In her declining years, Berthe Antonine Mayné would tell her nephew a fascinating and romantic tale. She claimed that she had once been the lover of a millionaire and had gone with him on the R.M.S. Titanic. The nephew did not believe her – and nor did anyone else, for that matter. But Mayné’s incredible story was true.
Mayné’s story begins way back in 1887 in Ixelles, one of the constituent parts of the Belgian capital of Brussels. Using the name Bella Vielly, she had taken to the stage as a nightclub singer. And it seems that in that capacity she had actually gained some measure of success.
Indeed, the Dutch language newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws once noted her popularity. It wrote that she was “well known in Brussels in circles of pleasure and was often seen in the company of people who like to wine and dine and enjoy life.” So it may not be a surprise that she caught the eye of the dashing Fernand de Villiers.