‘In Italy’ by Mavis Gallant
Close-up of a specimen of night blooming ceres (Ce’reus), ca.1920
From The New Yorker:
“The joke of it is,” Henry kept saying, “the joke is that there’s nothing to leave, nothing at all. No money. Not in any direction. I used up most of the capital year ago. What’s left will nicely do my lifetime.”
Beaming, expectant, he waited for his wife to share the joke. Stella didn’t think it as funny as all that. It was a fine thing to be told, at this stage, that there was no money, that your innocent little child sleeping upstairs had nothing to look forward to but a lifetime of work. She had just been bathing the innocent child. Usually, her evening task consisted only of kissing it good night, for the Mannings were fortunate in their Italian servants, who were efficient, loyal, and cheap.
“They don’t let Stella lift a finger,” Henry always told visitors. “Where can you get that kind of loyalty nowadays, and at such little cost? Not in England, I can tell you.”