Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 133.djvu/706

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ITALIAN SERVANTS VERSUS ENGLISH.

cetta's sentiments towards the well-meaning nuns who had brought her up underwent a change, and the good ladies were destined to be cruelly disappointed in their best pupil. She left us just as we were beginning to rely upon her services, to place herself in the town. Soon after we heard of her dismissal in disgrace for having concealed a young man in a cupboard. Such was the result of the convent training!

"It would be impossible for me to enumerate all our disastrous experiences in the matter of servants, or how many we tried in the course of two years. The worst we were obliged to dismiss, and the better ones would not stay even for triple the usual wages in a place where they could get no amusement. They left us always at the most inconvenient time, and at a moment's notice. Why they could not simply give warning, and leave at the end of a month, or of a fortnight, we never could discover, but for some inscrutable reason their departure was either the result of a laborious intrigue, or what appeared to be a sudden panic. This last mode of proceeding is so well known in the country as to be called a capriccio.

"The ingenuity displayed in concocting a plausible excuse for immediate departure was sometimes remarkable. Marietta or Teresina would suddenly appear on the scene with red eyes, dishevelled hair, and every symptom of distraction. In her hand an open letter. 'Signor! Signora!' she exclaims, sinking on her knees before us. 'Behold this letter! What is to become of me?' The letter, all blotched and scrawled, written evidently in haste and grief, is to implore Marietta, in pathetic terms, to hasten at once to her stricken mother or dying father. She must depart instantly! Of course she will come back again. 'Oh, yes, to-morrow.' She is so sorry to leave us even for a moment; she loves us so; and kissing; us on both cheeks (my husband's sex does not exclude him from this style of salute on solemn occasions), she goes off in the: wagon which has been waiting for her in the turn of the road, and by which her carefully-packed trunk has been conveyed; to the station the day before. Another favorite device is an impatient lover. A letter is produced from the ardent young man, declaring that he can wait no longer. His beloved Lucia or Chiara must fix the wedding-day. Smiles and blushes are the stage business this time. She hopes she has given satisfaction, would not for the world leave us, but Giuseppe is so pressing, and they have waited seven years, and so on. She is quite prepared to state his age, profession, the name of his maternal grandfather, or any other piece of information that may be required concerning Giuseppe; but when we make any attempt to ascertain the truth of these glib statements, we find that the person concerning whom we have heard so much, and whose letter we have read, never existed at all. Nothing daunted, Lucia then declares that if he never existed he must cruelly have deceived her, and she must immediately go in search of him — whereupon she departs. This style of leave-taking is irritating, but at least there is a certain amount of warning. It is more embarrassing to wake up one morning and find that you have not been called because your housemaid has been taken with a capriccio and has disappeared in the middle of the night, or to be in the middle of a fortnightly wash and see your laundress running down the road with her bundle under her arm, leaving the clothes in soak. It is awkward, too, when you are very hungry, and want to know why dinner is not ready, to be told that the cook has been missing some time, and it is supposed that she has run away. When the wet nurse is taken with a capriccio, and leaves the baby crying for its food, the situation is something more than awkward.

"Having made the discovery that capriccios usually occurred immediately after the monthly wages had been paid, it struck us that it might be better to pay the servants quarterly. The result of this experiment was that for three months we got on without the usual casualties, but at the end of that time there was such a general flight that we were obliged to harness the pony-carriage and drive twenty miles to the nearest habitable hotel, where we remained some time before we could again muster an establishment. We were not alone in our misfortunes. Our neighbors condoled with us, but assured us that we were no worse off than they. One of our friends was driving his own carriage from one town to another, with a servant behind; when he arrived at his destination, and looked round for the man to take the horses round to the stable, he discovered that the rogue had slipped out behind and returned to his native village, which they had passed on the way." These are but a few anecdotes of one family's experiences, but may serve to show that English servants are at least not worse than those of other countries.