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Some years before my beard announced approaching manhood, or, in otherwords, when I was neither man nor boy, but between both, I expressedin repeated conversations a strong desire of seeing the world, fromwhich I was discouraged by my parents, though my father had been noinconsiderable traveller himself, as will appear before I have reachedthe end of my singular, and, I may add, interesting adventures. Acousin, by my mother's side, took a liking to me, often said I wasfine forward youth, and was much inclined to gratify my curiosity. Hiseloquence had more effect than mine, for my father consented to myaccompanying him in a voyage to the island of Ceylon, where his unclehad resided as governor many years.
We sailed from Amsterdam with despatches from their High Mightinessesthe States of Holland. The only circumstance which happened on ourvoyage worth relating was the wonderful effects of a storm, which hadtorn up by the roots a great number of trees of enormous bulk andheight, in an island where we lay at anchor to take in wood and water;some of these trees weighed many tons, yet they were carried by thewind so amazingly high, that they appeared like the feathers of smallbirds floating in the air, for they were at least five miles above theearth: however, as soon as the storm subsided they all fellperpendicularly into their respective places, and took root again,except the largest, which happened, when it was blown into the air, tohave a man and his wife, a very honest old couple, upon its branches,gathering cucumbers (in this part of the globe that useful vegetablegrows upon trees): the weight of this couple, as the tree descended,over-balanced 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;he had quitted his house in the storm, under an apprehension of itsfalling upon him, and was returning through his own garden when thisfortunate accident happened. The word fortunate, here, requires someexplanation. This chief was a man of a very avaricious and oppressivedisposition, and though he had no family, the natives of the islandwere half-starved by his oppressive and infamous impositions.The very goods which he had thus taken from them were spoiling in hisstores, while the poor wretches from whom they were plundered werepining in poverty. Though the destruction of this tyrant wasaccidental, the people chose the cucumber-gatherers for theirgovernors, as a mark of their gratitude for destroying, thoughaccidentally, their late tyrant.
After we had repaired the damages we sustained in this remarkablestorm, and taken leave of the new governor and his lady, we sailedwith a fair wind for the object of our voyage.
In about six weeks we arrived at Ceylon, where we were received withgreat marks of friendship and true politeness. The following singularadventures may not prove unentertaining.
After we had resided at Ceylon about a fortnight I accompanied one ofthe governor's brothers upon a shooting party. He was a strong,athletic man, and being used to that climate (for he had resided theresome years), he bore the violent heat of the sun much better than Icould; in our excursion he had made a considerable progress through athick wood when I was only at the entrance.
Near the banks of a large piece of water, which had engaged myattention, I thought I heard a rustling noise behind; on turning aboutI was almost petrified (as who would not be?) at the sight of a lion,which was evidently approaching with the intention of satisfying hisappetite with my poor carcase, and that without asking my consent.What was to be done in this horrible dilemma? I had not even a momentfor reflection; my piece was only charged with swan-shot, and I had noother about me: however, though I could have no idea of killing suchan animal with that weak kind of ammunition, yet I had some hopes offrightening him by the report, and perhaps of wounding him also. Iimmediately let fly, without waiting till he was within reach, and thereport did but enrage him, for he now quickened his pace, and seemedto approach me full speed: I attempted to escape, but that only added(if an addition could be made) to my distress; for the moment I turnedabout I found a large crocodile, with his mouth extended almost readyto receive me. On my right hand was the piece of water beforementioned, and on my left a deep precipice, said to have, as I havesince learned, a receptacle at the bottom for venomous creatures; inshort I gave myself up as lost, for the lion was now upon his hind-legs, just in the act of seizing me; I fell involuntarily to theground with fear, and, as it afterwards appeared, he sprang over me. Ilay some time in a situation which no language can describe, expectingto feel his teeth or talons in some part of me every moment: afterwaiting in this prostrate situation a few seconds I heard a violentbut unusual noise, different from any sound that had ever beforeassailed my ears; nor is it at all to be wondered at, when I informyou from whence it proceeded: after listening for some time, Iventured 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, asbefore observed, was wide open; the head of the one stuck in thethroat of the other! and they were struggling to extricate themselves!I fortunately recollected my /couteau de chasse/, which was by myside; with this instrument I severed the lion's head at one blow, andthe body fell at my feet! I then, with the butt-end of my fowling-piece, rammed the head farther into the throat of the crocodile, anddestroyed him by suffocation, for he could neither gorge nor eject it.Soon after I had thus gained a complete victory over my two powerfuladversaries, my companion arrived in search of me; for finding I didnot follow him into the wood, he returned, apprehending I had lost myway, or met with some accident.
After mutual congratulations, we measured the crocodile, which wasjust forty feet in length. [Baron Munchausen]As soon as we had related this extraordinary adventure to thegovernor, he sent a waggon and servants, who brought home the twocarcases. The lion's skin was properly preserved, with its hair on,after which it was made into tobacco-pouches, and presented by me,upon our return to Holland, to the burgomasters, who, in return,requested my acceptance of a thousand ducats.
The skin of the crocodile was stuffed in the usual manner, and makes acapital article in their public museum at Amsterdam, where theexhibitor relates the whole story to each spectator, with suchadditions as he thinks proper. Some of his variations are ratherextravagant; one of them is, that the lion jumped quite through thecrocodile, and was making his escape at the back door, when, as soonas his head appeared, Monsieur the Great Baron (as he is pleased tocall me) cut it off, and three feet of the crocodile's tail along withit; nay, so little attention has this fellow to the truth, that hesometimes adds, as soon as the crocodile missed his tail, he turnedabout, snatched the /couteau de chasse/ out of Monsieur's hand, andswallowed it with such eagerness that it pierced his heart and killedhim immediately!
The little regard which this impudent knave has to veracity makes mesometimes apprehensive that my /real facts/ may fall under suspicion,by being found in company with his confounded inventions.
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