Part 3 out of 3
if she wished to give me the opportunity of examining her at ease.
As I looked at her a whim came into my head, and, as the reader is
aware, I have never resisted any of my whims. However, this was a
curious one. As I have said, I had only three ducats left, but after
I had emptied the cup of chocolate I put it back on the plate and the
three ducats with it.
The chancellor came back and told me that the duchess could not see
me just then, but that she invited me to a supper and ball she was
giving that evening. I accepted the supper and refused the ball, on
the pretext that I had only summer clothes and a black suit. It was
in the beginning of October, and the cold was already commencing to
make itself felt. The chancellor returned to the Court, and I to my
Half an hour later a chamberlain came to bring me her highness's
compliments, and to inform me that the ball would be a masked one,
and that I could appear in domino.
"You can easily get one from the Jews," he added. He further
informed me that the ball was to have been a full-dress one, but that
the duchess had sent word to all the guests that it would be masked,
as a stranger who was to be present had sent on his trunks.
"I am sorry to have caused so much trouble," said I.
"Not at all," he replied, "the masked ball will be much more relished
by the people."
He mentioned the time it was to begin, and left me.
No doubt the reader will think that I found myself in an awkward
predicament, and I will be honest and confess I was far from being at
my ease. However, my good luck came to my assistance.
As Prussian money (which is the worst in Germany) is not current in
Russia, a Jew came and asked me if I had any friedrichs d'or,
offering to exchange them against ducats without putting me to any
"I have only ducats," I replied, "and therefore I cannot profit by
"I know it sir, and you give them away very cheaply."
Not understanding what he meant, I simply gazed at him, and he went
on to say that he would be glad to let me have two hundred ducats if
I would kindly give him a bill on St. Petersburg for roubles to that
I was somewhat surprised at the fellow's trustfulness, but after
pretending to think the matter over I said that I was not in want of
ducats, but that I would take a hundred to oblige him. He counted
out the money gratefully, and I gave him a bill on the banker,
Demetrio Papanelopoulo, for whom Da Loglio had given me a letter.
The Jew went his way, thanking me, and saying that he would send me
some beautiful dominos to choose from. Just then I remembered that I
wanted silk stockings, and I sent Lambert after the Jew to tell him
to send some. When he came back he told me that the landlord had
stopped him to say that I scattered my ducats broadcast, as the Jew
had informed him that I had given three ducats to Madame de
This, then, was the key to the mystery, and it made me lose myself in
wonder at the strangeness of the decrees of fortune. I should not
have been able to get a single crown at Mitau if it had not been for
the way in which I scattered my three remaining ducats. No doubt the
astonished girl had published my generosity all over the town, and
the Jew, intent on money-making, had hastened to offer his ducats to
the rich nobleman who thought so little of his money.
I repaired to Court at the time appointed, and M. de Kaiserling
immediately presented me to the duchess, and she to the duke, who was
the celebrated Biron, or Birlen, the former favourite of Anna
Ivanovna. He was six feet in height, and still preserved some traces
of having been a fine man, but old age had laid its heavy hand on
him. I had a long talk with him the day after the ball.
A quarter of an hour after my arrival, the ball began with a
polonaise. I was a stranger with introductions, so the duchess asked
me to open the ball with her. I did not know the dance, but I
managed to acquit myself honourably in it, as the steps are simple
and lend themselves to the fancy of the dancer.
After the polonaise we danced minuets, and a somewhat elderly lady
asked me if I could dance the "King Conqueror," so I proceeded to
execute it with her. It had gone out of fashion since the time of
the Regency, but my companion may have shone in it in those days.
All the younger ladies stood round and watched us with admiration.
After a square dance, in which I had as partner Mdlle. de Manteufel,
the prettiest of the duchess's maids of honour, her highness told me
that supper was ready. I came up to her and offered my arm, and
presently found myself seated beside her at a table laid for twelve
where I was the only gentleman. However, the reader need not envy
me; the ladies were all elderly dowagers, who had long lost the power
of turning men's heads. The duchess took the greatest care of my
comforts, and at the end of the repast gave me with her own hands a
glass of liqueur, which I took for Tokay and praised accordingly, but
it turned out to be only old English ale. I took her back to the
ball when we rose from table. The young chamberlain who had invited
me told me the names of all the ladies present, but I had no time to
pay my court to any of them.
The next day I dined with M. de Kaiserling, and handed Lambert over
to a Jew to be clothed properly.
The day after I dined with the duke with a party consisting only of
men. The old prince made me do most of the talking, and towards the
end of the dinner the conversation fell upon the resources of the
country which was rich in minerals and semi-minerals. I took it into
my head to say that these resources ought to be developed, and that
they would become precious if that were done. To justify this remark
I had to speak upon the matter as if I had made it my principal
study. An old chamberlain, who had the control of the mines, after
allowing me to exhaust my enthusiasm, began to discuss the question
himself, made divers objections, but seemed to approve of many of my
If I had reflected when I began to speak in this manner that I should
have to act up to my words, I should certainly have said much less;
but as it was, the duke fancied that I knew much more than I cared to
say. The result was that, when the company had risen from the table,
he asked me if I could spare him a fortnight on my way to St.
Petersburg. I said I should be glad to oblige him, and he took me to
his closet and said that the chamberlain who had spoken to me would
conduct me over all the mines and manufactories in his duchies, and
that he would be much obliged if I would write down any observations
that struck me. I agreed to his proposal, and said I would start the
The duke was delighted with my compliance, and gave the chamberlain
the necessary orders, and it was agreed that he should call for me at
day-break with a carriage and six.
When I got home I made my preparations, and told Lambert to be ready
to accompany me with his case of instruments. I then informed him of
the object of the journey, and he promised to assist me to the best
of his ability, though he knew nothing about mines, and still less of
the science of administration.
We started at day-break, with a servant on the box, and two others
preceding us on horseback, armed to the teeth. We changed horses
every two or three hours, and the chamberlain having brought plenty
of wine we refreshed ourselves now and again.
The tour lasted a fortnight, and we stopped at five iron and copper
manufactories. I found it was not necessary to have much technical
knowledge to make notes on what I saw; all I required was a little
sound argument, especially in the matter of economy, which was the
duke's main object. In one place I advised reforms, and in another I
counselled the employment of more hands as likely to benefit the
revenue. In one mine where thirty convicts were employed I ordered
the construction of a short canal, by which three wheels could be
turned and twenty men saved. Under my direction Lambert drew the
plans, and made the measurements with perfect accuracy. By means of
other canals I proposed to drain whole valleys, with a view to obtain
the sulphur with which the soil was permeated.
I returned to Mitau quite delighted at having made myself useful, and
at having discovered in myself a talent which I had never suspected.
I spent the following day in making a fair copy of my report and in
having the plans done on a larger scale. The day after I took the
whole to the duke, who seemed well pleased; and as I was taking leave
of him at the same time he said he would have me drive to Riga in one
of his carriages, and he gave me a letter for his son, Prince
Charles, who was in garrison there.
The worthy old man told me to say plainly whether I should prefer a
jewel or a sum of money of equivalent value.
"From a philosopher like your highness," I replied, "I am not afraid
to take money, for it may be more useful to me than jewels."
Without more ado he gave me a draft for four hundred albertsthalers,
which I got cashed immediately, the albertsthaler being worth half a
ducat. I bade farewell to the duchess, and dined a second time with
M. de Kaiserling.
The next day the young chamberlain came to bring me the duke's
letter, to wish me a pleasant journey, and to tell me that the Court
carriage was at my door. I set out well pleased with the assistance
the stuttering Lambert had given me, and by noon I was at Riga. The
first thing I did was to deliver my letter of introduction to Prince