Here we go with Part Four of our brand new Tale for Our Time - my winter serialization of John Buchan's eerie pre-war thriller of 1913, The Power-House. I said in my introduction that Buchan's tale posits a civilization menaced by a globalist agglomeration. In tonight's episode, two gentlemen find themselves musing after dinner:
'Suppose that the links in the cordon of civilisation were neutralised by other links in a far more potent chain. The earth is seething with incoherent power and unorganised intelligence. Have you ever reflected on the case of China? There you have millions of quick brains stifled in trumpery crafts. They have no direction, no driving power, so the sum of their efforts is futile, and the world laughs at China. Europe throws her a million or two on loan now and then, and she cynically responds by begging the prayers of Christendom. And yet, I say, supposingâ€”â€”'
'It's a horrible idea,' I said, 'and, thank God, I don't believe it possible.'
I don't believe "Trumpery crafts" is a reference to the skills of the current American president, but a century on from Buchan China does not want for direction and driving power, as we are belatedly realizing with respect to sotto voce murmurings about whether it was such a great idea to place the global supply chain in the hands of a society where rats from the test lab are subsequently sold in the local market.
We always get lots of interesting comments on our Tales, and this dreamy aside by Edward Leithen pricked up several ears:
I saw myself with a knout coercing Tommy and Pitt-Heron in a Russian fortress...
David Wilson, a First Week Founding Member of The Mark Steyn Club, writes:
This tale is off to a great start! The use of the word "knout" triggered a memory of a favorite adventures "hero" from my high school years: Harry Flashman. George MacDonald Fraser's series was a hoot, and the only other author I have read to use "knout". It's funny what sticks in the memory.
A knout isn't really a hoot, David, not if you're on the receiving end. It was a particularly brutal form of whip, long used as a form of punishment in the Russian Empire. A hundred lashes was a death sentence, but even twenty could kill. Peter the Great is generally believed to have knouted his son and Tsarevich Alexei to death in 1718. Although supposedly abolished by Nicholas I in 1845, it lingered in the western imagination as emblematic of Romanov tyranny.
Tales for Our Time is now well into its third year. So, if you've a friend who might be partial to our classic fiction outings, we have a special Gift Membership that, aside from audio yarns, also includes video poetry, live music and more. And I'll be doing a live-performance Tale for Our Time at sea on this year's Mark Steyn Cruise.
Please join me tomorrow evening for Part Five of The Power-House.