A Baromoter of Gayety

— A few steps from the birthplace of Giulio Romano, and within a stone’s throw of the new Victor Emmanuel monument, is a little by-street with a queer name, which has not yet succumbed to the devastating hand of progress. Lumbering diligences, crowded inside with priest and peasant, and laden on top with weary poultry and fresh eggs from the mountains, draw up here every evening and unload their dusty, vociferous burden. Next to the diligence stable is a wine shop of the old Roman type, with grotesquely frescoed walls and great wine vats. When one passes by at night, the eye plunges through a long vista of black tuns and flickering light, with groups of dark-browed folk drinking and playing cards, men wrapping their mantles about them in the fashion of their forefathers, and not less swift than they with their knives in midnight brawls. Opposite this, the cooks and maids of the neighborhood gather each morning around a greengrocer’s, where they chat and munch, and the hours fly by unheeded. It is mortifying to call such a study in color a “ grocery.” The massing of the tender green of the endive salad and darker lettuce, borderings of tiny scarlet tomatoes, fringings of purple and white grapes, big yellow pumpkins in the background, piles of juicy figs to the fore, — such dashes of color, such combinations of shades, all entitle the ortolano to some of the artist’s honors.

But the keynote to my characteristic byway is a place of business facing this shop, and a would-be rival. In a wide, arched doorway, by the side of baskets of wizened apples, speckled pears, and pomegranates, sits a fat old woman, too colossal and lazy ever to drive a flourishing trade. Before her is one of the little iron stands for roasting chestnuts ; and she also deals in vegetables, but each thing is the worst of its kind. On one side hangs a dingy card, inscribed, in shaky capitals, with the words


But over her head is suspended the redeeming feature of the establishment. On a string stretched across the front of the shop, above the decaying cabbages and fried artichokes, is strung a goodly array of mandolins, violins, and guitars,


During the bright October days, Christmas week, and the carousals of carnival not a single instrument is on the line, but Lenten dullness finds the string taut and fully manned ; so I have learned to consider this, Madame Lucrezia’s relative musical display, as a sign of whether our Romans are serenading, making merry, or doing penance.

In old days Madame Lucrezia found in me an occasional customer. Honeyed flattery was distilled into my ear as I bought oranges, and several extras were thrown in when chestnuts were the purchase; but pulpy fruit and worm-eaten shells drove me to her vis-à-vis, a fact naturally resented by this dealer in greens, fine needlework, and musical instruments. Passing in best array and light gloves for calling, I am arrested by a fat paw thrusting forward roasted chestnuts and sticky fruit. Distance is unrecognized by her, and as I go down the street with friends she screams, “ Why don’t you buy from me any more ? ” Sometimes she appeals to me as “ beautiful child,” and again shakes her fist and says bad words. She knows not dignity ; and though she begins to despair of me as a purchaser, she cannot yet quite relinquish the social side of our acquaintance ; and on the days she does not see my cook shopping at her rival’s, opposite, she inquires affectionately after her health, and wishes me a pleasant walk.