The Adventures of Baron Munchausen/Chapter V
The effects of activity and presence of mind.—A favourite hound pups while pursuing a hare; the hare also litters wile pursued by the hounds.—The consequence.—Presented with a famous horse by Count Przobossky, with which he performed extraordinary feats.
All these narrow escapes, gentlemen, were chances turned to advantage, by presence of mind and vigorous exertions; which, taken together, make the fortunate sportsman, sailor, and soldier; but he would be a very imprudent sportsman, admiral, or general, who would always depend on chance, without providing the very best implements, which secure success. I was not blameable in this way; for I have always been as remarkable for the excellence of my horses, dogs, guns, and swords, as for the proper manner of using them. I shall not enter here into any detail of my stables, kennel, or armory; but a favourite bitch of mine I cannot help mentioning to you—a greyhound, and I never had or saw a better. She ran so fast, so much, and so long in my service, that she actually ran off her legs; so that, in the latter part of her life, I was under the necessity of working and using her only as a turnspit, in which quality she still served me many years. Coursing one day a very large hare, I pitied my poor bitch, being big with pups, yet she would run as fast as ever. I could follow her on horseback only at a distance. At once I heard a cry as it were of a pack of hounds—but so weak and faint that I hardly knew what to make of it. Coming up, I was astonished. The hare had littered in running; the same had happened to my bitch in coursing…and there were just as many leverets as pups. By instinct the former ran, the latter followed; and thus I found myself in possession at once of six hares, and as many dogs, at the end of a course, which had only begun with one of each.
I remember this, my wonderful bitch, almost with the same pleasure as a superb Lithuanian horse, which became mine by an accident. I was at Count Przobossky's noble country seat in Lithuania, and remained with the ladies at tea in the drawing-room, while the gentlemen were down in the yard, to see a young horse of blood, which was just arrived from the stud. We heard a noise…I hastened down stair, and found the horse so unruly, that nobody durst approach or mount him. In one leap, I was on his back, took him by surprise, and worked him quite into gentleness and obedience. To shew my horsemanship to the ladies, and save them unnecessary trouble, I forced him to leap in at one of the windows of the drawing room, walked round several times, pace, trot, and gallop; and at last made him mount the tea-table, there to repeat his lessons, in a style which was exceedingly pleasing to the ladies, for he performed them amazing well, and did not break a single cup or saucer. The noble lord, with his usual politeness, begged I would accept of this young horse, and ride him to conquest and honour, in the campaign against the Turks, which was soon to be opened, under the command of Count Munich. We took, the field, among several other reasons, with an intention to retrieve the character of the Russian arms, which had been blemished a little by Czar Peter's last campaign on the Pruth; and this we accomplished after several very fatiguing and glorious campaigns. Modesty forbids individuals to arrogate to themselves great successes or victories, the glory of which is generally engrosses by the commander. Nor do I claim any particular share of glory in the great engagements with the enemy. We all did our duty. However, having had the command of a body of hussars, I went on a particular expedition, with discretionary powers; the success of which is, I think, fairly and only to be placed to my account, and to that of the brave fellows whom I led on to victory. We had very hot work in the van of the army, when we drove the Turks into Oczakow. My spirited Lithuanian had almost brought me into a scrape: I had an advanced fore-post, and saw the enemy coming against me in a cloud of dust, which left me rather uncertain about their actual numbers and real intentions: therefore I let my flankers on both wings spread to the right and left, and I myself led on straight upon the enemy, to have a nearer fight of them; in this I was gratified, for they stood and fought, till, for fear of my flankers, they began to move off rather disorderly. This was the moment to fall on them with spirit…We broke them entirely, made a terrible havock, and drove them not only back to a walled town in their rear, but even through it, contrary to our sanguine expectation.
The swiftness of my Lithuanian made me foremost: and seeing the enemy flying through the gate, I though it prudent to stop in the market-place, to order the men to rendezvous. I stopped gentlemen, but judge of my astonishment, when in this market-place I found myself quite alone, not one of my hussars about me. I walked my panting Lithuanian to a spring, and let him drink. He drank with an eagerness altogether unsatiable, but natural enough, for when I looked round for my men, what should I see! the hind part of the poor creature's croup and legs were missing as if he had been cut in two, and the water ran out as it, came in, without refreshing or doing him any good! This was quite a mystery to me, till I returned to the town-gate. THere I saw, thaw when I rushed in pell-mell with the flying enemy, they had dropped the port-cullis, which had totally cut off his hind part, that still lay quivering on the outside of the gate. It would have been an irreparable loss, had not our farrier (a very ingenious fellow) contrived to bring both parts together while hot. He sewed them up with sprigs and young shoots of laurels that were at hand; the wound healed; and, what could only have happened to so glorious a horse, the sprigs took root in his body, grew up, and formed a bower above me; so that afterwards I could fight under the shade of my own and my horse's laurels.