Lesson 36 (A chance in a million)

What was the chance in a million?


We are less credulous than we used to be. In the nineteenth century, a novelist would bring his story to a conclusion by presenting his readers with a series of coincidences — most of them wildly improbable. Readers happily accepted the fact that an obscure maidservant was really the hero’s mother. A long-lost brother, who was presumed dead, was really alive all the time and wickedly plotting to bring about the hero’s downfall. And so on. Modern readers would find such naive solution totally unacceptable. Yet, in real life, circumstances do sometimes conspire to bring about coincidences which anyone but a nineteenth century novelist would find incredible.

When I was a boy, my grandfather told me how a German taxi driver, Franz Bussman, found a brother who was thought to have been killed twenty years before. While on a walking tour with his wife, he stooped to talk to a workman. After they had gone on, Mrs. Bussman commented on the workman’s close resemblance to her husband and even suggested that he might be his brother. Franz poured scorn on the idea, pointing out that his brother had been killed in action during the war. Though Mrs. Busssman fully acquainted with this story, she thought that there was a chance in a million that she might be right. A few days later, she sent a boy to the workman to ask him if his name was Hans Bussman. Needless to say, the man’s name was Hans Bussman and he really was Franz’s long-lost brother. When the brothers were reunited, Hans explained how it was that he was still alive. After having been wounded towards the end of the war, he had been sent to hospital and was separated from his unit. The hospital had been bombed and Hans had made his way back into Western Germany on foot. Meanwhile, his unit was lost and all records of him had been destroyed. Hans returned to his family home, but the house had been bombed and no one in the neighbourhood knew what had become of the inhabitants. Assuming that his family had been killed during an air raid, Hans settled down in a village fifty miles away where he had remained ever since.


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