... we are all prompted by the same motives, all deceived by the same fallacies, all animated by hope, obstructed by danger, entangled by desire, and seduced by pleasure. — Samuel Johnson

Adventures of Baron Munchausen - R. E. Raspe

The Baron's Adventures in Captivity

He is Released and Returns to Russia

Instead of being exchanged as prisoner of war with some Turk in an equally high position, I was taken to Constantinople, and there sold as a slave. My daily task—a somewhat humiliating one for a gallant colonel of hussars—was to take care of the Sultan's bees. Every morning I had to drive them to pasture, guard them all day long, and drive the whole swarm back to their hives at night.

"One evening I missed two of my favorite bees, and after some search I discovered two bears trying to tear them to pieces for the sake of the honey they carried. I had no other weapon in my hand but a silver hatchet, which is the badge of the Sultan's servants, and this I threw at the bears. I failed to hit them, but they were terrified and ran away; what became of them I do not know, but at any rate I had rescued my bees. But I was in great dismay to find that by an unlucky turn of my arm I had sent my hatchet up in the air, and it continued rising higher and higher till it reached the moon, where it stuck. How could I recover it?*** and what ladder would reach so high?

"Then it occurred to me that a few days ago the head-gardener had given me a Turkey bean, plucked from the grave of the Prophet. I made haste to plant it, remembering that these beans grow very quickly and run up to an astonishing height.

"I had scarcely planted the bean when it sprang up, and grew so fast under my very eyes that in a few hours it had actually fastened itself to one of the moon's horns. All I had to do now was to climb up by it into the moon, where I arrived safely after a toilsome ascent of some hours.

"My next task was to find my hatchet, and this was a troublesome piece of business, for up in the moon everything has the brightness of silver. However, I found it at last, lying on a heap of chopped straw.

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

"I now thought of returning, but alas! The terrible heat of the sun had dried up my bean so that it was quite useless for descent. Helpless and disconsolate, I sat down on the heap of straw and looked about me. Suddenly I caught sight of what I took to be a large diamond, but going nearer I found it to be a ball of crystal attached to the end of a walking-stick to serve as a handle. Picking up the stick, I walked further into the regions of the moon. Here I felt the heat so much that I rid myself of all superfluous garments—my moustache had already been consumed by the heat, and I had the appearance of a stripling of seventeen.

"I perceived no remarkable difference betwixt the earth and the moon, except that here the atmosphere was so bright that all objects were reflected in it as in a mirror.

"Entering the confines of a city, I perceived a large number of men in Eastern garb, sitting in solemn consultation under a sort of canopy in the market-place. In their midst stood a dwarfish-looking being, violently shrieking and gesticulating. I was about to approach and address the moon inhabitants, when suddenly the little man rushed at me, snatched the stick with the crystal ball from my hand, and ran away with it at full speed. I rushed after him crying, 'Stop, thief!' while the others looked on, but made no attempt to help either of us.

"At length I lost sight of the little man, and I desisted from the pursuit, seeing it was hopeless. I was about to resume my wanderings, when there emerged from a wood six gigantic fellows, each armed with a heavy iron club. Seeing me they raised a shout and advanced towards me, brandishing their clubs. I did not wait to see what would happen next; terror lent wings to my feet, and I fled for dear life.

"I could only conclude, on thinking it over afterwards, that I must have had in my possession some treasure of which the dwarf was custodian, and seeing it in my hands he had repossessed himself of it with scant ceremony, and had then sent six of his men to capture or kill the supposed thief.

"At the rate of a mile a minute I soon far out-stripped my pursuers, and found myself at last near the very heap of straw on which my hatchet was still lying. I sat down on the edge of the moon and set my wits to work to discover a means of reaching the earth again, for I can assure you I had no wish to meet with any more of the moon-men.

"The only material at hand being the chopped straw, I twisted a rope of this as long and as well as I could make it. This rope I fastened to one of the moon's horns, and slid down to the end of it. Here I held myself fast with the left hand, and with the hatchet in my right I cut the long end of the upper part, which, when tied to the lower end, helped me down farther. This continual splicing and tying of the rope did not improve its quality, and when I was still several miles up in the clouds my rope suddenly broke, and I fell to the earth with such violence that I was completely stunned. When, after some time, I recovered my senses, I found myself in a hole at least nine fathoms deep, made by the weight of my body falling from so great a height. Now I detest exaggeration of any kind, and the report that I dug steps with my fingernails is utterly false. Besides, why should I have done so when I had my hatchet, and it was so much easier to dig a few hundred steps with this? By the time I had ascended to earth by means of the steps my moustache had completely grown again.

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

"After this the Sultan treated me very kindly, and showed me many marks of favor, but, nevertheless, I pined for freedom. This I obtained sooner than I had expected, for peace was concluded about this time between Russia and Turkey, and I was exchanged amongst other prisoners of war. I did not guess when I took my leave of the Sultan that I should soon return to Constantinople, but in a very different capacity. I travelled by coach, as befitted my rank, not on foot with the other released prisoners.

"On this journey we had to go through an extremely narrow lane, and in order to prevent any accident I ordered my postilion to give a signal with his horn, that we might not encounter another vehicle. He blew with all his might, but could make no sound; this was inexplicable, and annoying, too, for soon after several heavy wagons laden with timber came towards us.

"There was only one means of extricating ourselves from this difficulty. I jumped out of the carriage, unharnessed the horses, and took it, wheels and all, on my shoulders. Then I jumped over a hedge about nine feet high (which, considering the weight of the coach, was rather difficult) into a field, and came back again to fetch the horses. After the wagons had passed on, I took first the carriage and then the horses back into the road in the same manner.

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

"When we arrived at the next inn, the postilion and I sat down to take some refreshment; he hung his horn, with his hat, on a peg near the kitchen fire. Suddenly we heard a loud tarantara, and then followed all the signals that the postilion had blown into his horn, which had been frozen by the cold and was now thawing!

Then we heard a variety of tunes, all of which the honest fellow had tried to entertain us with on the journey, and had likewise been frozen in the horn.

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

"This brings to an end the short account of my Russian travels, but before I begin the recital of my further and even more wonderful adventures I will beg any of the company who entertain any doubt of my veracity to leave. I can only assure my friends here present that the tales which follow are as strictly founded on fact as those I have already related."