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SAVED BY A MAGIC LANTERN
When the Sunday dinner was over, the Twins, on Mr. Munchausen's invitation, climbed into the old warrior's lap, Angelica kissing him on the ear, and Diavolo giving his nose an affectionate tweak.
"Ah!" said the Baron. "That's it!"
"What's what, Uncle Munch?" demanded Diavolo.
"Why that," returned the Baron. "I was wondering what it was I needed to make my dinner an unqualified success. There was something lacking, but what it was, we have had so much, I could not guess until you two Imps kissed me and tweaked my nasal feature. Now I know, for really a feeling of the most blessed contentment has settled upon my soul."
"Don't you wish you had two youngsters like us, Uncle Munch?" asked the Twins.
"Do I wish I had? Why I have got two youngsters like you," the Baron replied. "I've got 'em right here too."
"Where?" asked the Twins, looking curiously about them for the other two.
"On my knees, of course," said he. "You are mine. Your papa gave you to me — and you are as like yourselves as two peas in a pod."
"I — I hope you aren't going to take us away from here," said the Twins, a little ruefully. They were very fond of the Baron, but they didn't exactly like the idea of being given away.
"Oh no — not at all," said the Baron. "Your father has consented to keep you here for me and your mother has kindly volunteered to look after you. There is to be no change, except that you belong to me, and, vice versa, I belong to you."
"And I suppose, then," said Diavolo, "if you belong to us you've got to do pretty much what we tell you to?"
"Exactly," responded Mr. Munchausen. "If you should ask me to tell you a story I'd have to do it, even if you were to demand the full particulars of how I spent Christmas with Mtulu, King of the Taafe Eatars, on the upper Congo away down in Africa — which is a tale I have never told any one in all my life."
"It sounds as if it might be interesting," said the Twins. "Those are real candy names, aren't they?"
"Yes," said the Baron. "Taafe sounds like taffy and Mtulu is very suggestive of chewing gum. That's the curious thing about the savage tribes of Africa. Their names often sound as if they might be things to eat instead of people. Perhaps that is why they sometimes eat each other — though, of course, I won't say for sure that that is the real explanation of cannibalism."
"What's cannon-ballism?" asked Angelica.
"He didn't say cannon-ballism," said Diavolo, scornfully. "It was candy-ballism."
"Well — you've both come pretty near it," said the Baron, "and we'll let the matter rest there, or I won't have time to tell you how Christmas got me into trouble with King Mtulu."
The Baron called for a cigar, which the Twins lighted for him and then he began.
"You may not have heard," he said, "that some twenty or thirty years ago I was in command of an expedition in Africa. Our object was to find Lake Majolica, which we hoped would turn up half way between Lollokolela and the Clebungo Mountains. Lollokolela was the furthermost point to which civilisation had reached at that time, and was directly in the pathway to the Clebungo Mountains, which the natives said were full of gold and silver mines and scattered all over which were reputed to be caves in which diamonds and rubies and other gems of the rarest sort were to be found in great profusion. No white man had ever succeeded in reaching this marvellously rich range of hills for the reason that after leaving Lollokolela there was, as far as was known, no means of obtaining water, and countless adventurous spirits had had to give up because of the overpowering thirst which the climate brought upon them.
"Under such circumstances it was considered by a company of gentlemen in London to be well worth their while to set about the discovery of a lake, which they decided in advance to call Majolica, for reasons best known to themselves; they probably wanted to jar somebody with it. And to me was intrusted the mission of leading the expedition. I will confess that I did not want to go for the very good reason that I did not wish to be eaten alive by the savage tribes that infested that region, but the company provided me with a close fitting suit of mail, which I wore from the time I started until I returned. It was very fortunate for me that I was so provided, for on three distinct occasions I was served up for state dinners and each time successfully resisted the carving knife and as a result, was thereafter well received, all the chiefs looking upon me as one who bore a charmed existence."
Here the Baron paused long enough for the Twins to reflect upon and realise the terrors which had beset him on his way to Lake Majolica, and be it said that if they had thought him brave before they now deemed him a very hero of heroes.
"When I set out," said the Baron, "I was accompanied by ten Zanzibaris and a thousand tins of condensed dinners."
"A thousand what, Uncle Munch?" asked Jack, his mouth watering.
"Condensed dinners," said the Baron, "I had a lot of my favourite dinners condensed and put up in tins. I didn't expect to be gone more than a year and a thousand dinners condensed and tinned, together with the food I expected to find on the way, elephant meat, rhinoceros steaks, and tiger chops, I thought would suffice for the trip. I could eat the condensed dinners and my followers could have the elephant's meat, rhinoceros steaks, and tiger chops — not to mention the bananas and other fruits which grow wild in the African jungle. It was not long, however, before I made the discovery that the Zanzibaris, in order to eat tigers, need to learn first how to keep tigers from eating them. We went to bed late one night on the fourth day out from Lollokolela, and when we waked up the next morning every mother's son of us, save myself, had been eaten by tigers, and again it was nothing but my coat of mail that saved me. There were eighteen tigers' teeth sticking into the sleeve of the coat, as it was. You can imagine my distress at having to continue the search for Lake Majolica alone. It was then that I acquired the habit of talking to myself, which has kept me young ever since, for I enjoy my own conversation hugely, and find myself always a sympathetic listener. I walked on for days and days, until finally, on Christmas Eve, I reached King Mtulu's palace. Of course your idea of a palace is a magnificent five-story building with beautiful carvings all over the front of it, marble stair-cases and handsomely painted and gilded ceilings. King Mtulu's palace was nothing of the sort, although for that region it was quite magnificent, the walls being decorated with elephants' tusks, crocodile teeth and many other treasures such as delight the soul of the Central African.
"Now as I may not have told you, King Mtulu was the fiercest of the African chiefs, and it is said that up to the time when I outwitted him no white man had ever encountered him and lived to tell the tale. Consequently, when without knowing it on this sultry Christmas Eve, laden with the luggage and the tinned dinners and other things I had brought with me I stumbled upon the blood-thirsty monarch I gave myself up for lost.
"'Who comes here to disturb the royal peace?' cried Mtulu, savagely, as I crossed the threshold.
"'It is I, your highness,' I returned, my face blanching, for I recognized him at once by the ivory ring he wore in the end of his nose.
"'Who is I?' retorted Mtulu, picking up his battle axe and striding forward.
"A happy thought struck me then. These folks are superstitious. Perhaps the missionaries may have told these uncivilised creatures the story of Santa Claus. I will pretend that I am Santa Claus. So I answered, 'Who is I, O Mtulu, Bravest of the Taafe Chiefs? I am Santa Claus, the Children's Friend, and bearer of gifts to and for all.'
"Mtulu gazed at me narrowly for a moment and then he beat lightly upon a tom-tom at his side. Immediately thirty of the most villainous-looking natives, each armed with a club, appeared.
"'Arrest that man,' said Mtulu, 'before he goes any farther. He is an impostor.'
"'If your majesty pleases,' I began.
"'Silence!' he cried, 'I am fierce and I eat men, but I love truth. The truthful man has nothing to fear from me, for I have been converted from my evil ways and since last New Year's day I have eaten only those who have attempted to deceive me. You will be served raw at dinner to-morrow night. My respect for your record as a man of courage leads me to spare you the torture of the frying-pan. You are Baron Munchausen. I recognized you the moment you turned pale. Another man would have blushed.'
"So I was carried off and shut up in a mud hovel, the interior walls of which were of white, a fact which strangely enough, preserved my life when later I came to the crucial moment. I had brought with me, among other things, for my amusement solely, a magic lantern. As a child, I had always been particularly fond of pictures, and when I thought of the lonely nights in Africa, with no books at hand, no theatres, no cotillions to enliven the monotony of my life, I resolved to take with me my little magic-lantern as much for company as for anything else. It was very compact in form. It folded up to be hardly larger than a wallet containing a thousand one dollar bills, and the glass lenses of course could be carried easily in my trousers pockets. The views, instead of being mounted on glass, were put on a substance not unlike glass, but thinner, called gelatine. All of these things I carried in my vest pockets, and when Mtulu confiscated my luggage the magic lantern and views of course escaped his notice.
"Christmas morning came and passed and I was about to give myself up for lost, for Mtulu was not a king to be kept from eating a man by anything so small as a suit of mail, when I received word that before dinner my captor and his suite were going to pay me a formal parting call. Night was coming on and as I sat despondently awaiting the king's arrival, I suddenly bethought me of a lantern slide of the British army, standing and awaiting the command to fire, I happened to have with me. It was a superb view — lifelike as you please. Why not throw that on the wall and when Mtulu enters he will find me apparently with a strong force at my command, thought I. It was no sooner thought than it was done and my life was saved. Hardly was that noble picture reflected upon the rear wall of my prison when the door opened and Mtulu, followed by his suite, appeared. I rose to greet him, but apparently he saw me not. Mute with terror he stood upon the threshold gazing at that terrible line of soldiers ready as he thought to sweep him and his men from the face of the earth with their death-dealing bullets.
" 'I am your slave,' he replied to my greeting, kneeling before me, 'I yield all to you.' "
"'I am your slave,' he replied to my greeting, kneeling before me, 'I yield all to you.'
"'I thought you would,' said I. 'But I ask nothing save the discovery of Lake Majolica. If within twenty-four hours Lake Majolica is not discovered I give the command to fire!' Then I turned and gave the order to carry arms, and lo! by a quick change of slides, the army appeared at a carry. Mtulu gasped with terror, but accepted my ultimatum. I was freed, Lake Majolica was discovered before ten o'clock the next morning, and at five o'clock I was on my way home, the British army reposing quietly in my breast pocket. It was a mighty narrow escape!"
"I should say so," said the Twins. "But Mtulu must have been awful stupid not to see what it was."
"Didn't he see through it when he saw you put the army in your pocket?" asked Diavolo.
"No," said the Baron, "that frightened him worse than ever, for you see he reasoned this way. If I could carry an army in my pocket-book, what was to prevent my carrying Mtulu himself and all his tribe off in the same way! He thought I was a marvellous man to be able to do that."
"Well, we guess he was right," said the Twins, as they climbed down from the Baron's lap to find an atlas and search the map of Africa for Lake Majolica. This they failed to find and the Baron's explanation is unknown to me, for when the Imps returned, the warrior had departed.