Thursday, March 31, 2005

How to exercise a rhinoceros

"Mr Patterson, what is that creature abaft the foremast?'

'It is a rhinoceros, sir: a rhinoceros of the grey species, a present for the Pasha of Barka.'

'What is it doing?'

'It is exercising, sir. It must be exercised two hours a day, to prevent its growing vicious.'

'Then let it carry on, Mr Patterson: do not stand on ceremony, I beg.'

'No, sir,' said Patterson, and to the seaman in charge of the party, 'Carry on, Clements.'

As though some spring had been released the rhinoceros and its crew started into movement. The animal took three or four twinkling little steps and lunged at Clements' vitals: Clements seized the horn and rose with it, calling out, 'Easy, easy there, old cock,' and at the same moment the rest of the party clapped on to the fall of a travelling burton, hoisting the rhinoceros clear of the deck. It hung by a broad belt round its middle, and for a while its legs ran nimbly on: Clements reasoned into its ear in a voice suitable to its enormous built and thumped its hide in a kindly manner, and when it was lowered again he led it forward to the foot of the foremast, holding it by the same ear and advising it 'to step lively, watch for the roll, and mind when it was coming to, not to crush people with its great fat arse.' Here it was hoisted up, swung round, lowered, and led aft, walking quite meekly now with only an occasional skip and thrust of its horn or wanton flirt of its rump: hoisted again, turned and led forward: to and fro under the fascinated eyes of the Worcesters until at last it was brought to the main hatchway. Here it looked expectant, with its ears brought to bear, its dim eyes searching, its prehensile upper lip pointing from side to side. Clements gave it a ship's biscuit, which it took delicately and ate with every appearance of appetite. But then the hatches were removed and the creature's aspect changed: Clements blindfolded it with his black neckerchief, and by way of explanation Mr Patterson called out 'It is timid. It fears the darkness, or perhaps the depth.'

'Handsomely, now,' said Clements. He and the rhinoceros rose a foot, travelled over the hatchway and vanished downwards, the seaman with one hand on the rope, the other over the animal's withers, the rhinoceros with its four legs held out, stiff, its ears drooping, the image of grey anxiety.

--Patrick O'Brian, The Ionian Mission

I wonder if there will be a similar scene in The Pope's Rhinoceros?

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