Thursday, 8 August 2013

Italian Gardens Old and Modern 7

I regret to say we found he had taken with him a  watch belonging to one of the servants, and had lef an accumulation of debts a the village near us, and, what I did not know till later, had abstracted a sum of money entrusted to him to hand to my wood-merchant.  I had been suddenly called to Rome, to friends who were in great trouble, and having written to the wood-merchant to call for the money due to him, did not wish him to have a fruitless journey, and had left it for him with the gardener.  On my return I should, of course, have asked for the receipt, but I was so worn out with grief and fatigue, that I had to go to bed for some days, and entirely forgot the matter.  That was quit the most curious and unpleasant experience of the kind that I have ever had, and when I betook myself to the residence of the German baron, and informed Angiolino’s sponsor of what had occurred, he at first flatly declined to believe my tale of woe.  One quite understands the reluctance felt by people of all ranks and classes in Tuscany ever to recommend, for, as they say, if they do so, the object “disgraces” them.  Great pity was felt for this young man’s father and family, who were most honest, hard-working people.
I was thus left, just at the beginning of the busy spring season, to find another gardener, - visitors in the house, and others in prospect.  The youth whom Angiolino had imported was some years younger than he, and had had very little experience of garden work, having been only employed as a general “help” in a  florist’s establishment; but he seemed to me of a good disposition, and honest and industrious.  So I thought I would give him a trial.  To this day I have never been able to decide whether his having been brought to my house as he was, was a “plant” between him and Angiolino or not; on the whole, I incline to think that it was.  It would be quite in the Tuscan order of things that Angiolino should have disclosed his plans to his friend, and said, “You come and help me for a month, and I will show you all the ways and the dodges, and then, if you please the Signora, perhaps she’ll give you a trial, and after that, you must look to yourself.”   They are a most intricate people, in spite of a certain child-like simplicity of demeanour which, however, is on the surface only.

This boy, Eugenio, has now been nearly four years    with me, and has developed into a very fair gardener.  Like other people, he has his good and bad points, but, on the whole, the former preponderate. I have so far found him absolutely honest and straight in money matters, extremely industrious and hard-working, of a most obliging disposition, and, what is to me of supreme importance, he is very devoted to our pets.
His weak point is a certain tendency to shelter himself from unpleasant consequences by telling lies.  I make the same rule in the garden, that we  have always done indoors, in regard to accidents and breakages; viz., that if these are at once frankly confessed, reproof will be of the mildest description; but, that if I am left to discover these and kindred misfortunes, things will be made decidedly unpleasant for the culprit.  It is very difficult to induce the Tuscan mind to live up to this standard of frankness, and on several occasions, Eugenio’s deficiencies in the art of speaking the truth have brought him into dire disgrace.  The rule that if I discover any special plants dying or dead, he is obliged to replace them (with reasonable limits) has proved most salutary.  On two occasions during his incumbency I have been obliged to call in the assistance of parental authority, and a most decent-looking old contadino has appeared on the scene, with the happiest results.  On the last of these occasions I was detailing his iniquities with some warmth, when the old man nodded his head gently, and said “Dear Signora, leave the boy to me.  His mother and I will have a little conversation when he comes home next Sunday, and you will see he will be all right.” I could not help wondering if these arguments would be enforced with any applications of a weightier description.

The boy is the youngest of a large family, and has never done his military service, according to the rule that, when three brothers have serves, the fourth is exempt, as is also the only son of a widow.  Privately, I have a sneaking affection for Eugenio, who though only a kind of grown-up child, has really profited by his opportunities in a way that does credit to his intelligence, and who takes a great pride in his small domain.  For myself, I never go into any garden, private or public, large or small, without learning something; it may be only a negative something of what is to be avoided, but more generally there is a leaf of good to be taken out of your neighbour’s book.  But this is an attitude of spirit not understood by the average Tuscan peasant, who is either so conceited that he fancies all he does is perfection, or too unobservant to bestow any thoughts on other people’s ways.

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