Welcome to Part Two of The Riddle of the Sands, our latest audio adventure in Tales for Our Time. I thank you for all your kind words about this twenty-eighth of our monthly yarns, and about my sketch in yesterday's introduction of the turbulent life of its author Erskine Childers, ending with his final words to an Irish firing squad:
Take a step or two forward, lads, it will be easier that way.
Nigel Sherratt, one of our Mark Steyn Club members from the UK, is enjoying Childers' tale so far:
Great choice, his final words to the firing squad were impressive. Agree with comments on Jenny Agutter in her tweed skirt expertly handling her little dinghy. Lots of great detail in the book, No. 3 Rippingille stove perhaps the highlight.
Everything goes better with Jenny Agutter, Nigel. I owe a huge debt of thanks to Jenny's dad Derek (who died last year aged ninety) for helping me out on a somewhat obscure project many years ago. And, if you like the old No 3 Rippingille, read on.
The Riddle of the Sands is one of the most influential spy novels ever written, published in 1903 but looking ahead to the war that its author knew would come sooner or later. Erskine Childers was a minor civil servant in His Majesty's Government, and so too is his protagonist. Carruthers is bored by long days at the Foreign Office with nothing to fill them, and is delighted by his old friend Davies' offer to join him on a yachting holiday in the Baltic. But Davies has given him a long shopping list of items to bring with him, and in tonight's episode something about them gives Carruthers a premonition that this will not be yachting as he has hitherto experienced it:
At Lancaster's I inquired for his gun, was received coolly, and had to pay a heavy bill, which it seemed to have incurred, before it was handed over. Having ordered the gun and No. 4's to be sent to my chambers, I bought the Raven mixture with that peculiar sense of injury which the prospect of smuggling in another's behalf always entails; and wondered where in the world Carey and Neilson's was, a firm which Davies spoke of as though it were as well known as the Bank of England or the Stores, instead of specializing in 'rigging-screws', whatever they might be. They sounded important, though, and it would be only polite to unearth them. I connected them with the 'few repairs,' and awoke new misgivings. At the Stores I asked for a No 3 Rippingille stove, and was confronted with a formidable and hideous piece of ironmongery, which burned petroleum in two capacious tanks, horribly prophetic of a smell of warm oil. I paid for this miserably, convinced of its grim efficiency, but speculating as to the domestic conditions which caused it to be sent for as an afterthought by telegram. I also asked about rigging-screws in the yachting department, but learnt that they were not kept in stock; that Carey and Neilson's would certainly have them, and that their shop was in the Minories, in the far east, meaning a journey nearly as long as to Flensburg, and twice as tiresome. They would be shut by the time I got there, so after this exhausting round of duty I went home in a cab, omitted dressing for dinner (an epoch in itself), ordered a chop up from the basement kitchen, and spent the rest of the evening packing and writing, with the methodical gloom of a man setting his affairs in order for the last time.
Tales for Our Time started as 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 proved very popular, and and we now have quite an archive. 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.
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