Welcome to the final installment of our current Tale for Our Time - written by John Buchan over a few weeks while convalescing from a duodenal ulcer. As the concluding episode of The Thirty-Nine Steps begins, the utter middle-class suburban normality of the scene has paralysed Richard Hannay, and shaken his faith in his theory of the plot:
My plan had been to walk straight into the dining-room, and by a sudden appearance wake in the men that start of recognition which would confirm my theory. But when I found myself in that neat hall the place mastered me. There were the golf-clubs and tennis-rackets, the straw hats and caps, the rows of gloves, the sheaf of walking-sticks, which you will find in ten thousand British homes. A stack of neatly folded coats and waterproofs covered the top of an old oak chest; there was a grandfather clock ticking; and some polished brass warming-pans on the walls, and a barometer, and a print of Chiltern winning the St Leger. The place was as orthodox as an Anglican church. When the maid asked me for my name I gave it automatically, and was shown into the smoking-room, on the right side of the hall.
That room was even worse. I hadn't time to examine it, but I could see some framed group photographs above the mantelpiece, and I could have sworn they were English public school or college. I had only one glance, for I managed to pull myself together and go after the maid. But I was too late. She had already entered the dining-room and given my name to her master, and I had missed the chance of seeing how the three took it.
I don't believe Chiltern ever did win the St Leger - which is either a sign of what a total funk Hannay is in, or a dead giveaway that these fellows really are German spies. Members of The Mark Steyn Club can hear me read the conclusion of The Thirty-Nine Steps simply by clicking here and logging-in. Please note that due to my somewhat distracted state this last week our announcer announces it as "Part Eleven", but don't worry, it is in fact "Part Twelve" - and the final episode. So do enjoy. Earlier episodes can be found here.
My annotation a couple of nights back re "Annie Laurie" and changing trains at Crewe prompted some interesting responses. First-week Founding Member Bart Nielsen writes:
I never knew the meaning of the Annie Laurie reference in 'Transports of Delight'.
I am perhaps the greatest Flanders & Swann fan still living and would love to read your take on some of their oeuvre in a future Song of the Week.
My wife is a Cheshire girl and I'm a train nut, so our trips back home always feature Crewe or even better, York.
As always, I greatly enjoy the global content you provide. Keep it coming!
Thank you, Bart. I love Flanders & Swann - haven't heard their Mozart horn concerto for years, but can still sing every word. So I may take you up on your Song of the Week suggestion. Re Crewe, I had no idea we had so many trainspotters among the listenership. Gareth Roberts, a first-weekend Founding Member from another great English railway town, writes:
Hannay says he was at the headwaters of the Tweed, which would put him in the South East of Scotland. In that case, one would rather expect him to take the East Coast route down to London and Reading, not the West Coast route via Crewe. (The West Coast route also passes through Gretna Green, famous for marrying eloping couples).
He is going to some lengths to throw off his pursuers.
Indeed. Either that or he changed at Crewe to go see Chiltern run the St Leger.
Tales for Our Time will be back in March for another nightly audio adventure. Meanwhile, if you've yet to hear any of our Tales, you can do so by joining The Mark Steyn Club. For details on membership, see here - and, if you're seeking the perfect present for a fellow fan of classic fiction, don't forget our limited-time Steyn Club Gift Membership, which includes a personally autographed book or CD from yours truly.