A minute later he came into my room, and shut the door, saying,--
"As you won't speak to me, I have come to speak to you."
"What have you got to say?"
"If you leave my house in this fashion you will dishonour me, and I will not allow it."
"Excuse me, but I should very much like to see how you are going to prevent me from leaving your house."
"I will not allow you to go by yourself; we must go together."
"Certainly; I understand you perfectly. Get your sword or your pistols, and we will start directly. There is room for two in the carriage."
"That won't do. You must dine with me, and then we can go in my carriage."
You make a mistake. I should be a fool if I dined with you when our miserable dispute is all over the village; to-morrow it will have reached Gorice."
"If you won't dine with me, I will dine with you, and people may say what they like. We will go after dinner, so send away that conveyance."
I had to give in to him. The wretched count stayed with me till noon, endeavouring to persuade me that he had a perfect right to beat a country-woman in the road, and that I was altogether in the wrong.
I laughed, and said I wondered how he derived his right to beat a free woman anywhere, and that his pretence that I being her lover had no right to protect her was a monstrous one.
"She had just left my arms," I continued, "was I not therefore her natural protector? Only a coward or a monster like yourself would have remained indifferent, though, indeed, I believe that even you would have done the same."
A few minutes before we sat down to dinner he said that neither of us would profit by the adventure, as he meant the duel to be to the death.
"I don't agree with you as far as I am concerned," I replied; "and as to the duel, you can fight or not fight, as you please; for my part I have had satisfaction. If we come to a duel I hope to leave you in the land of the living, though I shall do my best to lay you up for a considerable time, so that you may have leisure to reflect on your folly. On the other hand, if fortune favours you, you may act as you please"
"We will go into the wood by ourselves, and my coachman shall have orders to drive you wherever you like if you come out of the wood by yourself."
"Very good indeed; and which would you prefer--swords or pistols?"
"Swords, I think."
"Then I promise to unload my pistols as soon as we get into the carriage."
I was astonished to find the usually brutal count become quite polite at the prospect of a duel. I felt perfectly confident myself, as I was sure of flooring him at the first stroke by a peculiar lunge. Then I could escape through Venetian territory where I was not known.
But I had good reasons for supposing that the duel would end in smoke as so many other duels when one of the parties is a coward, and a coward I believed the count to be.
We started after an excellent dinner; the count having no luggage, and mine being strapped behind the carriage.
I took care to draw the charges of my pistols before the count.
I had heard him tell the coachman to drive towards Gorice, but every moment I expected to hear him order the man to drive up this or that turning that we might settle our differences.
I asked no questions, feeling that the initiative lay with him; but we drove on till we were at the gates of Gorice, and I burst out laughing when I heard the count order the coachman to drive to the posting inn.
As soon as we got there he said,--
"You were in the right; we must remain friends. Promise me not to tell anyone of what has happened."
I gave him the promise; we shook hands, and everything was over.
The next day I took up my abode in one of the quietest streets to finish my second volume on the Polish troubles, but I still managed to enjoy myself during my stay at Gorice. At last I resolved on returning to Trieste, where I had more chances of serving and pleasing the State Inquisitors.
I stayed at Gorice till the end of the year 1773, and passed an extremely pleasant six weeks.