A Roman of the Romans


OUR Chiara always speaks of herself as “ this Colosseum ; ” half proudly, half sadly referring to her antiquity, her origin, and her round, unwieldy shape. Rheumatism has crept into her dear, willing old legs, so that the lament of her energetic soul is : “I was born too soon. Spirit is not lacking, Signorina, but the foundations are very poor.” With a twinkle in her brown eyes, she compares herself to the fabled tortoise, who took seven years to climb the mountain, but tumbled down when he reached the top, exclaiming, “ Bother take haste, and him who invented it ! ” Despite her eighty years, however, she makes risotto as savory as Esau’s pottage, and her soup would put life into a dead man. A New England housewife need not be ashamed of the neatness of a kitchen whose mistress scallops the papers on her shelves, and dissipates Sunday afternoons in bathing and arranging her copper saucepans in the most artistic manner. Chiara considers a few things indispensable to her profession, and of course among these are a pot of parsley on the window sill, a bunch of small tomatoes, and several long strings of onions hanging from her shelves. The monthly purchase of these last from a curly-headed boy of the Campagna, in a picturesque blue jacket, who comes around laden with brooms and onions, is one of the family comedies. He is an old friend of Chiara, so they open negotiations in an amicable way, and she sweetly inquires the price of an attractive string. His answer, fifty soldi, is met with horror-struck indignation and a volley of opprobrious titles, and Chiara slams the door in his face, crying : “ My son, I cannot combat with a lunatic ; my dinner needs me.” The vender responds with a loud peal of the doorbell. Chiara laughs self-consciously, but opens the door with an angry countenance. The curly-headed youth implores Chiara to make him an offer, and she proposes to give fifteen soldi, if he will throw in a broom ; whereupon it is the onionist’s turn to he insulted, and he departs in high dudgeon. Chiara settles down to chopping herbs, to he resummoned in a few moments by her friend, who says that as she is an old customer, and he needs money, he will make her a present of the string for forty soldi. Of course it is simply as an accommodation to her, and not to have to lug such a load through the streets. He begs her to show them to her mistress, insisting that when she sees them she will want such onions at any price. Chiara laughs him to scorn (“onions are not pink silk”), but consents to pay twenty soldi, as she “ needs onions.” This performance is repeated four or five times, Chiara again and again retreating to cook an imaginary beefsteak (beefsteak being a synonym, in Rome, for what is recherché in food), and her opponent protesting that she must take him for a Jew, to offer him such prices. After twenty minutes of vociferations, stormy departures, and sundry bell-ringings, the onions, with another bunch thrown in for good measure, are bought for twenty-five soldi, and the satisfied youth leaves, with a friendly farewell and a promise to return as soon as she needs more, while Chiara drags her purchase in triumphantly, with the remark, “ Povero Figliuolo, he let me have them very cheap.”

The most accomplished waiter cannot keep Chiara out of the dining-room when we are reveling in her good dishes ; for, under some pretext or another, the need of fork or spoon, she slips in to know whether her tidbits please i padroni, who are dearer to her than any of her eight children, and to whom she clings with the loyalty of an old retainer. This feminine Caleb Balderstone apologizes to guests for any lack of luxuries or plate with the statement that her mistress has not yet unpacked the safe where the silver is kept during the summer. (This safe is, of course, as shadowy as the oft-mentioned steak.) Considering herself the watchdog of the family purse, she responds to respectable-looking young gentlemen who wish to see the padrone on important business with a sympathetic but decided “ not at home.” One day, when her veracity was impeached by an individual who saw the master in question passing casually through the hall, she replied at once : “ Oh, that is not my padrone ; it is the dining-room servant, who, poor man, has no more than I, though we would both gladly serve you.”

This same Chiara is like a well-worn story-book, for the Lethe of years has not touched her memory ; and having lived under five popes, she can tell many a tale of her pet heroes and the short-lived republic of ’49. Next to her description of Garibaldi’s entry into Rome, we like to hear of how she sheltered one of the Italian Liberals in the days of Gregory XVI. The story is tame without a sight of the quaint old figure, in her full, short woolen skirt, flowered shawl, and snowy chemise, the enthusiastic face framed by wavy gray hair, and the sound of the graphic Roman dialect; but I will try to put down here in cold pen-and-ink English what she tells in a more glowing tongue.

“You know that big palace on the Via Condotti, where the court florist has his shop. Well, that is Palazzo Lepre. That belonged to him, and he was a real gentleman. He wished me so well, he used to say, poor man, ‘ Chiara mine, if we ever get through these bad times, you shall see what I will do for you.’ Eh ! poveretto ! God wished it so ; but if he had lived, perhaps at this hour Chiara wouldn’t have been as poor as she is.”

Here she relapses into silence, and Susie has to start her off again by asking, “ How did you know him, Chiara ? ”

She stirs the embers in the little earthen scaldino on her lap, and begins anew : —

“Well, Signorina, it was so. In those ugly years before ’48, when that poor man of my husband was alive, we lived in a house at Sant’ Isidoro, where I had been ever since I was born, and of course I knew everybody in the neighborhood. One day Sora ’Malia, who lived just opposite, called me from the window to come over, as she had some washing for me. Imagine, Signorina, whether I went quickly. Chiara was n’t any Colosseum then, and the will to work never was lacking. A woman of spirit I have been always. Sora ’Malia opened the door for me herself, led me into the kitchen, and shut the door. ‘Now, Chiara mine,’ she said, ‘ you have got to do something which, if it is known, will send us both to the Inquisition.’ ‘God preserve me from it, then,’ said I. ‘ I’ve got little children to think of, and a poor woman like me can’t he mixing herself up with the Holy Office. Give me the wash, and let me go.’ But Sora ’Malia did n’t stir. ‘ No,’ she answered, ‘ if you hold your tongue you have nothing to fear, and you can save the life of a man who will not be ungrateful. It is the poor Marquis Lepre, who has been long suspected by those who command of conspiring with, and sending papers to, the Liberals outside. Last night, while they who think like him were having a meeting in his palace in Via Condotti, the police came. His valet gave warning just in time for him to escape by sliding down a rope into the court. Most of the rest were caught, poor things. He came right here, because I used to be his mother’s maid, and for her sake he knew I would take him in. But, Chiara, that mother-in-law of mine is so bigoted she has roaches [the vulgar, disrespectful name for priests] about the house all the time, and if she discovers him hid in my closet he is done for. You can hide him, and no one will suspect a poor woman like you.’

“ I did not know what to do. On one side was the danger to mine, on the other that poor gentleman ; for to say no to Sora ’Malia was to give him over to prison, or worse. ‘ Do you think he could stay in that little place under the floor, where I keep those few chickens I raise. ? ’ I asked at last. ‘ Yes, anywhere. God bless you for a heart of gold, Chiara. It is only a few days, and then we shall find another refuge for him. You’ll have your reward some day.’ She got me the clothes, and said he would come over that night.

“I went home to tell my husband. At first he was not contented, but he always let me have my way, knowing me not a woman of caprices ; and then he was a Garibaldino himself, though he never said much about it. There was a little trap door in the floor, opening into a cellar where I kept my chickens. I had sold all but one hen to the cooper in Piazza Barberini, so I cleaned out the place, put a chair in it and a bit of carpet an English lady had given me, so that it looked quite civil, and that Stella of mine begged to play down there ; she said it was as pretty as a presepio.

“ About two hours after Ave Maria, Sora ‘Malia’s husband brought over the marquis, whose hands were still all torn and wounded from that fearful slide down into the court. Ah ! he was a handsome man, as tall as an Englishman, with real Roman eyes, and no pretension at all. At first we were all in subjection to him, — such an aristocratic person, — but in a little while my Beppino was sitting on his knee, and playing with his seals and watchchain, as though the marquis had been his godfather. After that the poor gentleman used to stay in the little cellar as long as it was light. That hen of mine laid every day the most beautiful egg, as large as the ones they sell at the dairies for three baiocchi apiece ; and when I fried it in just a thread of oil, and carried it to the marquis with a glass of good wine, he would say, with that sympathetic smile of his, ‘ You have given me a diplomatic dinner, Chiara.’ Eggs are good that way, Signorina. I am going to make you one for breakfast to-morrow ; you must be tired of that poultice [so Chiara denominates oatmeal], and I can put in an idea of butter instead of the oil. The English are not propitious to oil. Eh ! I know what foreigners like, for I have served them from a child, and my mother before me. Romans are good for certain things, but for delicacy of sentiment Chiara prefers foreigners. There is no denying it, Romans are beasts for certain things.” (In spite of this harsh statement, there is an unconscious straightening up as Chiara pronounces the words, “ I am a Roman myself.”)

“ In the evening my eldest boy, Cencio (he afterwards ran away to serve with Garibaldi), would be sent out to buy cigars, my husband would take the oil from a flask of Velletri wine, doors and shutters were bolted, and we all sat around like old neighbors and drank to the health of Marquis Lepre, and under our breath to the Liberals. The marquis used to tell us of the good times for the people if the Italians came to Rome.”

Here Susie interrupts Chiara with, “But you are an Italian yourself.”

No, Signorina, we are Romans ; those of outside are Italians. Basta ! before a week we all felt as though he were of our own blood. Alas ! one night I dreamed of water, — that means misfortune, you know, — and I had a black presentiment in my soul when I waked. That very evening Sora ’Malia’s husband came in to say that they were afraid for the gentleman to stay too long in one place, and they had found him a room near Montanaro. They’d better have left him with me. Chiara betrays no man. They thought the marquis might be recognized if he went out in his own clothes, so I looked up a gray suit which an American gentleman had given me for my husband, the winter before, and when he put them on he looked almost a foreigner. Before he went away he came up to me where I was standing by the fornello, and he said : ‘ Chiara, if ever I am a free man, you shall never want. Giovanni Lepre is your friend.’ Something seemed to choke in his throat, and he bent over and kissed my hand. Figure it to yourself, Signorina, — kissed Chiara’s hand. Before I could find myself again they were gone.

“ It seemed as if the end of the world had come. I put my head down and wept as if he had been my first-born. Gigi told me not to be an imbecile, the man was not dead ; but that water of my dream was ever before my eyes, and I knew I should not see him any more. Pazienza ! God willed it so, but that good American never knew his clothes would go to finish in San Michele, the prison on the Tiber. Yes, they caught him three days after. That witch of a woman at Montanaro betrayed him to the guards. He never lived to see liberty come to Rome. They said he died in prison, but who knows what poisons they gave him ! Those thieves have no conscience. Poor gentleman, he wished me so well 1 ”

The Right to be Let Alone.

— Surely it is impossible that the law, which we are accustomed to regard as an agency for protecting our lives and our pockets, with a perfect disregard of our feelings, should stoop to concern itself with the privacy of the individual; and yet nothing less than this appears to be the conclusion of a learned and interesting article in a recent number of the Harvard Law Review, entitled The Right to Privacy.

It seems that the great doctrine of Development rules not only in biology and theology, but in the law as well ; so that whenever, in the long process of civilization, man generates a capacity for being made miserable by his fellows in some new way, the law, after a decent interval, steps in to protect him. Thus, our primeval ancestors cared nothing for their reputation, but hated to be beaten with clubs ; and accordingly, at first, the courts took notice only of actual “battery,” allowing the enemy’s tongue to wag as it would. Next, as people grew more sensitive, the simple threat of violence became unpleasant, and so the law stepped in to prevent and punish the use of truculent language by one man to another. Ages again elapsed, and, the nervous system having now attained a morbid development, judges were forced to admit that mere noise might be an injury, and so the beating of drums and other loud sounds calculated to exasperate one’s neighbor were held to be actionable. Slander and libel, after another protracted interval, began to seem unpleasant, and the courts, awaking to a perception of this new fact, declared that man had a legal right to his reputation.

What, then, remains for this age of super-refinement to accomplish in a similar direction? It appears that our courts are on the very brink of announcing that the individual has a right to privacy ; that photographers may not take or sell his picture without permission ; that publishers may not, unauthorized, print his correspondence ; that the newspapers are not, as we had all supposed, free to describe and ridicule the peculiarities, depravities, and deformities of himself and of his household.

But is there nothing left in the way of liberty ? Is nobody to be fair game for the curiosity, interest, and ridicule of the great public ? Yea, one proscribed class is to remain undefended by the law, and, like the Egyptian embalmers, legitimate subjects of insult and contempt. Whoever aspires to political office must in the future, as of yore, bare his bosom, and the bosoms of all his household, to the gaze, the criticism, and the scorn of the vulgar. A bill, which is supposed to declare the common law, and has been drawn for consideration by the General Court of Massachusetts, after providing that no statement shall be published about private matters contrary to the wish of the person concerned, makes an exception as to any person “ who holds, has held, or is seeking to obtain ” an office, or “ is a candidate,” or “is suggested as a candidate,” therefor.

Will it, one cannot help wondering, be possible, under this new law, to “ suggest ” one’s enemy as “ a candidate ” (however impossible), and then proceed to deride in the public prints his qualifications for the office to which he is thus “ suggested ” ? Such is the inquiry of an unsophisticated layman.