Friday, April 04, 2014

Long-lost relatives

Here's an interesting little story from the Memoirs of Peter Henry Bruce, Esq. (London, 1782). Bruce was a Scottish-born military engineer and artilleryman who served in the British, Prussian, and Russian armies, visiting places as far flung as Sweden and Iran.
At the time our troops were in Holstein, General Baur, who commanded the cavalry, and was himself a soldier of fortune, his family or country being a secret to every body, took an opportunity to discover himself, which surprised and pleased those who were about him.

Being encamped near Husun, in Holstein, he invited all his field-officers, and some others to dine with him, and sent his adjutant to bring a miller and his wife, who lived in the neighbourhood, to the entertainment. The poor couple came very much afraid of the Muscovite general, and were quite confused when they appeared before him, which he perceiving bade them make themselves quite easy, for he only meant to show them kindness, and had sent for them to dine with him that day, and talked with them familiarly about the country: the dinner being set, he placed the miller and his wife next to himself, one on each hand, at the head of the table, and paid great attention to them, inviting them to make free and eat hearty.  In the course of the entertainment, he asked the miller a great many questions about his family and his relations: the miller told him, that he was the eldest son of his father, who had been also a miller at the same mill he then possessed; that he had two brothers, tradesmen; and one sister, married to a tradesman; that his own family consisted of one son and three daughters.

The general asked him, if he never had any other brother than those he had mentioned: he replied, he had once another, but he was dead many years ago, for they had never head of him since he enlisted and went away with soldiers when he was but very young, and he must certainly have been killed in the wars. The general observing the company much surprised at his behaviour to these people, thinking he did it by way of diversion, said to them; “Gentlemen, you have always been very curious to know who and whence I am; I now inform you, this is the place of my nativity, and you have now heard from this, my eldest brother, what my family is.”

And then turning towards the miller and his wife, he embraced them very affectionately, telling them he was their supposed dead brother; and, to confirm them, he relating everything that had happened in the family before he left it. … General Baur then made a generous provision for all his relations, and sent the miller's only son to Berlin for his education, who turned out an accomplished young man.