A Tale More True…

26 Jul

The final day of the GSP Legends Promo welcomes back Steven R Southard. His book we are highlighting today is A Tale More True.



Baron Münchhausen has been known to stretch the truth a bit, then tie it in knots, toss it on the floor, and stomp on it. But to prove him wrong, is it really necessary for Count Federmann to construct a gigantic clockwork spring and launch himself to the Moon? If the Count should do so, and if he should drag his trustworthy servant along, perhaps he’ll learn enough to tell . . . a tale more true.


No one on Earth could detest Baron Münchhausen more than he did. Count Eusebius Horst Siegwart von Federmann felt certain of that.

As he sat watching Baron Hieronymus Carl Friedrich von Münchhausen, the Count’s loathing of the infernal liar magnified in intensity. The Baron hosted this evening’s dinner party, and all the nobles in the town of Bodenwerder and the entire Electorate attended. Not wanting to miss the evening’s highlight, they’d gathered in the enormous parlor on upholstered walnut Rococo chairs with maple veneer. Münchhausen sat on his chaise longue; hands sweeping with dramatic effect; his beaked nose pointing at each person; his mouth drawn up in a smile that lifted his waxed mustache; his high-pitched nasal voice squeaking like a child’s viola.

Yet he captivated the crowd, just as the Count had seen Münchhausen do at dozens of other elegant parties. His falsehoods couldn’t be more obvious, but the party-goers clapped and laughed in appreciation. He claimed to have felled over seventy birds with a single rifle shot, to have killed a wolf by turning it inside out, and to have survived in the stomach of a large fish for many hours. How could anyone believe such nonsense?

Adding to the Count’s vexation, all the beautiful, young, single women sat transfixed, hanging on the Baron’s every farcical word. Were these maidens so easily swayed? How could the buffoonish Münchhausen—that misshapen man with the door-hinge voice, a man already married—hold every fräulein’s admiring attention? Had this been a world where true justice prevailed, the maidens would be listening to the eligible bachelors, the handsome, smooth-toned ones, such as the Count himself.

Not only younger than the Baron, he ranked higher in the nobility hierarchy, was arguably better looking, and possessed a deeper voice. True, he’d not served in any military capacity, but the Baron’s actual combat experience had little to do with his popularity. People flocked to his parties, gathered around him, and sat in attentive silence for the sole purpose of hearing the man’s outlandish lies. Münchhausen might well be the most accomplished and successful liar in Europe, or even in all of history, the Count thought.

Seething with hatred, Count Federmann kept his facial expression neutral, not joining in the laughter or applause. Neither did he call on Münchhausen to provide proof for his assertions or otherwise humiliate the lying Baron. Still, he knew, something must be done.

“Dante should have reserved an additional circle of Hell for liars like Münchhausen,” the Count said as his manservant removed his overcoat. His rage had only worsened during the carriage ride from the Baron’s manor house to his own, and now he needed an outlet. “The Baron would have us believe he saw a whale half a mile long, and the beast pulled his ship by its anchor chain at a speed of no less than twelve knots. Utterly preposterous!”

“Not even a very gifted liar, Illustrious Highness, to stretch believability by such outrageous exaggeration.” The manservant spoke with a French accent, surely the worst possible assault to the German tongue, in the Count’s view. The servant, a short man with bright eyes and a sharp taper to his face that emphasized his pointed beard, had come into the Count’s employ only the previous week. Going by the name Fidèle, he had arrived in the Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg to escape what he foresaw as a coming time of troubles for his native France.

The Count cared little for what might happen to the Gauls, but had told Fidèle he could not abide the offense of lying. On that matter he made himself quite plain and desired to be clearly understood, since he’d had to dismiss his previous manservant for speaking an untruth.

Count Federmann’s fixation on truthfulness stemmed from his formative experiences. His mother had died in childbirth, and his father had loaned the infant to a childless couple in the village. He’d ordered the couple not to tell the growing boy about his noble blood. The young man grew up believing himself a commoner. Apprenticed to the village clockmaker, he showed significant prowess in the craft. In his eighteenth year a messenger had arrived, taking him off to a vast manor house and informing him his father had died, leaving him as the new Count.

He’d hated his father for the deceit, for hiding the truth from him, for maintaining a secret others knew when his own son didn’t. His father had wasted the time of his youth, forcing him to grow up as a mere commoner, rather than learning the skills and manners of the nobles. He found it hard to imagine an evil more vile than abandoning a child and letting the boy believe a lie.

And now, to hear that scoundrel Münchhausen spinning his far-fetched yarns, and getting away with it!

“The Baron is most fortunate,” Fidèle said as he followed the Count to the drawing room, “no one has challenged him to a duel to defend his honor.”

The Count laughed. “He has no honor to defend. He would have to refuse any such challenge.” He thought that was true, but knew another fact. Baron Münchhausen had served in the Russian Army, and was undoubtedly more adept with sword, pistol, or any other weapon than was the Count. Proving the Baron wrong was important, but not worth certain death.

Only the silver radiance of a full moon slanted in through the parlor windows until Fidèle lit some lamps. The Count had come to perform the most relaxing activity he knew, the only balm to ease his angry mind. He took down a mantle-clock, one of sixty clocks in the residence, and began disassembling it.

He sat at a work table in the large drawing room. Tools, gears, and springs lay scattered across the table. Purple velvet fabric hung from the walls, setting off the paintings, the wall clocks, the busts on their pedestals, and the Federmann coat of arms. Bookshelves lined one wall and several books lay open on a stand while newspapers spilled across a reading table. Fidèle stood nearby, refreshing the Count’s brandy as need be, holding a candelabra to ensure proper lighting, and bringing clean rags or the bottle of whale oil when asked.

Clock repair always calmed the Count, restored a semblance of control to his life. He didn’t know why. Perhaps it took him back to the secure times of his youth as a commoner, and his apprenticeship. Gears and ratchets and cams always obeyed his commands without tiring, performed in a harmonious manner, and in all ways behaved unlike people.

“You say, Renowned Master, this Baron is able to attract a crowd of young ladies to listen to his lies, is that so?”

“Yes.” The Count adjusted the position of the escapement.

“That must arouse the jealousy of the other young men at the party, no?”

“Hmm? I suppose this is true. Now hold those candles over my other shoulder. Ah, there.” The Count reached in the clock casing and removed a ratchet. What is Fidèle getting at? Then he realized his wily servant was attempting to find out if his own motive was jealousy. Outrageous even to think it! “Perhaps some of the other young nobles feel that way,” he said. “But for those of us more skilled in all matters of courtship, there is no cause for jealousy.”

More skilled in courtship? Did that hint of a smile on Fidèle’s face suggest his French servant was wondering why, then, there was no Countess Federmann?

“Some of us,” the Count went on, “are more interested in the truth. This is the Age of Reason, after all. Do you know,” he said as he pointed a tiny screwdriver at Fidèle, “what the Baron’s most bald-faced lies were?”

Fidèle shook his head.

The Count inserted the tool into the case and motioned for better light. “He claimed to have gone to the Moon. The Moon! Not only once, but twice! Just think of it. For his first trip, he would have us believe he climbed a very tall beanstalk, the far end of which was fastened to one of the horns of the Moon. He made his second trip by supposed accident when a hurricane lifted his ship from the water and blew it up to the Moon.”

He laughed, and Fidèle joined in. Then he frowned, for a mounting screw within the clockwork mechanism was being stubborn. He tightened his grip on the miniature screwdriver and resumed working. “One cannot climb to the Moon, nor get blown there by a storm. We know from the astronomers how distant the satellite is, some two hundred and fifty thousand miles away. And Sir Isaac Newton tells us we must overcome Earth’s gravity to get there. That requires great speed.”

He grunted, twisting the tool. “What is needed for a Moon trip, in truth, is some means of storing up energy, then releasing it when desired.” The stuck screw came loose, freeing the maintaining hook. The clock’s mainspring jumped from the casing, flew across the room, and rolled under a mahogany desk.

The Count would not be distracted. “If only I could think of such a mechanism.”

“The spring, Eminent Highborn!” Fidèle shouted.

“Yes, yes, I saw it. Go get it and bring it here. You don’t expect me to go crawling about the floor, do you?”






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