From the Garden of a Friend
CARL PETERSEN was one of the innumerable company of artists who paint pretty pictures for a living, and Mimi was his wife. They were Danes by parentage, but had lived so long in Rome that there was very little Dane left in them, except the honor and simplicity of character one so frequently finds in that people.
They were about as poor as they could comfortably be, this young couple. Carl painted from morning till night, and sold his pictures to Spilorchia, the dealer, who paid for them ten per cent, of the price they ultimately brought. Carl knew that he got only ten per cent., but it was better to be sure of so much than to wait for more from purchasers who might never come. What can a poor artist do when people will go to the dealers instead of the studios to buy ? But Carl had a plan of escape from this servitude. He meant to lay by a little money, bit by bit, till he should be able to keep back one picture from Spilorchia, and place it instead in the window of a friendly bookseller. He might have to wait a good while; but then he would have ten times as much. And one step made in advance, the second must follow.
The Petersens lived in one of those Roman paradises which you reach by passing through a Roman purgatory, if that can be called a purgatory which soils instead of cleansing. You cross to Trastevere, pass through several dingy streets, enter a dingier one, that is narrow and dark as well, pass a gloomy portone into a green and dripping court, go up a wide stair that smells of garlic and is sometimes infested by dirty children,— up and up to the top. There is an anteroom which has possibilities. Disgust gives place to doubt. There is an ineffably dingy kitchen, which nevertheless calls forth an exclamation of delight from an artist ; for, going to the window, you see through wide coincident rifts of many a succeeding line of roofs an exquisite airy vista of mountain, villa, and grove.
Carl had advertised for a studio with two or three rooms attached, and on their first visit to the locality the young couple began as we have, leaving the studio for the last. They were anxious, for they had been house-hunting for a whole month, and were nearly worn out. Besides, time was money to them.
The last door opened. They caught their breath, stepped in, and gave one glance ; then turned and rushed into each other’s arms. Eureka !
The chamber was palatial in size, and beautifully proportioned ; but the glory of it was what came in from outside. Three windows looking toward the northeast gave them the whole of Rome, the Alban and Sabine mountains, and a flood of light. They would have a full view of the sunrise, too ; and up to ten o’clock three oblique lines of sunshine moved across their floor.
This room was both studio and salon. Mimi had her work-table at one window, the dining-table stood before another, and Carl’s easel was set by the third. They did everything there but cook and sleep, and the place was charming, if bare. Little by little they were covering the rough walls with pictures of all sorts, cut from illustrated papers and magazines, and at intervals Carl painted a slender panel of deep blue, or dull gold, or soft green. His few artistic properties were scattered about. There was a screen or two, a carved chair, and a beautiful oaken chest, very old and carved in palmleaves. A graceful wicker basket hung over this chest, against one of Carl’s blue panels. Mimi cherished this basket, for it had been sent to her on her wedding-day. full of white camellias and blue violets.
Besides the apartment, they had also a garden, only one story below, against the hill-side. A little flight of stairs led to it from the studio. In this garden they had found a treasure, — a young mandarin orange-tree in the first year of its blooming. It was so white with blossoms that it seemed to be fainting under the weight of them. Mimi carefully pinched them all off but one.
“ The tree is n’t strong enough to bear,” she said, “ and these blossoms will perfume the studio.” She carried them up in her apron, and poured the sweet white drift into her wicker basket on the wall.
The one blossom she had spared faded off in time, and left a green bullet. The bullet grew, and became a ball two inches in diameter. How they watched that little one, having no child of their own ! How they guarded it from every possible harm! It was shielded from the wind, covered from hail and heavy rain ; and woe to the spider which should spin its web there, or the lizard led by curiosity to whisk up the large brown vase that held their treasure !
The tree grew in the light of their eyes as well as in the sunshine, and seemed to take pride in its own achievement. holding out the laden twig as who should say, “ Do you see this child of mine ? I also have produced an orange, O my sisters multitudinous of Sorrento and Seville ! ”
The mandarin turned yellow gradually. At Christmas there were only a tiny cloud and a thread of green. But Mimi was impatient. When Carl sat down to his Christmas dinner, there lay upon his napkin a fragrant golden ball, with a pointed green leaf standing out at either side, wing-like, as if the thing had flown there.
“ If it turns out to be dry or sour, I shall feel betrayed,” Mimi said. “ I could n’t wait any longer to know. Let’s try it before we eat.”
Carl gave the fruit a scientific pinch, as a cat takes her kittens up by the neck. “ It will at least be juicy,” he said. “ The skin does n’t come off too easily.”
The orange was carefully divided, as an orange ought to be, according to the manner of its putting together, and Carl leaned across the table and put one section between the two rows of pearly teeth his wife opened to receive it. Then, while she waited with immovable jaws and lips drawn back, a second section disappeared under his blonde mustache. Looking anxiously into each other’s faces, they closed their teeth at the same instant, like two small winepresses ; and at the same instant a sparkling satisfaction foamed up into the eyes of both. The mandarin was a success !
“U-u-m-m-m!” growled Mimi, inarticulately and low, like a cat over a mouse. “ It is the king of mandarins ! ” she cried, when her tongue was free. “ It is the Emperor of China himself. How can we wait a whole year for another crop! ”
They had to wait, however ; and when blossom-time came round again, they left thirty of the finest flowers, the tree having grown stout and matronly. At Christmas thirty globes of pure gold hung amid the dark green foliage.
“ I have exchanged fifteen of them for a chicken,” Mimi said to her husband on the morning of December 24th. “ You know, Carl, we can afford neither to eat nor to give them away, after the extra expenses we have had.”
These extra expenses were for a dress coat and a silk dress with a train, or, as Mimi called them for short, a rondine and a strascico. The young people had some fine friends, who did not choose that they should remain in obscurity, and they were invited out occasionally. Aside from the pleasure they found in society, they knew that it might help Carl in his art to meet such people; and therefore, with tremulous hearts, they had ventured not only to spend their little savings, but to incur a small debt, in order to make themselves presentable. Nor was this all. They had still further diminished their present means by keeping back one of Carl’s pictures from the dealer, and setting it in the bookseller’s window instead.
This adventurous picture was nothing less than a portrait of their mandarin orange-tree as it had been the year before. It was the same, yet not the same. It was the tree as love saw it.
There was the high, dark gray wall, with an undulating line of green Janiculum above it, and above that a band of pure azure. Below, on a jagged table of ancient masonry that had once been a wall, stood the large brown vase. The slender, supple tree leaned all one way toward the single orange that hung heavily at the tip of its foremost twig, and all the leaves seemed to be twisting their stems about in order to see it. There were still a few faint green lines upon its yellow ripeness; and, studying, one might see that they hinted forth the picture’s name, — II Primogenito. In the wall above was set a torn umbrella, with bunches of long grass carefully stopping the holes. A blue cup full of water stood beside the vase, and a painter’s brush, still tinged with blue, was stuck, handle down, where it had loosened the earth about the tree. Around the vase, making a half circle from the wall, was a rough protective barrier, composed of fragments of antique sculpture, heads, arms, hands, halfseen faces, a shoulder pushing out, a strip of egg-moulding as white as milk, a bit of stone-fluting, the curling tip of an acanthus leaf. Lastly, the picture was flooded with sunshine.
If Carl was ever to be famous, it would be for painting sunshine.
They had hopes of this picture, and of their new friends. Only the week before, at a musicale given by the Signora Cremona, they had made the acquaintance of the famous English poetess, Madama Landon, and the great lady had praised one of Carl’s pictures which she had seen at the house of a friend. Who knew but she might wish to see others, to buy one. or at least to praise them to others ?
The Primogenito unsold, then, Mimi had exchanged half of her oranges for their Christmas roast. “ And I have been thinking, Carl,” she said, “that we might send the other half to the Cremonas as an acknowledgment of their kindness to us. We have dined there twice, and there was the musicale. We could send them in my basket, and they will make a very pretty show.”
They went to work at once. The basket was lined with moss, and over that Mimi laid a little open-wrought napkin, laboriously made by her own fingers by drawing threads out of linen. Each mandarin was cut with a stem and a leaf or two, and artistically placed.
“ How beautiful! ” sighed Mimi. “ And there are just enough. One more would be a bump, and one less a dent.”
A note was written on their last sheet of fine paper ; the basket was covered with white tissue-paper, and tied with blue ribbons preserved from their wedding presents.
When Carl went out with the basket, Mimi followed him to the stairs, and looked after him with tears in her eyes.
“It’s like sending one’s own children out into the world,” she thought. “ Dear little creatures ! They have never had anything but love and praising here.”
And so the basket of mandarins began its travels ; its grand tour, in fact.
It reached the Signora Cremona in safety.
“ How pretty ! ” said the lady. “ But we have fruit for to-day, and to-morrow we dine out. I will send the basket to Mrs. James, with our regrets for her breakfast to-morrow.”
A note was written. The Signora Cremona was so sorry that a previous engagement would prevent their breakfasting with Mrs. James the next day, and begged her to accept a basket of mandarin oranges, which she thought would be fine, as they were from a friend’s garden.
Mrs. James and her sister were just having their after-breakfast coffee and cigarettes when the present was brought in.
“ The Cremonas cannot come,” Mrs. James said, reading the note. “ And see what a lovely basket of mandarins! If we had not bought and settled everything for to-morrow, I would set this in the middle of the table, just as it is. Oh! I’ll tell you what we can do,— send it with a note to Monsignore Appetitoso. He might hear of our breakfast, you know, and feel slighted. Poor soul! I should n’t want to offend him. He is very useful.”
The note was written, the blue ribbons were tied for the third time, and the young tourists set out anew on their travels.
Monsignore Appetitoso was a jubilato a mezzo, paga ; that is, having passed a certain age, he was dispensed from the duties of his office with a pension of half its salary. Besides this, the pay being small, the Pope had assigned Him a free apartment in the canonicate of Santa Veronica del Fazzoletto, a palace that was nearly vacant, the canons preferring to reside outside. Here the old gentleman lived very comfortably, though without luxury ; going out to dinner when he was invited, getting an afternoon cup of tea and slice of cake in some lady’s drawing-room now and then, and dreaming over the happy days, long past, when he was delegato, and rounded his dinner off with ices, candies, and vin santo, instead of roasted chestnuts and a biscuit.
Monsignore dined at one o’clock, and was just eating a biscottino with his glass of Marsala, after the soup, boiled beef and greens, stewed pigeons and roasted chestnuts, which had formed the repast, when Mrs. James’s present arrived.
(We make haste to add, lest scrupulous souls should be scandalized at a priest’s eating meat on a vigil, that Monsignore was dispensed from both fasting and abstinence on account of his sixty-eight years and a disease of the stomach. Some of his laughing brethren averred that the disease was a constant voracious appetite ; but that is not our affair.)
The basket was uncovered with eagerness, and, settling himself more comfortably in his chair, Monsignore prepared to devour its whole contents then and there. But as he smilingly lifted off the topmost orange, a thought arrested him.
He had just heard — the news came in with the roasted chestnuts — that the rector of the College of Converted Zulus had been taken seriously ill that morning, and therefore could not have the honor of dining with Cardinal Inghilterra the next evening.
Now Monsignore had felt hurt at not receiving an invitation to this dinner. He loved the cardinal as only a poor gourmand can love a rich one. and had served him to the extent of his power. Who knows, he thought, but I may be asked to fill the rector’s place ? There was every probability of it, if only that pushing Monsignore Barili did not thrust himself in. Would not the cardinal be touched by the amiable piety of a man who should send him a basket of fruit after having been excluded from his dinner-table ? He, Monsignore, was not expected to know anything about the rector of the Zulus’ opportune seizure, or at least not so quickly.
He put the orange carefully back into its place, and, after ringing his bell, tied the blue ribbons again, — their fourth tying, as the creases in them began to hint.
“ Giacomo,” he said, when his man appeared, “ run as fast as you can with this to Cardinal Inghilterra, and ask permission to see him. Make the proper compliments, and try to find out if Monsignore Barili has been there to-day.”
Cardinal Inghilterra lunched when Monsignore dined, and he was still at table when Giacomo was graciously permitted to present himself. Poor Monsignore was useful to others beside Mrs. James, and the cardinal used him a good deal, and treated him with good-natured, condescending familiarity.
He sat in a room like a green tent, with a window full of sunshine and a garden behind him. Before him on the table was a cup of coffee, into which he was just dropping a lump of sugar from the tips of his white dimpled lingers. At his right hand was a liquor stand, and a gilded glass rosily full of “ Perfetto Amore,” one of the new Turin liquors that are trying to oust French ones from the market. An open note, the agonized regrets of the rector of the Zulus, lay at his left hand.
As Giacomo entered, and received a nod of recognition and a sign to wait, the cardinal was listening to his majordomo, who, full of reverential anxiety, was communicating to his Eminence the possibility that fish might not be forthcoming for to-morrow’s dinner. A storm had driven back the fishes of the west coast the night before, and the wind there was still contrary. There was not even a minnow in the market to-day ; and the dealers had promised more than they expected to receive. The cook had prayed, bribed, and threatened, but the event still remained doubtful.
The cardinal listened with tranquillity, sipping his coffee. He did not believe in impossibilities — for himself.
“ There is a telegraph in Rome,” he remarked, as if communicating an item of news. “ And there is ” —he sipped his coffee — “a telegraph at Civita Vecchia ” — another sip — " and at Porto d’Anzio ” — sip — “ and at Ancona ” — sip — “ and at various other sea, and therefore fish, ports around the coast of Italy;” and he finished his coffee, and set the cup aside.
“Certainly, Eminenza!” the man struck in. “ But I could not incur the expense without a special permission. If I send three telegrams to make sure of one, I may have to pay for three baskets of fishes; and besides, the price ” —
“ You can discuss that with the cook,” interrupted his master, and, waving him away, beckoned Giacomo to advance.
“ Monsignore is very good,” he said, after listening to the man’s errand. “ Tell him that I am infinitely obliged. And”—he hesitated, and glanced at the letter beside him. He saw through Monsignore’s little pious ruse perfectly ; but, as we have said, he was good-natured. “ Wait in the anteroom a moment,” he added. “ See if Antonio is there, and send him to me.”
Giacomo bowed himself out backward, and Antonio bowed himself in forward. He was a man of such a villainous solemnity of aspect that, had one encountered him in heaven even, one would have recognized him as the confidential servant of a priest. Face cleanly shaven, eyes downcast, mouth firmly closed, neck advanced as if to lay its head on the block (for virtue’s sake, s’ intende), and what mocking young Italy calls an expression of Gesù mio made Antonio one of the cream of his kind.
“ Cover these mandarins with the best roses that you can find in the garden,” the cardinal said, “and take them, with my compliments, to the Signora Landon. Throw away the wraps; they are soiled. And you need not let Giacomo see you.”
Exit Antonio in funereal silence.
About the same time two ladies were examining a picture set up frameless on a table in a little salon in Hotel Bristol.
“Is n’t it charming?” said one of them. “ I bought it this morning, and I am going to send it home to Tom. I can’t keep it for myself, because the sunshine of it freckles me. Tom will be delighted with it, it is so Italian. I know the artist. He and his wife were at La Cremona’s musicale last week. Such a nice little couple!—like two birds.”
“Oh! was it you, Antonio?” cried the lady, turning. “ I thought it was my shoemaker. How is his Eminence ? ”
Antonio, with the air of taking his last leave of his dearest friend, delivered his message.
“ How perfectly lovely ! ” was the response. “ Will you come and look at these mandarins, Lady Mary ? See how well they are arranged! Mandarini smothered in roses! They need not blush before strawberries and cream. It is a poem. Eminenza’s fruit is worthy to have grown on my painted orange-tree. Stay a moment, Antonio, while I write my thanks.”
The quill went scrawling over a sheet of cream-colored paper, that had initials and a crest occupying all the left side; a prompt white hand slapped the blotting-book over those large characters, folded, inclosed, and directed the note, and sealed it with a ring worn on the writer’s thumb.
Antonio received this missive as though it were his death-warrant, but with a sudden convulsion of face as he felt the generous breadth of a fivefranc piece under it. He had nearly smiled.
“ The cardinal has such good taste! ” the poetess said, smilingly contemplating his gift, when Antonio had faded away. “ But, unfortunately, I never eat oranges. They make me bilious. Oh ! I know what I will do. I can send them to the artist who painted that picture. It will be a pleasant way of announcing to him that his picture is sold. The bookseller told me that he had already been in this morning to see if any one had looked at it, and seemed very sad. Jeannette can carry the basket over with a note to-morrow morning. There is no time this afternoon. Mill you please touch the bell-knob at your elbow, Mary ? ”
A servant appeared.
“ Bring me a vase with water for these roses,” Mrs, Landon said. “ And send my maid to me.”
The next day Mimi and Carl had their dinner at noon. It was a poorer dinner than they had ever before eaten on a festa day, for there was nothing to follow their chicken but four soldi worth of cheese and their coffee. To be sure, there is n’t much sense in eating cheese when you have no fruit ; but, as Mimi said, their hearts had been so full of the mandarins that may be their stomachs might have felt the influence. Besides, cheese gives a certain air.
Their cheerfulness was a little forced to-day. Carl had been painting since daybreak, and was tired, and his wife was not feeling well.
Did you say that this was a chicken ? ” he asked, probing the fowl before him.
“ Why. yes, dear, and a nice plump one, too,” replied Mimi, trying to make the best of everything. “ Did n’t I pay fifteen golden mandarins fresh from the mint for it ? Did you think that it was a goose ? ”
“ No,” said Carl, laboriously cutting,
I did n’t think that it was a goose ; but — err — seems to me that it has — err — a good deal of — err — character for a chicken.”
“You don’t mean to say that it’s tough ! ” Mimi faltered, trying to keep back the tears that made a sudden rush for her eyes.
Carl’s reply was checked by the sound of their door-bell, sharply rung.
“ A beggar ! ” said Mimi, and started up hastily, glad to hide her face, and snatching a piece of bread as she went.
“ I ought n’t to have let her know that it is tough, poor Mimi! ” thought Carl.
In two minutes she came back radiant.
“ See! a present and a note from Madama Landon ! ” she cried, holding out a basket swathed in tissue-paper, and elaborately tied with a silken cord. “ Her maid brought it. It is fruit, as sure as you live. God is good ! How nice it is to be remembered, and have something come in, — just in the nick of time, too! That dear lady ! I knew she had a good heart, she is so brighteyed and has so much color. She blushes if she stirs. I always noticed — Why, Carl, the handle of this basket is just like ours ! ”
“ Of course there are plenty in the world like it,” remarked Carl, watching with great interest the careful undoing of the blue, softly twisted cords.
“ It is heavenly to get just such a one back,” said Mimi, picking carefully, with an impatient tremor, at the knots.
“ It. makes this seem a sort of second wedding-day, does n’t it, dear ? ”
The last cover off, the two stared for one moment in silence at their gift, then at each other, then at their gift again. Their faces had grown very blank. Then Mimi, with a finger and thumb, lifted out by the stem one mandarin after another, setting them in a row on the table. There were fifteen.
“I did n’t need this to prove it,” she said in a hushed voice, picking the napkin out of the basket. “ I know the looks of those mandarins as well as I know yours. I could go out now and set each one on its own twig on the tree.”
Another blank silence ; then Mimi burst into a laugh. “ Don’t you see, Carl ? La Cremona must have sent them to her, they were so pretty ; and she has sent them to us, without ever suspecting. Is n’t it comical, and delightful ? Oh, little prodigals, welcome home again ! ”
They bethought themselves to read the note. The lady had written : —
DEAR SIGNOR PETERSEN,— Allow me to offer you some mandarins which are worthy to have grown on your own tree, which, by the way, is now my tree. I have bought your Primogenito. and am so much pleased with it that I would like to have a companion picture, when you have time to favor me with one. With compliments to your charming wife, and a buona festa to both.
Yours sincerely, CLARE LANDON.
P. S. I send you the basket just as it was sent to me by a cardinal. C. L.
“ A cardinal!
No matter! Let the mystery go, since it had brought a miracle of joy. Mimi was weeping with delight.
“ Give me the two very largest,” she said, “ and I will carry them down to those two children on the ground door. How wicked I have been to hate them, even if they do dirty the stairs and throw stones at me ! I will kiss them, Carl, since I cannot kiss God ! ”
“ We must n’t utter the word mandarins to La Cremona,” Carl said.
But the very next time he met the Signora Cremona she thanked him with graceful cordiality for his present. “ They were delicious,” she said.
Carl bowed with perfect gravity.
And then he saw her blush slightly, as she hastened away from him to meet her friend, Mrs. James, who was coming across from the Spanish steps to speak to her.
“ I want to thank you for that lovely fruit,” Mrs. James said, with effusion. “ it was the finest I have had this year; so fresh, and honey-sweet ! ”
The lady had excellent authority for her praises ; for Monsignore Appetitoso had called on her that very morning to make his compliments on her gift. “ Your mandarins arrived just in time for my dinner,” he said, smacking his lips, as if he still had the taste of them in his mouth.
Mrs. James professed herself honored in having been allowed to contribute to Monsignore’s Christmas dinner. “ I thought the mandarins would be fine,” she said. “ They were sent me from the garden of a friend.”
“ Oh ! it was the day before. I dined with his Eminence, Cardinal Inghilterra, last evening,” Monsignore replied complacently. “And I thought that you might like to see the menu,” drawing a carefully folded paper from his pocket, and a white satin ribbon from the paper.
With a simultaneous “ Oh ! ” Mrs. James and her sister seized the dainty gold-lettered trifle, and bumped their heads together in the eagerness with which they bent over it to see what a cardinal would give his friends for dinner.
“ I hope that your Eminence enjoyed the little basket of fruit I took the liberty to send yesterday,” Monsignore had said the evening before, in a momentary pause in the talk about the table. “It was from a friend’s garden, and I thought it choice.”
“ It was most excellent! ” was the gracious answer. “ I have never eaten better.”
And here the odor of truffles stole into Monsignore’s nostrils from a dish waiting at his left elbow. Oh, how he loved that man sitting opposite him. glorious in scarlet and diamonds, and still more glorious as the dispenser of such bounties! His Eminence would have been proclaimed Pope on the instant, if Monsignore Appetitoso had had the power. Oh, how he loved him ! What! Château Yquem ? He would die for that man — that god! And then to have directly before his plate an exquisite dish of Spillman’s best candies, and to know that what he did not eat then he could carry away in a bonbonnière !
Poor Monsignore had fo wink hard more than once during dinner to keep from crying outright with rapture and gratitude. When they arrived at the liquors, tears were, in fact, running down his cheeks. But as all the reverend company were by this time in a more or less beaming condition, no one observed his emotion.
“ Eminence,” said Mrs. Landon, the first time he visited her after Christmas, “ I knew, of course, that you are intimate with the saints; but I was not aware that the pagan divinities also serve you. You must he on the best of terms with the Hesperides. Nowhere but in their orchards could have been mingled the fire and honey of your delicious mandarins.”
His Eminence bowed smilingly.
“ I am happy to know that you found them to your taste,” he said, in his superb, deliberate way. “ They were, in fact, from — err — the garden of a friend.”
Mary Agnes Tincker.