He advised me to intimate to the king in writing that I desired to have the honour of an interview. "When you speak to him," the good old man added, "you may say that you know me, and the king will doubtless address me on the subject, and you may be sure what I say shall not be to your disadvantage."
"But, my lord, how can I write to a monarch of whom I know nothing, and who knows nothing of me? I should not have thought of such a step."
"I daresay, but don't you wish to speak to him?"
"That is enough. Your letter will make him aware of your desire and nothing more."
"But will he reply?"
"Undoubtedly; he replies to everybody. He will tell you when and where he will see you. His Majesty is now at Sans-Souci. I am curious to know the nature of your interview with the monarch who, as you can see, is not afraid of being imposed on."
When I got home I wrote a plain but respectful letter to the king, asking where and at what time I could introduce myself to him.
In two days I received a letter signed "Frederick," in which the receipt of my letter was acknowledged, and I was told that I should find his majesty in the garden of Sans-Souci at four o'clock.
As may be imagined I was punctual to my appointment. I was at Sans- Souci at three, clad in a simple black dress. When I got into the court-yard there was not so much as a sentinel to stop me, so I went on mounted a stair, and opened a door in front of me. I found myself in a picture-gallery, and the curator came up to me and offered to shew me over it.
"I have not come to admire these masterpieces," I replied, "but to see the king, who informed me in writing that I should find him in the garden."
"He is now at a concert playing the flute; he does so every day after dinner. Did he name any time?"
"Yes, four o'clock, but he will have forgotten that."
"The king never forgets anything; he will keep the appointment, and you will do well to go into the garden and await him."
I had been in the garden for some minutes when I saw him appear, followed by his reader and a pretty spaniel. As soon as he saw me he accosted me, taking off his old hat, and pronouncing my name. Then he asked in a terrible voice what I wanted of him. This greeting surprised me, and my voice stuck in my throat.
"Well, speak out. Are you not the person who wrote to me?"
"Yes, sire, but I have forgotten everything now. I thought that I should not be awed by the majesty of a king, but I was mistaken. My lord-marshal should have warned me."
"Then he knows you? Let us walk. What is it that you want? What do you think of my garden?"
His enquiries after my needs and of his garden were simultaneous. To any other person I should have answered that I did not know anything about gardening, but this would have been equivalent to refusing to answer the question; and no monarch, even if he be a philosopher, could endure that. I therefore replied that I thought the garden superb.
"But," he said, "the gardens of Versailles are much finer."
"Yes, sire, but that is chiefly on account of the fountains."
"True, but it is not my fault; there is no water here. I have spent more than three hundred thousand crowns to get water, but unsuccessfully."
"Three hundred thousand crowns, sire! If your majesty had spent them all at once, the fountains should be here."
"Oh, oh! I see you are acquainted with hydraulics."
I could not say that he was mistaken, for fear of offending him, so I simply bent my head, which might mean either yes or no. Thank God the king did not trouble to test my knowledge of the science of hydraulics, with which I was totally unacquainted.
He kept on the move all the time, and as he turned his head from one side to the other hurriedly asked me what forces Venice could put into the field in war time.
"Twenty men-of-war, sire, and a number of galleys."
"What are the land forces?"
"Seventy thousand men, sire; all of whom are subjects of the Republic, and assessing each village at one man."
"That is not true; no doubt you wish to amuse me by telling me these fables.