When the king saw that his old followers had fled, he was reduced to asking the young nobles present to play their part.
I was not afraid for myself, as I was unknown, and not of sufficient rank to merit such an honour.
After three or four young noblemen had been tossed, much to the amusement of the queen and her ladies, the king cast his eyes on two young Florentine nobles who had lately arrived at Naples. They were with their tutor, and all three had been laughing heartily at the disport of the king and his courtiers.
The monarch came up and accosted them very pleasantly, proposing that they should take part in the game.
The wretched Tuscans had been baked in a bad oven; they were undersized, ugly, and humpbacked.
His majesty's proposal seemed to put them on thorns. Everybody listened for the effects of the king's eloquence; he was urging them to undress, and saying that it would be unmannerly to refuse; there could be no humiliation in it, he said, as he himself had been the first to submit.
The tutor felt that it would not do to give the king a refusal, and told them that they must give in, and thereupon the two Florentines took off their clothes.
When the company saw their figures and doleful expressions, the laughter became general. The king took one of them by the hand, observing in an encouraging manner that there would be no danger; and as a special honour he held one of the corners of the blanket himself. But, for all that, big tears rolled down the wretched young man's cheeks.
After three or four visits to the ceiling, and amusing everyone by the display of his long thin legs, he was released, and the younger brother went to the torture smilingly, for which he was rewarded by applause.
The governor, suspecting that his majesty destined him for the same fate, had slipped out; and the king laughed merrily when he heard of his departure.
Such was the extraordinary spectacle we enjoyed--a spectacle in every way unique.
Don Pascal Latilla, who had been lucky enough to avoid his majesty's notice, told us a number of pleasant anecdotes about the king; all shewed him in the amiable light of a friend of mirth and an enemy to all pomp and stateliness, by which kings are hedged in generally. He assured us that no one could help liking him, because he always preferred to be treated as a friend rather than a monarch.
"He is never more grieved," said Pascal, "than when his minister Tanucci shews him that he must be severe, and his greatest joy is to grant a favour."
Ferdinand had not the least tincture of letters, but as he was a man of good sense he honoured lettered men most highly, indeed anyone of merit was sure of his patronage. He revered the minister Marco, he had the greatest respect for the memory of Lelio Caraffa, and of the Dukes of Matalone, and he had provided handsomely for a nephew of the famous man of letters Genovesi, in consideration of his uncle's merits.
Games of chance were forbidden; and one day he surprised a number of the officers of his guard playing at faro. The young men were terrified at the sight of the king, and would have hidden their cards and money.
"Don't put yourselves out," said the kindly monarch, "take care that Tanucci doesn't catch you, but don't mind me."
His father was extremely fond of him up to the time when he was obliged to resist the paternal orders in deference to State reasons.
Ferdinand knew that though he was the King of Spain's son, he was none the less king of the two Sicilies, and his duties as king had the prerogative over his duties as son.
Some months after the suppression of the Jesuits, he wrote his father a letter, beginning:
"There are four things which astonish me very much. The first is that though the Jesuits were said to be so rich, not a penny was found upon them at the suppression; the second, that though the Scrivani of Naples are supposed to take no fees, yet their wealth is immense; the third, that while all the other young couples have children sooner or later, we have none; and the fourth, that all men die at last, except Tanucci, who, I believe, will live on in 'saecula saeculorum'."
The King of Spain shewed this letter to all the ministers and ambassadors, that they might see that his son was a clever man, and he was right; for a man who can write such a letter must be clever.