I had not received a blow certainly, but I had been called a coward. I had no choice but to demand satisfaction, but I also determined to be studiously moderate throughout. In this frame of mind I got down at the palatin's, resolved to tell the whole story to the king, leaving to his majesty the task of compelling his favourite to give me satisfaction.
As soon as the palatin saw me, he reproached me in a friendly manner for keeping him waiting, and we sat down to tressette. I was his partner, and committed several blunders. When it came to losing a second game he said,--
"Where is your head to-night?"
"My lord, it is four leagues away."
"A respectable man ought to have his head in the game, and not at a distance of four leagues."
With these words the prince threw down his cards and began to walk up and down the room. I was rather startled, but I got up and stood by the fire, waiting for the king. But after I had waited thus for half an hour a chamberlain came from the palace, and announced that his majesty could not do himself the honour of supping with my lord that night.
This was a blow for me, but I concealed my disappointment. Supper was served, and I sat down as usual at the left hand of the palatin, who was annoyed with me, and chewed it. We were eighteen at table, and for once I had no appetite. About the middle of the supper Prince Gaspard Lubomirski came in, and chanced to sit down opposite me. As soon as he saw me he condoled with me in a loud voice for what had happened.
"I am sorry for you," said he, "but Branicki was drunk, and you really shouldn't count what he said as an insult."
"What has happened?" became at once the general question. I held my tongue, and when they asked Lubomirski he replied that as I kept silence it was his duty to do the same.
Thereupon the palatin, speaking in his friendliest manner, said to me,--
"What has taken place between you and Branicki?"
"I will tell you the whole story, my lord, in private after supper."
The conversation became indifferent, and after the meal was over the palatin took up his stand by the small door by which he was accustomed to leave the room, and there I told him the whole story. He sighed, condoled with me, and added,--
"You had good reasons for being absent-minded at cards."
"May I presume to ask your excellency's advice?"
"I never give advice in these affairs, in which you must do every- thing or nothing."
The palatin shook me by the hand, and I went home and slept for six hours. As soon as I awoke I sat up in bed, and my first thought was everything or nothing. I soon rejected the latter alternative, and I saw that I must demand a duel to the death. If Branicki refused to fight I should be compelled to kill him, even if I were to lose my head for it.
Such was my determination; to write to him proposing a duel at four leagues from Warsaw, this being the limit of the starostia, in which duelling was forbidden on pain of death. I Wrote as follows, for I have kept the rough draft of the letter to this day:
"March 5th, 1766. 5 A.M.
"My Lord,--Yesterday evening your excellency insulted me with a light heart, without my having given you any cause or reason for doing so. This seems to indicate that you hate me, and would gladly efface me from the land of the living. I both can and will oblige you in this matter. Be kind enough, therefore, to drive me in your carriage to a place where my death will not subject your lordship to the vengeance of the law, in case you obtain the victory, and where I shall enjoy the same advantage if God give me grace to kill your lordship. I should not make this proposal unless I believe your lordship to be of a noble disposition.
"I have the honour to be, etc."
I sent this letter an hour before day-break to Branicki's lodging in the palace. My messenger had orders to give the letter into the count's own hands, to wait for him to rise, and also for an answer.
In half an hour I received the following answer:
"Sir,--I accept your proposal, and shall be glad if you will have the kindness to inform me when I shall have the honour of seeing you.