I had recourse to one of my many nursery-garden friends and begged him to try and get me a suitable and trustworthy man. As I had the prospect of spending part of the approaching winter in Rome, it was important t me to put a reliable man in charge. Just then, a gardener, who had been trained in this establishment, and had gone from there to another part of Italy, was free, and, as he seemed a capable man, I engaged him. His name was Dante Bacci, and he had many good points, with the great drawback of a physical infirmity that totally incapacitated him for any hard work, such as digging, or moving the heavy conche that twice a year have to shift their quarters.He could easily have been cured by a few weeks of hospital treatment, but no persuasions would induce him to go into the hospital. Tuscans have an absolute horror of going into a Florentine hospital, and consider their doom as sealed if they do. Whether this is a well-founded belief or not, I cannot say; but I do know that many of the regulations of these hospitals appear to us very extraordinary, particularly in matter of feeding, and the way in which the patients’ friends are allowed to convey to them supplies of food and wine.
However, Bacci was so capable as to his sowings and cuttings and in finer gardening work, that I preferred to keep him and get occasional help when heavy jobs were on hand. Like many of his countrymen he had an eye for colour and effect, and thoroughly understood displaying his choicest productions to the best effect in the court-yard. He was also a man of many airs and graces, and English friends when visiting us, used to expatiate on the beauty of his bows and the elegance of his morning salutations. “Where,” they would say, “would you find an English gardener take off his hat and make you a bow like that?” I thought how much I should prefer the sturdy self-respecting Saxon salutation!The garden developed a great deal under his care, and it was quite time I had efficient help, for when one reaches a certain “backwater” stage, going down on your knees on gravel walks or stones does not accord well with rheumatic joints. I never have seen such fine petunias as this man grew, and he had an excellent hand for grafting.
I began with him at a great disadvantage, for, at the time he came to us, I had arranged to spend the best part of the winter in Rome, and it is never wise to leave a new hand without supervision, as he is sure to resent your "interference" on his return. However, I found the place in good order when we came back n spring, when I had of course to make it clear to him that my wishes had to be respected and my orders obeyed. I somehow managed to inspire him with considerable affection, and, as the servants said, "Bacci would do anything for the Signora."
But I had had too many lessons on the futility of placing confidence in agreeable "ways" to be able to go away again for any length of time with an easy mind, and when in the early summer of 1895 I found we were likely to be in England for eight months, I was thankful when my Absentee said he would come and "mind the house for me". On our return he told me he had studies this man's character very closely and found him a curious type, and that it was an absolute necessity for him to have some one with him at his work, a child, or even a bird, would answer the purpose, but a companion of some sort he must have. To my great regret, Bacci found himself obliged by family circumstance to return to the nursery at Siena, when he had been three years with me. His wife, who was a Sienesi, had the offer, from the Commune there, of a post which was too good to be refused. As the nursery where he had worked was glad to take him back, at he same salary he had from me, the family income was more than doubled.