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SOME HUNTING STORIES FOR CHILDREN
The Heavenly Twins had been off in the mountains during their summer holiday, and in consequence had seen very little of their good old friend, Mr. Munchausen. He had written them once or twice, and they had found his letters most interesting, especially that one in which he told how he had killed a moose up in Maine with his Waterbury watch spring, and I do not wonder that they marvelled at that, for it was one of the most extraordinary happenings in the annals of the chase. It seems, if his story is to be believed, and I am sure that none of us who know him has ever had any reason to think that he would deceive intentionally; it seems, I say, that he had gone to Maine for a week's sport with an old army acquaintance of his, who had now become a guide in that region. Unfortunately his rifle, of which he was very fond, and with which his aim was unerring, was in some manner mislaid on the way, and when they arrived in the woods they were utterly without weapons; but Mr. Munchausen was not the man to be daunted by any such trifle as that, particularly while his friend had an old army musket, a relic of the war, stored away in the attic of his woodland domicile.
"Th' only trouble with that ar musket," said the old guide, "ain't so much that she won't shoot straight, nor that she's got a kick onto her like an unbroke mule. What I'm most afeard 'on about your shootin' with her ain't that I think she'll bust neither, for the fact is we ain't got nothin' for to bust her with, seein' as how ammynition is skeerce. I got powder, an' I got waddin', but I ain't got no shot."
"That doesn't make any difference," the Baron replied. "We can make the shot. Have you got any plumbing in the camp? If you have, rip it out, and I'll melt up a water-pipe into bullets."
"No, sir," retorted the old man. "Plumbin' is one of the things I came here to escape from."
"Then," said the Baron, "I'll use my watch for ammunition. It is only a three-dollar watch and I can spare it."
With this determination, Mr. Munchausen took his watch to pieces, an ordinary time-piece of the old-fashioned kind, and, to make a long story short, shot for several days with the component parts of that useful affair rammed down into the barrel of the old musket. With the stem-winding ball he killed an eagle; with pieces of the back cover chopped up to a fineness of medium-sized shot he brought down several other birds, but the great feat of all was when he started for moose with nothing but the watch-spring in the barrel of the gun. Having rolled it up as tight as he could, fastened it with a piece of twine, and rammed it well into the gun, he set out to find the noble animal upon whose life he had designs. After stalking the woods for several hours, he came upon the tracks which told him that his prey was not far off, and in a short while he caught sight of a magnificent creature, his huge antlers held proudly up and his great eyes full of defiance.
For a moment the Baron hesitated. The idea of destroying so beautiful an animal seemed to be abhorrent to his nature, which, warrior-like as he is, has something of the tenderness of a woman about it. A second glance at the superb creature, however, changed all that, for the Baron then saw that to shoot to kill was necessary, for the beast was about to force a fight in which the hunter himself would be put upon the defensive.
"I won't shoot you through the head, my beauty," he said, softly, "nor will I puncture your beautiful coat with this load of mine, but I'll kill you in a new way."
With this he pulled the trigger. The powder exploded, the string binding the long black spring into a coil broke, and immediately the strip of steel shot forth into the air, made directly toward the neck of the rushing moose, and coiling its whole sinuous length tightly about the doomed creature's throat strangled him to death.
As the Twins' father said, a feat of that kind entitled the Baron to a high place in fiction at least, if not in history itself. The Twins were very much wrought up over the incident, particularly, when one too-smart small imp who was spending the summer at the same hotel where they were said that he didn't believe it, — but he was an imp who had never seen a cheap watch, so how should he know anything about what could be done with a spring that cannot be wound up by a great strong man in less than ten minutes?
As for the Baron he was very modest about the achievement, for when he first appeared at the Twins' home after their return he had actually forgotten all about it, and, in fact, could not recall the incident at all, until Diavolo brought him his own letter, when, of course, the whole matter came back to him.
"It wasn't so very wonderful, anyhow," said the Baron. "I should not think, for instance, of bragging about any such thing as that. It was a simple affair all through."
"And what did you do with the moose's antlers?" asked Angelica. "I hope you brought 'em home with you, because I'd like to see 'em."
"I wanted to," said the Baron, stroking the Twins' soft brown locks affectionately. "I wanted to bring them home for your father to use as a hat rack, dear, but they were too large. When I had removed them from the dead animal, I found them so large that I could not get them out of the forest, they got so tangled up in the trees. I should have had to clear a path twenty feet wide and seven miles long to get them even as far as my friend's hut, and after that they would have had to be carried thirty miles through the woods to the express office."
"I guess it's just as well after all," said Diavolo. "If they were as big as all that, Papa would have had to build a new house to get 'em into."
"Exactly," said the Baron. "Exactly. That same idea occurred to me, and for that reason I concluded not to go to the trouble of cutting away those miles of trees. The antlers would have made a very expensive present for your father to receive in these hard times."
"It was a good thing you had that watch," the Twins observed, after thinking over the Baron's adventure. "If you hadn't had that you couldn't have killed the moose."
"Very likely not," said the Baron, "unless I had been able to do as I did in India thirty years ago at a man hunt."
"What?" cried the Twins. "Do they hunt men in India?"
"That all depends, my dears," replied the Baron. "It all depends upon what you mean by the word they. Men don't hunt men, but animals, great wild beasts sometimes hunt them, and it doesn't often happen that the men escape. In the particular man hunt I refer to I was the creature that was being hunted, and I've had a good deal of sympathy for foxes ever since. This was a regular fox hunt in a way, although I was the fox, and a herd of elephants were the huntsmen."
"How queer," said Diavolo, unscrewing one of the Baron's shirt studs to see if he would fall apart.
"Not half so queer as my feelings when I realised my position," said the Baron with a shake of his head. "I was frightened half to death. It seemed to me that I'd reached the end of my tether at last. I was studying the fauna and flora of India, in a small Indian village, known as ah — what was the name of that town! Ah — something like Rathabad — no, that isn't quite it — however, one name does as well as another in India. It was a good many miles from Calcutta, and I'd been living there about three months. The village lay in a small valley between two ranges of hills, none of them very high. On the other side of the westerly hills was a great level stretch of country upon which herds of elephants used to graze. Out of this rose these hills, very precipitously, which was a very good thing for the people in the valley, else those elephants would have come over and played havoc with their homes and crops. To me the plains had a great fascination, and I used to wander over them day after day in search of new specimens for my collection of plants and flowers, never thinking of the danger I ran from an encounter with these elephants, who were very ferocious and extremely jealous of the territory they had come through years of occupation to regard as their own. So it happened, that one day, late in the afternoon, I was returning from an expedition over the plains, and, as I had found a large number of new specimens, I was feeling pretty happy. I whistled loudly as I walked, when suddenly coming to a slight undulation in the plain what should I see before me but a herd of sixty-three elephants, some eating, some thinking, some romping, and some lying asleep on the soft turf. Now, if I had come quietly, of course, I could have passed them unobserved, but as I told you I was whistling. I forget what the tune was, The Marsellaise or Die Wacht Am Rhein, or maybe Tommie Atkins, which enrages the elephants very much, being the national anthem of the British invader. At any rate, whatever the tune was it attracted the attention of the elephants, and then their sport began. The leader lifted his trunk high in the air, and let out a trumpet blast that echoed back from the cliff three miles distant. Instantly every elephant was on the alert. Those that had been sleeping awoke, and sprang to their feet. Those that had been at play stopped in their romp, and under the leadership of the biggest brute of the lot they made a rush for me. I had no gun; nothing except my wits and my legs with which to defend myself, so I naturally began to use the latter until I could get the former to work. It was nip and tuck. They could run faster than I could, and I saw in an instant that without stratagem I could not hope to reach a place of safety. As I have said, the cliff, which rose straight up from the plain like a stone-wall, was three miles away, nor was there any other spot in which I could find a refuge. It occurred to me as I ran that if I ran in circles I could edge up nearer to the cliff all the time, and still keep my pursuers at a distance for the simple reason that an elephant being more or less unwieldy cannot turn as rapidly as a man can, so I kept running in circles. I could run around my short circle in less time than the enemy could run around his larger one, and in this manner I got nearer and nearer my haven of safety, the bellowing beasts snorting with rage as they followed. Finally, when I began to see that I was tolerably safe, another idea occurred to me, which was that if I could manage to kill those huge creatures the ivory I could get would make my fortune. But how! That was the question. Well, my dearly beloved Imps, I admit that I am a fast runner, but I am also a fast thinker, and in less than two minutes I had my plan arranged. I stopped short when about two hundred feet from the cliff, and waited until the herd was fifty feet away. Then I turned about and ran with all my might up to within two feet of the cliff, and then turning sharply to the left ran off in that direction. The elephants, thinking they had me, redoubled their speed, but failed to notice that I had turned, so quickly was that movement executed. They failed likewise to notice the cliff, as I had intended. The consequence was the whole sixty-three of them rushed head first, bang! with all their force, into the rock. The hill shook with the force of the blow and the sixty-three elephants fell dead. They had simply butted their brains out."
"I got nearer and nearer my haven of safety, the bellowing beasts snorting with rage as they followed."
Here the Baron paused and pulled vigourously on his cigar, which had almost gone out.
"That was fine," said the Twins.
"What a narrow escape it was for you, Uncle Munch," said Diavolo.
"Very true," said the great soldier rising, as a signal that his story was done. "In fact you might say that I had sixty-three narrow escapes, one for each elephant."
"But what became of the ivory?" asked Angelica.
"Oh, as for that!" said the Baron, with a sigh, "I was disappointed in that. They turned out to be all young elephants, and they had lost their first teeth. Their second teeth hadn't grown yet. I got only enough ivory to make one paper cutter, which is the one I gave your father for Christmas last year."
Which may account for the extraordinary interest the Twins have taken in their father's paper cutter ever since.