No fool can be silent at a feast. — Solon of Athens

Adventures of Baron Munchausen - R. E. Raspe




The Baron Meets the Sultan Again


and is Sent by him to Conduct Delicate Negotiations in Arabia


My rescuers took me with them to Italy, and thence I returned to Vienna. Here I received an official appointment to carry despatches of the highest importance to the Sultan. I was received with great ceremony at the Turkish court and I handed my credentials to an interpreter, in order that he might explain to the Sultan the purport of my visit. The interpreter had scarcely begun to translate my words when, to the great astonishment of every one present, the Sultan hastily interrupted him and, advancing to me with outstretched hand, exclaimed: 'Why, Munchausen, such old acquaintances have no need of an interpreter. You are heartily welcome, my dear fellow.'

"Such a reception from his Majesty produced a great impression on all the ambassadors present, and I received the most flattering attention from the whole court. My intercourse with the Sultan was indeed changed from the time when I was a slave in the Imperial gardens and had to look after his bees.

"About this time the political relations between Turkey and Arabia were rather in confusion, and the Sultan one day complained to me of the difficulty in finding some one of sufficient tact to unravel the complications which had arisen.

"It is possible that I may have looked somewhat conscious, for the Sultan smiled and said jestingly: 'Well, Munchausen, why do you look at me as if you intended to hint that I had forgotten you?  Come what have you to say on the matter?'

"I merely shrugged my shoulders, and the Sultan continued: 'Let us climb to the top of this tower. As you see, it has three hundred and sixty-five steps, and we shalt not be overheard up there. I will entrust you with a secret.'

"I ascended the steps with a single bound, but had to wait a long time before the Sultan, who was somewhat corpulent, reached the summit. Even when he had managed the ascent, he was so out of breath that half an hour elapsed before he could pronounce a single word. I waited patiently, gazing meanwhile at the magnificent view, which extended in every direction.

"To my great regret I cannot repeat the secret which the Sultan confided to me. I am sure you must know that there are secrets in the diplomatic world to repeat which might kindle a general. European war. Let it suffice then that this secret was an exceedingly dangerous one, and the Sultan made me swear the most sacred oath not to reveal to any one its exact nature. I am therefore only at liberty to say that I accomplished my task to the Sultan's entire satisfaction, and that, later on, he sent me on a somewhat similar journey to the Shah of Persia, the details of which I will give you another time.

"On this expedition I was disguised for safety's sake as an Arab chieftain, and though the Arabs I had to treat with were fine, handsome fellows I far outshone them all, and excited their envy by the beauty of my milk-white charger, the Sultan's gift, and the dexterous way in which I managed it.

"The evening before I started I was sitting with the Sultan in a little arbor on the sea-shore, and when all the details of my negotiations in Arabia had been arranged the conversation turned upon my former services in the Prussian army, and I related to his Majesty an adventure I had at the storming of some fortress, the name of which I cannot for the moment recall. I have never before thought the incident worthy of note, but the Sultan found it so amusing that you may perhaps also care to hear it.

[Illustration] from Baron Munchausen by R. E. Raspe
WHEN THE WORD FIRE WAS GIVEN I SPRANG ONTO THE CANNON BALL.


"It was of the highest importance that we should know what was taking place inside the town, but there was no suitable person we could send as a spy. I therefore set myself to devise another means of reaching the town, and one day, as I was standing before one of our largest cannons, an inspiration came to me which I proceeded to put into immediate execution.

"Without revealing my plan to any one, I waited till the word 'Fire' was given, and the gunner applied the match to the touch-hole; then I sprang on to the cannon-ball intending to let it bear me inside the fortress, but when I was half-way there it occurred to me that I was acting very rashly. 'It is all very well,' thought I, 'to get inside the fortress, but how shall I get out afterwards? And what will happen to me in there?'

"I knew that if I were taken as a spy I should be hanged on the nearest gallows—an ignominious end for one who bore the proud name of Munchausen!

"As these thoughts passed through my mind, I perceived a bullet directed from the fortress against our camp passing a few feet from me. Without further hesitation I leaped on it, and returned to our army, without, it is true, having accomplished my project, but at least safe and sound.

"'I should like to have seen that, Munchausen,' cried the Sultan, laughing so that the tower rocked beneath us. 'That must have been a smart piece of work!'

"'Indeed, it was, your Highness,' I replied, 'and I am glad it turned out so well, for I nearly met with an accident. The cannon-balls were so smooth that it was extremely difficult to keep my balance. Fortunately, I was both young and agile!'

"The next morning I set out in great state with a numerous retinue, as beseemed my position as ambassador. The Sultan himself accompanied me to the sea-shore, and as we parted he shook my hand, whispering, 'We must have no more of your light-hearted jests, Munchausen, remember what is at stake!'

"My only answer was to cross my arms on my breast and bow in silence, but the Sultan knew what that meant, and was graciously pleased to watch us till we were out of sight.

"On the way I had an opportunity of adding five very useful servants to my already numerous train. I have travelled many hundred miles in my time, but never have I come across such men as I met in those few days.

"A few miles from Constantinople I perceived a very slight, thin man running straight towards us with great rapidity, although he had a leaden weight of at least fifty pounds attached to each foot. Seized with astonishment, I called out to him: 'Where are you going, friend, so fast, and why are you hindered by those weights at your ankles?"

"'I come of a family of rapid runners,' answered the young man. 'Unlike all other people we never get a stitch from running, and I have hung on these weights to moderate my speed. I left Smyrna about two hours ago, where I was servant to a great prince. This morning he gave me the task of running after yesterday and bringing it back. I found this impossible, and when, exhausted by my fruitless efforts, I returned to the palace at midday the prince dismissed me from his service and banished me from the country. I took a piece of bread in my hand, filled my pockets with apples, hung these weights on my feet, and then started on my journey—for I wanted to check my speed, as I only wished to reach Constantinople to-day. I shall be there in a few minutes, and can then look out for a new place.'

"I was delighted with this man, and asked him if he would enter my service. He assented, and I engaged him on the spot. I gave him a horse to ride, but every now and then he would dismount, run on ahead for a couple of miles, and return before the rest of us had advanced many yards; this he did simply so as not to get out of practice.

"The same afternoon I met two more men, equally wonderful. The first of these was a great country lad, whom we found lying on the ground with his ear to the turf.

"'What are you doing there, my lad?' I asked?

"'I am listening to hear the grass grow,' he replied.

"'And can you hear it?'

"'Oh, yes; it is easy enough if you know how to listen.'

"'Enter my service, then, my good fellow. I may find your fine ear of great service to me.'

"The listener quickly sprang up and followed me.

"An hour later I came across a sportsman firing apparently into the blue sky, which stretched all around us.

"'What are you aiming at, my friend?' I cried out. 'I can see nothing but sky before you.'

"'Oh,' said he, 'I am trying a new gun, which I have just bought. There was a sparrow on the spire of Strasburgh Cathedral which I have just shot. It is a fine weapon.'

"Those who know my passion for sport will not be surprised to hear that I threw myself into the arms of this excellent shot and implored him to enter my service, to which he gave a ready assent.

"Some time afterwards, in the neighborhood of Mount Lebanon, we came across a short, thick-set, little fellow, pulling at a rope which was wound round a whole forest of cedars.

"'What are you doing there, friend?' I asked in great surprise.

"'I came to cut down some wood for building,' he replied; 'but I have left my hatchet at home, so I am trying to get the trees without it as well as I can.'

"As he said this he gave a tremendous pull, and brought down the whole forest, which measured quite a square mile round, as if it had been a bundle of reeds. You can imagine I engaged him at once in my service, and have never regretted doing so.

"About a week later, as we were crossing a plain, a furious whirlwind arose, which threatened to blow us all into the air. To the left of the road were seven windmills, the sails of which were turning more swiftly than the swiftest wheel of a good spinner, and on the right stood a fat man, who held his forefinger pressed against his right nostril. As soon as he perceived our distress, the turned towards us, took off his hat and bowed respectfully. The wind fell as if by magic, and the seven mills stood still.

"'What's this,' I cried out in astonishment, 'are you Old Nick himself?'

"'I beg your pardon, your honor,' replied the fat man. 'I was blowing a little for my master, the miller, and for fear of blowing the windmills down altogether I had stopped one nostril.'

"'Indeed, and what payment do you get from your master?'

"He named a trifling sum, and when I promised him ten times as much, the blower quitted his mills and followed me.

"My mission for the Sultan was soon accomplished, and even more successfully than he had ventured to hope. Immediately after its conclusion, I dismissed my retinue and sent them with despatches to the Sultan, merely retaining my five new servants, whom I resolved should accompany me on a long projected journey up the Nile."