One of the canons, as he was shewing me the urns containing the relics, told me that one of them contained the thirty pieces of silver for which Judas betrayed our Lord. I begged him to let me see them, to which he replied severely that the king himself would not have dared to express such indecent curiosity.
I hastened to apologise, begging him not to take offence at a stranger's heedless questions; and this seemed to calm his anger.
The Spanish priests are a band of knaves, but one has to treat them with more respect than one would pay to honest men elsewhere. The following day we were shewn the museum of natural history. It was rather a dull exhibition; but, at all events, one could laugh at it without exciting the wrath of the monks and the terrors of the Inquisition. We were shewn, amongst other wonders, a stuffed dragon, and the man who exhibited it said,--
"This proves, gentlemen, that the dragon is not a fabulous animal;" but I thought there was more of art than nature about the beast. He then shewed us a basilisk, but instead of slaying us with a glance it only made us laugh. The greatest wonder of all, however, was nothing else than a Freemason's apron, which, as the curator very sagely declared, proved the existence of such an order, whatever some might say.
The journey restored me to health, and when I returned to Aranjuez, I proceeded to pay my court to all the ministers. The ambassador presented me to Marquis Grimaldi, with whom I had some conversations on the subject of the Swiss colony, which was going on badly. I reiterated my opinion that the colony should be composed of Spaniards.
"Yes," said he, "but Spain is thinly peopled everywhere, and your plan would amount to impoverishing one district to make another rich."
"Not at all, for if you took ten persons who are dying of poverty in the Asturias, and placed them in the Sierra Morena, they would not die till they had begotten fifty children. This fifty would beget two hundred and so on."
My scheme was laid before a commission, and the marquis promised that I should be made governor of the colony if the plan was accepted.
An Italian Opera Comique was then amusing the Court, with the exception of the king, who had no taste for music. His majesty bore a considerable resemblance to a sheep in the face, and it seemed as if the likeness went deeper, for sheep have not the slightest idea of sound. His favourite pursuit was sport, and the reason will be given later on.
An Italian musician at the Court desired to compose some music for a new opera, and as there was no time to send to Italy I offered to compose the libretto. My offer was accepted, and by the next day the first act was ready. The music was composed in four days, and the Venetian ambassador invited all the ministers to the rehearsal in the grand hall of his palace. The music was pronounced exquisite; the two other acts were written, and in a fortnight the opera was put upon the stage. The musician was rewarded handsomely, but I was considered too grand to work for money and my reward was paid me in the Court money of compliments. However, I was glad to see that the ambassador was proud of me and that the minister's esteem for me seemed increased.
In writing the libretto I had become acquainted with the actresses. The chief of them was a Roman named Pelliccia, neither pretty nor ugly, with a slight squint, and but moderate talents. Her younger sister was pretty if not handsome; but no one cared for the younger, while the elder was a universal favourite. Her expression was pleasant, her smile delightful, and her manners most captivating. Her husband was an indifferent painter, plain-looking, and more like her servant than her husband. He was indeed her very humble servant, and she treated him with great kindness. The feelings she inspired me with were not love, but a sincere respect and friendship. I used to visit her every day, and wrote verses for her to sing to the Roman airs she delivered so gracefully.