I am a quick, demanding, inattentive reader. When a piece of English prose leaves me sighing with delight, I sometimes like to type it out to get a closer look.
The year is rather vague, but about 1812. Stephen Maturin is an Irish physician, Nathaniel Martin an English clergyman. They are respectively Surgeon and Surgeon's Mate of the British frigate Surprise (Captain Aubrey), which has been damaged by tropical lightning and is putting in to Penedo, Brazil, for repairs. Speaking as we join them is Mr. Allen, an officer, dropping off the two of them, dedicated naturalists, on the beach at dawn.
... Shove off, Macbeth.' And when the boat was some way out on the smooth water he called back, 'Mind the alligators, gentlemen.'
They were standing on a firm white strand and already there was light enough to see that a little way up the slope there began a grove of trees: but surely too high, too massive to be trees. The light increased, and trees they were, palms of an almost unbelievable mass and height, their enormous fan-shaped leaves bursting in a vegetable explosion well over a hundred feet above their heads, and outlined sharp against the greying sky.
'Would they be Mauritia vinifera?' asked Martin in a whisper.
'Mauritia of some kind, sure; but what I cannot tell,' said Stephen.
They walked slowly, reverently into the grove: there was no undergrowth and spring tides or perhaps floods kept the ground quite clean, so that the magnificent trees rose sheer, each some ten yards from the next, a vast grey column.
Their feet made no sound as they paced on; but very soon it was darkness that they were walking into, for the dense fronds intertwined far overhead, and except at its fringes the grove was still filled with warm silent night, the pale trunks soaring up into obscurity. They turned right-handed with one accord and as they reached the outer edge again, facing the river and the strand, the sun heaved up from the eastern sea, sending an instant brilliance across the water to the other bank, no great way off. The reflected light and colour of the far bank fairly blazed upon them as they stood there in the shade of the remaining trees, a bank with a line of shining sand and then a great wall of the most intensely vivid green, an almost violent green, with palms of twenty or thirty different kinds soaring above it, all in the total silence of a dream. Martin clasped his hands as he gazed, uttering some private ejaculations; and Stephen, touching his elbow, nodded towards three trees some way up the river, three enormous cathedral-like domes that rose two hundred feet above the rest, one of them completely covered with deep red flowers.
They took a few more steps through the palms, reaching the white unshaded strand: to the left hand at the water's edge lay a twenty-foot caiman, contemplating the gentle stream, and to the right hand, full in the brilliant sun there stood a scarlet ibis.