fancy clothes she could ever want, and everything was perfect.
One day, when Alice was eight years old, the snow lay thick on the ground outside the Silverthorne’s big, comfortable house. Nobody went outside into the freezing wind, except Alice’s mother, who had been locked out of the house by William the Giant. When she was allowed back inside, Alice’s mother had a little cough. Six months later she died of tuberculosis, leaving Alice at home with her father, and a big fat trust fund full of money.
Alice’s father was a very busy man. He moved the little family to New York and found a new wife for himself and a governess for Alice so he could occupy himself with Business and Making Money and Being An Alcoholic and other Grown Up Things.
Soon, young Alice had her thirteenth birthday, and at last she was old enough to go along on one of her father’s adventures. They would travel along the avenues of Chicago, where the young teen was introduced to sparkly nightclubs, sparkly society and sparkly drinks. William even took her to the faraway kingdoms of Europe, where there seemed no end of new potions, pastimes and possible suitors.
But all the while, lurking behind adolescent Alice’s newfound wanderlust and wanton indulgence, was the Big Bad Bleak, a dark and heavy monster of her mind, ready to jump out and ravage her thoughts every morning when the anaesthetic of absinthe and Armagnac had worn away. The Big Bad Bleak made Alice want to do big bad things.
Around 1913, Alice was removed from the custody of her father, who was surprised to learn that a young lady’s education was not usually undertaken on the fun side of a bar. She went to live with an aunt, who put her in a boarding school in Washington DC. The Big Bad Bleak went along, too.
At the age of 22, Alice moved to Paris and met a handsome count - Frédéric Jacques, Comte de Janzé, a rich and well-connected racing driver. Three weeks later, they were married and lived happily ever after, as long as “happily ever after” means “having two babies, handing them over to governesses and then getting bored with it all”.
To spice things up a little, the de Janzés accepted the invitation of their friends the Earl and Countess of Erroll to stay in their house in Kenya. Alice and Frédéric accepted, and joined a neighbourhood of rich, white, decadent socialites known as the Happy Valley set.
The Happy Valley set, notorious for drugs, drunkenness and the indiscriminate dipping of wicks, was tailor-made for Alice. If her teenage years had been her training, her time in Kenya was the Getting Off Your Tits And Sleeping With Everything Olympics.
Amongst Alice’s playthings was the very posh Englishman Raymond Vincent de Trafford. After a long and very indiscreet affair, she realised that she wanted to keep him, so she and Frédéric filed for divorce in 1926.
Alice and Raymond spoke of marriage, but Raymond’s firm intentions soon grew soft when his family threatened to cut him off. When he told Alice it was all over, the Big Bad Bleak stirred from its hiding place. And the Big Bad Bleak said, “Go and buy a pretty gun, Alice.”
Later that day, Alice and Raymond sat in a train carriage together in Paris. Alice pulled a gold-and-pearl revolver from her purse and shot first her lover, then herself, in the belly. Both survived – Raymond only just - and thanks to Alice’s wealth, connections and history of unstable emotions, she got off the charge of attempted murder with a fine and suspended sentence. Alice’s wealth and connections also ensured that the subsequent scandal was internationally enormous.
Raymond convinced everyone, probably including himself, that the shooting was an attempted suicide gone wrong, and the couple married in 1932. But unlike the fairytale weddings which are in fact a load of bollocks, they separated only three months later. By 1937, Alice had two divorces under her belt, and not much money in her purse.
Returning to Kenya, she found it impossible to recapture the days of compatriots and cocktails, so settled for melancholy and morphine. The Big Bad Bleak was her most loyal disciple, and was ever aware of the weapon Alice still had in her possession. So when her ex-lover Lord Erroll was found shot dead in his car near Nairobi in 1941, Alice became a suspect. The man eventually charged with the crime, Sir Henry John Delves Broughton, was acquitted in court.
When Alice was diagnosed with uterine cancer later that year, the Big Bad Bleak found some barbiturates to overdose on. She was discovered and rescued by her friend Patricia Bowles. A week after that, on 30th September 1941, the Big Bad Bleak wrote farewell notes to Alice’s daughters, her friends and the police, and then showed Alice her pretty gun for the last time.