Friday, April 9, 2010

Have you seen that hoopoe?

A slightly more civil scene for those of my readers who have no interest in surgeries or duels.

The scene of the second meeting between Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin in Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander:

As the door closed behind him Jack saw the man in the black coat on the other side of the road, near the coffee-house. The evening flooded back into his mind and he hurried across, calling out, 'Mr - Mr Maturin. Why, there you are, sir. I owe you a thousand apologies, I am afraid. I must have been a sad bore to you last night, and I hope you will forgive me. We sailors hear so little music - are so little used to genteel company - that we grow carried away. I beg your pardon.'

'My dear sir,' cried the man in the black coat, with an odd flush rising in his dead-white face, 'you had every reason to be carried away. I have never heard a better quartetto in my life - such unity, such fire. May I propose a cup of chocolate, or coffee? It would give me great pleasure.'
'You are very good, sir. I should like it of all things. To tell the truth, I was in such a hurry of spirits I forgot my breakfast. I have just been promoted,' he added, with an off-hand laugh.
'Have you indeed? I wish you joy of it with all my heart, sure. Pray walk in.'

At the sight of Mr Maturin the waiter waved his forefinger in that discouraging Mediterranean gesture of negation - an inverted pendulum. Maturin shrugged, said to Jack, 'The posts are wonderfully slow these days,' and to the waiter, speaking in the Catalan of the island, 'Bring us a pot of chocolate, Jep, furiously whipped, and some cream.'

'You speak the Spanish, sir?' said Jack, sitting down and flinging out the skirts of his coat to clear his sword in a wide gesture that filled the low room with blue. 'That must be a splendid thing, to speak the Spanish. I have often tried, and with French and Italian too; but it don't answer. They generally understand me, but when they say anything, they speak so quick I am thrown out. The fault is here, I dare say,' he observed, rapping his forehead. 'It was the same with Latin when I was a boy: and how old Pagan used to flog me.' He laughed so heartily at the recollection that the waiter with the chocolate laughed too, and said, 'Fine day, Captain, sir, fine day!'

'Prodigious fine day,' said Jack, gazing upon his rat-like visage with great benevolence. 'Bello soleil, indeed. But,' he added, bending down and peering out of the upper part of the window, 'it would not surprise me if the tramontana were to set in.' Turning to Mr Maturin he said, 'As soon as I was out of bed this morning I noticed that greenish look in the nor-nor-east, and I said to myself, "When the sea-breeze dies away, I should not be surprised if the tramontana were to set in."’

'It is curious that you should find foreign languages difficult, sir,' said Mr Maturin, who had no views to offer on the weather, 'for it seems reasonable to suppose that a good ear for music would accompany a facility for acquiring - that the two would necessarily run together.'
'I am sure you are right, from a philosophical point of view,' said Jack. 'But there it is. Yet it may well be that my musical ear is not so very famous, neither; though indeed I love music dearly. Heaven knows I find it hard enough to pitch upon the true note, right in the middle.'
'You play, sir?'
'I scrape a little, sir. I torment a fiddle from time to time.'
'So do I! So do I! Whenever I have leisure, I make my attempts upon the 'cello.'
'A noble instrument,' said Jack, and they talked about Boccherini, bows and rosin, copyists, the care of strings, with great satisfaction in one another's company until a brutally ugly clock with a lyre-shaped pendulum struck the hour: Jack Aubrey emptied his cup and pushed back his chair. 'You will forgive me, I am sure. I have a whole round of official calls and an interview with my predecessor. But I hope I may count upon the honour, and may I say the pleasure - the great pleasure - of your company for dinner?'
'Most happy,' said Maturin, with a bow.

They were at the door. 'Then may we appoint three o'clock at the Crown?' said Jack. 'We do not keep fashionable hours in the service, and I grow so devilish hungry and peevish by then that you will forgive me, I am sure. We will wet the swab, and when it is handsomely awash, why then perhaps we might try a little music, if that would not be disagreeable to you.'
'Did you see that hoopoe?' cried the man in the black coat. 'What is a hoopoe?' cried Jack, staring about.
'A bird. That cinnamon-coloured bird with barred wings. Upupa epops. There! There, over the roof. There! There!'
'Where? Where? How does it bear?'
'It has gone now. I had been hoping to see a hoopoe ever since I arrived. In the middle of the town! Happy Mahon, to have such denizens. But I beg your pardon. You were speaking of wetting a swab.'
'Oh, yes. It is a cant expression we have in the Navy. The swab is this' - patting his epaulette - 'and when first we ship it, we wet it: that is to say, we drink a bottle or two of wine.'
'Indeed?' said Maturin with a civil inclination of his head. 'A decoration, a badge of rank, I make no doubt? A most elegant ornament, so it is, upon my soul. But, my dear sir, have you not forgot the other one?'
'Well,' said Jack, laughing, 'I dare say I shall put them both on, by and by. Now I will wish you a good day and thank you for the excellent chocolate. I am so happy that you saw your epop.'


The Real Shliach said...

Oh, to see an epop in Brooklyn!

Crawling Axe said...

Pigeons and rats are not enough for you?

The Real Shliach said...

Frankly? No.

Crawling Axe said...

I personally think pigeons are charming birds. And rats are very intelligent creatures. Sometimes more intelligent than some other fauna inhabiting the city.

The Real Shliach said...

Oh certainly, any number of creatures are more intelligent than some of the fauna in this great city.