Fantastic short story from Antal Szerb’s brilliant collection, Love in a Bottle!
PETER RARELY WAS ON HIS WAY HOME BY TRAIN from Inverness in the Scottish Highlands, where he supported a course for students on the bagpipes, at his own expense, since everyone was complaining that with the advance of the gramophone and the radio this illustrious and ancient form of music was dying out. He had just been up for the closing ceremony and was feeling very pleased with the way things had gone. If only my bear sanctuary would do as well, he mused. Another of his great concerns was that these remarkable animals had become extinct in the British Isles, and he had made a home in the Welsh forests for some bears imported from Transylvania.
But his main worry was his number-counters. He had hired some unemployed people to count up to 7,300,000 without stopping. Two had already given up, three were still counting, but when he had left London even the best of them had only managed something like 1,250,000. Where might he have got up to since?
In the express dining car he caught sight of a familiar face. It was the writer Tom Maclean. Maclean was sitting on his own, sipping spoonfuls of mock turtle soup, gazing thoughtfully into the distance, and jotting down the occasional word on his notepad.
“May I?” Rarely asked, settling himself down beside the writer. “I’m not disturbing you?”
“You certainly are, very much so,” Maclean replied with obvious delight. “Please stay and disturb me some more. It would be a real kindness.”
Rarely began to feel somewhat alarmed. The thought had flashed through his mind that he might not be the most eccentric person on the train.