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MR. MUNCHAUSEN'S ADVENTURE WITH A SHARK
This was the card sent by the reporter of the Gehenna Gazette, and Mrs. Ananias to Mr. Munchausen upon his return from a trip to mortal realms concerning which many curious reports have crept into circulation. Owing to a rumour persistently circulated at one time, Mr. Munchausen had been eaten by a shark, and it was with the intention of learning, if possible, the basis for the rumour that Ananias and Sapphira called upon the redoubtable Baron of other days.
Mr. Munchausen graciously received the callers and asked what he could do for them.
"Our readers, Mr. Munchausen," explained Ananias, "have been much concerned over rumours of your death at the hands of a shark."
"Sharks have no hands," said the Baron quietly.
"Well — that aside," observed Ananias. "Were you killed by a shark?"
"Not that I recall," said the Baron. "I may have been, but I don't remember it. Indeed I recall only one adventure with a shark. That grew out of my mission on behalf of France to the Czar of Russia. I carried letters once from the King of France to his Imperial Coolness the Czar."
"What was the nature of the letters?" asked Ananias.
"I never knew," replied the Baron. "As I have said, it was a secret mission, and the French Government never took me into its confidence. The only thing I know about it is that I was sent to St. Petersburg, and I went, and in the course of time I made myself much beloved of both the people and his Majesty the Czar. I am the only person that ever lived that was liked equally by both, and if I had attached myself permanently to the Czar, Russia would have been a different country to-day."
"What country would it have been, Mr. Munchausen," asked Sapphira innocently, "Germany or Siam?"
"I can't specify, my dear madame," the Baron replied. "It wouldn't be fair. But, at any rate, I went to Russia, and was treated warmly by everybody, except the climate, which was, as it is at all times, very freezing. That's the reason the Russian people like the climate. It is the only thing the Czar can't change by Imperial decree, and the people admire its independence and endure it for that reason. But as I have said, everybody was pleased with me, and the Czar showed me unusual attention. He gave fêtes in my honour. He gave the most princely dinners, and I met the very best people in St. Petersburg, and at one of these dinners I was invited to join a yachting party on a cruise around the world.
"Well, of course, though a landsman in every sense of the word, I am fond of yachting, and I immediately accepted the invitation. The yacht we went on was the Boomski Zboomah, belonging to Prince — er — now what was that Prince's name! Something like — er — Sheeroff or Jibski — or — er — well, never mind that. I meet so many princes it is difficult to remember their names. We'll say his name was Jibski."
"Suppose we do," said Ananias, with a jealous grin. "Jibski is such a remarkable name. It will look well in print."
"All right," said the Baron, "Jibski be it. The yacht belonged to Prince Jibski, and she was a beauty. There was a stateroom and a steward for everybody on board, and nothing that could contribute to a man's comfort was left unattended to. We set sail on the 23rd of August, and after cruising about the North coast of Europe for a week or two, we steered the craft south, and along about the middle of September we reached the Amphibian Islands, and anchored. It was here that I had my first and last experience with sharks. If they had been plain, ordinary sharks I'd have had an easy time of it, but when you get hold of these Amphibian sharks you are likely to get yourself into twenty-three different kinds of trouble."
"My!" said Sapphira. "All those? Does the number include being struck by lightning?"
"Yes," the Baron answered, "And when you remember that there are only twenty-four different kinds altogether you can see what a peck of trouble an Amphibian shark can get you into. I thought my last hour had come when I met with him. You see when we reached the Amphibian Islands, we naturally thought we'd like to go ashore and pick the cocoanuts and raisins and other things that grow there, and when I got upon dry land again I felt strongly tempted to go down upon the beautiful little beach in the harbour and take a swim. Prince Jibski advised me against it, but I was set upon going. He told me the place was full of sharks, but I wasn't afraid because I was always a remarkably rapid swimmer, and I felt confident of my ability, in case I saw a shark coming after me, to swim ashore before he could possibly catch me, provided I had ten yards start. So in I went leaving my gun and clothing on the beach. Oh, it was fun! The water was quite warm, and the sandy bottom of the bay was deliciously soft and pleasant to the feet. I suppose I must have sported in the waves for ten or fifteen minutes before the trouble came. I had just turned a somersault in the water, when, as my head came to the surface, I saw directly in front of me, the unmistakable fin of a shark, and to my unspeakable dismay not more than five feet away. As I told you, if it had been ten yards away I should have had no fear, but five feet meant another story altogether. My heart fairly jumped into my mouth. It would have sunk into my boots if I had had them on, but I hadn't, so it leaped upward into my mouth as I turned to swim ashore, by which time the shark had reduced the distance between us by one foot. I feared that all was up with me, and was trying to think of an appropriate set of last words, when Prince Jibski, noting my peril, fired one of the yacht's cannon in our direction. Ordinarily this would have been useless, for the yacht's cannon was never loaded with anything but a blank charge, but in this instance it was better than if it had been loaded with ball and shot, for not only did the sound of the explosion attract the attention of the shark and cause him to pause for a moment, but also the wadding from the gun dropped directly upon my back, so showing that Prince Jibski's aim was not as good as it might have been. Had the cannon been loaded with a ball or a shell, you can very well understand how it would have happened that yours truly would have been killed then and there."
"We should have missed you," said Ananias sweetly.
"Thanks," said the Baron. "But to resume. The shark's pause gave me the start I needed, and the heat from the burning wadding right between my shoulders caused me to redouble my efforts to get away from the shark and it, so that I never swam faster in my life, and was soon standing upon the shore, jeering at my fearful pursuer, who, strange to say, showed no inclination to stop the chase now that I was, as I thought, safely out of his reach. I didn't jeer very long I can tell you, for in another minute I saw why the shark didn't stop chasing me, and why Amphibian sharks are worse than any other kind. That shark had not only fins like all other sharks to swim with, but he had likewise three pairs of legs that he could use on land quite as well as he could use the fins in the water. And then began the prettiest chase you ever saw in your life. As he emerged from the water I grabbed up my gun and ran. Round and round the island we tore, I ahead, he thirty or forty yards behind, until I got to a place where I could stop running and take a hasty shot at him. Then I aimed, and fired. My aim was good, but struck one of the huge creature's teeth, broke it off short, and bounded off to one side. This made him more angry than ever, and he redoubled his efforts to catch me. I redoubled mine, until I could get another shot at him. The second shot, like the first, struck the creature in the teeth, only this time it was more effective. The bullet hit his jaw lengthwise, and knocked every tooth on that side of his head down his throat. So it went. I ran. He pursued. I fired; he lost his teeth, until finally I had knocked out every tooth he had, and then, of course, I wasn't afraid of him, and let him come up with me. With his teeth he could have ground me to atoms at one bite. Without them he was as powerless as a bowl of currant jelly, and when he opened his huge jaws, as he supposed to bite me in two, he was the most surprised looking fish you ever saw on land or sea to discover that the effect his jaws had upon my safety was about as great as had they been nothing but two feather bed mattresses."
"You must have been badly frightened, though," said Ananias.
"No," said the Baron. "I laughed in the poor disappointed thing's face, and with a howl of despair, he rushed back into the sea again. I made the best time I could back to the yacht for fear he might return with assistance."
"And didn't you ever see him again, Baron?" asked Sapphira.
"Yes, but only from the deck of the yacht as we were weighing anchor," said Mr. Munchausen. "I saw him and a dozen others like him doing precisely what I thought they would do, going ashore to search me out so as to have a little cold Munch for dinner. I'm glad they were disappointed, aren't you?"
"Yes, indeed," said Ananias and Sapphira, but not warmly.
Ananias was silent for a moment, and then walking over to one of the bookcases, he returned in a moment, bringing with him a huge atlas.
"Where are the Amphibian Islands, Mr. Munchausen?" he said, opening the book. "Show them to me on the map. I'd like to print the map with my story."
"Oh, I can't do that," said the Baron, "because they aren't on the map any more. When I got back to Europe and told the map-makers about the dangers to man on those islands, they said that the interests of humanity demanded that they be lost. So they took them out of all the geographies, and all the cyclopædias, and all the other books, so that nobody ever again should be tempted to go there; and there isn't a school-teacher or a sailor in the world to-day who could tell you where they are."
"But, you know, don't you?" persisted Ananias.
"Well, I did," said the Baron; "but, really I have had to remember so many other things that I have forgotten that. All that I know is that they were named from the fact that they were infested by Amphibious animals, which are animals that can live on land as well as on water."
"How strange!" said Sapphira.
"It's just too queer for anything," said Ananias, "but on the whole I'm not surprised."
And the Baron said he was glad to hear it.
"I laughed in the poor disappointed thing's face, and with a howl of despair he rushed back into the sea."