Welcome to the thirty-fourth radio serial in our popular series Tales for Our Time, and it's our third yarn by John Buchan, author of The Thirty-Nine Steps and its sequel Greenmantle, and before that editor of The Spectator and afterwards Governor General of Canada. Upon its publication in 1915, The Thirty-Nine Steps was such a runaway bestseller that readers wanted to know what else Buchan had written. As he wrote to Major-General Sir Francis Lloyd:
MY DEAR GENERAL:
A recent tale of mine has, I am told, found favour in the dug-outs and billets of the British front, as being sufficiently short and sufficiently exciting for men who have little leisure to read. My friends in that uneasy region have asked for more. So I have printed this story, written in the smooth days before the war, in the hope that it may enable an honest man here and there to forget for an hour the too urgent realities. I have put your name on it, because among the many tastes which we share one is a liking for precipitous yarns.
During the Great War, Sir Francis Lloyd was responsible for the defense of London from Zeppelin attacks and the like, which certainly qualifies as a "too urgent reality". The Power-House was written by Buchan in 1913, a year before the war and two years before The Thirty-Nine Steps, but it's not quite merely the pre-war escapism he presents it as. Indeed, it's rather topical in the age of Brexit and Trump, for in it, as I explain in my introduction, our hero finds himself up against an organization of well-connected chaps whom today we might label as "globalists" - men who belong to all nations and to none. As Buchan's protagonist learns, you might never have heard of these fellows, but they all know each other and their interests differ from anything so crude as a "national interest".
At the time he wrote The Power-House, Buchan had yet to create Richard Hannay, the restless adventurer of the veldt, who drives the narrative of The Thirty-Nine Steps through his sheer energy. Instead, the caper is entrusted to an obscure backbench Member of Parliament, Edward Leithen. As the "editor" of this tale tells us in his preface:
We were at Glenaicillâ€”six of usâ€”for the duck-shooting, when Leithen told us this story. Since five in the morning we had been out on the skerries, and had been blown home by a wind which threatened to root the house and its wind-blown woods from their precarious lodgment on the hill. A vast nondescript meal, luncheon and dinner in one, had occupied us till the last daylight departed, and we settled ourselves in the smoking-room for a sleepy evening of talk and tobacco.
Conversation, I remember, turned on some of Jim's trophies which grinned at us from the firelit walls, and we began to spin hunting yarns. Then Hoppy Bynge, who was killed next year on the Bramaputra, told us some queer things about his doings in New Guinea, where he tried to climb Carstensz, and lived for six months in mud. Jim said he couldn't abide mudâ€”anything was better than a country where your boots rotted. (He was to get enough of it last winter in the Ypres Salient.) You know how one tale begets another, and soon the whole place hummed with odd recollections, for five of us had been a good deal about the world.
All except Leithen, the man who was afterwards Solicitor-General, and, they say, will get to the Woolsack in time. I don't suppose he had ever been farther from home than Monte Carlo, but he liked hearing about the ends of the earth.
Jim had just finished a fairly steep yarn about his experiences on a Boundary Commission near Lake Chad, and Leithen got up to find a drink.
"Lucky devils," he said. "You've had all the fun out of life. I've had my nose to the grindstone ever since I left school."
I said something about his having all the honour and glory.
"All the same," he went on, "I once played the chief part in a rather exciting business without ever once budging from London. And the joke of it was that the man who went out to look for adventure only saw a bit of the game, and I who sat in my chambers saw it all and pulled the strings. 'They also serve who only stand and wait,' you know."
Then he told us this story...
To hear me read Part One of The Power-House, prefaced by my own introduction to Buchan's tale, Mark Steyn Club members should please click here and log-in.
We now have well over two years' worth of my audio adaptations of classic fiction starting with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's cracking tale of an early conflict between jihadists and westerners in The Tragedy of the Korosko. To access them all, please see our easy-to-navigate Netflix-style Tales for Our Time home page. We've introduced a similar tile format for my Sunday Poems and also for our audio and video music specials.
We launched The Mark Steyn Club over two-and-a-half years ago, and I'm overwhelmed by all those members across the globe who've signed up to be a part of it - from Fargo to Fiji, Vancouver to Vanuatu, Cook County to the Cook Islands, West Virginia to the West Midlands. As I said at the time, membership isn't for everyone, but it is a way of ensuring that all our content remains available for everyone.
That said, we are offering our Club members a few extras, including our monthly audio adventures by Dickens, Conrad, Kafka, Gogol, H G Wells, Baroness Orczy, Jack London, Scott Fitzgerald, Robert Louis Stevenson - plus a piece of non-classic fiction by yours truly. You can find them all here. We're very pleased by the response to our Tales - and we even do them live on our annual Mark Steyn Cruise, and sometimes with special guests. We'll be presenting another Tale for Our Time along with live editions of The Mark Steyn Show and much more on our third annual cruise.
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To become a member of The Mark Steyn Club, please click here - and don't forget that special Gift Membership. As soon as you join, you'll get access not only to The Power-House but to all the other yarns gathered together at the Tales for Our Time home page.
One other benefit to membership is our Comment Club privileges. So, whether you're a chap who goes looking for adventure or prefers to sit in his chambers pulling all the strings, feel free to comment away below. And do join us tomorrow for Part Two of The Power-House.