After the street

It had been agreed that Mattina should be allowed to go to see
her uncle and aunt every other Sunday, in the afternoon. But it
had happened lately that Sunday after Sunday her mistress had said,
“I have to go out myself, a friend expects me,” or, “My head aches; I
cannot be troubled with the children; you can go out another day.” But
the “other day” never came. An older serving maid, or one who knew
town ways better, would have asked for the outing on a week day;
but Mattina did not know. She cried a little over her lost holiday
and stayed in week after week, in the narrow street and the close
rooms that always smelt of stale smoke.

It was a blazing hot Sunday morning in September, and the fifth
since Mattina had last been out, when as she was sitting in the small
kitchen listlessly peeling and slicing a pile of purple aubergines[21]
which seemed as though it would never lessen, someone shuffled along
the street outside and stopped at the little window which was level
with the pavement.

It was Kyra Polyxene, the old washerwoman who lived on the top floor
of the next house, and who went out washing to nearly all the houses
of the neighborhood. Mattina knew her quite well. She had been engaged
two or three times to help for a day when the big monthly wash had been
an extra heavy one. The brown old face and the gray hair made Mattina
think a little of Kyra Sophoula when she looked at her, except that
Kyra Polyxene was taller and stouter and wore no kerchief on her head.

She put her face close to the window bars and peered in.

“Good day, Mattina, what are you doing in there?”

Mattina let drop the slice she was holding, into the basin of cold
water beside her, and came close to the window.

“Good day to you, Kyra Polyxene; I am cutting up aubergines to make a
‘moussaka.'”[22]

“How is it you have so many aubergines?”

“We have people to-day for dinner. The Kyria’s sisters are coming,
and Taki’s godfather also.”

“And your mistress does not help you?”

“She is upstairs dressing the children to take them to hear music in
the square. When I first came here she showed me, but now I can make
‘moussaka’ all alone and it tastes as good as hers.” There was a
certain pride in Mattina’s voice.

“Shall you go with them to the music?”

“I? No! There is this to finish, and the dining room to sweep,
and the table to lay, and if the dinner be not ready at twelve,
the master is angered.”

“And after they have eaten?”

“There will be all the plates to wash.”

“And then?”

“Do I know? There is always something.”

“Listen to me, my girl! Yesterday I washed at a house up at the
Kolonaki, and they sent me for a loaf to your uncle’s oven, and he
was saying that they had not seen you for many days; and he told me
to tell you that you must go there this afternoon and that if your
mistress makes difficulties, you are to tell her that if she keeps
you always closed up, he, your uncle will come and take you away,
and find another house for you.”

Mattina opened her eyes widely.

“Did he say so to you, Kyra Polyxene?”

“Just as I tell you, my daughter.”

Mattina wiped her hands on her apron and ran upstairs to her mistress’s
bedroom. She found her struggling with Taki’s stiffly starched sailor
collar, while Bebeko sitting on the unmade bed, with unbuttoned boots,
was howling for his hat which had been placed out of his reach.

“How many more hours are you going to be, cleaning those aubergines,
lazy one? How do you want me to dress two children and myself? Have
I four hands do you think? Fasten the child’s boots and make him stop
that crying.”

Mattina lifted the heavy screaming boy off the bed, and sat down on
the floor with him.

“Why does Bebeko want his hat?” she whispered. “Now in a minute after I
have fastened his little boots for him, I shall tie it on his head and
he will go with Mamma and Babba and Taki, and hear the pretty music;
and when he comes back….” The child stopped crying and looked at her,
“and when he comes back, if he be a good child, I shall have such a
beautiful boat ready for him, cut out of an aubergine! It will have
two seats and a helm.”

“And a mast. Will it have a mast too, Mattina?”

“And a mast, of course.”

“And a sail?”

“No,” said Mattina seriously, looking out of the window, “it will
not want a sail, there is no wind to-day.”

“But I want it to have a sail,” persisted the child.

“I have no rag for a sail,” said Mattina. “Bebeko must ask his Mamma
for some when the boat is ready.”

When both children were dressed, there was a search for the Kyria’s
parasol which was nowhere to be found. At first she accused Mattina of
having broken it and hidden the pieces, and at last remembered that
she had left it at her sister’s house. Then her keys were mislaid,
looked for in all sorts of places, and discovered at last under her
pillow. Lastly she searched angrily for a twenty-five drachmæ note,
which she declared she had folded up and placed under her gloves in
the early morning.

“I put it there on purpose to change it when I went out, and buy
‘pastas'[23] for dinner to-day. It was here, I tell you, just under
these gloves; or stay, perhaps I pinned it on the pincushion.”

But neither under the gloves nor on the pincushion was the note to
be found.

“Well,” said the Kyria at last, “your master must have taken it for
something, and have forgotten to tell me. I shall meet him at the
square. Come, let us go!”

“Kyria,” and Mattina stood in her way.

“What do you want? It is late.”

“Kyria, my uncle has sent me word that they have not seen me for
many days, and that I must go there this afternoon, and also if you
make difficulties, and keep me closed up, I am to tell you that he,
my uncle, will come and take me away and find another house for me.”

All this was repeated very quickly, and as though Mattina had just
learned it by heart.

Her mistress stared at her.

“Another house, indeed! And what house will take a lazy one like
you? Do you think there are many mistresses who have as good a heart
as I have, and will keep you only because they are sorry for you being
an orphan? Besides, who says I keep you closed up? Do you not go for
a walk nearly every day with the children? Also I was just going to
tell you that as I have my sisters here this afternoon, who will help
me with the children, you could go out. Of course I mean after you
have washed up your plates, and put all in their places. And you are
not to be late, mind!” she added as an afterthought. “Do you hear?”

“I hear,” said Mattina.

After the street door had banged to, she finished cutting up the
aubergines, lined the baking dish thickly with the slices, added a
layer of mince-meat, another of aubergines, broke two eggs over them,
bread-crumbed them and carried them off to the oven in the next street,
so quickly and so deftly that even her mistress, had she been there
to watch her, could not have called her “lazy one.” After that she
carved Bebeko’s promised boat from a large aubergine which she had
kept back, and sharpened a bit of firewood for the mast.

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Suddenly she thought

All the next day Mattina thought of the old captain, and in the
afternoon she told Antigone how she had met a compatriot, and what he
had said to her. This was when they sat side by side on the steps of
their “houses” to take the cool of the evening, after their mistresses
had gone out.

Antigone was the serving maid of the next house, which was kept by
a widow who let the rooms out to different lodgers. This maid was
much older than Mattina and puffed out her hair at the sides, besides
wearing a hat with pink flowers on it when she went out on Sundays.

“Your heart seems to hold very much to that island of yours!” she
was saying. “What is there different in it to other places?”

Mattina tried to tell her; but talking about Poros was like relating a
dream which has seemed so long and which one still feels so full and
varied, but which somehow can only be told in the fewest and barest
of words.

“Is that all?” exclaimed Antigone, “just trees, and rocks, and sea,
and fisher folk, and boatmen? It would say nothing to me! But each
one to his taste. Why do you not go back to it and work there?”

“I cannot; each one works for himself on the island; there are no
houses in which to serve, there is no money to earn.”

Antigone shrugged her shoulders.

“Truly it is much money you are earning here! Eight drachmæ a month,
and your shoes,” with a contemptuous glance at Mattina’s feet,
“all worn out!”

“There are only three holes,” said Mattina gravely, “and she,” with
a backward jerk of her thumb, “said I should have new ones next week.”

Antigone laughed.

“You will get them on the week that has no Saturday.”

“And at New Year,” went on Mattina, “she will give me a present!”

“Give you a present! She! Your Kyria! You have many loaves to eat,
my poor one, before that day dawns!”

“But she said so.”

“She said and she will unsay!”

“But my aunt heard it, too, and she told my uncle it would be a
fine one.”

“Your aunt does not know her, and I have lived next door to her it
is three years now, and I have known all her servants. Some people
give presents, yes, they have good hearts; but your mistress would
never give a thing belonging to her, no, not even her fever! Now
there is the ‘Madmazella’ who lives in the ground floor room at our
house. She gives lessons all day long, and she has not much money,
yet she often gives me things. When she came back from her country
last time, she brought me a silk blouse ready sewn with little flowers
all over it, and lace at the neck. And the other day she put her two
hats into one paper box, and gave me the other one to keep my hat in,
because it gets crushed in my trunk. And always with a good word in
her mouth! So I too when she is ill, I run for her till I fall. She
is going away again to her country, in a few days now, and she says
that when she comes back she will bring me a new hat.”

But Mattina’s mind was running on her present.

“I do not want a silk blouse, nor a box for a hat, because,” she added
as an afterthought, “I have no hat. But I should like very much if
someone would give me a picture with a broad gold frame, which I saw
in the window of a shop the other day when I took the children out. It
was the picture of the sea, and there was a boat on it with a white
sail, and you could see the sail in the water all long and wavy, as
you do really, and if you touched the water you thought your finger
would be wet. That is what I wish for.”

“A picture! And where would you hang it?”

Mattina thought for a moment.

“I do not know,” she said at last, “but it would be mine, and I could
look at it every day.”

“You! with your seas, and your rocks, and your island!” exclaimed
the older girl as she stooped to pick up her crochet work which had
fallen off her knees. “Even if it were Paris, you could not make more
fuss about it.”

“What is Paris?”

“Paris is the country from where Madmazella comes. She says it is a
thousand times more beautiful than Athens.”

Mattina looked about her, at the women who sat chatting before the
narrow doorways behind which were occasional glimpses of crowded
courtyards and linen spread out to dry, at the dirty little trickle of
water along the sidewalk with its accustomed burden of rotting lettuce
leaves, at the children scrambling and shouting in the thick dust of
the road, and sighed. She could not have told why she sighed, nor have
put into words what she found so ugly about her, so she only said:–

“Perhaps it is better there than here.”

That Athens has beauties of its own, which people travel from distant
lands to see, she knew not. Its charms were not for her. When she
walked out with Taki and Bebeko, the pavements hurt her badly shod
feet, and the glare of the tall white houses hurt her eyes. As for the
beautiful Royal Gardens with their old trees and their shady paths,
their pergolas, their palms, their orange trees and their sheets of
violets, as for the Zappion[17] from whose raised terrace one can see
the columns of the old Temple of Jupiter, the Acropolis,[18] the marble
Stadium,[19] and Phalerum and the sea, all of which together make what
is perhaps the most beautiful view in all Europe, … she had never
been there! Those were walks for the rich and well-born children
whom she sometimes saw wheeled about in little carriages by foreign
nurses who were dressed all in white with little black bonnets tied
with white strings. How could she lug two heavy children so far? No,
Athens for her was made up of hot narrow streets, of much noise and
hard pavements.

The very next morning while she was sweeping out the passage, she
saw Antigone in her best dress and her hat with the pink flowers,
beckoning to her from outside the house.

“What is it?” exclaimed Mattina, “how is it you are dressed in your
fine things in the morning? What is happening?”

“It is happening that I am going! That old screaming mistress of mine
has sent me off!”

“But what did you do?”

“I only told her I was not a dog to be spoken to as she speaks to me,
and she told me to go now at once! Well, it matters little to me;
there is no lack of houses, and better than hers a thousand times! I
am a poor girl without learning, but I should be ashamed to scream as
she does when anger takes her. Why, you can hear her as far off as
the square! Well, if she thinks I shall regret her and her screams,
she deceives herself! See, I leave you the key of my trunk. I will
send my brother for it this evening, if he can come so far; he lives
at the Plaka[20] you know. And I will tell him to ask you for the key:
I will have no pryings in my things. And Mattina….”

“Yes?”

“Do me a favor and may you enjoy your life!”

“What shall I do?”

“Who knows when the old woman in there will get another girl to serve,
and there is that poor Madmazella who is ill, and in bed again to-day,
and not a soul to get her a glass of water! Go in you, once or twice,
will you not? Her room is over there; it opens on the courtyard by
a separate door, so you need not go near the rest of the house at all.”

“I will go,” said Mattina.

“I shall owe it you as a favor. Well, Addio–good-by–perhaps I shall
see you again.”

“The good hour be with you!” said Mattina, and then ran back into
the house, hearing her master calling her.

Later in the day, when her mistress had gone out for the afternoon,
Mattina filled a glass with cold water and carried it carefully into
the neighbouring courtyard. She found the ground floor room easily,
and lifting the latch, stood hesitatingly in the doorway. Tapping at
a door was unknown in Poros etiquette.

A young woman with a pale face and tumbled fair hair lay on the bed
in a corner of the room.

She opened her eyes as the door creaked, and smiled at Mattina.

“What is it, little one? Whom do you want?”

“Antigone said …” and Mattina shifted from one foot to another,
“that there was not a soul to get you a glass of water.”

The young woman raised herself on her elbow, and her fair hair fell
about her shoulders.

“And so you came to bring me one! But what kindness! I accept with
gratitude; but it is not water I want. Since the morning I have taken
nothing, and I have a hollow there, which gives me still more pain
in the head.”

Mattina looked puzzled; she did not know what a “hollow” was.

“Listen, little one: on the shelf of that cupboard there, there is
a small box of chocolate; it is in powder all ready and my spirit
lamp wants but a match to it. Bring then your glass of water; you
see we do require it after all, pour it in the little pan, and the
chocolate, so … stir it a little with the spoon, and we will wait
till it bubbles. You can wait a little…. Yes? Is it not so?”

“I can wait; the Kyria is out.”

“Then pull that little table close to my bed. Ah! How it hurts my
head! Scarcely can I open my eyes.”

“Close them,” said Mattina; “I will tell you when it boils.”

Deftly she pulled forward the little table, straightened the tumbled
sheets, and closed the open shutters so that the hot afternoon sun
should not pour on the bed. Then she stood by the spirit lamp, and
watched the frothing mixture.

“It boils,” she announced at last.

The young woman opened her eyes.

“Ah, the glare is gone!” she said, “how well that is for my poor
eyes. But you are a good fairy, my little one! Now bring the cup
from that shelf…. No; bring two! There is plenty of chocolate,
and I am quite sure you like it also.”

“I do not know,” said Mattina. “It smells good but I have never
tasted it.”

“Never tasted chocolate! Oh, the poor little one! Quick! Bring a cup
here, and bring also that box of biscuits from the lower shelf! I am
sure you are hungry. Is it not so?”

“Yes,” assented Mattina, “I am always hungry. My mistress,” she added
gravely, “says that I eat like a locust falling on young leaves.”

“Like a locust! But what a horror! It is a sign of good health to be
hungry. Come then, my child, drink, and tell me if it be not excellent,
my Paris chocolate?”

So Mattina tasted her first cup of French chocolate, and found it
surpassingly good.

And the next day, and for three days after that, in the afternoons,
when she might have sat down to rest on the doorstep, Mattina would
lift the latch of the room in the courtyard, while “Madmazella”
was out giving lessons, and sweep, and dust, and tidy, and put fresh
water into the pretty vase with the flowers, and clean the trim little
house shoes, and fill the spirit lamp.

But on the fifth day, a carriage came to the door of the next house,
and the coachman went into the ground floor room and brought out a
trunk, which he lifted to the box, and “Madmazella” came out also in
a dark blue dress, with a gray veil tied over her hat, and a little
bag in her hand, ready to go away to her own country.

Mattina stood outside on the pavement looking on, and there was a
lump in her throat.

“Madmazella” got into the open one-horse carriage and beckoned to her.

“Come here, my little one! You have been of a goodness,–but of a
goodness to me that I do not know how to thank you; I shall bring you
a whole big box of chocolates from Paris when I return; and now take
this very little present, and buy something as a souvenir of me! Is
it not so?”

She smiled and waved her hand as the carriage drove off, and only
when it was quite out of sight did Mattina look at what had been
pressed into her hand. It was a crumpled five drachmæ note and Mattina
looked at it with awe. She wondered whether it would be enough to
buy the picture with the boat, in case the New Year present should
be something else. In the meanwhile where should she keep it?

Suddenly she thought of the pocket Kyra Sophoula had stitched into
her brown dress. She ran up to the little dark room, half way up the
stairs, reached down her bundle from the nail on which it hung, pulled
out a much crumpled brown dress, shook it out, found the pocket, and
placed the five drachmæ note in it, pinning up the opening carefully
for fear the note might fall out.

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