the captain

So, early the next morning, after the boy from the grocer’s round the
street had given the necessary directions, they found themselves in the
neighbourhood of the Piræus Road, and Mattina toiled after her aunt,
up narrow dusty streets in search of the house where a new serving
maid was wanted.

She was very hot and uncomfortable, for her aunt had insisted on her
wearing her new brown frock with the pocket in it, as being by far
the best in her bundle. This it certainly was, but also very thick
and warm and the heat was coming fast that year. Though the Saint’s
day of St. Constantine and St. Helen was till some time off, the May
wreaths–which are hung over all balconies or front doors of houses in
Athens on the first day of May and left hanging there until replaced by
the fresh wreath, the following year–were already hanging withered and
yellow from the house doors and balconies. After many wrong turnings,
and many inquiries at neighbouring grocers’ and bakers’ shops, the
aunt and the niece stopped before the wide open door of a house in
a street behind the Piræus Road. The narrow entry certainly looked
as if it were a long time since the last serving maid had scrubbed
it. A woman with a long face and a fat body was standing just inside
with a packet of macaroni in her hands.

“What do you want?” she called out sharply.

Kyra Demetroula advanced a step.

“Good day to you, Kyria,” and as she said it she pushed Mattina a
little forward. “They told us that you wanted a girl to serve you,
and because we have heard much good of your house, I have brought
you my niece.”

“Your niece! What? That child! Much work she can do! Who sent you?”

“It was the butcher in the big road here, who told us that….”

“Come inside! Let me see her better! I should never think of such
a small maid but that it is a bad season for servants, and that I
have been three days without one.” Then turning to Mattina, “How old
are you?”

Now no one had ever thought of telling Mattina her age; she was a
big girl, since her mother had often trusted her of late to make
the bread, and that was all she knew about it. She looked up at the
woman and noticed that she had little black eyes like currants, a
nose that went in before it came out, and a mouth that had no lips;
then she quietly answered her question by another one.

“How should I know my years?”

Her aunt interposed hurriedly:–

“She must be fourteen, Kyria.”

“Fourteen! Vegetable marrows! She is not even twelve! From where
is she?”

“From Poros.”

“Poros! I have had many serving-maids from Andros, and some from Tenos,
and one came from Crete, but from Poros … h’m….”

“It is a beautiful island!” returned Mattina, flushing angrily that
anyone should “H’m” at her island. “It has hills and trees down to
the sea, and lemon woods, and big fig trees, and the Sleeper, such
a high mountain as you never saw, and the sea all round everywhere.”

“How should the sea not be round everywhere on an island? Is the girl
an idiot?” and the woman looked at Kyra Demetroula.

“She has but just come from there,” ventured the latter. “Have sympathy
with her; she has not yet learned town speech.”

The woman sniffed.

“Well, what can you do?”

“I can do much.”

“What?”

“I can scrub boards till they are quite white, I can wash clothes,
I can knead three okes[13] of dough at a time, I can weave yarn at the
loom and I can row in a big boat with both oars together.”

The woman laughed.

“Truly, that will be very useful here! You can row the master to the
shop, every morning.”

Mattina looked at her pityingly; she had never before heard people
say things that meant something else.

“That is foolish talk, …” she began, but her aunt pushed her aside
hurriedly:–

“She is very strong, Kyria; when her poor mother, God rest her soul,
lay for three months on her mattress, Mattina here kept all the
house clean and looked after her little brother as well. Take her,
and you will never repent it.”

Just at that moment a hand organ stopped outside in the street, and
began to play the valse from the Dollar Princess. Mattina, with never
a look at the two women, who went on talking, ran out of the passage
to the open street door. All the music she had ever heard in her life
had been the harsh tuneless tunes which men sang sometimes in Poros
at the tavern after they had been drinking, or at best the little folk
songs which the officers of the Naval School sang to the accompaniment
of a guitar on moonlight nights. This beautiful swinging tune coming
out of the tall box when the man turned a handle, was quite new,
and she stood there listening with wide open eyes, her arms hanging
loosely on either side of her, and her lips apart. So intent was she
that at first she did not hear her aunt calling her.

“Mattina! Mattina! Where has the child gone? Mattina! Mattina, I tell
you! Do you not hear?”

“I hear,” she answered at last, retracing her steps reluctantly.

“Come, my child; all is arranged. This good Kyria says she will take
you and teach you many things. She gives only eight drachmæ a month
now, because she wanted a bigger girl. I do not know, that is to say,
whether your uncle will like you to come for so little, but….”

“Of course,” put in the fat woman, “she will have her shoes, a woolen
dress in the winter, two print ones in summer, and her present at
New Year.”

As she walked back to the baker’s shop with her aunt, Mattina was busy
thinking. The dresses did not interest her very much, though she hoped
that one of them might be a pink one, but the present at New Year,
that was another thing! She knew all about presents, though she had
never received one herself. When Panouria, old Lenio’s Panouria,
had been married to Theophani the shoemaker, did not her father
make her a present of a big mirror with a broad gold frame all round
it? This mirror had been brought from Piræus, and Mattina had seen
the men taking it carefully out of its wooden case, and had heard the
neighbours who were standing around, saying that it was a present to
Panouria from her father. Did not Stavro, the son of Pappa Thanassi,
send a present to his mother from America, a big rocking chair all
covered with red velvet? Did not the little ladies from the Red House
on the hill once give a present to Antigone, who lived in the small
house near their gate, when she was so ill, a wonderful doll with
yellow hair, that opened and shut its eyes like a real Christian? Yes,
she knew all about presents! They were beautiful things which were
not really necessary to every-day life, but which people who had
much money gave you to make your heart joyful. Later on, when her
aunt related to her uncle all that the new Kyria had said, adding:–

“I could not get more from her than eight drachmæ for the child;
she looks of the kind that counts every lepton,”[14] Mattina had
said:–

“But there will also be a present at New Year!”

And her aunt had replied in a funny voice,–“Oh, yes! And a fine
present that will be I am sure!”

Then Mattina’s joy was complete. Not only was she to have a present,
but her aunt had said she was sure it would be a fine one; and surely
she knew all about town ways, and the kind of presents that are given
there. Mattina, you see, was not used to people who said one thing,
in fun, and meant another. She often thought of that present, and of
what she would like it to be, if she might choose. And certainly the
poor maid required the comfort of this thought in the long dreary
days which followed the one when she had been left with her bundle
at the house where she was to serve.

It was not the hard work she minded. She had had plenty of that in
Poros; scrubbing, weaving, bread-making which makes the arms so tired,
carrying heavy burdens till one’s back feels as if it would break in
two; all this she knew, but it had been at home in her own island in
Poros, surrounded by people who knew her and had known her father
and mother, and who had a good word for her now and then. And when
work was over, she had been free to run wild among the pines and on
the sea-shore. But work in town never seemed to be over.

Her mother and Kyra Sophoula had often called her a good little worker,
and strong and quick, but in Athens her mistress was always telling
her she had never seen such a clumsy child in her life. Perhaps she
may have been awkward at first, and did break a plate or two, when
it came to washing up basins full of greasy pans, and platters, and
plates, and knives, and forks all muddled up together. But necessity
compelling,–and the difficulty of dodging a blow on the head, when
one’s arms are dipped in soap-suds, and one is standing on a shaky
stool,–made her learn pretty fast how to be careful. Also, at home,
Zacharia had long ago pattered after her on his little bare feet, but
here in Athens, “Bebeko” the smaller of her mistress’s two boys who
was nearly a year older, always cried to be carried when she took them
out, and Mattina found that to carry a fat, squirming, cross boy of
three, and have another of five hanging heavily on her arm or skirts,
was far worse than the heaviest load of sticks she had ever borne.

May melted into June, and June into July, and the days grew hotter
and hotter, and longer and longer, and the longer they grew the more
time there was for work, and the less for sleep. Mattina’s mattress
was in a little dark room half way up the stairs, and as soon as
it was light in the mornings, her mistress would pound on the floor
above, with a walking stick which she kept beside her bed, for the
little maid to get up, sweep the rooms, brush the master’s clothes,
and prepare his coffee for him before he went to his shop; and in
June and July it is light very early indeed.

Later on in the morning, Mattina used to bring out a big table cover
to shake outside the front door, and her gesture as she shook it,
had anyone cared to watch her, was strong, decided and thorough. One
could see that she would grow into a strong capable woman; that she
would know how to lift things, how to handle them, how to fold them;
that whatever she touched would be the better for her touching. And
as she shook the dust out, while the hot sun beat down upon her head,
she would close her eyes and try to fancy that the whistle of the
distant Kiphissia[15] train was the whistle of the morning steamer
coming into the bay of Poros and that she need only open her eyes to
see the glittering blue water before her, and the fishing boats with
the white and red sails gliding across it; but when she opened them
she only saw potato peels and pieces of old lettuce floating forlornly
on the dirty stream of water beside the sidewalk. This stream was
here because there was a public tap round the corner of the street,
and the slatternly women who went there for water, the heels of their
loose down-trodden slippers tap-tapping on the pavement as they walked,
generally neglected to close it.

One evening, when the food for supper was not enough, Mattina’s
mistress sent her out to the grocer’s in the Piræus Road to buy some
sardines; and while she was waiting to be served, she noticed four
men sitting outside the shop around a little table. One of the men
was strumming a guitar, and suddenly very softly they began to sing
all together. They sang the “tsopanoulo,” that song of the “shepherd
boy” which Mattina had so often heard the young officers singing as
they rowed themselves about the bay on moonlit nights “at home.”

She leaned against the door of the shop and closed her eyes very tight.

“I will not look,” she thought, “I will only listen, and it will be
for a little as if I were back in my island.”

And because there is nothing like music to remind one of places, unless
it be scent, a picture arose behind her closed eyelids, of the quiet
dark water, of the broad golden path of the moon, and of the little
boat that glided through the gold; and as she watched the picture, two
tears trickled from the eyes that were shut, and ran down her cheeks.

“Now, my girl,” said a voice beside her suddenly, “here are your
sardines!” and a greasy paper was thrust into her hand.

Oh, how it hurt, to have to open her eyes, to take what was given to
her, to pay her lepta, and to stumble out half dazed into the street.

Once there, she thought for a moment that she was still dreaming,
for on the side walk, talking to a man in a straw hat, was an old
sea captain in the cross-over vest and the baggy blue breeches such
as she had seen hundreds of times on the quay at home.

“The wind has turned a little chilly,” the man in the straw hat was
saying, “and there are many clouds in the sky. It will rain I think
before night.”

Mattina instinctively raised her eyes to the west, and half
unconsciously repeated what she had so often heard her father say:–

“If but the Western sky be clear,
Though East be black, you need not fear.”

then pointing with her finger where the sky was still of a dusky pink,
she said, “There are no clouds there.”

The captain turned suddenly, and looked at the odd little figure in
her white festooned apron that hung far below her frock, with her
short black plaits tied round her head.

“That is what we say in my country.” Then stooping a little. “From
where are you? Are you from Poros, perhaps?”

Mattina gulped down a lump in her throat.

“Yes, I am from Poros.”

“Whose are you?”

“Aristoteli Dorri’s, the sponge diver’s.”

“Ah, yes! The poor one! I heard that he had died. And did your mother
send you here?”

“My mother wept much after my father died, and then she coughed more
than she did before, and then she got worse, and then she died.” And
Mattina turned her back on the men, and twisted and untwisted the
end of the paper in which the sardines were wrapped.

“Now, lately?” asked the captain.

“It was on the Thursday of the Great Week.”

“Well! Well! Life to you! It is a dirty world! With whom do you
live now?”

“I serve at a house.”

“You have no one in Athens?”

“I have my uncle Anastasi the baker, and my Aunt Demetroula, but they
live far from here near the Kolonaki.”[16]

“Ah, Anastasi Mazelli, your mother’s brother; I know him. A good
man! When you see him give him my salutations. Say they are from
Capetan Thanassi Nika of Poros, and he will know.”

“I will say it to him,” answered Mattina.

“Well, the good hour be with you, little compatriot!”

Mattina walked back to the house very slowly, with her eyes fixed on
the pavement. The talk about her people, the sound of a Poros voice,
had brought back so much to her! She thought of the good times when her
“babba,” as she called her father, came home from a long absence with
the sponge-divers–filling the room with his laugh, the little bare
clean room with the big pot of sweet basil on the window seat–telling
all that had happened: how this one had not been able to stay so long
under water, and that one, the lazy dog, had pretended to be ill,
and how the captain had called on him again and again–“Come then,
you, Aristoteli! I would rather work with you alone than with ten
others; you are always ready to get your head into the helmet.” And
Mattina, seated on his knees, would clap her hands with pride, crying,
“My Babba is always ready!” and her mother cooking a hot dinner in
honor of the return, would shake her head and mutter, “Too ready;
too ready,” but would smile at them the next moment, as she emptied
the stew from the pan to the dish and told them to get their plates
ready. After her father had died, the house was never so bright again;
there was no laughing in it. Still, she had had her mother then, and it
was she whom Mattina missed most, for she had never been away from her.

Continue Reading

prefers a girl from

It was a forlorn little figure that knelt on a bench of the out-going
steamer next morning. A little figure clad for the journey in a short
outgrown print frock, with an old gray jacket which had once belonged
to her aunt, tightly buttoned over it.

Mattina was looking with wide open eyes at all the familiar landmarks
as they seemed to glide past her; at the big clock tower of the Naval
School with its waving flag, at the little coffee-house of the White
Cat down on the shore, at the Red House on the hill, at the Garden
on the mainland where she had often been with her mother to help in
the picking of the lemons, at the white blur far away in the hills,
which was the village of Damala. But when the steamer turned round
the corner by the lighthouse and Poros was hidden from her sight,
she twisted herself round and sat down on the bench, her back huddled
up like an old woman’s, and her eyes fixed on the deck.

When the steamer stopped at Methana,[6] she stood up and watched the
shore, but it already seemed strange and foreign to her; the gray
rocks, bare of pine trees, the line of bathing houses, the bright
yellow colour of the water close to the land, which someone said came
from the sulphur of the baths, the big white hotel, the strange boatmen
rowing backwards and forwards; all was new and in some curious way
terrifying. The boatmen shouting to each other seemed to be shouting
at her, and the sun shining on the sea made so many glittering little
pinpricks of light that she closed her eyes not to see them.

After Methana, the steamer began to move a great deal more than it
had done at first, and she went back to her bench for fear she should
fall. For a short time she was interested in a little toddling boy
belonging to a woman who seemed asleep, her kerchief shadowing the
upper part of her face. The boy was not at all like Zacharia, being
much fatter, and with hair which was almost yellow, but he took bites
out of his koulouri all round, just as Zacharia did. Mattina made
timid advances to him, but he ran away from her to a white-bearded
old priest on the next bench, and began to wipe his wet little mouth
and hands, all over koulouri crumbs, on the black robes. Mattina
expected that the old priest would be angry, but he only smiled and
patted the little yellow head.

While she watched them, the priest’s black figure seemed to mount
up, up, up, against the glittering sea, and then to sink down again
as though it were never coming up. It hurt her to look at it, and
she folded her arms on the back of the bench and laid her head on
them. Perhaps she was going to sleep; she had been up very early
that morning; but she did not feel at all sleepy, only very hot and
miserable. She began to long for a drink of water; perhaps she was
thirsty, but she felt afraid to move. Her uncle Yoryi when he had
put her on board had said, “Do not leave your seat, or someone may
take it.”

The woman with the child had a pitcher with her; it stood on the deck
beside a big bundle and a little shining green trunk, studded with
brass nails; and the mouth of the pitcher was stopped by a bunch of
myrtle leaves. Mattina ventured to nudge the woman’s elbow.

“Kyra,” she asked, “may I drink from your ‘stamna’?”

The woman opened her eyes with a little groan and, thrusting her arm
into an opening of the big bundle, pulled out a short thick tumbler
and handed it to her. Mattina poured some water into it and drank,
but somehow it tasted bitter, not like Poros water. She put the
tumbler back without even wiping it, and sank back on her bench.

How hot it was, and how miserable she felt!

She bent forward and hid her head in her arms.

It was so, that Yanni the messenger found her a little later when
they were outside Ægina.[7]

“Bah!” he exclaimed, pulling her head back, “what a colour is this? You
are as yellow as a Good Friday candle! The sea has spoiled you, I
see! Your head is giddy. Here, lie down! Put your head back on this
bundle! You will be better so.”

Mattina made no resistance, but as she fell back she murmured:–

“It is not my head, it is my stomach which is giddy.”

It went on getting so much giddier that when at last they arrived
at Piræus[8] Yanni had to carry her down the side of the steamer to
the little boat and when she was lifted out on the quay she could
scarcely stand. However, the fresh air and the walk to the railway
station revived her.

The railway carriage in which they traveled up to Athens was very
crowded, and the fat woman sitting next to Mattina seemed very cross.

“Why do they not put more carriages?” she enquired of no one in
particular. “We are jammed as flat here as squashed mosquitoes.” But
to Mattina who had never even ridden in a cart in her life, it was
wonderful. The swift rushing, the bump, bump of the carriages, the
man with a gold band on his cap who looked at the tickets and gave
them back again, and who said to Yanni while he was searching for
theirs, “Come, now; hurry! The new day will dawn by the time you find
it!” … the stopping at Phalerum[9] and at the Theseum[10] before
they got out at the Monastiraki[11] Station.

Then there was the street-car; the rush through narrow streets at
first, and then through wider and wider ones, till they stopped
at a wonderful big square full of people. In all her eleven years,
Mattina had never imagined so many men and women and children and
horses and carriages together. The square seemed to her surrounded
by palaces, till Yanni showed her the one in which the King lived,
and over which the flag was flying.

Then the car went on again, and the streets got narrower again, and
at last Yanni got off the little platform at the back of the car and
Mattina scrambled after him.

“Come!” he said, “your uncle’s oven is quite close by here and I have
work to do after I leave you.”

Up one narrow steep street, a turn to the left, along a still
narrower street almost like a Poros one but far, far dustier, and
they came to a stop before a small baker’s shop. On the open slab
of the window were quantities of ring-shaped loaves, and heaped up
piles of oven-cakes covered with squares of pink muslin. A man was
counting some smaller loaves in the dimness of the back of the shop,
and a tidy stout woman in a big blue apron was standing at the door.

“Good day to you,” said Yanni, “I bring you your niece from Poros.”

“Bah!” exclaimed the woman, “has she come to-day? I thought they said
on Saturday.”

Yanni shrugged his shoulders.

“Do I know what they said? Yoryi gave her to me this morning, to
bring straight to you. What I am told, I do.”

“It does not matter,” said the woman quickly, “it does not matter at
all. Welcome, my girl! Come in! Come in!” Then turning towards the
back of the shop, “Anastasi, your niece has arrived!”

Her husband started, left his loaves and came forward. He was a thin
man with stooping shoulders, and a look in his eyes which reminded
Mattina of her mother and made a lump come into her throat so that
she could scarcely answer when he spoke to her.

“Welcome, my maid, for your mother’s sake,” he said. “When I saw you
in Poros you were so high only; now you have grown a big maid! And
Kanella, and Yoryi, and their children, and the little one, are they
well? How did you leave them?”

“They are well,” stammered Mattina, “they salute you.”

Her uncle Anastasi turned to his wife:–

“Demetroula,” he said, “take the child in; she will be hungry; look
to her while I pay Yanni for his trouble.”

Her aunt took Mattina into a little room which opened on the courtyard,
and taking her bundle from her, pushed it under a big bed in the
corner. Mattina had never seen her before. The poor do not take
journeys for pleasure, or for the sake of visiting their relations. But
her new aunt had a kind round face and pretty shiny brown hair which
one could see quite well, as she did not wear a kerchief; and when she
spoke she smiled very often, so that Mattina did not feel shy with her.

“Come here to the window,” she said, “and let me look better at
you. Ah, yes; it is your poor father that your face brings back to one,
not your mother at all. Now, my girl,” and she let her hand fall on
Mattina’s shoulder as she spoke, “let us say things clearly! You did
well to come, and it is with joy that your uncle and I would keep you
to live here with us. How should it not be so, since God has given
us no children? A piece of bread and a mattress there would always
be for you. But we are poor people, and, … that would be all; so
it would be a sin to keep you with us. It is myself I injure when I
say this, for you would be a great help to me in the house. But that
you should work, and get only your bread for it!–no, that must not
be! We have spoken with your uncle, and he thinks as I do. What do
you say also? Do you not wish to earn money?”

“Yes, my aunt.”

“Well, then, see what good luck you have! We thought that not till
September could a house be found, but only yesterday the boy from the
grocer’s round the street, told me that his brother who works for
a butcher in the Piræus Road, knows a house where they are looking
for a serving maid. It is a good house, he says, where they buy meat
every day; there are only two small children, and the master has
a shop of his own in the big street of shops. The lady, he said,
prefers a girl from the islands who has not as yet served, and she
will give ten drachmæ[12] a month and dress her. So that you will have
naught to spend and we can put all your money in the People’s Bank
for you. Will not that be well?”

“Yes, my aunt.”

“Good!” said Kyra Demetroula, “I will take you there to-morrow early,
to speak with the lady. Now come and eat! There is plenty left of
the artichoke stew, and I will warm it up for you.”

Continue Reading

hard-working housewife

With her black kerchief drawn forward over her face to protect her
head from the sun, her back bent under a load of sticks, Mattina, Kyra
[1] Kanella’s niece, came stumbling down from the road that leads
from the little spring, the “Vryssoula,” through the pine trees,
over the bridge, past the old well, and into the village of Poros.

It was a big load for a little girl not much over eleven years old,
but her aunt was going to bake, the day after next, and wanted the
sticks to light her oven; so, as Mattina was leaving the island the
next day to go to Athens in the steamer, there would be no one to
get sticks for Kyra Kanella and bring them down to her.

It is true she had plenty of daughters of her own, but they did not
like carrying sticks on their backs, or walking so far to find them,
and Mattina did not mind. She liked being out on the hills and down
by the sea, more than anything else. Of course she liked it still
better when there was no heavy load of branches or thyme to carry,
but if she had had to choose between staying indoors or in the narrow
village streets, and being out with a load of sticks however big, she
would always have chosen the load. So when her aunt wanted her to go,
she never pulled a crooked face; besides it was only on the way back
that she had the burden to carry; going, she was free to run as she
liked among the trees, to see how far she could throw the pine cones,
to swing herself on the low branches, for everyone knows that pine
branches will carry almost any weight without breaking; and if her way
took her by the sea-shore, she could balance herself on the edge of
the big rocks, or kick off her clumsy shoes and let the water run over
her bare legs. Of course she was not yet old enough to wear stockings.

Sometimes, when she had no wood to fetch, she would take her little
brother Zacharia with her; but he was only two years old and as he soon
got tired of walking, it was not possible to carry him and the load of
sticks as well. When he had been quite tiny and had lain quiet in his
“naka,” the leathern hammock-cradle that is slung over one shoulder,
it was easy to manage him, but he was too big now, so he stayed in
the house, on the other side of the dark arch, with their aunt and
all the cousins, or tumbled about the market square, and played with
the little kids which were tethered round the old marble fountain.

Mattina stopped a moment to wipe her forehead with the back of her
sleeve. It was only May and the hollows of the hills on the mainland
opposite were still filled with the blue morning shadows, but she
had just left the shady path, slippery with pine needles, for the
stony ledge along the hillside, and it was hot already. There was
not a ruffle on the water, even on the open sea beyond the strip
of the Narrow Beach which joined the wooded part of the island to
the village part. Mattina decided that she would put the child on
her back in the afternoon and carry him to a little crescent-shaped
beach of which she knew on the Monastery road,[2] and let him kick
his little legs in the water. Kyra Sophoula had told her that sea
water was good for him and would make his legs strong.

Who would take the trouble to carry him to the sea-shore when she was
away? And she was leaving him and the island and everyone she knew,
the next day!

This was how it happened.

More than a year ago her father had died of general paralysis,
which is what often happens to sponge-divers[3] when they stay too
long down in deep water. Her mother had been ill long before her
father had been brought home dying, from Tripoli in Barbary, and
after his death she got worse and worse, and had died just before
Easter. The only relations Mattina and little baby Zacharia had left
were an uncle, their mother’s brother, who was a baker in Athens,
and Kyra Kanella here in Poros, the wife of old Yoryi the boatman;
and she was not really their aunt, but only their mother’s cousin,
and had a great many children of her own.

Mattina and Zacharia really had another uncle too, a younger brother
of their father’s, but he did not count; he had left for America on
an emigrant ship when he was quite a youth, and only wrote letters
home once or twice a year. Mattina remembered that when her father
was away with the sponge-divers, Kyr Vangheli, the schoolmaster,
would read these letters to her mother, and in them it was always
written that her uncle Petro was so pleased in America that he did
not mean to come back for many years.

So the two orphans had stayed with Kyra Kanella at first, because
there was nowhere else for them to stay, and now she was still going
to keep Zacharia; he was such a little one, and as she told Yoryi
her husband, what the babe ate, nobody could miss it; it was not
more than a sparrow would eat. But Mattina was different; Mattina
was a big strong girl of more than eleven years of age, and she was
going to Athens to be a servant. It had all been arranged some time
ago. Her mother had said to her:–

“When I am dead, you must go to Athens, and your uncle Anastasi there,
and his wife, who is a good woman, will find a house in which you
may serve and earn money. Afterwards when you can, you will come
back to Poros and take care of Zacharia; he is not a strong child;
how should he be, the unfortunate one! But you are a strong girl and
you must be a good sister and look after him.”

She had said this the night before she died, when for a moment they
were alone in the house, and when her eyes looked so big.

There was a tiny bit of land which had belonged to the children’s
father, and which was theirs now, but it had given nothing that year;
the crop of olives had been very poor indeed, the rains had come out
of season, and the wind had blown every single almond off the trees;
so that even the poor bits of clothes that Mattina was to take with
her to town in her bundle had been cut down from some old things of
her mother’s, and Kyra Sophoula who was a neighbour, had taken them
to her house to stitch them.

By this time to-morrow, thought Mattina, who had got down to the
Narrow Beach and was passing before the open gates of the Naval
School,[4] it would be nearly time for the steamer to leave; her uncle
would take her in his boat and she would climb up the little ladder
at the side of the steamer up to the deck. She herself, she, Mattina,
would be one of those people whom she had so often watched from the
shore, one of those who were going away to strange parts, who were
leaving the island.

She stopped to shift her load of branches higher on her back, and a
sailor who was standing by the gates took a step forward and held it
up for her while she took a firmer grasp of the thin rope which kept
it together.

“God give you many years,” she said to him, looking down. She did
not like speaking to strangers, but she remembered what her mother
always used to say to anyone who helped her, and since she was alone
now it was for her to say it.

The man laughed.

“The load is bigger than the maid who bears it,” he said; then looking
down at her curiously, “Whose are you?”

“I am Aristoteli Dorri’s.”

“What does he do?”

“He was a sponge-diver, but he died last year.”

“Bah! The unfortunate one! And you carry wood for your mother’s
oven, eh?”

“My mother died also on the Thursday of the Great Week.”[5]

“Bah! The poor child! Here!” he cried, as Mattina was starting off
again, “stop a moment!” and from the bottom of his pocket, he pulled
out a little twist of pink muslin into which were tied five or six
sugared almonds.

“Take these! They are from a christening, … you can eat them on
the way.”

Mattina had no pocket, but after she had thanked the sailor, she tied
the almonds into one corner of her kerchief, and trudged on.

When she reached the first houses of the village, she turned away
from the sea and began climbing up a steep little street, threading
her way between the small houses, disturbing flocks of gray and
white pigeons who fluttered up and settled on the ledges of the low
terraces, between pitchers of water and pots of sweet basil. She
stepped carefully over the ropes of tethered goats, passing by the
open doors of the big church, and stopping for a moment to admire a
length of pink and white cotton stuff which hung outside Kyr Nicola’s
shop. If only, she thought, her new dress might have been made of
that! But the brown dress which her mother used to wear on holidays,
before her father died, was still quite good, and it would have been
a sin to waste it; Kyra Sophoula had said so. Moreover she had made
it too wide for Mattina, and with three tucks in it, so that it might
last her for some time to come.

Before one arrived at Yoryi’s house, there was a whole street of low
broad steps which Mattina descended slowly one by one, for her back
was beginning to ache. When she reached the little blue-washed house
she dumped down her load of sticks beside the oven in the courtyard
with a great sigh of relief.

She found Zacharia whimpering before a half-eaten “koulouri”–a sort of
doughnut with a hole in the middle–which someone had amused himself
by tying to a nail in the wall, so that it dangled just out of reach
of the child’s little arms.

“‘Attina! ‘Attina!” he cried as soon as he saw her; “My koulou’i! My
koulou’i!”

She broke the string violently, and thrust the half-eaten koulouri
into the child’s outstretched hands, then turning angrily to three
big girls who were seated laughing, on the wooden steps leading to
the flat roof, she cried out:–

“What has the child done to you that you are forever tormenting him? A
bad year to you!”

But they only laughed the louder, and one of them called out:–

“Drink a little vinegar, it will calm your rage!”

Mattina did not answer; she shouldered the water pitcher, took
Zacharia by the hand, and went out again, out through the dark arch
to the Market Square for water.

“‘Attina!” and there was still a little sob in poor Zacharia’s voice.

“Yes, my little bird.”

“My koulou’i is nearly finished.”

“Eat it slowly then,” advised the big sister. “And if you only knew
what a good thing I have for you to-morrow!”

But to-morrow meant nothing to Zacharia.

“What, ‘Attina? What? Give it to me!”

“Not now. To-morrow. Come then! Come and see all the little boats!”

When they reached the square, Mattina sat down to rest for a moment on
the deep stone trough built round the fountain under the old eucalyptus
tree. Most of the women had already filled their red earthen pitchers
and were carrying them away on their shoulders.

Only one old woman was still leaning against the trunk of the tree,
waiting for her pitcher to fill itself. As she saw Mattina she
stepped forward.

“It is well I find you. Tell your aunt that the clothes are
finished. She can send you to take them.”

“I will tell it to her.”

“It is to-morrow you leave?”

“Yes, it is to-morrow.”

“And who takes you?”

“I go with Yanni, the messenger.”

“Listen, Mattina,” said the old woman, “I have stitched you a pocket
into the brown frock. In the town it is not like here; sometimes you
may have some money, or someone may send you a letter; you must have
somewhere to put things.”

Mattina’s eyes brightened.

“A pocket!” she exclaimed, “like the big maids have!”

“You are well nigh a big maid now!”

The word pocket reminded Mattina of her sugared almonds.

“Kyra Sophoula,” she begged, “see, I have some sweets here. A sailor
gave them to me, he said they were from a christening. Take them,
you, and hide them away, and to-morrow after I go, take this little
one to your house for a while, and give them to him. He cries when I
leave him; and the others at the house, they torment him always. Do
this for me, and may your children live to you!”

The old woman took the twist of muslin and put it into her apron
pocket.

“Surely, I will, my daughter, surely I will.” Then she lifted her
pitcher which had filled, gurgled, and overflowed, set it carefully
on the ledge, and turned to Zacharia who was struggling for what
remained of his koulouri, with a woolly black puppy.

“Come here, you little one!”

Kyra Sophoula was a funny old woman, as brown and as wrinkled as a
quince that has been hung up too long, but children never ran away
from her, even the tiny ones. Zacharia successfully rescued the last
remnant of the koulouri from the puppy’s teeth, and came, looking up
at her with round black baby eyes.

“If a good little boy who does not cry … a golden little boy, comes
with me to my house to-morrow, I shall have … two sugar comfits,
and a whole dried fig to give him! And if this golden little child
never cries at all, there will be some more comfits the next day! I
wonder if I shall find a good little boy, like that?”

Zacharia rubbed his black curls confidingly against the old woman’s
skirts, and murmured:–

“Me!”

“Ah, we shall see fine things, that golden boy and I!” then turning
to Mattina:–

“Tell me; your uncle Anastasi and his wife, have they found a good
house in which you may serve?”

“Not yet; my uncle sent a letter to say that it would be better if I
did not go till September, because there are more people who change
servants at that time, but my uncle Yoryi here, he says that I must
go to my uncle Anastasi’s now at once, and let them find a house for
me to serve, when they can. He says he will keep the little one, but
that I am a big girl, and that he has fed me long enough. It is true,”
she added gravely, “that my hunger is great.”

Kyra Sophoula nodded her head.

“Yoryi is a poor man,” she said, “also, he has daughters to marry.”

“Is it far to Athens?” asked Mattina.

“Myself–I have never been there, but Metro has told me that one does
not reach the town till long after noon.”

“Kyra Sophoula, do you think that after some time, when I earn money
and can pay the fare on the steamer myself, that where I serve they
will let me return for a few days to see if the little one be well?”

The old woman shrugged her shoulders.

“Do I know?”

“But if I tell them how little he is, and that we have no mother?”

“Listen, my daughter!” said Kyra Sophoula, as both she and Mattina
shouldered their pitchers and turned towards the dark arch, Zacharia
pattering behind them on little bare brown feet, “listen! there is
one thing that you must put well into your head, that in the town
it is not like here on the island, where everyone knows you and
who your father and mother were. I know, because Andriana served,
and Calliope served, and my Maroussa served also for a time. In the
town when they take you as a servant and pay you a wage for serving,
it is work that they want from you, as much as they can get. They do
not know you, nor do they mind whether you like to work, nor whether
you are well or ill, as long as your legs will hold you; neither do
they care whether your heart be glad or troubled. But you, you must
remember always that your father was a good man, and that your mother
was a hard-working housewife who always kept her floors well scrubbed,
and kneaded her own bread, and for whom all had a good word; and you
must do the work that they give you, and not be thinking all day long
of when you can leave it. As for the child, be easy! Kyra Kanella has
not a bad heart, and I will see him often, and perhaps some time when
the schoolmaster has leisure I will ask him to send you a letter. But
you, be a good girl in the town, and mind well that you never touch
aught without it be given to you, even if you have to go hungry,
for as they say, ‘Better to lose your eye than your good name.'”

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