However, he ended by saying that there was a servant, and that the governor ought to see that he did his work properly. This disgusting scene was enough for me, and I hastened to call on Marshal Keith to announce my determination. The old soldier laughed at the description I gave him of the academy, and said I was quite right to despise such an office; but that I ought, nevertheless, to go and thank the king before I left Berlin. I said I did not feel inclined for another interview with such a man, and he agreed to present my thanks and excuses in my stead.
I made up my mind to go to Russia, and began my preparations in good earnest. Baron Treidel supported my resolve by offering to give me a letter of introduction to his sister, the Duchess of Courland. I wrote to M. de Bragadin to 'give me a letter for a banker at St. Petersburg, and to remit me through him every month a sum which would keep me in comfort.
I could not travel without a servant, and chance kindly provided me with one. I was sitting with Madame Rufin, when a young Lorrainer came in; like Bias, he bore all his fortune with him, but, in his case, it was carried under his arm. He introduced himself thus:
"Madam, my name is Lambert, I come from Lorraine, and I wish to lodge here."
"Very good, sir, but you must pay for your board and lodging every day."
"That, madam, is out of the question, for I have not got a farthing, but I shall have some money when I discover who I am."
"I am afraid I cannot put you up on those conditions, sir."
He was going away with a mortified air, when my heart was touched, and I called him back.
"Stay," said I, "I will pay for you to-day."
Happiness beamed over his face.
"What have you got in that little bundle?" said I.
"Two shirts, a score of mathematical books, and some other trifles."
I took him to my room, and finding him tolerably well educated, I asked him how he came to be in such a state of destitution.
"I come from Strasburg," he replied, "and a cadet of a regiment stationed there having given me a blow in a coffee-house I paid him a visit the next day in his own room and stabbed him there.
"After this I went home, made up my bundle, and left the town. I walked all the way and lived soberly, so that my money lasted till this morning. To-morrow I shall write to my mother, who lives at Luneville, and I am sure she will send me some money."
"And what do you think of doing?"
"I want to become a military engineer, but if needs must I am ready to enlist as a private soldier."
"I can give you board and lodging till you hear from your mother."
"Heaven has sent you in my way," said he, kissing my hand gratefully.
I did not suspect him of deceiving me, though he stumbled somewhat in his narrative. However my curiosity led me to write to M. Schauenbourg, who was then at Strasburg, to enquire if the tale were true.
The next day I happened to meet an officer of engineers, who told me that young men of education were so plentiful that they did not receive them into the service unless they were willing to serve as common soldiers. I was sorry for the young man to be reduced so low as that. I began to spend some time with him every day in mathematical calculations, and I conceived the idea of taking him with me to St. Petersburg, and broached the subject to him.
"It would be a piece of good fortune for me," he replied, "and to shew my gratitude I will gladly wait on you as a servant during the journey."
He spoke French badly, but as he was a Lorrainer I was not astonished at that. Nevertheless I was surprised to find that he did not know a word of Latin, and that his spelling was of the wildest description. He saw me laughing, but did not seem in the least ashamed. Indeed he said that he had only gone to school to learn mathematics, and that he was very glad that he had escaped the infliction of learning grammar. Indeed, on every subject besides mathematics, he was profoundly ignorant. He had no manners whatever; in fact, he was a mere peasant.