retary. I paid my court to the princess-palatine, who liked my company, and I played tressette with the palatin himself.
On the 4th of March, St. Casimir's Eve, there was a banquet at Court to which I had the honour to be invited. Casimir was the name of the king's eldest brother, who held the office of grand chamberlain. After dinner the king asked me if I intended going to the theatre, where a Polish play was to be given for the first time. Everybody was interested in this novelty, but it was a matter of indifference to me as I did not understand the language, and I told the king as much.
"Never mind," said he, "come in my box."
This was too flattering an invitation to be refused, so I obeyed the royal command and stood behind the king's chair. After the second act a ballet was given, and the dancing of Madame Caracci, a Piedmontese, so pleased his majesty that he went to the unusual pains of clapping her.
I only knew the dancer by sight, for I had never spoken to her. She had some talents. Her principal admirer was Count Poninski, who was always reproaching me when I dined with him for visiting the other dancers to the exclusion of Madame Caracci. I thought of his reproach at the time, and determined to pay her a visit after the ballet to congratulate her on her performance and the king's applause. On my way I passed by Madame Binetti's dressing-room, and seeing the door open I stayed a moment. Count Branicki came up, and I left with a bow and passed on to Madame Caracci's dressing-room. She was astonished to see me, and began with kindly reproaches for my neglect; to which I replied with compliments, and then giving her a kiss I promised to come and see her.
Just as I embraced her who should enter but Branicki, whom I had left a moment before with Madame Binetti. He had clearly followed me in the hopes of picking a quarrel. He was accompanied by Bininski, his lieutenant-colonel. As soon as he appeared, politeness made me stand up and turn to go, but he stopped me.
"It seems to me I have come at a bad time; it looks as if you loved this lady."
"Certainly, my lord; does not your excellency consider her as worthy of love?"
"Quite so; but as it happens I love her too, and I am not the man to bear any rivals."
"As I know that, I shall love her no more."
"Then you give her up?"
"With all my heart; for everyone must yield to such a noble as you are."
"Very good; but I call a man that yields a coward."
"Isn't that rather a strong expression?"
As I uttered these words I looked proudly at him and touched the hilt of my sword. Three or four officers were present and witnessed what passed.
I had hardly gone four paces from the dressing-room when I heard myself called "Venetian coward." In spite of my rage I restrained myself, and turned back saying, coolly and firmly, that perhaps a Venetian coward might kill a brave Pole outside the theatre; and without awaiting a reply I left the building by the chief staircase.
I waited vainly outside the theatre for a quarter of an hour with my sword in my hand, for I was not afraid of losing forty thousand ducats like Tomatis. At last, half perishing with cold, I called my carriage and drove to the palatin's, where the king was to sup.
The cold and loneliness began to cool my brain, and I congratulated myself on my self-restraint in not drawing my sword in the actress's dressing-room; and I felt glad that Branicki had not followed me down the stairs, for his friend Bininski had a sabre, and I should probably have been assassinated.
Although the Poles are polite enough, there is still a good deal of the old leaven in them. They are still Dacians and Samaritans at dinner, in war, and in friendship, as they call it, but which is often a burden hardly to be borne. They can never understand that a man may be sufficient company for himself, and that it is not right to descend on him in a troop and ask him to give them dinner.
I made up my mind that Madame Binetti had excited Branicki to follow me, and possibly to treat me as he had treated Tomatis.