Welcome to Part Ten of our current Tale for Our Time - John Buchan's pioneering man-on-the-run thriller, The Thirty-Nine Steps. Joshua Passell, a first-weekend Founding Member of The Mark Steyn Club, writes:
I try to save two episodes to listen to back-to-back on my midday dog walks. Today's walk, in raw conditions that would make Hannay's ordeal on the moors feel like a nap on the Costa del Sol, was warmed by the heat of this scorching tale. Thank you so much! Now, I need to find a copy of the text to read what the rural Scots are saying. Your portrayal of the accent is so spot on as to be unintelligible!
Och aye, the noo, Joshua! In tonight's episode, the assembled British bigwigs cannot believe Richard Hannay's claim that the chap sitting next to them was not the high-ranking senior official they all know so well but a German impostor. Only the Frenchman concurs - because he knows how that can happen:
'I will tell you a tale,' he said. 'It happened many years ago in Senegal. I was quartered in a remote station, and to pass the time used to go fishing for big barbel in the river. A little Arab mare used to carry my luncheon basket—one of the salted dun breed you got at Timbuctoo in the old days. Well, one morning I had good sport, and the mare was unaccountably restless. I could hear her whinnying and squealing and stamping her feet, and I kept soothing her with my voice while my mind was intent on fish. I could see her all the time, as I thought, out of a corner of my eye, tethered to a tree twenty yards away. After a couple of hours I began to think of food. I collected my fish in a tarpaulin bag, and moved down the stream towards the mare, trolling my line. When I got up to her I flung the tarpaulin on her back—'
He paused and looked round.
'It was the smell that gave me warning. I turned my head and found myself looking at a lion three feet off ... An old man-eater, that was the terror of the village ... What was left of the mare, a mass of blood and bones and hide, was behind him.'
'What happened?' I asked. I was enough of a hunter to know a true yarn when I heard it.
'I stuffed my fishing-rod into his jaws, and I had a pistol. Also my servants came presently with rifles. But he left his mark on me.' He held up a hand which lacked three fingers.
'Consider,' he said. 'The mare had been dead more than an hour, and the brute had been patiently watching me ever since. I never saw the kill, for I was accustomed to the mare's fretting, and I never marked her absence, for my consciousness of her was only of something tawny, and the lion filled that part. If I could blunder thus, gentlemen, in a land where men's senses are keen, why should we busy preoccupied urban folk not err also?'
If you've yet to hear any of our first twelve Tales for Our Time, you can do so by joining The Mark Steyn Club. Or, if you need a special gift for someone, why not give your loved one a Gift Membership and start him or her off with a dozen cracking yarns? And don't forget to join us tomorrow for another installment of a John Buchan classic.