Sometimes small incidents, rather than glorious exploits, give us the best evidence of character. So, as portrait painters are more exact in doing the face, I must give particular attention to the marks of the souls of men. — Plutarch

Adventures of Baron Munchausen - R. E. Raspe




The Baron Does the Shah a Great Service,


and is Rewarded with a Magnificent White Horse


To-day, my friends and comrades, I will tell you about what was perhaps the greatest service I have ever performed for any one in my life. I have never spoken of this before, although it is recorded in detail in the astronomical records of Persia..

"After the adventures at sea, which I related to you yesterday, I resolved to visit the Shah of Persia. Several adventurous spirits joined me, and at their head I was enabled to perform various important services for the Shah as we marched towards his capitol. On the frontier we were stopped by a Persian patrol and questioned concerning our intentions. I had scarcely mentioned my name and rank and said that it was our intention to visit his Highness, the Shah, when all the Persians bared their heads, and in the Persian language gave humble greeting to his Excellency, the Lord Baron of Munchausen.

"Two days later we entered Teheran, where we heard to our great regret that the Shah and all his court had left three days previously for Shiraz. We received everywhere a royal welcome, and so many joined our troop that I entered Shiraz in about a week's time at the head of nearly an hundred thousand men.

[Illustration] from Baron Munchausen by R. E. Raspe
ALL THE PERSIANS BARED THEIR HEADS.


"From day to day the Shah received official tidings of our march from the mayors and other officials of every town on our route, and also read all the details of our journey in the Persian Mercury. When we approached Shiraz he came to meet me at the head of a long train of officials, and when he was close to us, he dismounted from his horse and embraced me. Afterwards he decorated me with the Persian Order of the Sun, and one that was made especially for me—a representation in fine gold of the Rose of Shiraz: these were, he said, a slight acknowledgment for the services which I had rendered as embassador to his dear friend and ally, the Sultan of Turkey. As a further mark of favor, the Shah bade me address him as 'Brother'—a mark of condescension never before vouchsafed to an unbeliever—but I made the condition that this familiar name should be kept for our private interviews, and that in public I might be allowed to address him as, 'Your Highness,' or 'Most Mighty Emperor of the Earth.'

"Some weeks after our arrival in Shiraz, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity of performing a special service for his Majesty, the Shah. You must know that the Shah has a passion for the moon, which almost amounted to idolatry. One evening when the full moon was shining brightly overhead, he and I were walking up and down a leafy avenue fragrant with roses, and the Shah was chanting one of the lovely songs of the late poet, Hafiz, when he suddenly broke off in the middle and, seizing my arm, cried out in a voice of anguish, 'Look at the moon—it is covered with spots of rust!'

"'No, no,' I replied, soothingly, "those are not spots of rust. In our country we call this phenomenon an eclipse of the moon, and it takes place when, the moon being at its full, the shadow of the earth falling on the bright disc, causes—'

"'My dear brother,' he interrupted me, 'you are a fool, although a learned one! They are specks of rust resulting from damp weather. Ask the court astronomer, and you will see that I am right.'

[Illustration] from Baron Munchausen by R. E. Raspe
WE POLISHED IT UNTIL IT WAS AS BRIGHT AS BEFORE.


"What was the use of my asking, but the whole night long I lay awake, wondering how I could dissipate this dark superstition by the light of knowledge.

"At last I thought, 'All well, other countries, other manners. If such is the belief in this country, I must acquiesce in it.'

"I left the palace before daybreak and went to look for our ship's carpenter, who had accompanied me to Shiraz. We busied ourselves for some hours in drawing plans for machinery to lower the moon, in order to remove the supposed specks of rust.

"At the usual hour I sought an audience with his Imperial Majesty, and humbly announced that in a few days I should be prepared to lower the moon and remove the rust.

"'Munchausen,' cried the Shah in ecstasy, 'if you can accomplish this, by the beard of the Prophet, I will make you the highest in rank of all the nobility in the country!'

"On the same day we collected three companies, each consisting of one hundred men, to pound sand, and an equal number of sand-sifters; these six hundred men had nothing to do but prepare sand to clean and polish the moon. The erection of the machinery we had designed was at once begun and, exactly a fortnight after the eclipse of the moon, the first trial was made with complete success. While the civilized world consoled itself with the belief that the moon was invisible for a few days previous to the appearance of the so-called new moon, we, in Shiraz, had brought down the old fellow from the sky, found a large number of flecks of rust on its surface, and polished it till it was as bright and shining as before. This operation now takes place in Persia regularly once a month.

"I hope you gentlemen will remind me one day to show you my Persian orders and the magnificent white charger, which the Shah insisted on my accepting as a parting gift. I rode this noble animal for twenty years, and even after his death, so loath was I to part with him that I had him stuffed. This horse was so exceptionally swift, that when I first returned home and had to pay visits to all my neighbors, he would carry me from thirty to forty miles in an afternoon and gallop after hares between one estate and another.

"Once I was pursuing a hare which ran straight across the high road. A coach containing two beautiful ladies just then passed down the road between me and the hare. My horse immediately leapt through the coach, the windows of which were wide open, with such impetus that I scarcely had time to take off my hat and beg the ladies' forgiveness for the liberty I had taken before we were fifty yards off.

"I remember, too, a rather amusing encounter I had about that time. I am sure you must all remember one of my former playmates, fat Will Huber. I had not seen him for a great many years, and met him quite by chance as he was coming home from the corn-market in the neighboring town, where he often had to go since he had taken over his father's mill. He had dismounted from his wagon and was waddling slowly along in the twilight, when I came up behind him and said, 'Good evening, Will!'

[Illustration] from Baron Munchausen by R. E. Raspe
MY HORSE IMMEDIATELY LEAPT THROUGH THE COACH.


"'Gracious heaven!' he exclaimed in amazement, 'the deceased Lord of Munchausen!'

"'Nonsense,' I said, angrily, 'I am no more dead than you are your own father!'

"'Indeed you are dead! Seventeen years ago I saw you lying on your deathbed, and I was present at your funeral; I remember all we youngsters receiving a cake covered with sugar. You must have molded away long ago, Baron!'

"'Wait a moment, Will! I will show you whether I have moldered away or am still living!'

"With these words I gave him such a box on the ears that the sound re-echoed. He fell to the ground stunned, and I let him lie there, for, thought I, naught never comes to harm.

"Some days later I rode past the mill, and saw fat Will sitting contentedly on a bench humming a song.

"'Well, Will,' said I, 'do you believe now that I am alive, or shall I dismount and refresh your memory again?'

"'Oh, no, no! I believe everything you say, everything!' said he, fearing what might follow.

"'That is well and I am satisfied. I have plenty of equally striking proofs at the service of any who are insolent enough to doubt the truth of any of my statements.'"