The king had just appointed him chief huntsman, not so exalted an office as chamberlain, but a more lucrative one. It was said he had got the place because he was such a good shot; but if that were the reason I had a better claim to it, for I had proved the better shot--for one day at all events.
I entered an enormous ante-room in which stood officers, footmen, pages, and lacqueys, all gazing at me with the greatest astonishment. I asked if my lord was to be seen, and begged the door-keeper to send in my name. He did not answer, but sighed, and went into his master's room. Directly after, he came out and begged me, with a profound bow, to step in.
Branicki, who was dressed in a magnificent gown and supported by pillows and cushions, greeted me by taking off his nightcap. He was as pale as death.
"I have come here, my lord," I began, "to offer you my service, and to assure you how I regret that I did not pass over a few trifling words of yours."
"You have no reason to reproach yourself, M. Casanova."
"Your excellency is very kind. I am also come to say that by fighting with me you have done me an honour which completely swallows up all offence, and I trust that you will give me your protection for the future."
"I confess I insulted you, but you will allow that I have paid for it. As to my friends, I openly say that they are my enemies unless they treat you with respect. Bininski has been cashiered, and his nobility taken from him; he is well served. As to my protection you have no need of it, the king esteems you highly, like myself, and all men of honour. Sit down; we will be friends. A cup of chocolate for this gentleman. You seem to have got over your wound completely."
"Quite so, my lord, except as to the use of my fingers, and that will take some time."
"You were quite right to withstand those rascally surgeons, and you had good reason for your opinion that the fools thought to please me by rendering you one-handed. They judged my heart by their own. I congratulate you on the preservation of your hand, but I have not been able to make out how my ball could have wounded you in the hand after striking your stomach."
Just then the chocolate was brought, and the chamberlain came in and looked at me with a smile. In five minutes the room was full of lords and ladies who had heard I was with Branicki, and wanted to know how we were getting on. I could see that they did not expect to find us on such good terms, and were agreeably surprised. Branicki asked the question which had been interrupted by the chocolate and the visitors over again.
"Your excellency will allow me to assume the position I was in as I received your fire."
"Pray do so."
I rose and placed myself in the position, and he said he understood how it was.
A lady said,--
"You should have put your hand behind your body."
"Excuse me, madam, but I thought it better to put my body behind my hand."
This sally made Branicki laugh, but his sister said to me,--
"You wanted to kill my brother, for you aimed at his head."
"God forbid, madam! my interest lay in keeping him alive to defend me from his friends."
"But you said you were going to fire at his head."
"That's a mere figure of speech, just as one says, 'I'll blow your brains out.' The skilled duellist, however, always aims at the middle of the body; the head does not offer a large enough surface."
"Yes," said Branicki, "your tactics were superior to mine, and I am obliged to you for the lesson you gave me."
"Your excellency gave me a lesson in heroism of far greater value."
"You must have had a great deal of practice with the pistol," continued his sister.
"Not at all, madam, I regard the weapon with detestation. This unlucky shot was my first; but I have always known a straight line, and my hand has always been steady."
"That's all one wants," said Branicki. "I have those advantages myself, and I am only too well pleased that I did not aim so well as usual."
"Your ball broke my first phalanges.