The Adventures of Baron Munchausen/Chapter I

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The Baron over a bottle relates to his friends his travels. Astonishing effects of a storm.—Arrives at Ceylon; conquers two extraordinary opponents.—Returns to Holland.

Some years before my beard announced approaching manhood, I expressed a strong desire of seeing the world, from which I was discouraged by my parents. A cousin, by my mother's side, took a liking to me, and was much inclined to gratify my curiosity. His eloquence had more effect than mine, for my father consented to my accompanying him in a voyage to the island of Ceylon, where his uncle had resided as governor many years.

We sailed from Amsterdam with dispatches from their High Mightinesses the States of Holland. The only circumstance which happened on our voyage worth relating, was the wonderful effects of a storm, which had torn up by the roots a great number of trees of enormous bulk that had been carried by the wind so high, that they appeared like the feathers of small birds floating in the air, for they were at least five miles above the earth: however, as soon as the storm subsided, they all fell perpendicularly into their respective places, and took root again, except the largest, which happened, when it was blown into the air, to have a man and his wife on its branches, gathering cucumbers, which here grow on trees; the weight of this couple, as the tree descended, overbalanced the trunk, and brought it down in a horizontal position: it fell upon the chief man of the island, and killed him on the spot, to the great joy of the inhabitants.

In about six weeks we arrives at Ceylon, where we were received with great marks of friendship and politeness.

One day being out on a shooting party, I lost my companions in passing through a wood. Having reached the banks of a large piece of water, I heard a rustling noise behind; on turning about, I was almost petrified at the sight of a lion, evidently approaching with an intention of satisfying his appetite with my poor carcass. What was to be done in this horrible dilemma? My piece was only charged with swan shot, and I had no other about me: however, though I could have no idea of killing such an animal with that weak kind of ammunition, yet I had some hopes of frightening him by the report, and perhaps wounding him. I immediately let fly, but the report did but enrage him, for he now quickened his pace, and seemed to approach me full speed: I attempted to escape but the moment I turned about, I found a large crocodile, with his mouth extended almost ready to receive me; In short, I gave myself up as lost, for the lion was now on his hind legs, in the very act of seizing me: I fell involuntarily to the ground with fear, and, as it afterwards appeared, he sprang over me: after lying in this horrible situation a few seconds, I heard a violent but unusual noise; after listening for some time, I ventured to raise my head and look round, when, to my unspeakable joy, I perceived the lion had by the eagerness with which he sprung at me, jumped forward as I fell, into the crocodile's mouth, which was wide open, the head of the one stuck in the throat of the other, and they were struggling to extricate themselves; with my couteau de chasse I cut off the lion's head at one blow, then, with the but-end of my fowling piece, I rammed the head farther into the throat of the crocodile, and destroyed him by suffocation. The crocodile was just forty feet in length.

The lion's skin I had made into tobacco-pouches, which were presented by me on our arrival in Holland to the burgomasters. The skin of the crocodile was stuffed, and makes a capital article in their public museum at Amsterdam, where the exhibitor relates the whole story to each spectator, with such additions as he thinks proper: one of them is, that the lion jumped quite through the crocodile, and was making his escape at the back-door, when, as soon as his head appeared, Monsieur the Great Baron (as he pleased to call me) cut if off, and three feet of the crocodile's tail with it; nay, so little attention has this fellow to the truth, that he adds, As soon as the crocodile missed his tail, he turned about, snatched the couteau de chasse out of Monsieur's hand, and swallowed it with such eagerness, that it pierced his heart, and killed him on the spot.

The little regard this impudent knave has to veracity, makes apprehensive that my real facts may fall under suspicion, by being found in company with confounded inventions.