‘Oh Most Powerful Lord,’ said the condemned man, ‘only let me live, and I will teach your dog how to talk.’
Now the Emperor was very fond of his dog. He stroked its ears as it sat beside his throne. Most likely the man was lying; it was an improbable offer, but just supposing he could do it? What, after all, was there to lose? So he said,
‘Very well. I grant a stay of execution. If, at the end of a year, my dog can talk, you will go free. If not, then you will die.’
The man bowed low and thanked the Emperor, then left the room to prepare the canine speech classes. His friends rushed up to him.
‘What was the point of that? You’ll never teach a dog to talk.’
The man answered, ‘Many things can happen in a year. I may escape. The Emperor may die. Or, just possibly,’ and he smiled, ‘the dog may learn to talk.’
I heard this story long ago, I don’t know where, and it stuck with me. If ever anything good and extremely improbable happens, I mutter, ‘What do you know, the dog learnt to talk.’