Welcome to the final episode of our current Tale for Our Time: Baroness Orczy's unforgettable adventure The Scarlet Pimpernel. In tonight's conclusion to our story, the Pas de Calais air is alive with unGallic oaths:
Suddenly . . . a sound . . . the strangest, undoubtedly, that these lonely cliffs of France had ever heard, broke the silent solemnity of the shore.
So strange a sound was it that the gentle breeze ceased to murmur, the tiny pebbles to roll down the steep incline! So strange, that Marguerite, wearied, overwrought as she was, thought that the beneficial unconsciousness of the approach of death was playing her half-sleeping senses a weird and elusive trick.
It was the sound of a good, solid, absolutely British 'Damn!'
The sea gulls in their nests awoke and looked round in astonishment; a distant and solitary owl set up a midnight hoot, the tall cliffs frowned down majestically at the strange, unheard-of sacrilege...
'Odd's life! but I wish those demmed fellows had not hit quite so hard!'
This time it was quite unmistakable, only one particular pair of essentially British lips could have uttered those words, in sleepy, drawly, affected tones.
'Damn!' repeated those same British lips, emphatically. 'Zounds!'
"Zounds!", incidentally, is another one of those "minced oaths" - in this case from "God's wounds". A lot of these oaths were put back in circulation, at least for the purposes of historical fiction, by Baroness Orczy almost singlehandedly. As William Stroock, a first-month Founding Member from New Jersey, says:
On swearing, it's far more important to be creative.
Just so. One can't but feel the rap chappies would benefit from the occasional "Odd's fish!" and "Zounds!" amid the relentless muthaf**kers. Perhaps they could slyly introduce it as a portmanteau zounderf**ker.
All historical fiction re the French Revolution is freighted by the reality of January 1793: The execution of Louis XVI, and the severed head raised aloft to the cheers of a gloating mob. In the end, for the King and Queen and thousands more, there was no Pimpernel. From Saskatchewan, Dave Anderson, a first-week Founding Member of the Steyn Club, writes:
Mark is remarkably prescient in his book selections. Considering the current scenes on the streets of France, I think citizen Macron Capet should read the entire Pimpernel series. The people protest high taxes and the high cost of living, and citizen Capet responds by saying ,'Let them have a High Council on climate change!'
And if a present-day Scarlet Pimpernel should help Asia Bibi escape the bloodthirsty mobs howling for her head in Pakistan, remember there would be no safety for her in England, even if she was allowed to stay.
Very true, alas.
Tales for Our Time will return this Friday with the first in our season of Christmas stories.
Meanwhile, if you've yet to hear any of our radio serials, you can do so by joining The Mark Steyn Club. For details on membership, see here - and don't forget, for fellow fans of classic fiction and/or poetry, our Steyn Club Christmas Gift Membership. This festive season it comes with a special personalized Christmas card from yours truly and a handsomely-engraved gift-boxed USB stick with a trio of our most popular Tales for Our Time for your loved one to listen to in the car or perambulating through the wilderness or almost anywhere else. (The three tales are The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Time Machine and The Thirty-Nine Steps.) For more details on our special Christmas Gift Membership, see here.