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THE SPORTING TOUR OF MR. MUNCHAUSEN
"Good morning, Mr. Munchausen," said the interviewer of the Gehenna Gazette entering the apartment of the famous traveller at the Hotel Deville, where the late Baron had just arrived from his sporting tour in the Blue Hills of Cimmeria and elsewhere.
"The interests of truth, my dear Ananias," replied the Baron, grasping me cordially by the hand, "require that I should state it as my opinion that it is not a good morning. In fact, my good friend, it is a very bad morning. Can you not see that it is raining cats and dogs without?"
"Sir," said I with a bow, "I accept the spirit of your correction but not the letter. It is raining indeed, sir, as you suggest, but having passed through it myself on my way hither I can personally testify that it is raining rain, and not a single cat or canine has, to my knowledge, as yet fallen from the clouds to the parched earth, although I am informed that down upon the coast an elephant and three cows have fallen upon one of the summer hotels and irreparably damaged the roof."
Mr. Munchausen laughed.
"It is curious, Ananias," said he, "what sticklers for the truth you and I have become."
"It is indeed, Munchausen," I returned. "The effects of this climate are working wonders upon us. And it is just as well. You and I are outclassed by these twentieth century prevaricators concerning whom late arrivals from the upper world tell such strange things. They tell me that lying has become a business and is no longer ranked among the Arts or Professions."
"Ah me!" sighed the Baron with a retrospective look in his eye, "lying isn't what it used to be, Ananias, in your days and mine. I fear it has become one of the lost arts."
"I have noticed it myself, my friend, and only last night I observed the same thing to my well beloved Sapphira, who was lamenting the transparency of the modern lie, and said that lying to-day is no better than the truth. In our day a prevarication had all of the opaque beauty of an opalescent bit of glass, whereas to-day in the majority of cases it is like a great vulgar plate-glass window, through which we can plainly see the ugly truths that lie behind. But, sir, I am here to secure from you not a treatise upon the lost art of lying, but some idea of the results of your sporting tour. You fished, and hunted, and golfed, and doubtless did other things. You, of course, had luck and made the greatest catch of the season; shot all the game in sight, and won every silver, gold and pewter golf mug in all creation?"
"You speak truly, Ananias," returned Mr. Munchausen. "My luck was wonderful — even for one who has been so singularly fortunate as I. I took three tons of speckled beauties with one cast of an ordinary horse whip in the Blue Hills, and with nothing but a silken line and a minnow hook landed upon the deck of my steam yacht a whale of most tremendous proportions; I shot game of every kind in great abundance and in my golf there was none to whom I could not give with ease seven holes in every nine and beat him out."
"Seven?" said I, failing to see how the ex-Baron could be right.
"Seven," said he complacently. "Seven on the first, and seven on the second nine; fourteen in all of the eighteen holes."
"But," I cried, "I do not see how that could be. With fourteen holes out of the eighteen given to your opponent even if you won all the rest you still would be ten down."
"True, by ordinary methods of calculation," returned the Baron, "but I got them back on a technicality, which I claim is a new and valuable discovery in the game. You see it is impossible to play more than one hole at a time, and I invariably proved to the Greens Committee that in taking fourteen holes at once my opponent violated the physical possibilities of the situation. In every case the point was accepted as well taken, for if we allow golfers to rise above physical possibilities the game is gone. The integrity of the Card is the soul of Golf," he added sententiously.
"Tell me of the whale," said I, simply. "You landed a whale of large proportions on the deck of your yacht with a simple silken line and a minnow hook."
"Well it's a tough story," the Baron replied, handing me a cigar. "But it is true, Ananias, true to the last word. I was fishing for eels. Sitting on the deck of The Lyre one very warm afternoon in the early stages of my trip, I baited a minnow hook and dropped it overboard. It was the roughest day at sea I had ever encountered. The waves were mountain high, and it is the sad fact that one of our crew seated in the main-top was drowned with the spray of the dashing billows. Fortunately for myself, directly behind my deck chair, to which I was securely lashed, was a powerful electric fan which blew the spray away from me, else I too might have suffered the same horrid fate. Suddenly there came a tug on my line. I was half asleep at the time and let the line pay out involuntarily, but I was wide-awake enough to know that something larger than an eel had taken hold of the hook. I had hooked either a Leviathan or a derelict. Caution and patience, the chief attributes of a good angler were required. I hauled the line in until it was taut. There were a thousand yards of it out, and when it reached the point of tensity, I gave orders to the engineers to steam closer to the object at the other end. We steamed in five hundred yards, I meanwhile hauling in my line. Then came another tug and I let out ten yards. 'Steam closer,' said I. 'Three hundred yards sou-sou-west by nor'-east.' The yacht obeyed on the instant. I called the Captain and let him feel the line. 'What do you think it is?' said I. He pulled a half dozen times. 'Feels like a snag,' he said, 'but seein' as there ain't no snags out here, I think it must be a fish.' 'What kind?' I asked. I could not but agree that he was better acquainted with the sea and its denizens than I. 'Well,' he replied, 'it is either a sea serpent or a whale.' At the mere mention of the word whale I was alert. I have always wanted to kill a whale. 'Captain,' said I, 'can't you tie an anchor onto a hawser, and bait the flukes with a boa constrictor and make sure of him?' He looked at me contemptuously. 'Whales eats fish,' said he, 'and they don't bite at no anchors. Whales has brains, whales has.' 'What shall we do?' I asked. 'Steam closer,' said the Captain, and we did so."
Munchausen took a long breath and for the moment was silent.
"Well?" said I.
"Well, Ananias," said he. "We resolved to wait. As the Captain said to me, 'Fishin' is waitin'.' So we waited. 'Coax him along,' said the Captain. 'How can we do it?' I asked. 'By kindness,' said he. 'Treat him gently, persuasive-like and he'll come.' We waited four days and nobody moved and I grew weary of coaxing. 'We've got to do something,' said I to the Captain. 'Yes,' said he, 'Let's make him move. He doesn't seem to respond to kindness.' 'But how?' I cried. 'Give him an electric shock,' said the Captain. 'Telegraph him his mother's sick and may be it'll move him.' 'Can't you get closer to him?' I demanded, resenting his facetious manner. 'I can, but it will scare him off,' replied the Captain. So we turned all our batteries on the sea. The dynamo shot forth its bolts and along about four o'clock in the afternoon there was the whale drawn by magnetic influence to the side of The Lyre. He was a beauty, Ananias," Munchausen added with enthusiasm. "You never saw such a whale. His back was as broad as the deck of an ocean steamer and in his length he exceeded the dimensions of The Lyre by sixty feet."
"And still you got him on deck?" I asked, — I, Ananias, who can stand something in the way of an exaggeration.
"Yes," said Munchausen, lighting his cigar, which had gone out. "Another storm came up and we rolled and rolled and rolled, until I thought The Lyre was going to capsize."
"But weren't you sea-sick?" I asked.
"Didn't have a chance to be," said Munchausen. "I was thinking of the whale all the time. Finally there came a roll in which we went completely under, and with a slight pulling on the line the whale was landed by the force of the wave and laid squarely upon the deck."
"Great Sapphira!" said I. "But you just said he was wider and longer than the yacht!"
"There was the whale drawn by magnetic influence to the side of The Lyre."
"He was," sighed Munchausen. "He landed on the deck and by sheer force of his weight the yacht went down under him. I swam ashore and the whole crew with me. The next day Mr. Whale floated in strangled. He'd swallowed the thousand yards of line and it got so tangled in his tonsils that it choked him to death. Come around next week and I'll give you a couple of pounds of whalebone for Mrs. Ananias, and all the oil you can carry."
I thanked the old gentleman for his kind offer and promised to avail myself of it, although as a newspaper man it is against my principles to accept gifts from public men.
"It was great luck, Baron," said I. "Or at least it would have been if you hadn't lost your yacht."
"That was great luck too," he observed nonchalantly. "It cost me ten thousand dollars a month keeping that yacht in commission. Now she's gone I save all that. Why it's like finding money in the street, Ananias. She wasn't worth more than fifty thousand dollars, and in six months I'll be ten thousand ahead."
I could not but admire the cheerful philosophy of the man, but then I was not surprised. Munchausen was never the sort of man to let little things worry him.
"But that whale business wasn't a circumstance to my catch of three tons of trout with a single cast of a horse-whip in the Blue Hills," said the Baron after a few moments of meditation, during which I could see that he was carefully marshalling his facts.
"I never heard of its equal," said I. "You must have used a derrick."
"No," he replied suavely. "Nothing of the sort. It was the simplest thing in the world. It was along about five o'clock in the afternoon when with my three guides and my valet I drove up the winding roadway of Great Sulphur Mountain on my way to the Blue Mountain House where I purposed to put up for a few days. I had one of those big mountain wagons with a covered top to it such as the pioneers used on the American plains, with six fine horses to the fore. I held the reins myself, since we were in the midst of a terrific thunderstorm and I felt safer when I did my own driving. All the flaps of the leathern cover were let down at the sides and at the back, and were securely fastened. The roads were unusually heavy, and when we came to the last great hill before the lake all but I were walking, as a measure of relief to the horses. Suddenly one of the horses balked right in the middle of the ascent, and in a moment of impatience I gave him a stinging flick with my whip, when like a whirlwind the whole six swerved to one side and started on a dead run upward. The jolt and the unexpected swerving of the wagon threw me from my seat and I landed clear of the wheels in the soft mud of the roadway, fortunately without injury. When I arose the team was out of sight and we had to walk the remainder of the distance to the hotel. Imagine our surprise upon arriving there to find the six panting steeds and the wagon standing before the main entrance to the hotel dripping as though they had been through the Falls of Niagara, and, would you believe it, Ananias, inside that leather cover of the wagon, packed as tightly as sardines, were no less than three thousand trout, not one of them weighing less than a pound and some of them getting as high as four. The whole catch weighed a trifle over six thousand pounds."
"Great Heavens, Baron," I cried. "Where the dickens did they come from?"
"That's what I asked myself," said the Baron easily. "It seemed astounding at first glance, but investigation showed it after all to be a very simple proposition. The runaways after reaching the top of the hill turned to the left, and clattered on down toward the bridge over the inlet to the lake. The bridge broke beneath their weight and the horses soon found themselves struggling in the water. The harness was strong and the wagon never left them. They had to swim for it, and I am told by a small boy who was fishing on the lake at the time that they swam directly across it, pulling the wagon after them. Naturally with its open front and confined back and sides the wagon acted as a sort of drag-net and when the opposite shore was gained, and the wagon was pulled ashore, it was found to have gathered in all the fish that could not get out of the way."
The Baron resumed his cigar, and I sat still eyeing the ample pattern of the drawing-room carpet.
"Pretty good catch for an afternoon, eh?" he said in a minute.
"Yes," said I. "Almost too good, Baron. Those horses must have swam like the dickens to get over so quickly. You would think the trout would have had time to escape."
"Oh I presume one or two of them did," said Munchausen. "But the majority of them couldn't. The horses were all fast, record-breakers anyhow. I never hire a horse that isn't."
And with that I left the old gentleman and walked blushing back to the office. I don't doubt for an instant the truth of the Baron's story, but somehow or other I feel that in writing it my reputation is in some measure at stake.
NOTE — Mr. Munchausen, upon request of the Editor of the Gehenna Gazette to write a few stories of adventure for his Imp's page, conducted by Sapphira, contributed the tales which form the substance of several of the following chapters.