You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor and you will have war. — Winston Churchill

Adventures of Baron Munchausen - R. E. Raspe




The Baron's Voyage in a Balloon

When I was in the service of the Turks, I frequently used to row myself about in a pleasure-boat on the Sea of Marmora. One morning, when I was admiring the beauty of the cloudless sky, I observed a dark speck in the air, which bore no resemblance to a bird. Fortunately, I had my fowling-piece with me, without which I never move if I can help it. I fired three or four times at the dark speck, but it was beyond the range of my bullets, or else I should certainly have hit it, for I am an unerring shot. I then loaded my gun with five times the amount of powder and three bullets, in order to shoot farther. My boat swayed to and fro, but such a trifle makes no difference to a good shot. I fired my over-loaded gun, and the recoil was so violent that I fell senseless to the bottom of my boat. When I re-opened my eyes, the mysterious object was rapidly descending, and I perceived it was not a bird, but a balloon.

"I was now able to judge at what an immense height it must have been, for the balloon was as large round as the cupola of the Great Mosque of Constantinople, and from it was suspended a car larger than my boat. This huge object came nearer and nearer and finally fell with a splash, which was heard all over Constantinople, into the water close to my boat. The noise was like the explosion of a powder-magazine, and I was only thankful that the monstrous thing had fallen a, little distance from my boat and not right on top of it.

"When the wash of the water had somewhat subsided, I rowed nearer and found, seated in the car, a starved-looking Englishman, named Mr. Smith, who hailed me with exaggerated politeness as his deliverer. The poor fellow was an aeronaut by profession, and five days previously had left New York with two assistants, intending to cross the Falls of Niagara; but as they approached the Falls they were met by a strong west wind, which carried them towards the Atlantic. The travellers tried to open the valve, in order to let out the air and descend, but the connecting cord was broken, and they were unable to do so before they had left the mainland of America behind them. Mr. Smith then advised his two men to let themselves down by a strong parachute, which they had with them, before they were carried right out to sea. This advice was followed, and the descent safely accomplished on the coast of Newfoundland, while the aeronaut himself refused to abandon his air-ship, and drifted out to sea, trusting that the wind would carry him as far as Europe. But the balloon had been driven hither and thither by contrary winds, and even when the starving traveller, whose provisions had long been exhausted, saw land once more beneath him, he was powerless to descend. Had not my bullets made a rent in the silk, causing the air to rush out and the car to sink, the poor man must inevitably have perished of hunger and exhaustion.

"Out of gratitude he wished to make me a present of the balloon, but I refused the gift as I could make no use of it. Seeing, however, that he was anxious to make me some return for saving his life, I consented to accompany him on a short trip, which he assured me I should find very pleasant. My new friend at once set about repairing the hole in the balloon, and on the following day announced that he was prepared to start. He stepped into the car, accompanied by a large Persian dog, which he had purchased on account of its rarity; then, cutting the rope by which the air-ship was fastened to a rock, we shot upwards with the speed of an arrow. At first the movement was too quick for me, but I soon became accustomed to it, and was delighted at the magnificent vista of land and sea, which opened out before our eyes. We mounted higher and higher, and in an hour the whole of Europe lay spread beneath us like a map; still higher, and we were gazing across Asia as far as China and Japan. It was most interesting and instructive, and I forgot all else as I drank in the enchanting view. At last I was struck by the anxious expression on my guide's face, and he confessed (for the heat was increasing every moment) that he had never before ascended so high, and in his haste he had probably filled the balloon with too much gas. The heat became intense, and the balloon swelled and crackled ominously, but we still continued to rise.

"'We are several miles high now,' whispered my friend, 'but I do not think we shall come to any harm unless a seam gives way.'

"'Are we really several miles high?' I asked, doubtfully. 'Indeed we are,' replied the aeronaut. 'I estimate that we are from fifteen to twenty miles above the sea, because the enormous heat shows that we have approached much nearer the sun, and the earth looks like a flat plain, without hills or valleys.'

[Illustration] from Baron Munchausen by R. E. Raspe
I AT ONCE SET TO WORK TO SKIN IT.


"I advised him to open the valve, so that some of the gas might escape and enable us to descend, but he said that he had already pulled the cord which was attached to the valve several times, and that it must have stuck fast. At that moment, the dog, which had hitherto lain quietly in the bottom of the car, stood up and began to howl most piteously. Gradually his cries grew weaker, and at last died away altogether, because the air became so thin that even we men could hardly manage to speak, try how we would. We continued to rise, and at last we could only manage to communicate with one another by signs. Trusting to my greater strength, I took the valve-cord from my companion's hand and pulled it with all my might. The valve did not open, but the thick cord snapped right across. I fell to the bottom of the car still clutching the piece of cord, and when I was able to stand up again and look round, I discovered that the Englishman lay unconscious, and the dog was dead. The heat was unbearable and my thirst was intense, but my first thought was to help my poor friend. I looked around in despair, but we had drunk all our wine a long time before, and cast the bottles overboard. My gaze fell on the dog, and I at once set to work to skin it. This done, I forced my friend to swallow a little of the blood, and I did likewise, which strengthened us both considerably. Our lives were saved, but our ascent must cease at any cost, for we were now close to the sun, and the heat was past endurance. Resolutely I seized my gun and fired into the balloon. The air was too thin for any report to be heard, but the shot had penetrated the bladder and made several small holes through which the air slowly escaped, and the balloon began to sink.

"The air soon grew colder, and we felt ravenously hungry. To the best of my belief I had never tasted dog's flesh before, but I was so hungry that I had almost resolved to eat some raw. To our great joy we found the dog completely roasted, and I can assure you that I have tasted much worse meat. While the shade of the balloon had protected us to some extent, the dog had been lying exposed to the sun and had gradually roasted in its own fat! During our meal we rapidly descended to earth, and soon landed on a date-palm, so that our dessert was easily provided. After consuming several pounds of dates, we climbed down the tree and found close at hand a spring of fresh water, in which we were glad to bathe our blistered limbs. Wearied with our exertions of the day we then stretched ourselves on the mossy edge of the spring, and were soon fast asleep.

"The next morning we were roused by the approach of a caravan of Arabian merchants, who told us that we had landed on an oasis in Arabia, which lay on the direct route to Jerusalem. Thither they were journeying, and would be glad of our company and protection. We gladly consented, and on the way, with the assistance of one of the merchants, I made myself an excellent pair of boots out of the dog's skin, and have worn them constantly for the last eleven years."