We left Naples at four o'clock in the morning, in a felucca with twelve oars, and at nine we reached Sorrento.
We were fifteen in number, and all were delighted with this earthly paradise.
Hamilton took us to a garden belonging to the Duke of Serra Capriola, who chanced to be there with his beautiful Piedmontese wife, who loved her husband passionately.
The duke had been sent there two months before for having appeared in public in an equipage which was adjudged too magnificent. The minister Tanucci called on the king to punish this infringement of the sumptuary laws, and as the king had not yet learnt to resist his ministers, the duke and his wife were exiled to this earthly paradise. But a paradise which is a prison is no paradise at all; they were both dying of ennui, and our arrival was balm in Gilead to them.
A certain Abbe Bettoni, whose acquaintance I had made nine years before at the late Duke of Matalone's, had come to see them, and was delighted to meet me again.
The abbe was a native of Brescia, but he had chosen Sorento as his residence. He had three thousand crowns a year, and lived well, enjoying all the gifts of Bacchus, Ceres, Comus, and Venus, the latter being his favourite divinity. He had only to desire to attain, and no man could desire greater pleasure than he enjoyed at Sorento. I was vexed to see Count Medini with him; we were enemies, and gave each other the coldest of greetings.
We were twenty-two at table and enjoyed delicious fare, for in that land everything is good; the very bread is sweeter than elsewhere. We spent the afternoon in inspecting the villages, which are surrounded by avenues finer than the avenues leading to the grandest castles in Europe.
Abbe Bettoni treated us to lemon, coffee, and chocolate ices, and some delicious cream cheese. Naples excells in these delicacies, and the abbe had everything of the best. We were waited on by five or six country girls of ravishing beauty, dressed with exquisite neatness. I asked him whether that were his seraglio, and he replied that it might be so, but that jealousy was unknown, as I should see for myself if I cared to spend a week with him.
I envied this happy man, and yet I pitied him, for he was at least twelve years older than I, and I was by no means young. His pleasures could not last much longer.
In the evening we returned to the duke's, and sat down to a supper composed of several kinds of fish.
The air of Sorento gives an untiring appetite, and the supper soon disappeared.
After supper my lady proposed a game at faro, and Bettoni, knowing Medini to be a professional gamester, asked him to hold the bank. He begged to be excused, saying he had not enough money, so I consented to take his place.
The cards were brought in, and I emptied my poor purse on the table. It only held four hundred ounces, but that was all I possessed.
The game began; and on Medini asking me if I would allow him a share in the bank, I begged him to excuse me on the score of inconvenience.
I went on dealing till midnight, and by that time I had only forty ounces left. Everybody had won except Sir Rosebury, who had punted in English bank notes, which I had put into my pocket without counting.
When I got to my room I thought I had better look at the bank notes, for the depletion of my purse disquieted me. My delight may be imagined. I found I had got four hundred and fifty pounds--more than double what I had lost.
I went to sleep well pleased with my day's work, and resolved not to tell anyone of my good luck.
The duchess had arranged for us to start at nine, and Madame de Serra Capriola begged us to take coffee with her before going.
After breakfast Medini and Bettoni came in, and the former asked Hamilton whether he would mind his returning with us. Of course, Hamilton could not refuse, so he came on board, and at two o'clock I was back at my inn. I was astonished to be greeted in my antechamber by a young lady, who asked me sadly whether I remembered her.