Friday, 12 July 2013

Italian Gardens Old and Modern 6

A young gardener with a nine years’ character succeeded him.  He came from a  first-class garden belonging to a wealthy German baron, whose head gardener spoke in the highest terms of him, and at the regret he felt at having to let him god; but there had been quarrels between him and another workman, and the German baron had decided that, under these circumstances, it was better that both should go.
This youth, who was about twenty-seven, had been accustomed to precisely the kind of house work we required from our gardener in the morning, as well as to changing the plants in the sitting-rooms, when he went about in a pair of civilized house shoes, and did not import a barrow-load of earth all over the carpets.  Apropos, I was up at the big villa one day, and saw some curious-looking foliage plants adorning a flower stand.  On taking up my glass to inspect them more closely, I found, to my horror, that they were products of the “Grand Magasin du Louvre”, and on asking the secretary the reason for this new departure, he replied that they were most advantageous, looked quite as well as the real article, stood for months, and obviated the necessity of the gardeners tramping over the numerous valuable old Persian carpets and rugs, with which the rooms were strewn!  Some of the latter had cost hundreds of pounds apiece, and would have been better bestowed on the walls, but these were already filled with tapestries and pictures.

To return to my sheep, by name Angiolino, a more suitable selection did not seem possible, as, on his promotion, a young well-trained servant is generally the ideal article; and so I think he would have proved; but alas! I had not reckoned on female influence.  I was aware that he was fidanzato, and an engagement generally gives a young man a motive for sticking to his work and “getting on”, but I did not know that he was heartily tired of the “object” and had taken up with another woman, and this it was that brought him to grief and ruined his very promising career.

It was autumn when he came to us; and in the following spring he came to me one day, and said that there was a good deal of cutting and pruning to be done; theta  a young friend of his, the son of a contadino in his own neighbourhood, would be very glad to come and help him, if I would allow him, and there should be no additional expense. I gave the desired permission, and the friend, a nice-looking boy and very willing, worked for about a month in the garden.  Easter was close at hand; and a friend from England who had come out to pend it with us, brought me a nice lot of rooted chrysanthemum cuttings.  I handed them over to Angiolino on the morning of Holy Thursday, telling him that, if plunged in damp earth, they would not hurt if potting were delayed till next day, and that I knew he would want to go to the churches, adding that he never seemed to take a holiday off, on his own account.  The man went round to the kitchen that evening and repeated my words to the servants and departed, saying the “Signora had been so kind.” We never saw him again.

Next day, Good Friday, when he did not appear as usual, I concluded that, as he had not availed himself of the permission to go to the churches on the Thursday, he was taking the holiday that day instead.  Good Friday in Roman Catholic countries is not nearly so important as the Thursday preceding it, when it is de rigueur to visit seven churches, and when the “dressing of the sepulchre” in the country districts, is one of the most picturesque sights in Italy.  I saw this and the carrying of the dead Christ round the town, at Assisi, more than thirty-three years ago, and both were most impressive and characteristic ceremonies.
As Angiolino’s friend had come as usual, his absence did not signify; but when Saturday came and  he did not appear, I felt certain something was amiss.  The substitute professed to know nothing of him, and all the little chrysanthemums, which had been left in beautiful order, were waiting to be potted, as I did not care to let this boy touch them.  After lunch I was told that a contadino wished to see me, and I found it was Angiolino’s father, in great trouble about his son, and come to see if he was with us.

It appeared that on the previous morning he had left at his usual hour to come to my house (he lived at a great distance from us) but had returned at ten o’clock, saying that his padrona had given him a holiday, had put on his best clothes and gone out for the day.  He had not returned, and they were in great anxiety about him.  It subsequently transpired that he had gone off, not with the lawful fidanzata, but with her supplanter.  I do not know if his family have ever seen him since, but some two years after he thus decamped they had had only a dateless letter from him, to say he was alive and well.

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