Welcome to Part Two of John Buchan's Great War thriller of a race against time - and a new Muslim prophet to set the world ablaze. The Mark Steyn Club's latest Tale for Our Time is a Buchan classic, first published in 1916 and never out of print in the years since: Greenmantle. Holly Henry, a first-day Founding Member, is glad to have our monthly audio adventures back in business:
Thank you so much, Mark. I have missed these tales quite a bit during your mysterious absence. I can't wait to dig into this one.
Holly lives in Florence-lashed North Carolina, so we trust she's scrambled for higher ground before settling down to listen.
In tonight's episode, Richard Hannay assembles his team for the mission ahead. Unlike its famous predecessor, Greenmantle includes an American character, a sleepy, portly, dyspeptic figure whose looks prove deceptive. It is said that Buchan created John S Blenkiron for propaganda purposes - to help the author's large American readership understand that their interests lay in supporting the Allies and getting into the war - which they did, not long after the publication of Greenmantle, in 1917. A year earlier, however, when Major Hannay meets Mr Blenkiron, the latter is still protesting his neutrality:
'You have been fighting, Major? The Battle of Loos? Well, I guess that must have been some battle. We in America respect the fighting of the British soldier, but we don't quite catch on to the de-vices of the British Generals. We opine that there is more bellicosity than science among your highbrows. That is so? My father fought at Chattanooga, but these eyes have seen nothing gorier than a Presidential election. Say, is there any way I could be let into a scene of real bloodshed?'
His serious tone made me laugh. 'There are plenty of your countrymen in the present show,' I said. 'The French Foreign Legion is full of young Americans, and so is our Army Service Corps. Half the chauffeurs you strike in France seem to come from the States.'
There's some truth in that. Long before 1917 many young Americans were in the thick of it on European battlefields, including the Yank pilots of the French Air Force's Lafayette Escadrille (top right). Mr Blenkiron, however, rightly adduces that that is not where his talent lies:
He sighed. 'I did think of some belligerent stunt a year back. But I reflected that the good God had not given John S Blenkiron the kind of martial figure that would do credit to the tented field. Also I recollected that we Americans were nootrals—benevolent nootrals—and that it did not become me to be butting into the struggles of the effete monarchies of Europe... What are your lot fighting for? For your own skins and your Empire and the peace of Europe. Waal, those ideals don't concern us one cent. We're not Europeans, and there aren't any German trenches on Long Island yet. You've made the ring in Europe, and if we came butting in it wouldn't be the rules of the game. You wouldn't welcome us, and I guess you'd be right. We're that delicate-minded we can't interfere and that was what my friend, President Wilson, meant when he opined that America was too proud to fight. So we're nootrals. But likewise we're benevolent nootrals. As I follow events, there's a skunk been let loose in the world, and the odour of it is going to make life none too sweet till it is cleared away. It wasn't us that stirred up that skunk, but we've got to take a hand in disinfecting the planet. See? We can't fight, but, by God! some of us are going to sweat blood to sweep the mess up. Officially we do nothing except give off Notes like a leaky boiler gives off steam. But as individooal citizens we're in it up to the neck. So, in the spirit of Jefferson Davis and Woodrow Wilson, I'm going to be the nootralist kind of nootral till Kaiser will be sorry he didn't declare war on America at the beginning.'
I was completely recovering my temper. This fellow was a perfect jewel, and his spirit put purpose into me.
'I guess you British were the same kind of nootral when your Admiral warned off the German fleet from interfering with Dewey in Manila Bay in '98.' Mr Blenkiron drank up the last drop of his boiled milk and lit a thin black cigar.
That last allusion is to an incident in the Spanish-American War, when for a brief moment it appeared as if Germany and America would end up going to war over the Philippines. Commodore Dewey and the United States Asiatic Squadron were badly outnumbered by Otto von Diederichs' German fleet, and a Royal Navy squadron was dispatched to deter the Kaiser's ships. After being somewhat coy with Admiral von Diederichs about his intentions, Captain Sir Edward Chichester, Bt, decided to make sure the Germans got the message, so he ordered HMS Immortalité to sail in with the band on deck playing "The Star-Spangled Banner".
Sir Edward had been a naval man since he was thirteen, but he was also a staunch conservative in tumultuous times for his corner of Devon. After an election meeting he and his brother were escorting the octogenarian Tory member Sir Robert Carden back to headquarters. The Radicals threw stones at Carden and the Chichesters and tried to block the entrance to the building. Forcing their way through, the lads got Sir Robert safely indoors, and then went straight back outside without their coats and with their sleeves rolled up. "Now," announced Edward Chichester, "some of you fellows assailed my brother and myself. Come and face us like men, if you be such!"
I wouldn't mind seeing a bit of that at the next black-masked Antifa protest.
But I seem to be wandering a bit far afield. Enough of Devon Radicals and Admiral von Diederichs. To listen to the second episode of Greenmantle, please click here and log-in. If you missed part one, you'll find that here.
Tales for Our Time is an experimental feature we introduced as a bonus for Mark Steyn Club members, and, as you know, I said if it was a total stinkeroo, we'd eighty-six the thing and speak no more of it. But I'm thrilled to say it's proving very popular, and looks like it'll be around a while. If you're a Club member and you incline more to the stinkeroo side of things, give it your best in the Comments Section below.
We launched The Mark Steyn Club just over a year ago, and I'm overwhelmed by all those members across the globe who signed up to be a part of it and then enthusiastically re-subscribed for a second year - 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. None of it's going behind a paywall, because I want it out there in the world, being read and being heard and being viewed, and maybe changing an occasional mind somewhere along the way.
However, we are offering our Club members a few extras, including the opportunity to join us at sea on the inaugural Mark Steyn cruise, on which I'll be doing a live Tale for Our Time - as well as live seaboard versions of The Mark Steyn Show, our Sunday Poem, Mark at the Movies, Song of the Week and much more. (We set sail at the end of this month, so don't leave it too late.) Meanwhile, I'm truly thrilled to see that one of the most popular of those extras these last fifteen months has been our nightly radio serials. I did do a little professional story-reading a zillion years ago, so, if these fancies tickle you, we may release them as audio books on CD or Audible a ways down the road. But for the moment it's an exclusive bonus for members. If you've enjoyed our monthly Steyn Club radio adventures and you're looking for a present for a fellow fan of classic fiction, I hope you'll consider our special Club Gift Membership. However, aside from Tales for Our Time, The Mark Steyn Club does come with other benefits:
~Exclusive Steyn Store member pricing on over 40 books, mugs, T-shirts, and other products;
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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 Greenmantle but to all our other audio adventures below.
One other benefit to membership is our Comment Club privileges. So, whether you like this fourteenth Tale for Our Time, or think I'm a mere pretender to the audio-book crown, then feel free to comment away below. And do join us tomorrow for Part Three of The Man Who Would Be King.