Tuesday, December 28, 2004

'Prodigious,' said Stephen. 'And yet in a way one might say that the whole of life is a tissue of prodigious coincidences: as for example that at the very moment we attempt to cross the road this particular coach and six should come by; yet though extremely unlikely, it is a fact. And the glabrous face within belongs to Monsieur de Talleyrand-Perigord.' Stephen took off his hat: the glabrous face returned his bow. 'It is a most improbable coincidence that as we enter La Mothe's courtyard, and it is just here, on the right--take care of the excrement, Villiers--some merchant should walk into his counting-house in Stockholm, or that Jack Aubrey should mount his horse to pursue the fox. Though now I come to think of it, Jack would scarcely pursue the innocent fox at this time of the year: yet the principle remains. You may object that the overwhelming majority of these coincidences are undetected, which is eminently true; but they are there for all that, and as I raise this knocker, some man in China breathes his last.'


'I am so sorry about the regulator: Charlotte's dormouse got into it, and is having babies."


Without the shadow of a doubt this was the Alca impennis of Linnaeus, the Great Auk of some vulgar authors, a bird Stephen had longed to see all his life, a bird grown so rare that none of his correspondents but Corvisart had ever seen a specimen; and Corvisart was somewhat given to lying. 'And have you indeed seen your penguin, sir?' he asked.

'God love you, many and many a time,' said the young man, laughing. 'There is an island up that away,'--nodding towards Newfoundland--'where they breed by wholesale, and my uncle the Blue-Nose used to go there when he was fishing the Grand Bank. I went with him once, and we knocked them on the head by the score. It would have made you laugh, to see them standing there like ninepins, to be bowled over. We cut them up for bait, and ate the eggs."

'Blue-nosed hell-hound,' said Stephen inwardly, 'Goth, Vandal, Hun.' Aloud, and with as much amenity as he could summon, he asked, 'Is there any likelihood of seeing one on this bank?'

--Patrick O'Brian, The Surgeon's Mate

No comments:

Post a Comment

"I don't believe in ghosts, but I see them all the time."

Sherman Alexie cancels book tour for memoir about his mother.