Adventures of Baron Munchausen - R. E. Raspe

The Baron's Expedition Up the Nile

and his Bet with the Sultan

My journey to Egypt was accomplished safely, but as I had kept my plans a profound secret, no one had warned me of the annual overflowing of the Nile, of which all of you gentlemen must undoubtedly have heard. The boatmen I had hired, having convinced themselves that we had taken an ample supply of provisions, said nothing, and for some days everything went well with us.

"On the fifth day, I noticed that the river was turning a peculiar reddish color and had begun to overflow its banks. The following day the Nile began to rise most amazingly and, before sunset, had spread over the whole country for many miles on each side. An hour later my bark became entangled in something I at first took for weeds and rushes, but as the light became stronger I found we were surrounded by almond-trees, the fruit of which was perfectly ripe and grew in great profusion.

"On taking soundings, we found that we were at least sixty feet from the ground, and unable to proceed or go backward. In a few hours a violent wind arose and overset the boat, which filled with water and sank together with all our provisions. Fortunately we all saved ourselves (eight men and two boys) by clinging to the branches of a tree; here we remained for over five weeks, subsisting upon almonds and water.

"At last the water fell and we were able to descend to the ground, where we found our boat lying about two hundred yards from the spot where it had sunk. Part of the provisions had been spoiled by water, but the rest was intact, and a meal, which we hastily improvised, tasted excellent after our monotonous fare of almonds. According to our calculations, we must have been carried about one hundred and seventy-three miles over garden walls and hedges.

"In some days, after a very toilsome journey on foot, two reached the river, which was now confined to its banks. We were kindly entertained by a Bey, who generously provided us with a boat of his own; with this we reached Alexandria in six days, and thence took ship for Constantinople. I had a great deal of trouble in persuading our boatmen to accept a present of money, for they protested they were sufficiently compensated by having spent six weeks in the company of the renowned Munchausen and shared his privations and dangers. You see what an advantage it is to be the owner of a celebrated name.

"Now it certainly will not surprise you, my friends, to hear that after the brilliant way I had executed the Sultan's commission, I was in higher favor than ever at the Turkish court. In fact, his Majesty could not live without me; I was invited to dine and sup with him every day, and I must own that the Commander of the Faithful keeps one of the best tables in the world, as far as eating goes at least; as for drinking, the followers of Mahomet are forbidden to touch wine. Consequently, no wine is served at table; but a Turk often drinks in secret, and is frequently a good judge of wine. This was the case with his Majesty, the Sultan, and many a time I have had the privilege of partaking of a flask of wine in his private apartments.

"One day the Sultan made me a sign to follow him thither, whispering, 'Munchausen, I have something special to show you to-day. I know you Christians are good judges of wine, and you shall tell me truly what you think of this. It is the last bottle of some Tokay given me by an Hungarian magnate, who regarded it as priceless.'

"Saying this, his Majesty filled his glass and mine. 'Well,' he said, 'how do you like it?'

"'It is fairly good,' I replied, 'but, if your Majesty will forgive my saying so, I can assure you that I have drunk wine at Vienna, in the Emperor's palace, compared to which this is but poor stuff.'

"'But, my dear fellow, this is genuine Tokay.'

"'Yes, your Majesty, but there is much better Tokay than this. What would your Majesty wager that I do not in an hour's time offer you a bottle of Tokay from the Imperial cellars, which will far surpass the wine you are drinking?'

"'Munchausen, you are mocking me, and I do not permit such a liberty; I have always believed you to be a reasonable and truthful man, but this time I am afraid you are exaggerating.'

"'Well, your Majesty, will you accept the wager? If I do not carry out what I have promised, you may cut off my head. That is my  stake—now, what is yours?'

"'I will take your wager,' replied the Sultan. 'But if the wine is not here on the stroke of four, it will cost you your head, for I do not allow even my best friends to jest with me. If, however, you fulfil your promise, I will give you as much gold, silver, and precious stones from my treasury as the strongest man can carry.'

"'That is a bargain,' I said, and, calling for pen, ink, and paper, I wrote to the Empress Maria Theresa as follows:

"'Your Majesty has doubtless inherited with the empire the wine-cellars of your illustrious father. May I venture to beseech your Majesty to send by the bearer of this a bottle of the Tokay I so often drank with the late lamented Emperor? And may I ask for the very best, as it is required for a wager?

"'I take the opportunity to assure your Majesty of the profound respect with which I have the honor to remain, etc., etc.'

"As it was already five minutes past three, I gave the note unsealed to my swift runner, who took the weights off his feet and set out at full speed for Vienna. This done, the Sultan and I sat down to finish our bottle of wine, while we were waiting for a better one. The clock struck a quarter past three; half-past three; a quarter to four. Then I began to be a little uneasy, especially as the Sultan glanced at the bell-rope from time to time, as if he were about to summon the executioner. He allowed me, however, to go into the garden for a little fresh air, attended by two armed slaves, who were ordered not to let me out of their sight. The hand of the clock marked five minutes to four—I was in despair.

"Suddenly I bethought me of my shooter and my listener, and sent for them at once. The listener lay down with his ear to the ground and announced, to my consternation, that my runner was miles away and evidently fast asleep, for he heard him snoring. My brave shooter quickly ran up a lofty terrace and cried out: 'It is quite true. The lazy fellow is lying under an oak near Belgrade, fast asleep with the bottle by his side. Wait a moment, and I'll wake him up.'

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


"He took aim immediately, and discharged his gun full at the oak-tree. A shower of acorns, leaves, and twigs fell on the sleeper, who naturally sprang up, seized the bottle, and arrived with it and an autograph letter from Queen Maria Theresa in the Sultan's apartment, at fifty-nine and a half minutes past three!

"The Sultan made a sign for my guards to leave, and, having tasted the bottle, of wine, clapsed me in his arms and smacked his lips. 'Munchausen,' said he, 'you must forgive me if I do not share this bottle with you. You have more influence at Vienna than I, and can easily get another.'

"Then he locked the bottle in a cupboard, put the key in his pocket, and rang for his treasurer. This official at once appeared and the Sultan, who never broke his word, said to him: 'You are to let my friend, Baron von Munchausen, take from my treasury as much gold, silver and precious stones as the strongest man can carry. Go!'

"The treasurer bowed low to his master and beckoned me to follow him. I sent for my strong man, and bade him bring with him a thick hempen cord. Then together we entered the treasury, and filled many sacks with its precious contents; these sacks my porter tied together and lifted on his shoulder. We hurried off at once to the port, engaged the largest merchantman I could find, and made ready to sail without delay.

"Meanwhile, the treasurer hastened to the Sultan and related with tears how my servant had carried off almost the entire contents of the treasury. This seemed to the Sultan beyond a joke, and he regretted his foolish bet. He at once ordered his Lord High Admiral to follow me with the entire Turkish fleet, and make me understand that it was not thus our wager was meant.

"Meantime, we had made good our escape, and were on the point of entering the Mediterranean, when we perceived numerous Turkish ships bearing down on us with all sails set.

"Fortunately, my blower came to the rescue and, saying consolingly, 'Have no fear, your honor. We will soon blow them back whence they came,' placed himself in the stern of the ship in such a manner that one nostril was turned towards the Turkish fleet, and the other to our own sails. Then he blew with such violence that the pursuing ships were driven back with masts and rigging all destroyed, while our vessel reached the coast of Italy in a few hours.

"To-morrow night, I will undertake to show you that the motto, 'Lightly come, lightly go,' could be well applied to what happened to me and my treasure."