When Alexis became rich and powerful, instead of revenging himself, he hastened to make his enemy's fortune. This was nobly done.
Dragon, whose first principle was always to turn up the best card, and whose second principle was never to shirk a duel, had gone to St. Petersburg in 1759 with the Baron de St. Heleine. Elizabeth was still on the throne, but Peter, Duke of Holstein, the heir- presumptive, had already begun to loom large on the horizon. Dragon used to frequent the fencing school where the prince was a frequent visitor, and there encountered all comers successfully. The duke got angry, and one day he took up a foil and defied the Neapolitan marquis to a combat. Dragon accepted and was thoroughly beaten, while the duke went off in triumph, for he might say from henceforth that he was the best fencer in St. Petersburg.
When the prince had gone, Dragon could not withstand the temptation of saying that he had only let himself be beaten for fear of offending his antagonist; and this boast soon got to the grand-duke's ears. The great man was terribly enraged, and swore he would have him banished from St. Petersburg if he did not use all his skill, and at the same time he sent an order to Dragon to be at the fencing school the next day.
The impatient duke was the first to arrive, and d'Aragon was not long in coming. The prince began reproaching him for what he had said the day before, but the Neapolitan, far from denying the fact, expressed himself that he had felt himself obliged to shew his respect for his prince by letting him rap him about for upwards of two hours.
"Very good," said the duke, "but now it is your turn; and if you don't do your best I will drive you from St. Petersburg."
"My lord, your highness shall be obeyed. I shall not allow you to touch me once, but I hope you will deign to take me under your protection."
The two champions passed the whole morning with the foils, and the duke was hit a hundred times without being able to touch his antagonist. At last, convinced of Dragon's superiority, he threw down his foil and shook him by the hand, and made him his fencer-in- ordinary, with the rank of major in his regiment of Holsteiners.
Shortly after, D'Aragon having won the good graces of the duke obtained leave to hold a bank at faro in his court, and in three or four years he amassed a fortune of a hundred thousand roubles, which he took with him to the Court of King Stanislas, where games of all sorts were allowed. When he passed through Riga, St. Heleine introduced him to Prince Charles, who begged him to call on him the next day, and to shew his skill with the foils against himself and some of his friends. I had the honour to be of the number; and thoroughly well he beat us, for his skill was that of a demon. I was vain enough to become angry at being hit at every pass, and told him that I should not be afraid to meet him at a game of sharps. He was calmer, and replied by taking my hand, and saying,--
"With the naked sword I fence in quite another style, and you are quite right not to fear anyone, for you fence very well."
D'Aragon set out for Warsaw the next day, but he unfortunately found the place occupied by more cunning Greeks than himself. In six months they had relieved him of his hundred thousand roubles, but such is the lot of gamesters; no craft can be more wretched than theirs.
A week before I left Riga (where I stayed two months) Campioni fled by favour of the good Prince Charles, and in a few days the Baron de St. Heleine followed him without taking leave of a noble army of creditors. He only wrote a letter to the Englishman Collins, to whom he owed a thousand crowns, telling him that like an honest man he had left his debts where he had contracted them. We shall hear more of these three persons in the course of two years.
Campioni left me his travelling carriage, which obliged me to use six horses on my journey to St. Petersburg. I was sorry to leave Betty, and I kept up an epistolary correspondence with her mother throughout the whole of my stay at St.