Adventures of Baron Munchausen - R. E. Raspe

Some of the Baron's Adventures in America

and the Story of the Bear that was Taken for a General

About a year later, Baron Munchausen walked unexpectedly into the room which had been the scene of so many of his narratives. He was greeted boisterously by the assembled company and overwhelmed with questions such as, where had he been, what adventures had he experienced, why had he stayed away so long, and countless others. Smiling, the Baron replied:

"My dear friends and comrades, I find the only way to manage when one is so belabored with questions is to pick out one and reply to that alone, otherwise there is no end to the talking. I will therefore only reply to the questioner who asked me where I have just come from. Do not be surprised if I tell you from the land of the Indians, from America. Ah, that does surprise you, as I can see from your amazed expressions.

"Yes, gentlemen, I come from America, and I have travelled through every district in it during the last year, while my wife was paying a long visit to her aunt in Paris.

"America is indeed a marvellous country. I should like to have been there before it was discovered, and while it was still in its primitive state. But at the present day this country has reached such a high state of civilization, that a simple citizen of the old world can scarcely credit the marvels the sees every day there. I myself experienced a proof of speed so miraculous as to be almost incredible. The cultivated part of the country is traversed by high roads, and on one side of them are laid two endless lines of iron rods, along which long rows of waggons are driven merely by the power of steam! These iron ways were invented in 1650, and ever since the year 1767 their use has become almost universal in America. They are called railways, and will soon be introduced into Europe. The most wonderful thing about them is the rapidity of movement of the vehicles, which are known as trains. At intervals of from five to ten miles there are stopping-places, called stations, each ruled by a petty prince, who bears the title of station-master.

"A train was waiting one day at a certain station, and I was standing by one of the carriage doors preparatory to getting in, when an exceedingly rude or drunken station-master came along and tried to make me get into another compartment, which contained a number of negroes, on the ground that I belonged there. We came to high words over the affair, and I had just raised my arm intending to clinch my argument by a sound box on his ears, when the whistle sounded and the train was off. As my arm descended we had already gone six miles and had arrived at the next station, where my hand struck against the cheek of the unoffending station-master, who was standing near! I was Obliged to beg the poor man's forgiveness, and apologies are what I particularly detest.

[Illustration] from Baron Munchausen by R. E. Raspe


"Many other things are different in America from here—the people, the animals, and even the elements. It is impossible to form any idea of the magnitude of an American storm. I went on a visit to a friend in Illinois, who had emigrated to America some twenty years previously and started farming on a large scale, but without conspicuous success. During my stay there a terrible storm arose, which tore up all the buildings and tossed the heavy wooden beams into the air like feathers. Naturally, all the inmates of the farm, including sixty negroes and forty Indians, were carried away too, and we noticed that two: stone wells on the estate were torn out of the ground. The hurricane carried us about ten miles and set us down on a plain, where we found all the animals and the various parts of the buildings in good condition. We at once set to work to rebuild, and within a week the new farm was ready for occupation. The most remarkable thing was the reappearance of the two stone wells, which had been torn up and planted here by the wind. Yielding to an irresistible impulse, I walked up to the pump-handles and pulled them vigorously, with the stream at once gushed out.

"'What has happened, Munchausen?' cried my friend. 'Is it possible that the water in the wells has been carried here too?'

"But I stepped back hastily, for the liquid was not water but petroleum, which is almost universally used in America for lamps, as it burns with a brighter flame than any other oil. No one had known hitherto of the existence of this petroleum spring, which of course was now the property of my friend, and when I was in New York a few months later, I was delighted at receiving a letter from him, in which he said that the spring was working day and night, and that he was on the road to becoming a millionaire. Here you see exemplified the truth of the old proverb: 'It's an ill wind that blows nobody good.'

"In the West Indies I once experienced almost as violent a storm as this one. A friend of mine was leaving his house one stormy day when the wind unbuttoned his waterproof cloak from top to bottom. He turned round quickly to enter his house again, when the wind buttoned his cloak again, but it carried off his hat, and did not return it! You see for yourselves that this strange tale must be true, however improbable it sounds, or else how could it possibly have happened?"

With these words the Baron opened the door and walked out. His audience, somewhat surprised at his hasty departure, listened with regret to his rapid footsteps. But soon they heard him return, muttering in vexed tones:

"I have forgotten something."

Then he walked in and said:

"Excuse me, gentlemen, I have been on the point of asking you twenty times if I ever told you a tale about my friend, General Konski, whose acquaintance I made in Warsaw?"

All shook their heads, and the Baron, walking up to the table, began somewhat hurriedly, still standing:

"This general offered his services to his country at the beginning of the Russo-Turkish war, and was given the command of a large body of troops. He encamped on the Turkish border, a few miles away from a small town. I with my hussars was quartered in a neighboring village awaiting further orders. Early one morning as I was roaming through the woods, I met a peasant driving a cart containing some empty sacks. He was going out in search of filberts, of which his master's wife was extremely fond, and as I had nothing in particular to do I offered to accompany him.

"We found an abundance of these nuts, which are not much to my taste. Naturally, we had to leave the cart while we plucked the filberts, but we returned at intervals and stuffed them in the sacks. We had already half filled the sacks and were busily engaged at some distance from the cart, when we heard a strange noise, and looking up, saw a gigantic bear, which, scenting its favorite nuts, had climbed on the waggon, and was calmly sitting there scooping out handfuls of nuts from the nearest sack and putting them in his mouth.

"The peasant opened his eyes and mouth to their fullest extent, and I cried out: 'Fool that I was to leave my gun in the cart,' for the bear was standing close by us, and as I spoke he calmly looked round and helped himself to some more nuts.

"The peasant was speechless with horror, but he soon recovered his senses and called out to his horse in Walloon, 'Hi there! Gee up!' The horse at once began to trot down the road, and the bear, who did not care for the jolting, commenced growling ominously.

"This was of course the best means of inciting the terrified brute to greater speed, and when the smooth high road was reached, he galloped madly to the camp, with the bear standing upright in the cart and giving vent to the most fearful growls. Now the troops were at that moment awaiting the arrival of General Konski, who had arranged to come over and inspect them that morning, and were drawn up in martial array. Hundreds of spectators were present, gazing eagerly at the brilliant sight.

[Illustration] from Baron Munchausen by R. E. Raspe


"A cloud of dust was seen on the highway. The trumpeters sounded a loud blast and all stood prepared to salute. As the cloud of dust drew nearer and the sound of wheels was distinctly heard, the commanding officer cried, 'Here is the general!' and gave the signal. A thousand voices shouted simultaneously, 'Three cheers for General Konski! Hip, hip, hurrah!'

"In the midst of the shouts the horse galloped up and fell exhausted to the ground. Among the half-filled sacks stood the bear, growling ferociously!

"Exerting all our strength, the peasant and I had raced after the triumphal procession, but naturally I had far outstripped him. I came up quite out of breath, and overtook the cart just as it came to a standstill. With one hand I gripped the monster's short tail, and as I did so the voices cried once more, 'Hurrah for the general!'

"Then I gave the tail a violent jerk, which dashed the bear to the ground and broke his neck and all his ribs. All the music and shouting cane to an abrupt end, and a dead silence prevailed, only broken by the officer's exclamation: 'Surely, Baron Munchausen, this is not His Excellency, General Konski!'

"No, sir; this is a bear and some filberts!" When the laughter of his listeners had subsided, the Baron concluded with a courtly bow, and added as he turned to go: "To the best of my belief, the bear was stuffed as a punishment for having tried to pass himself off as the general, and is to be seen at Kiev to the present day. Should any of you chance to go there, you will doubtless find him in the Natural History Museum."

With these parting words the Baron concluded his veracious adventures and bade the assembled company "Good-night."