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List Of Contents | Contents of Saunterings, by Charles Dudley Warner
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fruit, and know the male orange from the female, though which it is
that is the sweeter I can never remember (and should not dare to say,
if I did, in the present state of feeling on the woman question),--or
he might as well eat a lemon.  The mercenary aspect of my query does
not enter in here.  I climb into a tree, and reach out to the end of
the branch for an orange that has got reddish in the sun, that comes
off easily and is heavy; or I tickle a large one on the top bough
with a cane pole; and if it drops readily, and has a fine grain, I
call it a cheap one.  I can usually tell whether they are good by
splitting them open and eating a quarter.  The Italians pare their
oranges as we do apples; but I like best to open them first, and see
the yellow meat in the white casket.  After you have eaten a few from
one tree, you can usually tell whether it is a good tree; but there
is nothing certain about it,--one bough that gets the sun will be
better than another that does not, and one half of an orange will
fill your mouth with more delicious juices than the other half.

The oranges that you knock off with your stick, as you walk along the
lanes, don't cost anything; but they are always sour, as I think the
girls know who lean over the wall, and look on with a smile: and, in
that, they are more sensible than the lively dogs which bark at you
from the top, and wake all the neighborhood with their clamor.  I
have no doubt the oranges have a market price; but I have been
seeking the value the gardeners set on them themselves.  As I walked
towards the heights, the other morning, and passed an orchard, the
gardener, who saw my ineffectual efforts, with a very long cane, to
reach the boughs of a tree, came down to me with a basketful he had
been picking.  As an experiment on the price, I offered him a
two-centime piece, which is a sort of satire on the very name of
money,--when he desired me to help myself to as many oranges as I
liked.  He was a fine-looking fellow, with a spick-span new red
Phrygian cap; and I had n't the heart to take advantage of his
generosity, especially as his oranges were not of the sweetest.  One
ought never to abuse generosity.

Another experience was of a different sort, and illustrates the
Italian love of bargaining, and their notion of a sliding scale of
prices.  One of our expeditions to the hills was one day making its
long, straggling way through the narrow street of a little village of
the Piano, when I lingered behind my companions, attracted by a
handcart with several large baskets of oranges.  The cart stood
untended in the street; and selecting a large orange, which would
measure twelve inches in circumference, I turned to look for the
owner.  After some time a fellow got from the open front of the
neighboring cobbler's shop, where he sat with his lazy cronies,
listening to the honest gossip of the follower of St. Crispin, and
sauntered towards me.

"How much for this?" I ask.

"One franc, signor," says the proprietor, with a polite bow, holding
up one finger.

I shake my head, and intimate that that is altogether too much, in
fact, preposterous.

The proprietor is very indifferent, and shrugs his shoulders in an
amiable manner.  He picks up a fair, handsome orange, weighs it in
his hand, and holds it up temptingly.  That also is one, franc.

I suggest one sou as a fair price, a suggestion which he only
receives with a smile of slight pity, and, I fancy, a little disdain.
A woman joins him, and also holds up this and that gold-skinned one
for my admiration.

As I stand, sorting over the fruit, trying to please myself with
size, color, and texture, a little crowd has gathered round; and I
see, by a glance, that all the occupations in that neighborhood,
including loafing, are temporarily suspended to witness the trade.
The interest of the circle visibly increases; and others take such a
part in the transaction that I begin to doubt if the first man is,
after all, the proprietor.

At length I select two oranges, and again demand the price.  There is
a little consultation and jabber, when I am told that I can have both
for a franc.  I, in turn, sigh, shrug my shoulders, and put down the
oranges, amid a chorus of exclamations over my graspingness.  My
offer of two sous is met with ridicule, but not with indifference.  I
can see that it has made a sensation.  These simple, idle children of
the sun begin to show a little excitement.  I at length determine
upon a bold stroke, and resolve to show myself the Napoleon of
oranges, or to meet my Waterloo.  I pick out four of the largest
oranges in the basket, while all eyes are fixed on me intently, and,
for the first time, pull out a piece of money.  It is a two-sous
piece.  I offer it for the four oranges.

"No, no, no, no, signor!  Ah, signor!  ah, signor!" in a chorus from
the whole crowd.

I have struck bottom at last, and perhaps got somewhere near the
value; and all calmness is gone.  Such protestations, such
indignation, such sorrow, I have never seen before from so small a
cause.  It cannot be thought of; it is mere ruin!  I am, in turn, as
firm, and nearly as excited in seeming.  I hold up the fruit, and
tender the money.

"No, never, never!  The signor cannot be in earnest."

Looking round me for a moment, and assuming a theatrical manner,
befitting the gestures of those about me, I fling the fruit down,
and, with a sublime renunciation, stalk away.

There is instantly a buzz and a hum that rises almost to a clamor.  I
have not proceeded far, when a skinny old woman runs after me, and
begs me to return.  I go back, and the crowd parts to receive me.

The proprietor has a new proposition, the effect of which upon me is
intently watched.  He proposes to give me five big oranges for four
sous.  I receive it with utter scorn, and a laugh of derision.  I
will give two sous for the original four, and not a centesimo more.
That I solemnly say, and am ready to depart.  Hesitation and renewed
conference; but at last the proprietor relents; and, with the look of
one who is ruined for life, and who yet is willing to sacrifice
himself, he hands me the oranges.  Instantly the excitement is dead,
the crowd disperses, and the street is as quiet as ever; when I walk
away, bearing my hard-won treasures.

A little while after, as I sat upon the outer wall of the terrace of
the Camaldoli, with my feet hanging over, these same oranges were
taken from my pockets by Americans; so that I am prevented from
making any moral reflections upon the honesty of the Italians.

There is an immense garden of oranges and lemons at the village of
Massa, through which travelers are shown by a surly fellow, who keeps
watch of his trees, and has a bulldog lurking about for the unwary.
I hate to see a bulldog in a fruit orchard.  I have eaten a good many
oranges there, and been astonished at the boughs of immense lemons
which bend the trees to the ground.  I took occasion to measure one
of the lemons, called a citron-lemon, and found its circumference to
be twenty-one inches one way by fifteen inches the other,--about as
big as a railway conductor's lantern.  These lemons are not so sour
as the fellow who shows them: he is a mercenary dog, and his prices
afford me no clew to the just value of oranges.

I like better to go to a little garden in the village of Meta, under
a sunny precipice of rocks overhung by the ruined convent of
Camaldoli.  I turn up a narrow lane, and push open the wooden door in
the garden of a little villa.  It is a pretty garden; and, besides
the orange and lemon-trees on the terrace, it has other fruit-trees,
and a scent of many flowers.  My friend, the gardener, is sorting
oranges from one basket to another, on a green bank, and evidently
selling the fruit to some women, who are putting it into bags to
carry away.

When he sees me approach, there is always the same pantomime.  I
propose to take some of the fruit he is sorting.  With a knowing air,
and an appearance of great mystery, he raises his left hand, the palm
toward me, as one says hush.  Having dispatched his business, he
takes an empty basket, and with another mysterious flourish, desiring
me to remain quiet, he goes to a storehouse in one corner of the
garden, and returns with a load of immense oranges, all soaked with
the sun, ripe and fragrant, and more tempting than lumps of gold.  I
take one, and ask him if it is sweet.  He shrugs his shoulders,
raises his hands, and, with a sidewise shake of the head, and a look
which says, How can you be so faithless? makes me ashamed of my

I cut the thick skin, which easily falls apart and discloses the
luscious quarters, plump, juicy, and waiting to melt in the mouth.  I
look for a moment at the rich pulp in its soft incasement, and then
try a delicious morsel.  I nod.  My gardener again shrugs his
shoulders, with a slight smile, as much as to say, It could not be
otherwise, and is evidently delighted to have me enjoy his fruit.  I
fill capacious pockets with the choicest; and, if I have friends with
me, they do the same.  I give our silent but most expressive
entertainer half a franc, never more; and he always seems surprised
at the size of the largesse.  We exhaust his basket, and he proposes
to get more.

When I am alone, I stroll about under the heavily-laden trees, and
pick up the largest, where they lie thickly on the ground, liking to
hold them in my hand and feel the agreeable weight, even when I can
carry away no more.  The gardener neither follows nor watches me; and
I think perhaps knows, and is not stingy about it, that more valuable
to me than the oranges I eat or take away are those on the trees
among the shining leaves.  And perhaps he opines that I am from a
country of snow and ice, where the year has six hostile months, and
that I have not money enough to pay for the rich possession of the
eye, the picture of beauty, which I take with me.


There are three places where I should like to live; naming them in
the inverse order of preference,--the Isle of Wight, Sorrento, and

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