The Senator's Laundry
Signora Mirandolina Rocca, who was the landlady of the house where the
Club were lodging, was a widow, of about forty years of age, still
fresh and blooming, with a merry dark eye, and much animation of
features. Sitting usually in the small room which they passed on the
way to their apartments, they had to stop to get their keys, or to
leave them when they went out, and Buttons and Dick frequently stopped
to have a li
tle conversation. The rest, not being able to speak
Italian, contented themselves with smiles; the Senator particularly,
who gave the most beaming of smiles both on going and on returning.
Sometimes he even tried to talk to her in his usual adaptation of
broken English, spoken in loud tones to the benighted but fascinating
foreigner. Her attention to Dick during his sickness increased the
Senator's admiration, and he thought her one of the best, one of the
most kind-hearted and sympathetic of beings.
One day, toward the close of their stay in Rome, the Senator was in a
fix. He had not had any washing done since he came to the city. He had
run through all his clean linen, and came to a dead stand. Before
leaving for another place it was absolutely necessary to attend to
this. But how? Buttons was off with the Spaniards; Dick had gone out on
a drive. No one could help him, so he tried it himself. In fact, he had
never lost confidence in his powers of making himself understood. It
was still a fixed conviction of his that in cases of necessity any
intelligent man could make his wants known to intelligent foreigners.
If not, there is stupidity somewhere. Had he not done so in Paris and
in other places?
So he rang and managed to make the servant understand that he wished to
see the landlady. The landlady had always shown a great admiration for
the manly, not to say gigantic charms of the Senator. Upon him she
bestowed her brightest smile, and the quick flush on her face and
heaving breast told that the Senator had made wild work with her too
So now when she learned that the Senator wished to see her, she at once
imagined the cause to be any thing and every thing except the real one.
Why take that particular time, when all the rest were out? she thought.
Evidently for some tender purpose. Why send for her? Why not come down
to see her? Evidently because he did not like the publicity of her room
at the Conciergerie.
She arrayed herself, therefore, in her brightest and her best charms;
gave an additional flourish to her dark hair that hung wavingly and
luxuriantly, and still without a trace of gray, over her forehead;
looked at herself with her dark eyes in the glass to see if she
appeared to the best advantage; and finally, in some agitation, but
with great eagerness, she went to obey the summons.
Meantime the Senator had been deliberating how to begin. He felt that
he could not show his bundle of clothes to so fair and fine a creature
as this, whose manners were so soft and whose smile so pleasant. He
would do anything first. He would try a roundabout way of making known
his wishes, trusting to his own powers and the intelligence of the lady
for a full and complete understanding. Just as he had come to this
conclusion there was a timid knock at the door.
"Come in," said the Senator, who began to feel a little awkward
"E permesso?" said a soft, sweet voice, "se puo entrare?" and
Signora Mirandolina Rocca advanced into the room, giving one look at
the Senator, and then casting down her eyes.
"Umilissima serva di Lei, Signore, mi commandi."
But the Senator was in a quandary. What could he do? How begin? What
gesture would be the most fitting for a beginning?
The pause began to be embarrassing. The lady, however, as yet was
calm--calmer, in fact, than when she entered.
So she spoke once more.
"Di che ha Ella bisogna, Illustrissimo?"
The Senator was dreadfully embarrassed. The lady was so fair in his
eyes. Was this a woman who could contemplate the fact of soiled linen?
"Ehem!" said he.
Then he paused.
"Serva devota," said Signora Mirandolina. "Che c'e, Signore."
Then, looking up, she saw the face of the Senator, all rosy red, turned
toward her with a strange confusion and embarrassment in his eye; yet
it was a kind eye--a soft, kind eye.
"Egli e forse innamorato di me," murmured the lady, gathering new
courage as she saw the timidity of the other. "Che grandezza!" she
continued, loud enough for the Senator to hear, yet speaking as if to
herself. "Che bellezza! un galantuomo, certamente--e quest' e molto
She glanced at the manly figure of the Senator with a tender admiration
in her eye, which she could not repress, and which was so intelligible
to the Senator that he blushed more violently than ever, and looked
helplessly around him.
"E innamorato di me, senza dubio," said the Signora, "vergogna non
vuol che si sapesse."
The Senator at length found voice. Advancing toward the lady he looked
at her very earnestly, and as she thought very piteously held out both
his hands, then smiled, then spread his hands apart, then nodded and
smiled again, and said:
know--me--gentleman--hum--me----Confound the luck!" he added, in
"Signore," said Mirandolina, "la di Lei gentelezza me confonde."
The Senator turned his eyes all around, everywhere, in a desperate,
half-conscious search for escape from an embarrassing situation.
"Signore noi ci siamo sole, nessuno ci senti," remarked the Signora
"Me want to tell you this!" burst forth the Senator. "Clothes--you
know--washy--washy." Whereupon he elevated his eyebrows, smiled, and
brought the tips of his fingers together.
"Io non so che cosa vuol dir mi, Illustrissimo," said the Signora, in
"You--you--you know. Ah? Washy? Hey? No, no," shaking his head, "not
washy, but get washy."
The landlady smiled. The Senator, encouraged by this, came a step
"Che cosa? Il cuor me palpita. Io tremo," murmured La Rocca.
She retreated a step. Whereupon the Senator at once fell back again in
"Washy, washy," he repeated mechanically, as his mind was utterly vague
"Uassi-Uassi?" repeated the other interrogatively.
"Tu," said she, with tender emphasis.
"Wee, mounseer," said he, with utter desperation.
The Signora shook her head.
"Non capisco. Ma quelle, balordaggini ed intormentimente, che sono si
non segni manifesti d'amore?"
"I don't understand, marm, a single word of that."
The Signora smiled. The Senator took courage again.
"The fact is this, marm," said he firmly, "I want to get my clothes
washed somewhere. Of course you don't do it, but you can tell me, you
"Madame," said he, feeling confident that she would understand that
word at least, and thinking, too, that it might perhaps serve as a key
to explain any other words which he might append to it, "my clothes--I
want to get them washed--laundress--washy--soap and water--clean 'em
all up--iron 'em--hang 'em out to dry. Ha?"
While saying this he indulged in an expressive pantomime. When alluding
to his clothes he placed his hands against his chest, when mentioning
the drying of them he waved them in the air. The landlady comprehended
this. How not? When a gentleman places his hand on his heart, what is
"O sottigliezza d'amore!" murmured she. "Che cosa cerca," she
continued, looking up timidly but invitingly.
The Senator felt doubtful at this, and in fact a little frightened.
Again he placed his hands on his chest to indicate his clothes; he
struck that manly chest forcibly several times, looking at her all the
time. Then he wrung his hands.
"Ah, Signore," said La Rocca, with a melting glance, "non e d'uopo
"Eppure, se Ella vuol sposarmi, non ce difficolta," returned the
other, with true Italian frankness.
"Soap and water----"
"Non ho il coraggio di dir di no."
The Senator had his arms outstretched to indicate the hanging-out
process. Still, however, feeling doubtful if he were altogether
understood, he thought he would try another form of pantomime. Suddenly
he fell down on his knees, and began to imitate the action of a
washer-woman over her tub, washing, wringing, pounding, rubbing.
"O gran' cielo!" cried the Signora, her pitying heart filled with
tenderness at the sight of this noble being on his knees before her,
and, as she thought, wringing his hands in despair. "O gran' cielo!
Egli e innamorato di me non puo parlar Italiano e cosi non puo
Her warm heart prompted her, and she obeyed its impulse. What else
could she do? She flung herself into his outstretched arms as he raised
himself to hang out imaginary clothes on an invisible line.
The Senator was thunderstruck, confounded, bewildered, shattered,
overcome, crushed, stupefied, blasted, overwhelmed, horror-stricken,
wonder-smitten, annihilated, amazed, horrified, shocked, frightened,
terrified, nonplussed, wilted, awe-struck, shivered, astounded,
dumfounded. He did not even struggle. He was paralysed.
"Ah, carissimo," said a soft and tender voice in his ear, a low,
sweet voice, "se veramenta me ami, saro lo tua carissima sposa----"
At that moment the door opened and Buttons walked in. In an instant he
darted out. The Signora hurried away.
"Addio, bellissima, carissima gioia!" she sighed.
The Senator was still paralysed.
After a time he went with a pale and anxious face to see Buttons. That
young man promised secrecy, and when the Senator was telling his story
tried hard to look serious and sympathetic. In vain. The thought of
that scene, and the cause of it, and the blunder that had been made
overwhelmed him. Laughter convulsed him. At last the Senator got up
indignantly and left the room.
But what was he to do now? The thing could not be explained. How could
he get out of the house? He would have to pass her as she sat at the
He had to call on Buttons again and implore his assistance. The
difficulty was so repugnant, and the matter so very delicate, that
Buttons declared he could not take the responsibility of settling it.
It would have to be brought before the Club.
The Club had a meeting about it, and many plans were proposed. The
stricken Senator had one plan, and that prevailed. It was to leave Rome
on the following day. For his part he had made up his mind to leave the
house at once. He would slip out as though he intended to return, and
the others could settle his bill, and bring with them the clothes that
had caused all this trouble. He would meet them in the morning outside
the gates of the city.
This resolution was adopted by all, and the Senator, leaving money to
settle for himself, went away. He passed hurriedly out of the door. He
dared not look. He heard a soft voice pronounce the word "Gioia!" He
Now that one who owned the soft voice afterward changed her feelings so
much toward her "gioia" that opposite his name in her house-book she
wrote the following epithets: Birbone, Villano, Zolicaccio,
Burberone, Gaglioffo, Meschino, Briconaccio, Anemalaccio.