— A turned-up nose and an insignificant figure, an absent mind and a treacherous memory, are offset in our man Friday by a never - failing courtesy, the friendliest smile, and the most willing legs that ever obeyed the beck of a kindly soul. Foreigners learning Italian grow desperate when they hear him talk, and are struck dumb with the conviction that they can never acquire his pretty grace notes, never put in the già at just the right place or imitate the graceful phrasing ; in short, never speak the sweet idiom as a Tuscan peasant does. Though born and bred in a remote hamlet on the Pistoian hills, Gigi Mattei has dug in the Sardinian mines, pasted bills on the Roman walls, sold Bibles in Corsica, and swept the Senate House. At one time it was his part to play the “ pedagogue,” — in other words, to accompany the writer to and from school ; for it was less then than now, even, the custom for girls to be seen on the Roman streets alone. Our walks were most animated, as Mattei is an enthusiastic politician, and, when alone, meanders through the crowded ways with an outspread newspaper close under his eyes, happily oblivious of carriages, carts, and horses, that seem, for some vague reason, to respect his studious, obscure person. Reading at every chance, he has picked up ideas on most subjects ; and although, if sent for a paint-brush or lemon-squeezer, he will buy one which comes to pieces at the first stroke, he has his own conceptions of history and prophecy. After pursuing a lecturer on the Forum like a faithful shadow for several Sunday afternoons, he gave a racy résumé of Roman history, closing with the indignant ejaculation, “ Eh ! but a great rascal, that Marius ! ” One day, Chiara, who entertained an affectionate contempt for the household scapegrace, called him up for an errand of her own. “ Sor Matteo ” (she would distort his surname into a Christian one), “ will you do a pleasure ? ” “ Even two, Chiara mine.” “ Bravo, Matteo ! You see this basket of kittens : well, I want you to take them out for me.” “And drown them?” says Mattei. “ Nevermore,” responds Chiara. “ What have they done, poor beasts, that they should make that ugly death ? No ; take them to an eating-house outside the gates, where they can find two bones to live on, and say to the host, with a little good manner : ‘ See. Sor Oste, I have brought you five fine cats who will drive all your mice away. They are splendid creatures. I would keep them myself, but I have no place.’ ” Mattei promised good-naturedly to obey, slipped the covered basket on his arm, picked up his paper, and departed, to return some time later with a rueful face. Chiara asked how he had sped. “ Eh ! Chiara mine, I did just as you said, and I found a nice osteria near Porta Maggiore where the man said I might leave the poor creatures ; but when I opened the basket to show them, not one was there ! ” Chiara interposed : “ I wager, Sor Matteo, you were reading the Capitan Fracassa all the way.” He shamefacedly acknowledged it, and Chiara laughed loud and long, regretting to the day of her death that she did not see “ Sor Matteo ” going along with his nose in the paper, while five kittens leaped out in the rear. “ To think,” she murmured, “ that the imbecile never felt the difference in the weight of the basket ! ”
Coming down the palace stairs, books and lunch basket in hand, at four o’clock, I generally found Mattei in the hall poring over his journal, and ready to welcome me with a grin that put the Alice in Wonderland cat to shame. On our way home I was regaled with the latest news, or treated to reminiscences of the time when he was the village curate’s right-hand man to sing in the Midnight Mass. I say generally, for sometimes the hall would be dismally empty, and after waiting until the sharp tramontane had penetrated to the marrow of my bones I would conclude that some disaster had occurred at home, and creep back alone through the fast-darkening streets, shying as the words “ Pretty sympathetic one ” or a prolonged smack of the lips greeted my progress. At home I usually found all serene, and late in the evening Mattei would saunter amiably in to know if the “signori” commanded anything; whereupon greeted by an irate relation with the angry query, “ Why did you not fetch the signorina this afternoon ? ” the perennial grin would fade into utter despair of countenance, and Mattei, casting his soft, napless hat upon the ground, would exclaim, “ By Bacchus ! What a head ! What a beast ! I forgot,” lost in such genuine and ludicrous contrition that the most hardhearted accuser felt his thunder stolen.
Mattei’s memory is always playing us tricks ; he might safely be trusted with millions of francs, but he comes back with unanswered notes and uncashed checks, and leaves behind the bundle he went to get, until now any mention of his name raises a smile among our friends. Bacchus is being constantly invoked, for after every errand Mattei forgets where he has put his hat, and turns piteously to his wife : “ Isola mine, did n’t I have it on when I came in ? ”
One grateful Boston lady, for whom Mattei had called more than one carriage and done many an errand, presented him, on her departure, with a resplendent black and yellow satin cravat. It was observed that only once a year, when this lady visited Rome, did Mattei don his finery ; at other times a wilted black tie did duty under the cheerful grin. On my remarking, the third winter, that the cravat was wearing well, he replied : “ What will you have, signorina ? I put it on only when the Signora Lorrrde comes to find us. I am a poor mail, but I am an Italian, and I cannot wear the colors of Austria.”
Passionately fond as a lad of playing cards, his father came to him one day, saying, “ Look here, Gigi, you will have to stop this ; we can’t have such squandering.” " You do it,” retorted he. “Yes, but no family can stand two gamesters at once.” “Well, then,” quoth Luigi, “ you stop, for you have had your turn, and I have only just begun.” He meant no disrespect, but was simply expressing his idea of justice ; and when, years later, this same father came down from the mountains, after the death of his good old wife Columbine, to be cared for by his son in Rome, he was served with the devotion and tenderness of a loving woman. “ Why, signorina,” said Mattei, with tears in his eyes, a few weeks before his father’s death, when he was tramping all over the city to find a bottle of the sincere wine dear to the heart of the ancient peasant, “ I would carry him on the palms of my hands.”
Every life has its romance, and Mattei’s is centred in a curly - headed little maid, who inherits her father’s big mouth and retroussé nose, but has a face as bright as a flash and can declaim like a true daughter of the South ; and in her mother, the first wife, a consumptive, shiftless Roman, whose tribe of vagabond relations borrowed his money, told his secrets, and infested the dirty kitchen. Her successor, a strongminded, capable Tuscan, who keeps his house and children in irreproachable order and neatness, but thinks he has not backbone enough and lets him know it, has never won the love which embalmed the gentler Agnes. When congratulated by practical minds who assert that he could not have found a better wife for himself and mother for the children, he responds ambiguously, “ I don’t know ; ’ and when he passes through the narrow streets near the Cancelleria he grows absent-minded, and says dreamily, “ Eh ! I know these parts. That tall, dark house is where my Agnesina lived when we were betrothed to each other, eighteen years ago.”
I verily believe that, with the exception of King Humbert, Mattei has the largest bowing (or rather, nodding) acquaintance in Rome, and I have yet to hear of a trade in which he has not a friend. Of this large public he is the servant, the willing slave of every claimant. A colossal share of the pan giallo, Rome’s Christmas dainty, which Mattei won at the lottery, lingers with grateful fragrance in a child’s memory, but I have waited five years to obtain a set of shelves for which this factotum amiably advanced the money (refunded by me) to a strange but handsome and beguiling young carpenter. It is Mattei who registers the community’s babies and attends to the details of the funerals ; every one calls on him for everything, and of course every one snubs and scolds him. too. The scanty hair is growing very gray, and he does not forget as often as of old. Perhaps some day, when the insignificant body has gone to its rest, Isola and the other critics may find that a loving spirit dwelt among them, and that they comprehended it not.