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THE STORY OF JANG
"Did you ever own a dog, Baron Munchausen?" asked the reporter of the Gehenna Gazette, calling to interview the eminent nobleman during Dog Show Week in Cimmeria.
"Yes, indeed I have," said the Baron, "I fancy I must have owned as many as a hundred dogs in my life. To be sure some of the dogs were iron and brass, but I was just as fond of them as if they had been made of plush or lamb's wool. They were so quiet, those iron dogs were; and the brass dogs never barked or snapped at any one."
"I never saw a brass dog," said the reporter. "What good are they?"
"Oh they are likely to be very useful in winter," the Baron replied. "My brass dogs used to guard my fire-place and keep the blazing logs from rolling out into my room and setting fire to the rug the Khan of Tartary gave me for saving his life from a herd of Antipodes he and I were hunting in the Himalaya Mountains."
"I don't see what you needed dogs to do that for," said the reporter. "A fender would have done just as well, or a pair of andirons," he added.
"That's what these dogs were," said the Baron. "They were fire dogs and fire dogs are andirons."
Ananias pressed his lips tightly together, and into his eyes came a troubled look. It was evident that, revolting as the idea was to him, he thought the Baron was trying to deceive him. Noting his displeasure, the Baron inwardly resolving to be careful how he handled the truth, hastened on with his story.
"But dogs were never my favourite animals," he said. "With my pets I am quite as I am with other things. I like to have pets that are entirely different from the pets of other people, and that is why in my day I have made companions of such animals as the sangaree, and the camomile, and the — ah — the two-horned piccolo. I've had tame bees even — in fact my bees used to be the wonder of Siam, in which country I was stationed for three years, having been commissioned by a British company to make a study of its climate with a view to finding out if it would pay the company to go into the ice business there. Siam is, as you have probably heard, a very warm country, and as ice is a very rare thing in warm countries these English people thought they might make a vast fortune by sending tug-boats up to the Arctic Ocean, and with them capture and tow icebergs to Siam, where they might be cut up and sold to the people at tremendous profit. The scheme was certainly a good one, and I found many of the wealthy Siamese quite willing to subscribe for a hundred pounds of ice a week at ten dollars a pound, but it never came to anything because we had no means of preserving the icebergs after we got them into the Gulf of Siam. The water was so hot that they melted before we could cut them up, and we nearly got ourselves into very serious trouble with the coast people for that same reason. An iceberg, as you know, is a huge affair, and when a dozen or two of them had melted in the Gulf they added so to the quantity of water there that fifty miles of the coast line were completely flooded, and thousands of valuable fish, able to live in warm water only, were so chilled that they got pneumonia, and died. You can readily imagine how indignant the Siamese fishermen were with my company over the losses they had to bear, but their affection for me personally was so great that they promised not to sue the company if I would promise not to let the thing occur again. This I promised, and all went well. But about the bees, it was while I was living in Bangkok that I had them, and they were truly wonderful. There was hardly anything those bees couldn't do after I got them tamed."
"How did you tame them, Baron," asked Ananias.
"Power of the eye, my boy," returned the Baron. "I attracted their attention first and then held it. Of course, I tried my plan on one bee first. He tamed the rest. Bees are very like children. They like to play stunts — I think it is called stunts, isn't it, when one boy does something, and all his companions try to do the same thing?"
"Yes," said Ananias, "I believe there is such a game, but I shouldn't like to play it with you."
"Well, that was the way I did with the bees," said Mr. Munchausen. "I tamed the king bee, and when he had learned all sorts of funny little tricks, such as standing on his head and humming tunes, I let him go back to the swarm. He was gone a week, and then he came back, he had grown so fond of me — as well he might, because I fed him well, giving him a large basket of flowers three times a day. Back with him came two or three thousand other bees, and whatever Jang did they did."
"Who was Jang?" asked Ananias.
"That was the first bee's name. King Jang. Jang is Siamese for Billie, and as I was always fond of the name, Billie, I called him Jang. By and by every bee in the lot could hum the Star Spangled Banner and Yankee Doodle as well as you or I could, and it was grand on those soft moonlight nights we had there, to sit on the back porch of my pagoda and listen to my bee orchestra discoursing sweet music. Of course, as soon as Jang had learned to hum one tune it was easy enough for him to learn another, and before long the bee orchestra could give us any bit of music we wished to have. Then I used to give musicales at my house and all the Siamese people, from the King down asked to be invited, so that through my pets my home became one of the most attractive in all Asia.
"And the honey those bees made! It was the sweetest honey you ever tasted, and every morning when I got down to breakfast there was a fresh bottleful ready for me, the bees having made it in the bottle itself over night. They were the most grateful pets I ever had, and once they saved my life. They used to live in a hive I had built for them in one corner of my room and I could go to bed and sleep with every door in my house open, and not be afraid of robbers, because those bees were there to protect me. One night a lion broke loose from the Royal Zoo, and while trotting along the road looking for something to eat he saw my front door wide open. In he walked, and began to sniff. He sniffed here and he sniffed there, but found nothing but a pot of anchovy paste, which made him thirstier and hungrier than ever. So he prowled into the parlour, and had his appetite further aggravated by a bronze statue of the Emperor of China I had there. He thought in the dim light it was a small-sized human being, and he pounced on it in a minute. Well, of course, he couldn't make any headway trying to eat a bronze statue, and the more he tried the more hungry and angry he got. He roared until he shook the house and would undoubtedly have awakened me had it not been that I am always a sound sleeper and never wake until I have slept enough. Why, on one occasion, on the Northern Pacific Railway, a train I was on ran into and completely telescoped another while I was asleep in the smoking car, and although I was severely burned and hurled out of the car window to land sixty feet away on the prairie, I didn't wake up for two hours. I was nearly buried alive because they thought I'd been killed, I lay so still.
"But to return to the bees. The roaring of the lion disturbed them, and Jang buzzed out of his hive to see what was the matter just as the lion appeared at my bed-room door. The intelligent insect saw in a moment what the trouble was, and he sounded the alarm for the rest of the bees, who came swarming out of the hive in response to the summons. Jang kept his eye on the lion meanwhile, and just as the prowler caught sight of your uncle peacefully snoring away on the bed, dreaming of his boyhood, and prepared to spring upon me, Jang buzzed over and sat down upon his back, putting his sting where it would do the most good. The angry lion, who in a moment would have fastened his teeth upon me, turned with a yelp of pain, and the bite which was to have been mine wrought havoc with his own back. Following Jang's example, the other bees ranged themselves in line over the lion's broad shoulders, and stung him until he roared with pain. Each time he was stung he would whisk his head around like a dog after a flea, and bite himself, until finally he had literally chewed himself up, when he fainted from sheer exhaustion, and I was saved. You can imagine my surprise when next morning I awakened to find a dying lion in my room."
"But, Baron," said Ananias. "I don't understand one thing about it. If you were fast asleep while all this was happening how did you know that Jang did those things?"
"Jang buzzed over and sat down upon his back, putting his sting where it would do the most good."
"Why, Jang told me himself," replied the Baron calmly.
"Could he talk?" cried Ananias in amazement.
"Not as you and I do," said the Baron. "Of course not, but Jang could spell. I taught him how. You see I reasoned it out this way. If a bee can be taught to sing a song which is only a story in music, why can't he be taught to tell a story in real words. It was worth trying anyhow, and I tried. Jang was an apt pupil. He was the most intelligent bee I ever met, and it didn't take me more than a month to teach him his letters, and when he once knew his letters it was easy enough to teach him how to spell. I got a great big sheet and covered it with twenty-six squares, and in each of these squares I painted a letter of the alphabet, so that finally when Jang came to know them, and wanted to tell me anything he would fly from one square to another until he had spelled out whatever he wished to say. I would follow his movements closely, and we got so after awhile that we could converse for hours without any trouble whatsoever. I really believe that if Jang had been a little heavier so that he could push the keys down far enough he could have managed a typewriter as well as anybody, and when I think about his wonderful mind and delicious fancy I deeply regret that there never was a typewriting machine so delicately made that a bee of his weight could make it go. The world would have been very much enriched by the stories Jang had in his mind to tell, but it is too late now. He is gone forever."
"How did you lose Jang, Baron?" asked Ananias, with tears in his eyes.
"He thought I had deceived him," said the Baron, with a sigh. "He was as much of a stickler for truth as I am. An American friend of mine sent me a magnificent parterre of wax flowers which were so perfectly made that I couldn't tell them from the real. I was very proud of them, and kept them in my room near the hive. When Jang and his tribe first caught sight of them they were delighted and they sang as they had never sung before just to show how pleased they were. Then they set to work to make honey out of them. They must have laboured over those flowers for two months before I thought to tell them that they were only wax and not at all real. As I told Jang this, I unfortunately laughed, thinking that he could understand the joke of the thing as well as I, but I was mistaken. All that he could see was that he had been deceived, and it made him very angry. Bees don't seem to have a well-developed sense of humour. He cast a reproachful glance at me and returned to his hive and on the morning of the third day when I waked up they were moving out. They flew to my lattice and ranged themselves along the slats and waited for Jang. In a moment he appeared and at a given signal they buzzed out of my sight, humming a farewell dirge as they went. I never saw them again."
Here the Baron wiped his eyes.
"I felt very bad about it," he went on, "and resolved then never again to do anything which even suggested deception, and when several years later I had my crest designed I had a bee drawn on it, for in my eyes my good friend the bee, represents three great factors of the good and successful life — Industry, Fidelity, and Truth."
Whereupon the Baron went his way, leaving Ananias to think it over.