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
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
“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.”
“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
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' 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
“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.