A PRINCE OF THE CAPTIVITY
John Buchan, Baron Tweedsmuir (1875-1940)
Adam Melfort was accused of forgery and is on trial in London. He had covered for his wife Camilla, who, in her mindless quest for more money, altered the amount on a check and then cashed it. Adam said he made her do it. He received a two year sentence and Camilla divorced him. While in jail, he dreamed a lot about his son who died at five years of age, and of an island they had vacationed on, Eilean Ban, just off the coast of Scotland. Visions of himself and his son pacing over the flower and grass covered meadows while listening to the eternal rustle of the nearby sea occupied some of his waking moments and permeated his dreams while sleeping. These imaginings were a sort of refuge for him, and he also resorted to them at tense periods in his later life. Meanwhile, he learned languages because he was interested in them and suspected they might come in handy after he became free. Adam was an expert in military affairs and the economic and social forces that led to war.
Upon his release, he was contacted by the British Intelligence service (this all took place several years before the first world war) and hired as a double agent and spy behind the lines during the war. He was stationed in Belgium at first, disguised as a dense farm laborer who traveled around in his spare time, observing train schedules and troop movements. Later he was stationed in Germany proper where he had a cover as a traveling salesman from Denmark. He had some close calls but managed to make it through the war relatively unharmed. Back in England, he waffled around a bit until he was hired as a leader of an exploration team that was intent on reaching the north shore of Greenland. Traveling by dogsled, he and a companion made their way north over the glacial terrain. One purpose of their trek was to search for a man, Falconet, who had disappeared while attempting the same journey the year before. After accidents and fighting starvation, they arrived at their destination and discovered Falconet on the verge of death from the cold and lack of food. They nursed him back to a degree of health and started on their return. Adam's partner stole some food while the other two were sleeping and left them to starve, but they ate some dogs and, proceeding on foot, eventually caught up with him but he was dead. On the verge of extinction themselves, they were rescued at the last minute by a fishing smack that picked them up and returned them to civilization.
In England, Adam became interested in three friends, members of the aristocracy, who seemed in positions of power sufficient to influence the future development of British policies. Adam now viewed his role in life as a sort of tutor or assistant whose purpose was to manipulate the forces of labor, finance, and religion to achieve a more democratic and egalitarian society. Over a period of years, he watches the careers of his friends, guiding their ambitions and successes, until all three more or less quit doing what he wants them to and, unpredictably, hare off in directions of their own. Adam is a bit depressed by all this, but he resorts to dreaming about Eilean Ban and his son Nigel, until he meets another major player, Loeffl, who also happened to have been an officer in the German army who interviewed him in the last war. The two of them talk about future events and they realize that much of what will or might happen in the world is in the hands of the richest man in the world, Creevey. So they evolve a plot to get Creevey by himself so they can bend his ear about what they think he should be doing to save mankind.
After some initial finagling, they arrange to have Creevey kidnapped and flown to a deserted valley in the Italian Alps instead of to England, which he has been told is the airplane's destination. The pilot of the plane pretends that there's some engine trouble and he has to land to repair it, but when his passenger leaves the plane to visit a local hotel, he revs up the engine and takes off, leaving Creevey all by himself in the abandoned hotel. Meanwhile, a gang of thugs from Germany (Nazi types), interested in preventing Adam from talking to the kidnapee, are racing toward the valley, hoping to murder or abduct Creevey before Adam can arrive. Adam drives the long way around, parking north of the valley, and sets out on foot to reach the hotel. He climbs up a pass and descends 4,000 feet and gets there just in time to rescue the intended victim. He not only finds Creevey at the hotel, but his girl friend (Adam's) as well; she'd driven there to surprise Adam. The three know that the bad guys are about to arrive, so they retrace Adam's route. The Nazis are just behind them, firing machine guns occasionally and, since they are tough, they are just about to overhaul the three, when Adam (spoiler) rolls a huge boulder over the trail, blocking the escape route. Unfortunately, he's on the wrong side of the boulder while the other two are on the right side, and the book ends with the sound of gunfire.
This was a long tome, extended mainly by a large portion of it being devoted to a description of Adam's three friends and their attempts to make good in English society: the parties, dances, political dealings, excursions and vacations. Unlike the other Buchan books i've read, this one seemed a bit more autobiographical, dealing a lot with governmental policies and parliamentarianism as well as with adventures on the ice and in the Alps. It was a later book than some of the others, and reflected, i think, some of Buchan's involvement with politics and long range administrative planning. Buchan was governor-general of Canada, after all, and the possessor of a trunk full of decorations and medals, so his interests stemmed from and were related to his aspirations and activities in the governmental sense. Also, he seemed (and it was more evident in this book than in others) to like the idea of great geniuses determining the future, saving the dumb human race from itself by manipulating world markets and economies. I have opinions about all this, but, unlike Buchan, am trying to keep them to myself. So, as it might appear above, i didn't think a whole lot of this book; his earlier ones are a lot better, imo, of course...