Under Greek Skies by Dragoume, Ioulia D.
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UNDER GREEK SKIES BY JULIA D. DRAGOUMIS
NEW YORK E·P·DUTTON & COMPANY PUBLISHERS
Copyright, 1913 BY E. P. DUTTON & COMPANY
The Knickerbocker Press, New York
TO MY THREE GRANDCHILDREN NICO AND ALEXANDRA YANNICOSTA AND NADINE RALLI I DEDICATE THIS BOOK
A LETTER TO THE ONE WHO READS THIS BOOK
Dear Little Schoolmate:
If you have read the story of Pilarica and Rafael in sunny Spain, you know that these "Stories for Little Schoolmates" are being written about the child you might have been, if your father and mother--or your grandfathers and grandmothers--had stayed in Spain, or some other far country, instead of coming across the sea to live in America. "In Sunny Spain" told you what you might have been doing a few years ago, if you had been a Spanish child during the Cuban war; and now this new book will tell you how children work and play in Greece.
There are not yet many school children with Greek names in the United States, for most of the Greeks who have come to America have been young unmarried men, or else like Ulysses they have left their wives and children in Greece and mean to go back to them. Of course you know about Ulysses and his wife Penelope and his son Telemachus. He is the hero of a long and delightful poem called the Odyssey, a Greek tale of wanderings and adventures by sea and land. There is a story about him in Hawthorne's "Tanglewood Tales" which I think you must have read; but if you haven't, why not read it now? These modern Greeks who love to sail away to new countries make me think of Ulysses, although their adventures are not always as exciting as his were. But lately, more and more of them are bringing their families across the sea, and that means that they will make America their home, and presently we shall have boys and girls with pretty Greek names, Constantine, and Iason, and Chryseis, in our schools.
In the old days, too, not all the Greeks were like Ulysses; they used to make colonies and homes in other lands; it is no new thing with them, for Greece has always been a tiny country, not nearly big enough to hold all her people, nor fertile enough to feed them. There were Greeks in Italy and Sicily and Asia Minor, in ancient times; and there were many Greek children in Constantinople, but they--poor little ones!--were there against their will, for in the fifteenth century Turkey conquered Greece, and as it was the custom in those days for the conquered people to pay a tax to their conquerors, Greece had to pay a tax to Turkey. But not a tax of money. No; Turkey demanded a tax of children. Year by year, one-fifth of all the little Christian boys in Greece were taken away from their fathers and mothers and carried off to Constantinople, where they were educated to be the servants, or clerks, or soldiers of the Turks.
If you have read Charles Kingsley's book of "Greek Heroes," this story of Turkey and the little Greek boys will remind you of the old legend of the Minotaur, that cruel, man-eating monster who made the Greeks send him a shipful of young men and maidens every year, until at last there rose up a hero named Theseus, who was brave enough and strong enough to slay the dreadful beast. For nearly three hundred years Turkey was a sort of minotaur, but instead of eating the children she made them serve her, and she would not let them worship in Christian churches. The story called "The Finding of the Cave" in this new book of ours by Madame Dragoumis, tells us something of the War for Independence which the Greeks fought, in the nineteenth century, against the Turks, when they at last set themselves free and were no longer obliged to pay the wicked child-tax. Lord Byron, the English poet, fought in that war, to help the Greeks, and died at Missolonghi.
But the Greeks, in the old days, who went to Sicily and Italy and other countries around the Mediterranean Sea, usually did so of their own will; and of their own will they are coming to America to-day. You will wonder, perhaps, why they did not come long ago; why, if they loved adventure and sea-faring, they did not come with De Soto and Sir Walter Raleigh, and Champlain, and Captain John Smith, and all those other gallant gentlemen. But you must remember that in those years, when America was being settled, Greece was under Turkey's yoke; she was no longer rich and free, like Spain, or England, or even France; she could not afford to risk money for ships and expeditions on an unknown ocean and in lands so far away. Later, when she had won her independence, she was kept busy putting her home affairs in order, choosing a king, and trying to earn her own living--which is, of course, what every nation as well as every man should want to do. But it is because Greece has not yet been very successful in earning her own living that her people have begun to come to America.
One of the ways in which she tried to live was by selling currants to France. As far back as 1863--half a century ago--a pest attacked the grapevines in France, so that there were not enough grapes to make the wine which all the world buys, and France had to use currants with her grapes. Now currants grow very well in Greece, and the eager Greeks immediately set to work to raise them for the French market. But they were so eager that they did a foolish thing: they neglected their other crops for the sake of the currants; they put all their eggs in one basket--as the saying goes; and when after many years and much experimenting, France at last got rid of her grapevine pest and no more currants were needed to make French wine, the Greek farmers were left with their currants on their hands. This is one of the reasons why, since the beginning of the twentieth century, so many Greeks have come to the United States.
At first they came only for what they could get. As soon as they had made a little money, by keeping candy shops and ice cream parlours and fruit stands, all the husbands and fathers and big brothers would hurry across the sea again, to spend their earnings at home in Greece. Little brothers had a harder time. Hundreds of little brothers, fourteen and fifteen years old, and younger, were sent over to America by their parents, to earn money as bootblacks. In Greece many little boys are bootblacks. One of the stories in this book, "Alexander the Son of Philip," is all about a young Greek lad who blacked shoes for a living in Athens. Madame Dragoumis, who tells the story, has also written me a letter, in which she says:--
"The third story concerns a little newspaper seller and shoeblack, which two trades are nearly always combined in Athens. In order to make this last story clearer to you I must tell you that these little 'loustro' boys as they are called ('loustro' meaning polish and by extension of meaning polishers or shoe blacks) are a well-known institution in Athens. They nearly all come from Megaloupolis in the Peloponnesus, and are noted for their honesty. They are employed as messenger boys as well, and in the mornings you may see them in numbers bringing provisions home from the market--which the master of the house or the cook has bought and sent home by these boys. Examples of dishonesty are almost unknown amongst them and so jealous are they of their good reputation that woe betide any boy who might endanger it--the others would half kill him. A literary and scientific club, the 'Parnassos' has organized a night school for these boys where they are well taught for their class and receive money prizes at the end of the year. The various members take interest in the boys and give them treats at Easter and on Independence Day (March 25). They do not wear exactly a uniform but nearly all are dressed in a tunic and trousers of a striped gray material which is made in Greece and very cheap."
But the bootblacks who come to America are not so well taken care of as those who stay in Athens. Perhaps if their fathers and mothers knew what a hard life they were to lead in the United States they would not send them. But I am quite sure that little Constantine and Aleko and the others come eagerly, and are proud to be able to help support the family. Poor little fellows! They are hired out--sold is nearer the truth--for a certain number of years, to some older, craftier countryman who has an American shoe-blacking parlour; and there they work all day, and far into the night, with never a holiday. Our Government is trying to put a stop to this hard life, and there is a law which says that children under sixteen must not come to America without their parents; but these persistent little fellows do get in, somehow. Ever since the Greeks got inside the walls of Troy town, hundreds of years ago, by hiding inside a great wooden horse, they have found it easy to make their way into other people's cities whenever they wished to. But now that Greek men are beginning to bring their wives and families with them to America, perhaps the little bootblacks will not have such a hard time, for their parents will find out how badly they have been treated.
Perhaps also, now that Greeks are making a second home in America, they will no longer think only of what they can get out of her, but will want to give as well as to get. We cannot make a home without giving something to it; every bird who builds a nest knows that. And the Greeks have great gifts which America needs.
They have the gift of beauty. If you live in New York or Boston or Chicago, or any other city where there is an Art museum, no doubt you often go on Saturday afternoons to see the casts of famous statues in the museum,--there may even be a cast hanging on your school-room wall,--and you know that the most beautiful statues, and the most famous, are those which the Greeks made, hundreds of years ago. With all our added years of skill and knowledge we have never been able to make any statues more beautiful than those early Grecian ones. If the Greeks bring us this gift of beauty, surely America must some day be a beautiful place to live in, free from crowded tenements, and lovely with fair dwellings.
And the gift of wisdom is theirs; for no philosophers are greater than those ancient Greeks, Socrates and Plato; no poets are greater than Homer, who told the story of Ulysses, or Æschylus who wrote a play about how Prometheus brought fire from heaven and gave it to man. Some day I hope you will read some of this Greek poetry and philosophy; you will never be a really well-educated man, or woman, unless you do.
Thirdly, they can give us the key to the out-of-doors. In the ancient days they were great athletes, they raced and wrestled and leaped, for the pure joy of motion. What does Marathon mean, little schoolmate? Why do we call a race a Marathon? Find out! The Greeks can tell you. To-day they are not such lovers of active sports as they used to be, perhaps, but they still love to live out-of-doors. At home, many of them are farmers, growing currants and olives and lemons; they are shepherds, herding sheep and goats upon the steep hillsides. When I see them trudging along our gray streets shoving their pushcarts of fruit, I cannot help wondering if they do not miss their olive orchards and lemon groves. Even the Greeks who lived in cities, before they came to us, must long for a glimpse of the Athenian acropolis, sometimes.
Do you not think we ought to make our American cities beautiful, so that the immigrants who come to us from more beautiful places need not be too homesick?
And now this homesickness of the Greek, this loyalty to his native land, brings me to the greatest gift he can give us. No matter how far away from Greece he goes, he carries the love of his country with him in his heart forever; and whenever she needs him he is ready to fly to her aid and to spend his money and himself in her service. He is a great patriot, and his children, born in America, ought to be even greater than he, for they must carry the love of two countries in their hearts, and the love of all the races which mingle to make the man we call an American.
But I have talked long enough. I know you are in a great hurry to read the stories which Madame Dragoumis has written for you about the joys and sorrows of the Greek children who might have been your brothers and sisters, if you lived in Greece to-day. You will find them very like you in many ways; very lively and noisy and lovable; patient in work (are you?); full of courage; fond of play; fond of moving picture shows, just as you are, for in Athens where once the people used to go to see the greatest plays in the world acted in the theatre, the plays of the poet Sophocles and Æschylus and Aristophanes, to-day there are cheap moving pictures for amusement, just as there are in New York or Chicago or San Francisco. But we must look forward to the day when our theatres and our plays shall be as great as those of Greece used to be, and the Greek children must help us to make them great.
Affectionately yours, Florence Converse.
Mattina 3 The Finding of the Cave 109 Alexander the Son of Philip 191
Coming Towards Them Frontispiece FACING PAGE Mattina Sat Down 14 Mattina Set to Work 64 There Was so Much to Do 138 Alexander 260
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  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, 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 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, 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."
"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:--
"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.'"
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, 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.
"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 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 and at the Theseum before they got out at the Monastiraki 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 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."
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?"
"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."
"I can scrub boards till they are quite white, I can wash clothes, I can knead three okes 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," 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 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."
"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.
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."
"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 from whose raised terrace one can see the columns of the old Temple of Jupiter, the Acropolis, the marble Stadium, 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 you know. And I will tell him to ask you for the key: I will have no pryings in my things. And Mattina...."
"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.
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 'moussaka.'"
"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 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' 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.
It was nearly four that afternoon before she got up to the baker's shop, and her uncle had already gone round to the coffee-house. Her aunt was in the courtyard, sorting out wood for the night's baking, from a load which had been brought down from the hills the day before. Mattina set to work to help her, and her aunt told her that her uncle had said he was to be sent for as soon as she arrived, because he meant to take them both out to see something, ... "something," she added mysteriously, "that your eyes have never seen!" And then she went off to send the boy to call her husband.
When Kyra Demetroula returned after a few minutes' absence, it was to find Mattina, who had come across a little sprig of thyme among the firewood, holding it tightly between her hands, close to her face, and smelling it with long indrawn breaths, the tears trickling down her cheeks.
Her aunt stared at her dumfounded. She had always been of the town.
"Are you mad, my child?" she exclaimed, throwing up her arms. "To be spoiling your heart over a bit of old herb! Give it to me! Let me throw it into the oven! What will your uncle say when he comes? He will think I have been giving you stick! Look at your eyes!"
"Never mind! Let me keep it! Oh, let me keep it! I beg of you to let me keep it, my aunt! Oh, it is so beautiful! It ... it ... brings back Poros to me," and Mattina gulped down her sobs and dried her eyes on the back of her sleeve.
"Hush, now, I hear your uncle."
He came in laughing, dressed in his Sunday best.
"Health to you, Mattina! You have been forgetting us for so long! And if you only knew where we are going! If you only but knew!"
And it is true they went to a wonderful place.
In a broad street, up and down which the crowded street cars were constantly running, they stopped at an entrance where a man sat behind a tiny little window, and Mastro Anastasi paid some money to him. Then they passed into a great big dimly lighted room, with many seats all in a row placed from one end to another; and a great many people and children were sitting in them. Mattina sat between her aunt and her uncle, and waited.
"Why do we sit here?" she asked at last, "and why is it dark?"
Suddenly a little bell tinkled, and at one end of the hall it became light; and then all sorts of extraordinary things passed before Mattina's eyes.
She saw a motor car such as those which she had seen outside in the streets, but this one climbed up the walls of houses. She saw a funny short man running away, and a great number of people chasing him, and he upset a woman carrying a bottle of wine, and the wine was all spilt; and the woman was very angry, and got up, and followed after him with the rest; and he upset two men on a ladder who were painting a house, and all the paint ran over him, and they also chased him; and he upset a cart laden with eggs, and all the eggs broke, and the carter also ran after him, brandishing his whip; and he upset a whole shop front of plates and dishes, and they all broke, too, and came tumbling all over everyone; and when the people who were chasing had nearly caught him, the man ran upon some railway lines, and a railway train ran over him, and made him quite flat, but he sprang up quite well again; and he came to a bridge, and he jumped right into the water, and swam across to the other side, and all the other people jumped in after him, but they could not swim and they made a great splash in the water, and suddenly all the picture went out and Mattina did not know what happened afterwards.
But she saw many other things.
She saw a little girl in a lovely frock of lace playing with a big dog in a garden, and some men came and stole her and hid her in a dark cellar, and a lady and a gentleman who came into the garden wept and tore their hair, but the big dog sniffed the ground, and ran and ran, and sniffed again, and jumped over walls and found the child, and dragged her by her frock and brought her back to her father and mother; and the last Mattina saw of them, they were all sitting in the garden and patting and stroking the big dog.
Then she saw a seashore and rocks, in a place that her uncle told them was called Spain, which was so like the second little bay on the Monastery Road that she felt like crying again, but that picture went out at once; and when she saw a man putting a lighted candle in his mouth and swallowing it, she forgot to feel sad.
When at last they left the wonderful place, her uncle gave her a ten "lepta" copper coin, and stopped a street car that was passing. He told her to be sure to get out when she saw the grocer's shop in the Piræus Road at the corner of the street where her master lived, and Mattina climbed into the car with a big sigh.
It was still light when she got down off the car step and turned into the narrow street, still sniffing at the dry sprig of thyme which she had kept tightly clasped in her hand all the time.
Out of the gathering dusk, an old woman came running towards her.
"It is you, Mattina! It is you! And they said you would never come back."
Mattina looked around her anxiously.
"Why did they say that, Kyra Polyxene? Is it so late?"
"No, it is not late. But you will find trouble for you at the house. Your mistress has lost money ... much money ... a twenty-five drachmæ note, and she says that only you can have taken it."
Mattina fell back a step and stared up at the old woman.
"Yes, and your mistress got your bundle and took out all your things and threw them here and there; but she found naught, and she is spoiling the world with her screams."
"Come!" said Mattina, "let me go and tell her she does not know what she says."
But the old woman pulled her back.
"Listen, my girl! You are but a little one, without a whole shoe to your foot, and these people count every mouthful of bread you put into your mouth.... If it was in an evil moment?... Give it to me! and if it be not changed, I will put it where they may find it and the noise will be over."
"You, also, do not know what you say," and Mattina dragged her arm away and ran into the house.
The door of the living-room was open, and from it came the sound of angry voices and loud cries.
Mattina walked right in.
"I am here," she announced, "and neither have I seen your...."
But she could not finish her sentence; a furiously angry woman rushed at her, caught her by the shoulder, and shook her viciously.
"You thief!" she screamed. "You little thief! This is how you repay me for taking you in! And you have the face to speak also!"
If Mattina had been a poor little servant all her life, and if her parents had been servants before her, she would perhaps have insisted on her innocence more respectfully, but until lately she had always lived with her equals, and also she was the child of free islanders, who had never called any one their master.
With both hands she pushed her mistress away from her as hard as she could push.
"Leave me! Leave me I tell you! I a thief! I! It is you are a liar for saying so!"
But two heavy blows sent her staggering against the table.
Then it seemed as though all the people in the room were about to fall upon her, and she crouched there with uplifted arm to protect her head.
The master pushed aside his wife.
"Wait a moment!" he said. "Let me speak to her!" then to Mattina:--
"Tell me now what you have done with the money?"
"I never saw it, I tell you."
"That does not pass with me; you have hidden it somewhere, or given it to someone."
"Since I tell you I never saw it!"
"There is no one else in the house to take it. If you did not see it, where is it?"
"Do I know?" said Mattina, sullenly. "Is she not always losing her things?" and she pointed to her mistress.
Now because the woman was really constantly mislaying her belongings, this made her still more furious. She darted at Mattina.
"Wait till I show her!" and she struck her so hard a blow on the mouth, that Mattina screamed and covered her face with both arms.
Her mistress raised her hand again but one of her sisters pulled her back.
"Find the money first," she said. "What do you gain by beating her?"
"You are right. If she has it on her, I will find it."
And the woman went down on her knees and felt over Mattina, pulling her frock roughly about. In a moment she found the pins that closed the opening of the pocket, and dragged them out, thrusting her hand inside.
"Here it is!" she screamed triumphantly. "See! I have it!" and she waved the folded note which she pulled out of the pocket. But as soon as she looked at it, her tone changed to one of bitter disappointment.
"She has changed it, the shameless one, and this is all that remains!"
Mattina tried to snatch it from her.
"That is mine! That is mine! That is not yours! It is five drachmæ. Give it to me! It is mine I tell you."
Her mistress laughed aloud.
"She told Taki here that she had not a 'lepton' of her own."
"That was before," cried Mattina, wildly, beginning to sob. "That was before I had this. This is mine! It is mine! On my father's soul, I tell you it is mine!"
"If it be yours," asked one of the sisters, "where did you find it?"
"She gave it to me."
"She! What she?"
"She, the Madmazella from the next house."
"She tells lies!" broke in her mistress. "A governess, who works one day that she may eat the next! Has she money to give?"
"When did she give it to you?" asked the master.
"When she went away in the carriage to go to her country."
Then they all laughed.
"Ah, of course, you thought of someone who has gone away and whom we cannot ask! You are very clever, my girl, but your cleverness will not pass with us!"
"Now, enough words," said her mistress. "I shall lock her up in her room and send for the police inspector. Perhaps in prison they may get the truth out of her."
Mattina turned as pale as wax.
She knew what prison was. Even in Poros she had seen men with their arms tied back with ropes, taken to Nauplia to the big prison of the "Palamidi"; and she had heard tales of those who had returned from there!
"To prison!" she gasped. "To prison! I?"
"Of course," said her mistress, enjoying her terror. "Did you think that you could steal and then stay in honest houses? Now you will see what will happen to you, you little thief!"
Mattina stumbled back against the wall. The sweat sprang out on her face, she kept wetting her lips, and her hands groped before her as though she were in the dark.
Her mistress seized hold of her arm and pulled her towards the open door of the room. For the first moments she struggled wildly, and then feeling how useless it was, she let herself be dragged out of the door and up the few steps to her little dark room. Her mistress pushed open the door with her foot and thrust Mattina in so violently that she fell upon the mattress in the further corner. Then the key was pulled out of the keyhole, and the door locked and double-locked on the outside; then Mattina heard her mistress's heavy tread descending to the room below.
It was quite dark already. Mattina was never allowed a candle in her room, nor even a floating wick in a tumbler of oil. "As though," her mistress had said, "it were necessary to burn good oil for a serving maid to pull off her clothes and tumble on to her mattress." As a rule she was so tired and sleepy, she did not mind; but now she was very frightened indeed, and fear is always worse in the dark.
She lay there, where she had been flung, huddled up against the wall, her eyes hidden in the bend of her arm.
Prison! They would send her to prison! She had heard of a man in Poros, Andoni, the joiner, who had broken open the money box of Sotiro, the coffee-house keeper, in the night, and he had been kept ten years in prison! She did not know how much money he had taken; she had never heard. How long would they keep her in prison if they thought she had stolen twenty-five drachmæ; it was a great deal of money! And what would they do to her in prison? Was it a dark place under the ground? Oh, why was her father, her own "babba," not alive to beat off the men of the police who would soon be coming to fetch her?
For a long time she cried and sobbed on the mattress without moving. When she opened her eyes she could distinguish nothing in the room, the darkness was like a thick black veil covering everything. There were voices, but they seemed distant; the house seemed still, with the stillness that brings terror with it.
Suddenly the dark seemed full of big hands with hooked fingers stretching out to clutch at her.
She ran wildly to the door and shook it, screaming aloud.
"Oh, my mother! My mother! Manitsa! Where are you?"
In the meanwhile, her mistress, downstairs, was urging her husband to go to the police station.
"Just think of the little thief," she was saying. "And I who kept her out of charity, though she broke a fortune in plates, because I thought that at least she had 'clean hands.'"
"I wonder," said an elderly man who had not yet spoken, and who was Taki's godfather, "where the girl can have found this twenty-five drachmæ note?"
"I put it myself on my chest of drawers under my pincushion this morning," explained Mattina's mistress. "When I came to go out with the children it was missing; and she, the little hypocrite, helped me to look for it everywhere."
"Had the girl been alone in your room, since you had put the money there?" inquired the elderly man.
"Do I know? But she was there a long time messing about with the children and pretending to help to dress them. A note is easily slipped up a sleeve. Is it such a big thing? Well, when I could not find it I said to myself that doubtless Theophani must have taken it, and forgotten to tell me before he went out. You know how absent-minded he is. And when I met him in the square, I forgot to ask him, and never remembered till late this afternoon; and when he said he had never touched it, of course I knew at once it could only have been Mattina who had stolen it. Who else? And I, the stupid one, who have such confidence in people and never lock things up! Who knows how much more money she has taken at times?"
"Have you missed any, besides this?" asked the elderly man.
"I would have you know, my friend, that money is not so scarce in this house that we have to count exactly how many drachmæ we leave about!" Then turning to her sisters: "Someone is knocking outside," she said, "I must go and see who it is. You just take those children and put them to bed. They are fighting the whole time."
It is true, there was a great noise and much whimpering when Bebeko was dragged out by one of his aunts from under the table, holding to a purple limp-looking object which was the half of his boat.
"Taki," he sobbed, had "boken" his boat.
"He is a stupid one," announced Taki. "What is it but a piece of aubergine, his boat?"
"Never mind, my little bird!" said the aunt, picking Bebeko up, "to-morrow I will buy you a new one; a real boat of wood!"
But to-morrow was far away for Bebeko. He kept tight hold of his half boat.
"The mast!" he cried as his aunt was carrying him off, "the mast, and my sail! They are under the table! They fell off! Taki made them fall!"
The aunt, who was a kind young woman, put down the child and stooped to look for "the mast and the sail," creeping under the long table-cover to do so. When she found them, she stopped for a moment, looking at them, and then called to her sister who came back into the room with a newspaper in her hand.
"Angeliki! Look at this! Do you see with what the child has been playing?"
And she held out a piece of paper with two small holes pierced in it, through which was passed a sharpened stick.
And the piece of paper was a twenty-five drachmæ note.
Bebeko's mother snatched the note from her sister's hand, and seized the child roughly.
"From where did you get this, you bad child? Who gave it to you? Was it Mattina?"
The child began to cry loudly.
"I want my sail! I want my sail! It is mine! It is not Mattina's; it is mine!"
"From where did you get it? Tell me at once, or you will eat stick."
"Do not frighten the child," said the father, and he picked up Bebeko and set him on the table.
"Now tell me like a golden little boy that you are, where did you find this paper? Tell me, and Babba will give you a 'loukoumi.'"
The child gulped down a big sob.
"Mattina had no rag to make a sail; she said to ask Mamma...."
"I asked Mamma, and she said, 'I have no rag, go away,' and then I put the paper in my own self. It is mine."
"Where did you find the paper?"
"On the floor."
"But where on the floor."
"Down on the floor."
Then the youngest aunt said:--
"Come and show me where, Bebeko, and Babba will get the 'loukoumi.'"
Bebeko scrambled down and took hold of her hand, and led her, all the others following, into his parents' bedroom. Then, pointing to a spot at the foot of the chest of drawers, he said triumphantly:--
His mother looked very vexed.
"Those children!" she cried. "Whatever they see, they take. All this fuss we have had for nothing!"
"Go upstairs, now," said her husband, "and tell that poor girl that you have found the money. She was half mad with fright when you told her you would send her to prison."
"It does not do her any harm," said Mattina's mistress, "if she did not do it this time, it will be a lesson for her if she ever feels inclined to steal in the future. However, she may as well come down and take the children to bed," and she took a lighted candle, and went upstairs to unlock the door.
In a moment the others heard an astounded voice exclaiming:--
"Bah! She is not here!"
"Not there! Nonsense!" cried her husband; and they all ran up and peered into the little dark room.
But it was quite true, Mattina was not there.
They looked all round, but there was only the tumbled mattress on the floor, a red cotton coverlet hanging on a nail in the wall over it, a straw chair, a pitcher of water in a tin basin, and not a single cupboard, nook, or corner in which anyone could hide.
"The girl must have crept down quietly while we were talking, and run away to her uncle's," said the master.
"But the door was locked," objected his wife.
"But it was, I tell you."
"You meant to lock it but you did not."
"I locked it and double locked it."
"You were in a passion at the moment, and you did not know what you were doing."
"Since I tell you I turned the key twice with my hand," screamed his wife, getting very red. "Do I eat straw? I locked it and I locked it well. Do you not understand Greek? Shall I say it in Chinese?"
Her husband strode into the little room and, taking the lighted candle, lifted it high above his head.
"You women have no logic! Look!" turning to the others, "can the girl have climbed through the window?"
It was a tiny barred window over their heads, looking out upon a courtyard far below.
They all laughed.
"Well, then, she must have got through the door! Come downstairs now, there is no use in staying up here. In the morning I will go to her uncle's."
Then as they left the room he turned to his wife who was still protesting violently that she had locked the door; she would lay her head that she had.
"Now enough words, wife! Perhaps you think the girl passed through the wall?"
And yet, had he but known it, that was very nearly what had happened. When Mattina, worn out with crying, had sunk down on the floor against the door, sobbing out every now and then, "My mother, my manitsa," she suddenly heard a very low muffled knocking which seemed to come from the other side of the room. At first she took no heed. It was someone, she supposed, in the next house; she had often heard people moving there. But it came again, a soft little knock repeated twice; then her name just whispered.
"Mattina! Mattina! Are you there?"
The voice was Kyra Polyxene's, she was quite sure, but from where did it come? She crossed the little room. The knock was quite clear now.
"But where are you, Kyra Polyxene?"
"Now you will see; can you hear what I say?"
"Yes, I hear you."
"Move your mattress!"
"What did you say?"
"I dare not speak any louder; move your mattress away from the wall!"
Mattina seized hold of the heavy straw mattress with both hands, and dragged it aside.
"Have you done it?"
Then slowly, very slowly, a narrow door painted exactly the same color as the rest of the room, with no handle, no crack even to show its outline or to distinguish it from the surrounding wall, a door which Mattina had certainly never seen before, was pushed open from the other side and Kyra Polyxene's kind old face appeared in the opening.
"Not a word!" she whispered, with a finger on her lips. "Not a word for your life! Come!"
Mattina was very bewildered.
"Where shall I come? How did you get in?"
"Hush! Lest they hear us from below. Once this was all one big house, and when they made it two, they left this door. It was all painted over, and no one knew; but I remembered. Wait!" and she came right in. "Give me your coverlet! See I will hang it over the opening, so ... because now that I have opened the door, when it is light they will see that the paint has cracked. And before that lazy mistress of yours takes the coverlet down to shake it, many days will pass. Come! Why are you waiting?"
"Kyra Polyxene," said Mattina, "they all tell lies! I never saw their money!"
"And for that, will you stay here and let them take you and lock you in prison?"
There was a loud knocking at the door below.
Mattina clung desperately to Kyra Polyxene's skirts.
"Do you hear?"
"I hear," said the old woman grimly. "Come, I tell you! Come!"
She pushed Mattina first through the half-open door and followed, closing it softly behind her and turning a rusty key on the other side. They were standing in a small dark room filled with cases and lighted by one candle. Kyra Polyxene took up the candle. Then she clasped Mattina's hand tightly in hers, and together, treading very softly, they crossed a long narrow passage outside the room, passed through a glass door, went down a flight of stone steps into a cellar where piles of wood were stacked, and then went up three or four steps again to a little back door that opened on the pavement.
The night air that blew in their faces felt fresh and cool.
"Listen, my daughter!" said the old woman. "Now you go straight to your uncle's house! You know the way. If to-morrow dawns well, I will come and tell you what is happening. Go! Run! And the Holy Virgin be with you!"
At that moment loud voices came to them from the open window of the house which they had just left. Mattina thought she caught her name, and then she heard her master say very distinctly:--
"Go upstairs, now!..." but she did not hear the end of the sentence.
The men of the police must have come, and they were going upstairs to look for her!
Without a word, she dragged her hand from the old woman's and ran wildly down the dark street.
She ran on and on, panting, stumbling, falling, picking herself up again, her plaits of hair which had come loose in the struggle with her mistress flying behind her. When she came out to the Piræus Road, where a few people were still about, she stopped, and leaning against a lamp post, tried with trembling fingers to tie up her hair.
To her uncle's! No! She would not go there!
She had not had time to explain to Kyra Polyxene that her master knew where the baker's shop was. He had asked her one day. And of course it was there they would search for her at once. No, no! Not to her uncle's! But where then? Where?
She tried hard to remember where Antigone had said that her brother lived. Perhaps she would hide her; she knew how bad mistresses could be! But try as she would, she could not remember. Athens names were all new and strange to her.
And there was no one else.
Perhaps she could walk about all night, or sit down on a bench? But when it dawned, what then? Suddenly she heard running steps in the street behind her and loud voices, ... men's voices. Was the one her master's? She looked wildly round like a trapped thing and once more started running, as she had never run before, down the middle of the broad road. Every moment it seemed as if a hand were grasping her shoulder. She flew past the lighted grocer's shop where they might know her, and her head struck against the open shutter, but she did not feel the pain. On she ran, her breath coming in loud gasps, and great throbs beating in her throat. She heard steps again.... Were they behind her?
Suddenly, under a lamp post, she came into violent contact with a big man, who was walking leisurely before her, his hands crossed behind his back, fiddling with a short string of black beads.
He caught hold of the lamp post to save himself from falling and turned round.
"Who falls in this way on people? Have you gone mad, my girl? One would think someone was hunting you."
It was a Poros voice, and Mattina clung desperately to the baggy blue breeches of Thanassi Nika, as the old sea-captain bent over her.
"They are! They are!" she cried wildly, "they are hunting me! Save me! Save me! And may all your dead become saints!"
"Why? Why? What is happening here? Are you not Aristoteli Dorri's daughter? Who is hunting you?"
"The people of the house; the master ... the mistress ... they have called the men of the police; they will put me in prison!"
"What have you done?" asked the old man sharply.
"I have done nothing. On the soul of my father, I have taken nothing of theirs. But money was lost, and they say I took it. Save me! Take me from here!"
Capetan Thanassi looked up and down the road.
Farther up towards the grocer's shop two or three men seemed hurrying towards them, but just at that moment a bright light flashed in their eyes, and a street car going to the square came to a stop a few paces away.
The old man lifted Mattina bodily to the step and followed her. The little platform was crowded, and as they stood there tightly wedged between many people, he put his finger on his lips so that Mattina should keep silent. Almost at once in the big lighted square they got down again, and before Mattina had time to think where they might be going, she had been run across the road, down a broad street, through a crowded waiting-room, down an endless flight of stone steps, and was seated once more in a railway carriage, which started almost as soon as Capetan Thanassi threw himself down puffing and panting on the seat beside her.
"Well," he said, wiping his forehead with a big red handkerchief, "it is not a good thing to be hunted and to run; but to let these Athenians, here, seize hold of Aristoteli Dorri's daughter, and call her a thief! That could not be! Now, listen to me, little one! If you have done anything crooked, that is between God and your soul, but for me it is sufficient that I knew your father. My caique leaves to-night, now, with the turn of the wind. I shall put you in it and take you back to your own country, and once there,... we shall see what can be done."
Mattina had seized his hand and was kissing it.
"To my own island? To Poros? God make your years many, Capetan Thanassi, for this that you are doing for me!"
The big white caique at Piræus was ready laden, only waiting for its captain, and an hour later, Mattina, in a little corner between two planks of wood and a big case, lay curled up on the low deck, with the cool night wind blowing salt and fresh on her face. She listened to the water flap-flapping against the wooden sides of the boat, and dimly saw the great white sails bellying out above her head. She heaved a big sigh of content and stretched out her feet under a loose piece of sack-cloth.
The harbor lights of Piræus were already far behind them when, rocked by the softly swaying movement, she fell asleep.
And how good it was the next morning to awake at sea, with the sun high above the horizon on a blue September day, to feel safe and free, to lean over the side of the boat, munching the hunk of bread and the piece of "touloumi" cheese which one of the sailors had given her, while she watched the swish and sparkle of the water as the tall prow of the caique divided it, and listened to Capetan Thanassi's loud orders to his men, as they tacked round by the lighthouse.
Ah! and how good it was, as soon as they turned the corner, to see in the distance the white houses of Poros!
It was even better when she stepped down the plank thrown from the boat to the shore and was treading Poros soil once more. Then it was like dreams coming true! The caique had anchored far away from the village, in a little creek before one came to the Beach of the Little Pines. Someone from Athens was building a house there, a big house with balconies and terraces. Capetan Thanassi had brought a boat load of wood-work for the doors and windows, and the workmen were busy unloading it almost before the anchor had been dropped.
"What will you do?" the old captain asked Mattina. "Before noon, when this unloading is over, I shall sail into the village. Will you wait?"
"I thank you, Capetan Thanassi. For the good that you have done me, may you find it from God; but I cannot wait. I will go along the shore, and reach the house and the little one long before you have finished your work."
"Go then, my girl! Go!" and Mattina ran up the slope of the hill leading to the Beach of the Little Pines, and did not stop to take breath until she reached the top.
There she stood still, waist-high in a tangle of bushes. The thyme was all dried up of course, but the heather was in bloom and the lentisk bushes were laden with thick clusters of red berries.
She dropped on her knees, with a little cry of joy, beside a big bush on which the bright crimson berries seemed thicker than the tiny leaves. "Fairy-cherries," the children of the Red House on the hill, called them. Mattina had never heard this, but she loved the little tight bunches of red berries because they were so pretty and because she had never seen them but in Poros. In a moment she got up and began the descent of the hill.
The glorious curve of the Beach of the Little Pines seemed almost entirely deserted. The morning sea in lines of deep golden green near the pines of the shore, and of deep blue beyond, blue as the sky, blue as the flag, bore not a single fisher boat on its surface. Only far away in the distance under the big round fig tree Mattina could distinguish a flock of sheep, and still farther away the figure of a man coming down the next hill, but whether it was the shepherd or not she could not tell. Down she came through the tall white spikes of the dog-onions waving all over the hill side, till she stood at last on a flat gray rock on the very edge of the sea. The perfectly smooth water showed the shining yellow and green and gray pebbles lying below, as though a sheet of glass had been placed over them. In and out between the stones swam tiny black-striped fishes, and now and then a ripple trembled over the surface and broke softly against the rock. And it was clear and beautiful, and her very own sea, and she lifted her face to its breath, and she fell on her knees and stretched out her bare brown arms that the water might flow and ripple over them!
In the water close to the shore, every tiny green branch, and every vein of the gray rocks, and every clump of red earth, was reflected line for line, and tint for tint, and through these reflections ran long straight lines of bright, bright blue. Suddenly Mattina remembered Antigone, the serving maid of the next house, who had said to her, "You! with your trees, and your rocks, and your sea!" And she thought, "She has never seen them, the poor one! If she were only here now!"
But she did not know that Antigone was of those people who would never see some things, even if she were to touch them with her hand. She would find that the rocks hurt her feet and spoiled her Sunday shoes.
The morning light would never bring a light into her eyes, and certainly a little cool soft breeze blowing in her face could never have made her feel so entirely and unreasonably joyful.
Mattina could never have explained, nor did she understand as other children might, who had read books, or who had lived with people who had read books, that it was just the beauty of everything around her that made her feel so happy, that for some moments wiped all her troubles off her mind as though by a magic sponge. She had never heard that her ancestors were of the race which above all other had always worshipped beautiful things.
However, in a few moments she stood up, wiped her arms on her frock, and walked along the shore more soberly. She must get on, she felt; she must see the child--Zacharia. How he would laugh when he saw her! "'Attina! My 'Attina!" he would cry. Kyra Sophoula would say a good word to her also; but the others, her uncle Yoryi, and her aunt Kanella, what would they say? They would ask why she had returned. They would ask so many things; and what could she say? She had come back not much richer than she went; and now what could she do? She thought for a moment of the mayor and the doctor. Each of them kept a little maid. If only one of them would take her! How good that would be! She was stronger now, and had learned much in the town. But she knew it was not likely that either of them would be requiring a new serving maid just then. People here did not change their servants like shirts as they did in Athens. In Poros, one took a little girl, one did not even call her a servant, but a "soul-child"; one taught her, one fed her, one dressed her, and in due time one prepared her dowry for her. The doctor, she knew, had got Panouria, the widow's daughter, as a "soul-child." No, it was not at all likely; and Mattina heaved a big sigh as she filled her hands with cyclamen for Zacharia. Poros had its troubles too.
She had nearly reached the end of the big beach, and was stooping to pick a bright crimson cyclamen growing in the shadow of a lentisk bush, when suddenly a flat pebble skimmed past her, touched the surface of the water, and then flew from ripple to ripple like a thing alive.
"It is many years since I did that," said a boyish voice just behind her. But when she wheeled round, it was no boy who stood there laughing and following the pebble with his eyes. It was a grown man, the one whom she had seen in the distance, coming down the hill, and it was certainly not a shepherd. It was a man wearing good clothes, like the men she had seen in Athens in the fine streets; better far than those her master wore; with a gold chain across his waistcoat. It was a man whom she had never seen before; tall, with thick brown hair and a small moustache, but whose sunburnt face did not seem strange to her.
He flung another pebble, swinging his arm well back and making it go still farther than the last.
"Did you see that one, my girl?" he said without looking at her. "I thought I had forgotten,... but see there," as he flung a third and began counting,... "eleven,--twelve,--thirteen,--fourteen! I wish some of the lads from Lexington were here to see me. They never would believe that I could make it go more than ten times."
"Throw another," said Mattina who was interested, picking up a good flat one.
The man held out his hand for it and, as he did so, looked at the girl for the first time.
The pebble dropped to the shore between them.
"Why!" he said slowly, "Why! From where did you come? Not from the village?"
Mattina, her empty hand stretched out as though still holding the stone, looked at him.
"No,--I come from Athens. Only just now we have arrived."
"Yes, in Capetan Thanassi's caique."
"You are from Athens?"
"Oh, no; from the island. I was only serving in the town."
The man put his hand under Mattina's chin, turned her face up, and took a long look at her.
"If you are not Aristoteli's daughter, may they never call me Petro again."
Mattina stared in wonderment. How came this well-dressed stranger to know her?
"Yes; I am Aristoteli Dorri's the sponge diver's."
"God rest his soul," added the man, "and your mother's also! Little did I think to return to the island and find them both under the soil. And when I looked for you, they told me you had gone to serve in the town! How did this good thing happen that you should just have come back today? Now I need not take the steamer for Athens to go and search for you."
"For who else? Do you think I mean to return to America all alone, and leave my brother's daughter working for strange folk in strange houses!"
Mattina was beyond speech.
The young man put his arm round her shoulders.
"So you do not know me? Your uncle Petro? Truly how should you? You were a babe in swaddling clothes when I left the island. But look at me! Look at me, then! Have I not the same face as your father--the blessed one? All have told me so."
A sudden enlightenment came into Mattina's eyes. Of course he had her father's face! The hair which came down in a point, the eyes that laughed; that was why he had not seemed strange. But her father had never worn such fine clothes, and his back had not been so straight.
Timidly she crept a little closer.
"My uncle," she whispered looking up into the laughing boyish eyes, "are you my 'family' now?"
"Is it a question? Of course I am your family; and you are mine. Your mother's cousins here and her brother in Athens, they good people, I do not say the contrary, but they have their own families for which to provide. I have no one, and you are mine now, and I shall work for you. It is ended now that you should work for strangers. You did well to leave them!"
"I did not mean to leave them; I did not know you were here on the island, my uncle, but I was afraid, and I ran away from their house."
Mattina flushed very red.
"They said I stole their money."
"They called you a thief! My brother's daughter! A bad year to them! But why did you run away as thieves run? You should have stayed and told them that they lied."
"I told them. But they would not believe me though I swore it on my father's soul; and the master was going to fetch the men to take me to prison, and I was afraid."
"It is true, you are but a little one. But rest easy; no one shall make you afraid, now that I am here! We will go together to these people and if the master dares to say you stole, I will break his face for him!"
And Mattina saw that her uncle's laughing eyes could look very fierce.
"Have you the money for which you served?"
"No, they had not given it to me yet."
"We will get it. Rest easy! And how much did they agree to pay you for every month?"
"Are they not ashamed? It is not even two dollars. And doubtless they made you work hard for it, eh?"
"There was always work, yes; but...."
"She said that ... that at New Year I should have a present. And now ... now...."
And Mattina suddenly realizing that the present, the long dreamed of present, was lost for ever, burst into wild sobs.
"Bah! Bah! And is it for their miserable present that you are spoiling your heart's content? Am I not here to get you a far more beautiful present?"
Mattina lifted streaming eyes, full of wonder.
"Who else? And what shall the present be?"
The heavens seemed opening in glory before Mattina's dazzled eyes.
"Can I say whatever I like?"
"Then I want ... there is a picture in a shop in Athens, with a broad golden frame; it is the sea, and a boat on it with a white sail, and you can see the sail in the water all long and wavy, and if you touch the water, you think your finger will be wet. That is what I want."
"You shall have your picture; we will hang it in our house in Lexington, where there is no sea, and it will remind us of our island."
"Shall we not live here in Poros, my uncle?"
"Here? Not yet! I am young still, and strong, and I mean to earn more money in America than I have done already. Besides, I have to think of providing your dowry now, you see. In good time, when I am older, and you are a woman grown, then, if God wills it, we will return to the island. It is not good to leave one's bones in a strange land. No; in eight days we go down to Piræus to leave for America in a great big ship, bigger than you have ever seen before, even in your sleep, and when we get there, to America, you shall see what your eyes will see!"
"Yes." Then as no words came, he added, "Say what you want! You must not fear to ask for whatever your heart desires."
"My uncle, there is Zacharia too...."
"What? The little one? I saw him at Kyra Kanella's. He is very little." Just for a second the young man hesitated, then--
"Can you care for him on the journey, my maid? A journey of many days, mind you, with a sea which may make you ill; a rough green sea with waves as high as houses; not like this blue joy here. Can you?"
"Surely," said Mattina, "I can do many things."
Her uncle looked at the sturdy little figure, and at the strong firm little chin.
"I believe you can," he said. "Come!" holding out his hand, "let us go and find the little rascal."
THE FINDING OF THE CAVE
It is a great thing to be a Zamana, and of the right branch, too. At least that is what little Pavlo Zamana had always been told.
Was it not his own great-grandfather who had fought at the siege of Missolonghi? Was it not he who had suggested the famous message to the Turks: "If you want our town, come and take it!" though it was the sender who got the credit for it? Was not he one of the leaders of the last heroic sortie, on the never-to-be-forgotten tenth of April? And did not Botzari say of him, "Without my right hand, I can do something, without Zamana, nothing"?
All this was most gratifying when Pavlo was at school; especially when new boys arrived, for the old ones had heard the story pretty often. And of course it was always a proud moment when the history master came to the siege of Missolonghi, and rolled out the names of Botzari, Palama, Tricoupi, Pappalouka, Razikotsika, Kapsali, Zamana, to be able to whisper very audibly, "That was my great-grandfather!"
But it was less interesting at home, when he could never cry in peace over a barked knee, or howl if there were a splinter to be dug out which had gone in deeply, or feel very sad when a visit to the dentist was projected, without being always told:--
"Shame! Shame! And you a Zamana!"
And the fact remained, whether it was that the blood had weakened by the time it had come down to Pavlo, or whether some of his other grandfathers or grandmothers had been built in a less heroic mould, that when he had to go up into a dark attic to look for a book for his uncle, or to face an aggressive band of schoolboys waiting with stones in their hands round a street corner, he did not feel at all as a Zamana should; oh, but not at all!
There had been a great many Zamanas, but they had all died, some at home and some abroad, and only two were left now; a middle-aged doctor, and a little boy.
The doctor was Pavlo's uncle, and he lived in a gloomy house in Solon Street, in Athens, and when he was at home he was always very busy writing, and had to be called again and again when dinner or supper was ready.
"I have come; I have come!" he would answer impatiently, but he never came till the pilaf was all sodden, or the "keftedes" had stuck to the dish in little rounds of cold fat.
The little boy was Pavlo, and he lived with his uncle.
The house in Solon Street was not an interesting house to live in one bit. It was tall and narrow, jammed in between another tall narrow house on one side, and a green grocer's shop on the other, and one could only see the Acropolis, and Phalerum and the sea if one got up to the terrace on the roof, where they hung out the clothes to dry; and even from there it looked very far off. There was not a scrap of garden, only a small paved courtyard at the back, generally littered with empty cases which had come from abroad with new instruments and new books for the doctor. Pavlo sometimes attempted to play house or shop in the biggest of these, but Marina, the cook, used to get very cross if he brought in damp straw on his shoes over her freshly scrubbed kitchen, and the other maid, Aphrodite, would screw up her ugly brown face, and bring her thick black eyebrows together, and threaten that the next time he got another big tear in his clothes from those great long packing nails for her to mend, if she did not tell his uncle, they need never call her "Aphrodite" again! His uncle heard her once, and said laughingly that they need never have called her "Aphrodite" at all, but Pavlo got his scolding all the same, for causing unnecessary work, so that the packing cases had to be abandoned.
In winter it was better. After his preparation for next day's school was over, and before the long delayed supper, he would stay in the little dining room, and lying flat on the floor in the warmth of the big white Viennese stove, he would colour the pictures in the odd numbers of an English illustrated medical journal, which his uncle had given to be thrown away. There were very rarely what Pavlo considered real pictures in them, and he got rather tired of colouring "thoracic aortas" in bright orange, and "abdominal aortas" in pale green, and "tracheæ" in stripes of purple and yellow; but now and then he would come across some funny groups of little insects, and once there was a picture of an operation in a hospital, where there were any amount of doctors and nurses to be coloured, each one differently. That picture lasted him three whole evenings, and would have been even more successful than it was, if only the very best and softest of his chalks, the crimson one, had not somehow got broken inside the wood, so that it all came away in little pieces when he tried to sharpen it, till at last there was nothing left but a little stump of chalk without any wood, and anyone who has tried, knows how hard it is to colour a whole dress with a little bit of chalk that one cannot hold properly.
But when the days grew longer and warmer the dining room was too hot for comfort; the study, even when the doctor was out, was always kept locked, and Pavlo's own bedroom on the third floor was even hotter than the dining room. So he would end by taking his books or his chalks into the hall, where at least there was a little coolness to be had from the chink under the front door. There he would sit on the stairs, or lie flat on the floor, kicking up his heels as he read or painted, till he knew every stringy part of the long strip of gray, red-edged carpet that crossed the middle of the passage, and every place where the paint, which had peeled off the once-painted floor, had left curiously shaped patches, which only needed the touch of a pencil here and there to turn into all sorts of faces. The yellow walls, imitating veined marble, offered terrible temptation of the same kind, but it was too dangerous; pencil marks on the walls would have been seen at once. There was one spot, indeed, where the criss-cross of veins made such an exact head of Hermes, winged cap and all, with only the back of the head and one ear missing, that Pavlo absolutely could not resist touching it up, one long hot afternoon. He rubbed all the pencil marks very carefully off afterwards, with his piece of india rubber, but this had got so mixed up in his pocket with odds and ends of chalk and with half a "loucoumi" that the rubbing-away marks were very red and sticky and showed worse than the pencil ones. So Pavlo had been rather frightened, till he discovered that by pushing the hat stand a little nearer the study door, the place was quite hidden. However, he dared not make any more attempts on the wall, and the afternoon dragged wearily.
Of course, no playing in the street was ever allowed, but sometimes when Marina the cook slipped out late to buy a bowl of "yaourti" for supper, or some chicory for salad, she would take him with her, and he would stand about while she bargained, envying the blue-pinafored boys of the neighborhood tearing and whooping down the street or gathered together over their marbles on the edge of the pavement. Pavlo played marbles at his school near the National Library, when he managed to get there ten minutes before lessons began; but the class-bell always rang in the middle of the most interesting game, and the ten minutes between each lesson were of no good because no play was allowed then, at that school. Only the bigger classes could do as they liked, the little boys were marshaled in order of size by one of the overlookers and marched round and round the big courtyard, so that, as Pavlo heard the director explaining to his uncle one day, "the little pupils should have all the benefit of fresh air and exercise during this short interval, without any danger of their minds being distracted from the lesson they had just been taught!" But the "little pupils'" minds were as a rule more occupied with the secret exchange of pen nibs, the recognized school currency, than in pondering over the last lesson.
And then, when June had passed into July, when summer in town was at its hottest and dustiest, when the examinations were just over, and there was not even school to break the monotony of the long empty days, a wonderful change came into Pavlo's life.
It happened like this.
One afternoon he had just got up from the enforced lying down with a book, which he hated--especially as the book was not a new one, but only Louki Laras which he had read already four times, so that even if one skipped the descriptions, the exciting parts were too familiar--and was wandering about the house, a piece of bread in one hand and a piece of chocolate in the other, when he came across Aphrodite packing his uncle's valise. He was going away, she told Pavlo, for some days. There was nothing extraordinary in that. People were always sending for the doctor from one part and another of the provinces, to come and cure them, and Pavlo was quite accustomed to being alone in the house with the two maids, and having his dinner and supper served on a tray at one end of the dining room table. The only advantage of this was that Marina let him choose his dinners, and that he could have pilaf or even "halva" two days running, and need never touch soup or boiled meat all the time his uncle was away.
But the extraordinary thing happened a few moments later, when his uncle let himself into the house, and walked right up into the room where the packing was going on.
"Is the valise full?" he inquired.
Aphrodite straightened herself up.
"It is full, Kyrie. I have put three soft shirts at the bottom and the little black box which you gave me last night; the rest of your things are in the middle, and there are two starched shirts under the covering, and your traveling cap at the very top."
"Is it quite full?" he repeated.
"If there is any other small thing you have forgotten, I can slip it in between the clothes."
"No, ..." and his eyes wandered round the room and rested on Pavlo who was looking out of the window with great interest at two newspaper boys having a fight. "No, ... I meant if you could perhaps get a few things of the child's in with mine. I think that this time I shall take him with me."
The street fight was forgotten, and a flushed, bewildered Pavlo with wide open eyes caught hold of his uncle's hand.
"Me! Take me with you!"
"Yes. How does the idea seem to you? This time I am going to visit a sick man in Poros, the deputy of the island; and in that same island I have an old school friend who lives there all summer through with his family, and who has asked me again and again to go to see him; so, how would you like to come with me to Poros, and all day long, while I am busy, to play on the hill and in the woods behind the house with the children? There are three or four of them, I believe."
"This evening shall we go?"
"No," laughed his uncle, "early to-morrow morning."
Even Aphrodite was quite nice about it, and turned all the doctor's things into a larger valise where there would be room for Pavlo's clothes also, without any grumbling or bringing together of her thick black eyebrows as she did when she was cross; and Marina sat up quite late mixing some "kourabiedes"--cookies--for him to eat on the way. She gave them to him herself wrapped up in two papers so that his clothes should not get "all over fine sugar" when he was starting for the station in the open carriage with his uncle, at six o'clock the next morning.
It was a wonderful day! The drive to the station through the great empty squares and the half-awakened streets; the wait in the railway station of the Monastiraki while his uncle bought the tickets and Pavlo gazed open eyed at the little railed-in bookstall, hung round with very brightly coloured pictures of various heroes of the Revolution; the railway journey down to Piræus with all the people getting out at Phalerum, towels in hand, for sea baths; the landing stage at Piræus with the multitude of little blue and red and green boats swaying on the sunny water; the climb up the side of the white steamer; the fat kind-faced captain who greeted his uncle as an old friend and himself as a new one and gave him the freedom of his bridge; the steaming out of the harbour past the King's Summer House surrounded by its great aloes and its little baby pines, past the grave of Themistocles gloriously placed in eternal view of Salamis, past the long breakwater and the lighthouse, and so out into the open sea; the stop at Ægina with its big-sailed boats and shouting boatmen crowding all round the steamer; the sighting opposite Methana of the "stone ship" and the breathless listening to its legend, of its captain the nereid who was turned into stone with all her ship for presumptuously attempting to surpass the moon in swiftness; the thrill of seeing a real dolphin swimming alongside the steamer, ... all these and more, made the journey a dream of delight to Pavlo, from which he was almost in fear of awaking to the ordinary every-day life of Solon Street. He forgot to be hungry. It was his uncle who after all reminded him of the packet of crushed and crumbly "kourabiedes" which he had quite forgotten on a bench beside him; and though he did eat them, they might as well have been dry bread for all the pleasure he got out of them.
In a little while after leaving Methana they passed a lighthouse on a rock, and the steamer turned round the corner of it.
"There is Poros!" said his uncle, suddenly laying his hand on Pavlo's shoulder and twisting him round; and there it was.
A little white village with red roofs, and here and there a big round pine or a tall narrow cypress all climbing up a hill to an old ruined mill at the top.
There was a glorious open bay, and red and orange-sailed fishing boats were sailing about it, and there were tall hills covered with olive trees to the right, and tall hills covered with pine trees to the left. And in the pines nestled a red house, and Pavlo's uncle pointed it out to him.
"See, there is my friend's house! There is where you will play with the children; across there! Do you see?"
Pavlo saw, and his cup of happiness was full, for he saw no trimly set-out garden with elaborate flower-beds such as he had once seen at Kiphissia, with "Do not touch" plainly written all over it, but hollows and crags where lentisk and thyme bushes grew strong and thick, and open hillside, and trees and trees and trees around and behind the house, from the top of the hill right down to the seashore, promising endless possibilities for climbing and hiding.
The steamer stopped quite close up to the village, and Pavlo and his uncle shook hands with the fat kind-faced captain and thanked him and climbed down into a little swaying boat which in three or four oar-strokes brought them to the side of the sea-wall. Doctor Zamana got out.
"Stay there, Pavlo," he said, "while I go up and keep a room at the hotel, and then we shall go on at once to the Red House; and after I leave you there, I can return and see my patient."
So Pavlo stayed, dipping his hands over the side of the boat into the sea, and watching the boy not much bigger than himself, and the brown-faced, blind, old boatman, at their oars, but feeling too shy to speak to them.
In a few minutes his uncle came out of the hotel door, crossed the sea-road and stepped down into the boat. Then the oars were dipped into the water, the shining drops ran off the long blades, and they were off again.
Pavlo, who was more accustomed to carriages than to boats, pulled timidly at his uncle's sleeve.
"Will you not tell them, my uncle, to go to the Red House?"
His uncle looked at him and laughed.
"Is not the helm in my own hand, little stupid one?"
And the old blind boatman and the boy rowed right across the shining bay, getting nearer and nearer to the Red House.
Pavlo's eyes opened wider at each plash of the oars, and he quite forgot to be shy at the thought that he was going to meet new people.
He had never seen such a pretty house before in all his life!
The villagers called it "the Red House on the hill"; but in reality it was rather a soft old Venetian pink than red, and the blending of this old pink into the masses of golden green around it, was a joy to the eyes; even to the eyes of little boys, though they did not exactly know why. The shape of the house was delightful, it was low, wide, two-storied, with jutting stone balconies on the second floor. A monster bougainvillea spread its dark leaves and regally purple flowers round the southern windows, and the eastern ones looked out on the open sea through the pretty paler green leaves of a wistaria, whose mauve bunches of flowers reached up to the round balcony. The whole house was set on a very long and very wide terrace, and at equal distances along the balustrade of short columns, were placed big stone vases of geraniums of all colours. There was a ruby one with the sunshine on it which made Pavlo think with regret of his crimson chalk, the one that had broken all to bits. A long broad flight of stone steps flanked by more geraniums, by big flowering oleanders and great gray-green aloes led down from the side of the terrace to the little landing stage. It seemed to Pavlo that a whole multitude of people was coming down these steps to meet them, and he felt very shy again; but after he had stepped out of the boat helped by various outstretched hands, the multitude resolved itself into five people and three dogs.
There was the master of the Red House, tall and broad, who looked, Pavlo thought, like an officer without his uniform, and there were four children, two little girls and two smaller boys; there was a big black poodle, a fox-terrier, and a little white dog, of no particular breed, with pointed ears. He was the special property of the eldest girl, and when Pavlo first caught sight of him, he had got hold of her skirt between his teeth and was shaking it vigorously, which he always did whenever he felt excited.
When Pavlo's uncle was also out of the boat, there was the usual exchange of useless and embarrassing remarks, which according to Pavlo's experience grown-ups always make on first meetings. Later on, when he came to compare impressions, he found that it was also the painful experience of the Four!
"Oh, is this your little nephew?"
"Are all the four yours? Fine children truly! May they live to you, my friend! Quite a Zamana, did you say? Well, yes; but is there not something of his mother in the shape of the mouth? This boy now, is you all over again, I think I see you at his age!"
"Yes, they tell me he is like me."
"The little one also, I think."
"Oh, no! Nikias has the long face of his mother's family." And Nikias, the little boy, whose legs were too thin for his socks, wriggled uncomfortably.
"The second girl is the image of your mother. What a fine woman she was! And this one, what lovely fair hair, and how long!"
And Pavlo from the bottom of his heart pitied the poor eldest girl who with a crimsoning face had to submit to be turned round and round while the fair hair was duly admired and while she was told that she was worthy of her name, which was Chryseis.
"You had a good journey?"
"Excellent. The sea was oil, not water."
"You will stay long I hope."
"It depends on my patient; I heard in the village that he was better to-day."
"This young man will stay with us, of course?"
"He will be delighted to come, as often as your children want him."
"To come! Nonsense! He must stay here entirely. I only wish I had room to keep you also, but he can sleep with the boys. What would he do at the hotel or in the village while you are absent? Of course he must stay here. There can be no question about it. What do you say, little one? Will you not stay?"
The second girl, Andromache, whose hair had been cut short after a fever, and now waved all round her head, nudged his arm.
"Say yes! Say yes! It will be splendid!"
Pavlo, wishing nothing better, nodded shyly, and was at once taken possession of by the Four, the three dogs barking and yapping at their heels, to be shown all the delights of the Red House and of its hill.
First of all he was taken into the long cool dining room to be introduced to the mother of the Four, who had been arranging fruit in glass dishes, and who hurried forward to greet his uncle. Then, with a big bunch of grapes thrust into his bewildered hands by Andromache, who declared that "Mother has plenty more in the basket," they started to see everything.
And what was Pavlo not shown on that first wonderful day?
Everyone knows how one's nice things feel nicer when they are shown to a stranger for the first time, and how even old things of which one has tired regain something of their first charm. The Four were very proud and very fond, each in his or her different way, of their house, and their hill and their sea; so it seemed as though they would never tire of showing little things to Pavlo.
First of all he was taken up to the big pine, the oldest tree on the hill. Under this were benches and a round table where, as they told him, they had their lessons out of doors when the governess was in a particularly good mood. For there was a temporary summer governess somewhere in the house, but as it was holiday time, she was not allowed to make herself too much of a nuisance except for an hour or so every morning. From the big pine, one could see all the hills around, and the Monastery Road, and the open sea, and the Naval School, and the Narrow Beach, on which as Pavlo was told, one could see the sailors drilling.
Behind the big pine was the wood of small pines, all over anemones in the spring and cyclamen in the autumn. It was softly and greenly dark in this little wood; the ground was strewn with pine needles, so many of them that they made a thick carpet, and there were shady corners where, as Chryseis told Pavlo, you could lie on the pine needles and read, and read, and read, for ages before you were discovered. Higher still was an open clearing and, at the end of it, the little hill-gate through which one passed from the hill of the Red House on to the other hills, and if one turned to the left, one got down to the big Beach of the little Pines.
He was raced down to the bath cabin on the shore, and shown all the extraordinary drawings which decorated the inside of it, to which all the members of the family had contributed, but more especially Chryseis and Iason the eldest boy. Pavlo, in fact, admired the funny faces drawn by the latter so whole-heartedly as to make the artist flush with pride.
"To-morrow you will bathe with us," announced Andromache. For that day the bath was already over; besides, the grown-ups had some sort of an idiotic notion that one must let a day pass after a journey, before beginning sea-baths.
Then up they raced again among the pines, scrambling through the lentisk and thyme bushes, to show Pavlo the little house which they had built themselves of stones and branches. One could really get into this if one took care to stoop properly; and it was a splendid place for the hoarding of biscuits and raisins, and for amateur cooking of all sorts. By this time, it was getting too hot even for the Four, so that they got under the wide-spreading shadow of the big pine and sat around on the benches and talked, while the warm pine smell filled their nostrils, and the tettix chirped loudly on all sides. Andromache, who was of an uncanny cleverness in catching them, swarmed up a pine tree and brought one down enclosed in her two hands turned into an impromptu cage, through the fingers of which, Pavlo peeped at the whirring prisoner. The black poodle, Kerberos, threw himself panting loudly on the ground; Deko, the little dog, sat on his haunches beside Chryseis, cocked his little pointed ears and looked about him; while Philos, the fox terrier, dug vigorously at the roots of the nearest lentisk bush. He scratched his face, he stopped repeatedly to shake his head violently and to sneeze, then he would begin again, snuffing and digging as if the work were very important indeed, and there were no time to lose.
"Where do you live in Athens?" asked Iason, nursing a much scratched knee.
Pavlo told them.
"Just alone with your uncle?"
"And your father and mother? Do you not remember them?"
"My mother, ... no, ... I was very small. My father just a little. I remember playing with the tassel of his sword. You know that my great-grandfather...."
"Oh, stop! Stop!" cried the two boys and Andromache in chorus; "we know all that!"
Chryseis told them that they were very rude, but they went on determinedly:--
"Four times yesterday, when they knew you were coming, did we hear the story. Once father told us, once mother, once Kyria Penelope, that is the governess, you know, and once we had it for a dictation lesson out of the History of the Revolution; so we know all about what your great-grandfather did, and all Botzari said about him, and how brave you must be and everything."
Pavlo flushed a little, and felt quite grateful to Chryseis who changed the subject.
"What do you do all alone in the house?" she asked.
"Oh, just nothing; I paint sometimes, and once I went to Kiphissia, and once to a circus."
"Can you ride?"
Pavlo shook his head.
"Ride? Oh, no!"
"I can," said Iason, "and she can, too," nodding his head towards Chryseis. "Father has another horse over on the mainland, besides his own, which can be ridden; and we go with him in turns."
"Mother says," put in Andromache, "that when her ship comes in, she will buy horses for all of us, and a real motor boat, too."
"When I am big," said Chryseis, whose stories "out of her head," were generally in request, "I shall write a lot of stories in a book, and sell hundreds and thousands of it, and give all the money to mother, and then she can buy anything, and a new grand piano, too, for father!"
"You cannot write a real book, if you cannot spell properly," retorted Andromache, whose spelling was her strong point.
"Yes, I can. The printers do all that part."
"No, you cannot!"
"Yes, I can!"
"Well, try then! But when I am big I shall marry a very rich American and I shall go away with him to America, and I shall send a whole ship full of money back to mother, so that she will not need your stupid old books."
"No one will ever marry you," put in Iason, "you are too cross!"
"Yes, they will, I tell you!"
"I know!" cried the little boy, Nikias; "I know why she is so sure, because she has taught Katerina when she finishes washing her hair instead of wishing her as she always used to, 'And a fine bridegroom some day,' to say 'And an American!' I know because I heard her when I was waiting my turn for the bath in mother's room!"
There was loud laughter and Andromache flew at Nikias with tooth and nail for telling overheard secrets, and the struggle which ensued, and at which Pavlo looked on in secret dismay, was Homeric. Traces of it were visible at lunch time but were attributed to "playing soldiers." The Four of the Red House were not tell-tales; that is one good thing I can say of them.
After lunch they were condemned to afternoon rest. The reason given being that Pavlo had been up so early, and they trooped sadly upstairs; but Iason, who was nothing if not inventive, comforted them.
"When they are all asleep, you girls come into our room and we will take all the sheets off the beds and fix them up with broom handles and pretend we are deserters in a cave and soldiers coming after them."
The sheets, with the aid of the broom handles and sundry wooden clothes pegs, which Andromache managed to secure by a barefooted expedition to the wash house, made a splendid cave, but the triumphant discovery of the deserters by the soldiers was a little noisy, and the mother of the Four coming unexpectedly on the scene, wisely chose the lesser of two evils, and turned them all out of doors quite early in the afternoon while the soft wind was still blowing,--the soft sweet sea "batti" that makes a swish, swish in the pine branches and shakes down the geranium petals from the stone vases on the terrace; that blows coolly in one's face while all the grown-ups are stupidly lying down for afternoon sleeps.
The Four and Pavlo tore madly up the hill and, throwing themselves down on the pine needles under the trees, graciously signified to Chryseis that she "might tell stories."
So the long fair hair was tossed back, the eyebrows were puckered for a moment, and then the quick little voice began:--
"There was once upon a time a dryad who lived in a great big tree...."
Good old Kerberos had allowed Nikias to make a pillow of his soft black body, Philos lay curled up with his nose between his paws, and Deko stretched out his forelegs as far as they would stretch, making a prodigious curve in the middle of his back; then suddenly righting himself he sat back on his haunches, twitched his pointed ears backwards and forwards and prepared to listen with the rest.
Over their heads the "batti" made a soft roar as of the sea, in the pine branches the fir cones cracked in the heat, and far away over the Narrow Beach there were white-tipped waves on the open sea, that made Andromache whisper to Pavlo, "It will not be too hot later on; they will let us go to the Monastery."
It was glorious! glorious! glorious! Certainly the Four had no words then to describe how they loved it all. Since then, Iason has turned some of the glory of those days into verse, and those who read it, feel the warm scent of the pine, the note of the tettix, and the blue of that sea, but he and the other three know that only when colour-words are invented can the real beauty of those sights and sounds be expressed!
In the days that followed, Athens and Solon Street and the thick dust of the streets and Aphrodite's cross frown seemed very far away indeed to Pavlo; even of his uncle he saw very little; now and then the doctor came to luncheon or to dinner on the terrace, but already he seemed to belong to a past life. There was so much to see and to do! There were delightful torpedo boats to watch, steaming in and out of the bay and sometimes passing quite close under the terrace; there were the long narrow boats from the Naval School, full of new sailors learning how to row; there was fishing with home-made bamboo rods off the end of the landing stage, while the broad flapping straw hats which they were all obliged to wear because of the sun were weighted down on the ground with stones, so as to be better out of their way, as soon as the grown-ups were not looking; there was fire-fishing with spearing rods from the boat at nights when there was no moon; there were rambling afternoon walks to the Monastery or to the beach of the little pines; there were longer expeditions to the Devil's Bridge, to the lemon wood, or up to the Seven Mills; there were visits to the funny little shops of the village in search of picture post cards, or even of what sweets Poros could supply, when the town stock ran out. For of course, visiting aunts and uncles and cousins generally brought proper boxes of chocolates and sweets from Athens; and though the grown-ups never failed to repeat the same stupid remarks such as, "How you are spoiling the children!" or, "Indeed that was quite unnecessary!" still visitors scarcely ever failed to fulfill this elementary duty. Once, a certain absent-minded uncle so far forgot his obligations, as to bring only some silly old caramels, and Pavlo heard all the abuse that was lavished on him.
There were the delicious long-stretched-out sea baths, notwithstanding the unfortunate governess's cries of, "You are staying too long in the water! Come out this very minute!" There were swimming matches between Chryseis and Iason; and there was under water swimming by Andromache. As for poor Nikias, his sea-bathing usually took place on dry land, under the shelter of the pines, where he would flee wet and naked for refuge, till his elders were safely out of the water. It is true, the others were very merciless and he was only eight years old, and when they caught him and dipped him, they dipped him so far down, and kept him so long under!
There were endless games on the hill, of soldiers, of robbers, of outlaws, of Turks, in which Pavlo for the first two or three days was politely allowed to be Kanaris, Athanasios Diakos, Odysseus Androutsos, Marcos Botzaris, or his own great-grandfather, according to the moment, but afterwards was obliged to take his turn at being a Turk, or at commanding a big Turkish frigate represented by three long planks behind the servants' quarters. Two of the Four were his crew, and the two others,--for of course they always had to be inferior in numbers or where would the bravery be?--were Miaoulis and his devoted followers, heroically bent on blowing up the frigate, or perishing in the attempt.
Then there were stories read or told on the terrace in the hour before dinner, by the mother of the Four, when Nikias would climb up on the arm of her chair, or even sometimes, if it were getting pretty dark, on her knees, and listen with both eyes and ears, and Iason would draw funny men or officers while he listened. All the old tales of Theseus and Heracles, and King Midas, and the winged Pegasus were retold, and the fairy tales of the King's daughter with her three wonderful dresses, the Sea with its Fish, the Earth with its Flowers, and the Heavens with their Stars; and the tale of the Pacha with his three pairs of slippers. There were French tales too, of the heroes who rode through the valley of Roncesvalles, of Roland, and Ganelon; and even, for the mother of the Four had lived abroad in England in the remote past, English tales, of knights and ladies with curious names, of whom Pavlo had never heard; of Enid and Geraint, of Lancelot, of Pelleas, and Gareth and the Lady Lyonors.
And while the tales were told the sky turned into a lovely golden pink behind the pines, and the stars came out one by one. Iason knew many of their names and would show Pavlo the exact spot on the terrace from which one could see the whole of the Great Bear, and how the Scorpion dipped its tail behind the hill over Galata.
Of course the shadow of lessons did occasionally fall across the sunshine. The village schoolmaster came over in a boat twice a week for the boys, and there was a family of friends living in the "Garden" on the mainland who had a French holiday governess, and every other day the Four went across in the small boat with Kyria Penelope, and Greek and French lessons were exchanged. But even so, there were ways and means. Pavlo overheard Chryseis early one morning reproaching her sister:--
"You have only written half your verb, and you do not know your poetry at all! Mademoiselle will be furious again. You will have pages and pages to write afterwards."
"No!" declared Andromache stoutly, "I shall not!"
"But you will. There is no time to learn anything now. It is time to start."
"I shall learn nothing, and I shall have nothing to write."
"How will you manage?"
"Wait, and you will see," answered Andromache darkly, shaking her short wavy hair.
They all ran down the long flight of steps to the sea, and Yanni the boatman was already settling the boat cushions. The big clock of the Naval School was just on the last stroke of eight and the boys had entreated Kyria Penelope to wait till the flag went up on the tower, as Iason wanted to run their boat flag up on its pole at the same moment.
His hand was holding the rope loosely, and all eyes were fixed on the square tower of the Naval School, waiting for the signal.
Bam! Boum! went the morning gun, and the lovely old blue and white flag rose majestically to the top of the flagstaff.
At the same moment, with naval precision, Iason pulled the rope, and the little boat flag was waving at the top of its pole; and almost at the same moment, Splash! went Andromache into the sea, books and all.
A shrill shriek followed, as Kyria Penelope went down on her knees on the landing stage, and flapped helpless arms over the water.
But the boatman was there and the boys too, and the next moment a drenched, dripping, sea-weedy Andromache was standing in the midst of them, little pools of water rapidly forming all round her. Yanni was reaching out for two floating books, and a soaked copy-book was slowly sinking beyond recovery.
"If I could possibly imagine," said the poor innocent governess, who had no small brothers and sisters at home, "that you would jump into the sea on purpose, I would keep all the others waiting, till you changed your wet clothes; but as such a thing is quite impossible, you may stay at home to-day and not delay us."
And such a thing being quite impossible, naughty Andromache stayed comfortably at home, finished all the chocolates out of her box; successfully fished out a big bunch of grapes through a hole in the wire netting of the store room window, carefully enlarged by the boys; visited the kitchen and learned all about the cook's little nieces and nephews and what their names were and how old they were; stood outside the gate watching the "trata" and did a whole host of other equally pleasant and forbidden things.
That same afternoon they went to the Monastery with ten "lepta" each, with which to buy and light a taper in the Chapel.
"Look at Kyria Penelope!" cried Chryseis. "She has stopped to tie her shoe lace again; it is always coming untied. Let us run on to the cave; we shall have time to get in before she reaches us!"
The magic word "cave" sufficed, and they were all off racing down the hill and up again towards the second bridge.
It was not a real cave, Chryseis jerkily explained to Pavlo as they ran; only a dark hole in the earth under the bridge, and it was not mysterious at all and did not seem to lead anywhere, but the governess would never let them look properly into it. Over on the mainland there were some splendid real caves, that real robbers and deserters had hidden in; and in the old days people who were escaping from the Turks; but the Four had only been there once and then they were with grown-ups.
"Lambro the shepherd told me," panted Iason, "that there is one here on the island over on the other side of the hills, near the beach of Vayonia. A great big dark cave with a small opening, and you go in and in and never find the end. He says there were old swords and guns hidden there and ... all sorts of things. I mean to look for it some day."
"Will they let us?" asked Nikias, stooping to pull up a sock which threatened to cover his shoe entirely.
"Let us!" said Iason contemptuously; "they never let us! But we will go!"
The cave under the bridge was nothing but a small hole full of cobwebs and dry leaves. However, they all managed to wriggle in and wriggle out again, dirty, but triumphant, before Kyria Penelope, hot and protesting, came up to them.
Of course Pavlo's uncle had finished all he had to do in Poros long before this time, but it so happened that another summons had called him on to Nauplia, and it had been settled that while he was there, Pavlo should stay on at the Red House and that his uncle should spend one more day in Poros on his way back, and then that both should return together to Athens. There had been cries of delight over this arrangement, and Andromache had expressed a wish that the patient in Nauplia might have a nice proper illness. He need not die, of course, she added, but just be ill enough to want to keep the doctor from Athens near him for a long time.
So it was strange that the very day after this, Pavlo should have been lying on his face under the pines in the small wood, crying his heart out.
For alas and alack, it had daily been getting more and more difficult to live up to all that was expected of his name, and this particular morning it had been worse than impossible. He had been at the gate with the girls and the three dogs watching the "trata." For him, it was a new sight, and the Four were never tired of looking at the fishermen and the fisher boys with their bare brown limbs, wet and glistening in the sun, pulling all together at the ropes, and emptying all the squirming little silver fishes out of the long net.
And while they were standing about and watching, a big yellow sheep dog had rushed down the hill, and though at first he had contented himself harmlessly enough with sniffing at ropes and the nets, Deko who, it is true, was always very impertinent to big dogs, had provoked him. Chryseis snatched Deko up in her arms, and Andromache seizing Philos screamed for help, for the sheep dog was ready to spring at them. Then the two boys rushing down to the rescue from the top of the hill, instead of finding Pavlo standing in front of the girls, found him behind the trunk of a mimosa tree, staring horror-struck at the big snarling yellow brute, whom they drove howling away with two well-directed stones.
Then Iason had turned fiercely on Pavlo:--
"You may be a Zamana as much as you like; you are a coward all the same!" and even Nikias had echoed jeeringly:--
And then Pavlo had fled blindly to the shelter of the dark little wood.
He longed, as he lay there sobbing, that it might be possible never to see any of them again. For he had found out from the first that for the Four the great rule was, "Never be afraid, and if you are, mind you hide it!" Of course they knew that Nikias shirked being dipped far down, or being held long under water. That was a family misfortune, never mentioned before strangers, but on the other hand even Nikias had only two days ago boldly attacked a long snake when it glided out of a thick bush, round which Philos had been sniffing for so long. He had struck at it with all his might on its flat head, and while Anneza, the Andriote serving maid, had picked up her skirts knee-high and fled down the hillside shrieking loud enough to be heard over at Galata, he had followed, his little long face flushed with triumph, his socks hanging over his shoes, and the corpse of the victim dangling horribly at the end of a long stick.
"Were you not afraid, you little one?" his father had asked; and Nikias answered that he had been just a little afraid when it raised its head and hissed, but that Chryseis was so stupid that he knew she would never sit comfortably under the big pine again with her book, if she felt there were a snake, however harmless, wriggling about in the bushes beside her, so that he had to kill it all the same; did they not understand? And the mother of the Four had looked rather proud, and the father had said:--
"Of course I understand."
And Nikias was not yet eight years old, and he, Pavlo, was over eleven!
So he lay there and sobbed, till Chryseis found him out and sat beside him, and expressed her energetic opinion that her brothers were "Pigs" because, of course, as she said, Pavlo had always lived in Athens, and how was he to know that those fierce-looking sheep dogs only require a stone thrown at them to run away; she even succeeded in making him laugh a little, by relating how Andromache had once, when she was quite little, called an officer who had offended her in some way "A green pig!" No one had understood why, but the insult had evidently been intended to be terrible. Then Chryseis had wiped his eyes with a handkerchief which happened to be not so much "a rag of all work" as the handkerchiefs of the Four generally were, and brought him down to the house, to show him the pictures in the Doré Dante which was usually reserved for rainy days or for convalescence. The mother of the Four had wondered a little at this very peaceful occupation in the middle of the morning, but was too wise to make awkward enquiries.
There was a prolonged visit that same afternoon from the children of the house in the "Garden," which had made matters easier for all, and by the evening everyone was too busy making plans for the morrow, to think of past disagreeables.
It was to be the last day of Pavlo's stay, and a picnic had been proposed, a real picnic, with no accompanying governess. There was some hesitation over this, but Andromache had urged that it was really only fair to the poor creature herself to give her a whole day's freedom now and then. "I suppose," she added thoughtfully, "we may be rather tiring sometimes."
At last, consent was obtained on two conditions, the first being that they should be back early, the second, that they must promise to obey Chryseis. This, they did not mind much, knowing of old that her rule was mild. The picnic was to be somewhere on the hills behind the Red House, wherever a nice shady spot should be found. Eatables were to be packed in small hand baskets, so that each might carry his share; and everyone was to wear his very oldest clothes.
The master of the House wanted to know why the enjoyment would not be just the same if they simply carried their food to the big pine and ate it there? But this question was treated with the contempt it deserved.
Happily, the next morning was wonderfully cool, for July, for though they had all got up at impossible hours, by the time all the baskets were packed and all the last recommendations given to Kyria Penelope to look after poor Deko who had run a big thorn into his foot and had to be left behind, it was nearly nine o'clock. In fact the clock of the Naval School had just boomed out the three-quarters when Iason turned the big key in the lock of the hill gate.
They passed out in single file; all except Philos, who had found it simpler to climb up the wall and jump down on the other side.
Iason hid the padlock safely in a big lentisk bush just outside the gate, and then, standing up, faced the others, pointing up the thickly wooded hill.
"Listen you! We are going straight up there, and down on the other side towards Vayonia. I am going to find that cave of which Lambro the shepherd told me."
Andromache and Nikias gave a united whoop of joy and were rushing forward in the direction of the pointing finger, when Chryseis cried:--
"Stop! Stop! It will be ever so much too far. We had better go to the little chapel of Saint Stathi."
"We have been there hundreds of times; and I tell you we may never get such a splendid opportunity for the cave again."
"But to Vayonia! So far ...!" objected Chryseis.
"Now, listen!" persisted Iason. "What did father say last week, when I said we wanted to go to Vayonia?"
"He said, 'We shall see.'"
"Well, that does not mean 'no,' does it? Only when the grown-ups say, 'We shall see,' sometimes it does not happen for a long time, and we want this to happen now, to-day, at once!" Then as Chryseis still hung back, he added, "Of course we will say where we have been, directly we get back. Come, then!"
And Chryseis came.
The first part of the climb was uneventful. Kerberos plodded on heavily and sedately, Philos of course stopped to dig round the roots of nearly all the thyme and lentisk bushes on their way. Andromache, who considered him her special dog, would catch him by the neck and pull him off by main force, but in an instant he was back again, digging frantically, shaking his head, sneezing and beginning all over again.
After some time there was a rest under a clump of pines, and Nikias suggested opening the baskets. But when the others all told him he was "A greedy little pig!" he explained that he had only wanted to see if Athanasia had not forgotten the peaches which he had seen on the pantry shelf.
"And of course you would run back for them if she had!" said Iason derisively.
"Wait till we get to the top," said Chryseis.
So they started off again.
"Where shall you look for the big cave?" asked Andromache, who was beginning to find her basket heavy and the sun hot. "Did Lambro say if it were high on the hills above Vayonia, or to the right near the vineyards?"
"Did you ever hear of a cave near vineyards, stupid?" answered Iason, whose basket was heavier still as it had the bottles of water in it. "Lambro said near the sea; so of course it will be to the left in the big rocks."
"You do not know really," persisted Andromache, "you only say 'it will be.'"
"I never said I knew; I said 'let us go and find it!'" Suddenly he pointed some way above them, "There is a shepherd! No, not there; on that little footpath where the hill is bare. Let us ask if he knows!"
"Perhaps," suggested Pavlo hopefully, "it may be Lambro himself."
"No," answered the Four in chorus, "Lambro is lame. See how this man jumps from one rock to another! Bah! Whatever is he doing?"
The distant shepherd who seemed taller than any man they knew, was waving his arms above his head, and the movements looked curious and almost startling against the sky. When he caught sight of the children, instead of continuing on his way quietly and heavily as most peasants do, he seemed to stop short, to hesitate, and then suddenly using his long shepherd's crook as a vaulting pole he leapt over a piece of rock in his way, and came running towards them.
"Good-day to you!" cried all the children as soon as he was within hearing distance. He swung himself down to the little plateau on which they were standing.
"May your day be good!" he answered, but as he said it, he laughed a little.
The children looked at him curiously. At first sight he seemed one of the ordinary shepherds of the hills with his short "foustanella," his coloured kerchief knotted over his head, and the long "glitsa" in his hand; but certainly they had never seen such a strange-looking shepherd before. He was extraordinarily tall and broad, a matted unkempt reddish beard covered most of his face, and round the pale blue eyes nearly all the white seemed to show. The "foustanella" was incredibly dirty and ragged, the red kerchief greasy with age, half fallen off his head. A brightly striped "tagari" was slung over his shoulder.
"Perhaps you know," asked Iason, "where there is a big cave over on the other side of the slope, near Vayonia?"
"A cave?" the man twisted his fingers in the tangled beard as he spoke, "Who told you of a cave?"
"Lambro, the shepherd, told me."
"Many things does Lambro, the lame one know! Did he tell you perhaps how one enters into this cave?" and the pale blue eyes peered eagerly into the boy's face.
"No; why? One enters by the entrance I suppose."
The shepherd laughed.
"You say well! By the entrance of course, ... by the entrance. Ask also of Lambro who is so wise, how you may find the road to the cave!"
Andromache pushed forward.
"And is Lambro here that we may ask him?" she said impatiently. "What foolish talk is this? If you know where the cave is, speak!"
The man turned his pale blue eyes on her.
"I must speak, must I? The little hens are crowing to-day, as well as the little cocks!"
Iason turned to the others.
"Come!" he said, speaking in French, "the man knows nothing, and he is trying to amuse himself with us."
And they turned to continue their way up the hill. But the shepherd touched the last one, who happened to be Chryseis, on the shoulder, and unslinging his "tagari" offered it to her.
"Take one!" he said; "let me befriend you with one."
He was still laughing, and he pushed his face close to hers as he spoke. Chryseis, who was rather dainty, shrank back a little, but the familiar words reassured her. The tagari evidently contained figs, or perhaps almonds; and she knew what an insult the peasants consider it, that one should refuse anything with which they offer to "befriend" you. So she stretched out her hand over the half-closed tagari, but drew back in alarm. It was full of earth and stones!
The man threw his head back and laughed loudly and discordantly.
Iason turned on him, like the little cock he had been called.
"Now then!" he cried, pushing the huge man violently, "now then! What foolishness is this? Leave us alone and go your way! Do you hear?" And when he raised his voice Pavlo thought it sounded just like the master of the Red House.
The shepherd's laugh died off in a silly cackle, and he stood where Iason had pushed him, looking after the children as they climbed on rather hurriedly; but to Pavlo's intense relief, he made no attempt to follow them.
"Who was it?" asked Andromache.
"I am not sure," said Iason, "but I think it must be one of the Pelekas. His brother Yoryi had our pasture land for his sheep last year. I saw him when I went up to the 'stania' with father. They are all red-haired, and there are many brothers; but I do not know this one."
"He was horrid!" said Chryseis, shifting her basket to her other arm; "he must have been drinking too much 'ouzo.'"
"Father says they never drink, these shepherds, except on big holidays when they come down to the villages," said Iason, "but I suppose this one must have."
It was worth the long hot climb, when they reached the top of the hill, to feel the cool air blowing in their faces. As they scrambled over the very last ridge, Nikias, who was first, pulled at a falling sock which threatened to cover his shoe, then stood up and pointing far below, shouted triumphantly:--
"There is the other sea!"
And there, if not the "other sea" as the children called it, was the other side of the island, where there were no houses, no gardens, no lemon orchards, no olive trees, no signs of familiar every-day life, nothing but pines, of all shapes and sizes, from the dark green rugged old pines, to the pale green baby ones; and lentisk, and arbutus, and thyme bushes on the slopes, and far below them the wide-sweeping beautiful beach of Vayonia with the open sea beyond. The soft plash of the little waves against the rocks came up to them where they stood.
Pavlo was told that on a bright clear winter day you could distinguish all Athens and the Acropolis perfectly well, "over there," and four outstretched fingers pointed to the exact direction behind Ægina.
Just then a big white caique, all sails open to the wind, was gliding majestically across the opening of the bay, its little landing boat dancing and skipping on the waves behind it. And closer to the shore was a tiny puffing steam launch belonging to the Naval School. Andromache, whose eyes were the best, declared that she could recognize the officers on board.
"I am sure that one there is the Admiral," she said, "I can see his hair white in the sun."
"Now then!" jeered the others, "can you not count the stripes also on the sleeve of his uniform?"
But Chryseis had been unpacking the baskets.
"We will eat now," she announced quietly, and there was not one to say "no" to her.
Before they had left the house even the children themselves had exclaimed at the quantity of cold "keftedes" which Athanasia had prepared for them, but there were very few left when they had eaten as much as they wanted. There were some "skaltsounia" too, smothered in fine sugar; and of these there were none left at all; but there never are, of course. There were plenty of grapes, and the peaches about which Nikias had been anxious. Pavlo amused himself by digging holes in the hard sun-baked earth, and planting the kernels as far down as he could reach,--
"So that when you come up here another time, you will find peaches growing ready for you."
The boys laughed at him.
"We had better not come here for two or three months, and by then your trees will of course be laden with fruit."
Pavlo had lived much alone, and he was accustomed to people who meant exactly what they said.
"No," he said slowly, "I did not mean in two or three months, but some time."
"Even if they were ever to become trees, without watering or digging or anything," said Andromache, struggling with Philos, who had left his dinner to attack the roots of a monster lentisk bush, "do you think the shepherds would leave any peaches on them?"
But the word "shepherd" reminded Iason of their object.
"I am going down there," he said, pointing to the left, where the bushes were rarer and the gray crags began. "It looks cave-y. Leave the baskets there under that bush. No one will touch them."
The children began to scramble down towards the rocks, and the scent of the thyme as they crushed it mingled little by little with the fresh smell of the sea, as they got nearer and nearer the shore.
The search for the cave was very thorough. Every big bush growing near a rock was pushed aside, every shadow was peered into.
"You never know," as Iason said, "how small the entrance may be!"
But after all it was by pure accident that they found it.
They were pretty close to the shore, close enough for all to distinguish that the officers from the steam launch had got into a little boat and were being rowed to land. Chryseis was standing on the top of a big stone, when she slipped on the pine needles which covered it, and suddenly disappeared from view as entirely and completely as though a trap door had opened and swallowed her up.
"Chryseis!" screamed Andromache, "Chryseis, where are you?" And the boys and Pavlo rushed to the spot.
The stone had been on the edge of a sheep track, and as they looked fearfully over, they saw Chryseis lying on her elbow on a little ledge a few feet below.
"I am not hurt," she called up at once, "not at all; but do not any of you climb down this way; there are a lot of prickly pears and I have got some of the thorns in my hand. Come round by those arbutus there!"
When they got round to her she was picking the tiny thorns out of her hand, and wetting it in a little stream which seemed to come out of the gray rock.
"Look!" she said, "there is water here!" She put her finger to her mouth, "and it is fresh water, too. How funny! It is coming round this side of the rock. See!"
"Why!" said Iason, leaning both hands on the top of the rock, and bending his whole body round the corner, "why it is...."
And it was. When they all clambered on the big rock and slipped down to the other side, they found Iason lifting up with all his strength a tangled mass of wild ivy and other creepers which fell over it like a thick curtain. And there was a hole; big enough for anyone to pass through if he stooped a little.
It looked dark inside, and there was a step going down.
"No one need come," said Iason, "if he feels afraid!"
And of course everyone said, "I am not afraid!" Pavlo first of all. And he really and truly was not. He was far too excited to think of being afraid.
The children went down two steps, bending their heads low, and then stood upright.
They were in a high narrow cave; so long that it was impossible to tell the depth. A cave like those of which they had often read, and often dreamt of discovering, but in which they had very certainly never before found themselves.
"It is quite a real cave!" said Nikias in an awestruck whisper. And the others looked round in silence. It seemed a moment too great for ordinary words. Their adventurous hearts were beating quickly.
Then Iason triumphantly produced a bit of candle and a box of matches from his pocket, and when he lighted it the tiny flame cast rounds of light and mysterious shadows over rough gray walls. This was for the first moment after coming in from the blinding sunlight, but as soon as their eyes got accustomed to the green darkness, Iason threw the candle away and the flame sputtered as it fell into the little stream of water which seemed to trickle down one end of the cave near the wall. The whole place smelt rather nasty and musty, but as Chryseis said,--
"What do smells matter when we have found a real cave?"
And a real cave it was! There were curious niches in the walls; the stone was fretted away into arches and hollows; in some parts natural columns had formed themselves, and in others dimly seen stalactites hung in the darkness above their heads.
Kerberos whined rather uncomfortably and kept very close to Chryseis, but Philos sniffed round excitedly, bent on investigating every nook and corner, till Andromache lifted him up struggling and barking and insisted on carrying him, for fear he might fall into some "unseen chasm." Iason told her that Philos could take care of himself "a thousand times" better than she could; but Andromache was never easy to convince.
They went along very cautiously in Indian file. Iason came first, then the two girls, then Nikias, and Pavlo last of all.
After they had walked a little way in, they found a heap of charred sticks and a broken necked pitcher.
"Perhaps," suggested Chryseis, "they may have remained here ever since the times when the women and children were hiding from the Turks. They may have had to cook and sleep in here, you know, while the men were outside fighting. And perhaps," she added, stooping down to touch the broken pitcher, "we may be the very first people to touch them since then!"
"Well," put in Andromache, the practical, "I should not care to have to eat or sleep in here. It smells just awful!"
"It is getting very dark too, and I cannot see where to step any more," suggested little Nikias; then he added hurriedly, "Perhaps it will get lighter further in!"
"No, you little stupid, it will be darker further in," said Iason, "because it winds away from the entrance!"
Chryseis stopped short.
"Let us turn back! perhaps it turns and turns like the Labyrinth and we may never be able to get out again."
"And then," added Nikias cheerfully, "people will come after many years and find only our bones!"
"Stop that kind of talk, you horrid little pig!" cried Andromache.
"If only I had not thrown the candle away! Oh, well, never mind! I suppose we had better turn back."
And they retraced their steps in the same order. Pavlo who came last lagged behind for a moment. About half way, on the left side, was something he had not noticed when they had been going in; a bright spot, a speck of light, something white and shining in the dim twilight. But as he wondered what it could be, he saw that he was alone and hurried on to join the others; and as soon as he had taken two steps forward, the speck of light disappeared suddenly, as though someone had blown it out.
He caught up with the others at the entrance.
"Listen!" he said, catching hold of Nikias, who was just stepping out into the daylight, "Down there I saw...."
But they never heard what he saw, for at that moment he heard a series of loud thuds, a scream from Chryseis who had been the first to get out of the entrance, and a muttered exclamation from Iason as he sprang forward and pushed both his sisters so violently backward into the cave, that they fell over the two smaller boys, dragging them down.
At the same moment Pavlo, lifting himself up, saw two large stones fall from above, right in front of the opening of the cave.
"What is it?"
"What was that?"
"What fell?" He and Nikias and Andromache all cried together.
"Stones! A great many," Chryseis answered, lifting a pale face to theirs as they pulled her up. "They nearly fell on our heads, but Iason pushed us back. Iason! What is it? Iason!"
For Iason, flattened against the opening, was cautiously trying to find out what had happened.
"I do not know," he said, without turning round. "I cannot think. Something must have loosened the stones from the top of the rock above, and they fell. But what? The first rains have not begun yet. Well," he continued after a moment's pause, "let us get out! That was all."
But that was not all! At the step forward which he took, a shower of earth and stones came rattling down on the ledge outside.
He sprang back only just in time.
"But what is it then? What can it be?"
They soon found out. No sooner had the last stone rebounded and rolled over the ledge to the rocks below them, than a loud discordant laugh sounded from above the opening of the cave.
"Come out of your hole, my little cockerels! Come out! You would not have my stones before. Get them on your heads now! Come out! Come out!"
The children looked at each other in horror.
"The shepherd! The red-bearded man!"
There was a fresh shower of stones and the laugh again, which sounded closer. Chryseis caught hold of her brother's arm.
"Iason! He will get in! He will get in! Oh, what shall we do?"
"We will not let him!" cried little Nikias, running forward, "let us push this big stone right in front of the opening! Here! This one; if you push hard we can roll it down. Iason! Pavlo! Girls! Help me!"
"He is right, the little one," said Iason, and they all pulled, and pushed and tugged as they could never have done if they had not been terribly frightened, and little by little the big rounded piece of rock was rolled in front of the entrance to the cave, and the green darkness grew darker and darker. The opening was not entirely blocked. Any of the children could have squeezed in or out, but they felt almost certain no grown man could.
"Besides, if he only puts his hand in, we will chop it off so! Like the Persians and the man with the ship," declared Andromache, becoming vaguely historical.
"Where is your hatchet?" asked Iason. "No, I am sure he cannot get in. Now we must sit and think what to do. It does no good to cry like that!"
"I am not crying!" sobbed Nikias. "It comes by itself," and he sniffed very hard for a few minutes.
"I expect this man is so drunk he does not know what he is doing," continued Iason. "At the very worst we shall have to stay in here till he gets tired of waiting and goes away. We are safe in the cave."
"I tell you what," said Nikias rubbing his knuckles very hard into his eyes, "it must be 'the mad shepherd.'"
All the others stared at him.
"The mad shepherd? What do you mean?"
"I heard Kyra Calliope the other day telling Yanni. She said there was a mad shepherd on the hills, and that he had killed a lot of sheep of the other shepherds, and she said the mayor and the doctor wanted to tie him up and send him to Athens in the steamer, but they could not catch him, because he was so cunning and hid in the hills for days."
"You little fool!" cried his brother, seizing him by the shoulder. "You--You--Idiot--You--Why did you not tell us when we first met him down there, so that we might have turned back. Do you think it is a joke--a mad man?"
"Did I know?" whimpered Nikias. "Did I know when we met him? He looked like all shepherds then."
"If you had only ..." began Iason, but he was interrupted by a shriek of horror from Chryseis. She was pointed to the small opening left above the rock that blocked the entrance.
There, clearly outlined against the sky, was a grinning, red-bearded face. Part of a hairy hand could be seen pushing against the stone.
Iason lost no time. Stooping he seized hold of a big round pebble and sent it crashing right on the fingers that were working round the stone.
There was a howl of pain and the face disappeared, then after a moment came a sound of retreating footsteps and of broken bushes, and stones rolling down the rock overhead.
The children huddled together, listened, pale and terrified, till all was silence again. Then Iason pushed them aside and advanced to the opening.
"Listen!" he said, "I have just thought of it. Perhaps the officers we saw are still on the shore. Now that the man is not there I shall get outside and call to them."
"No! No, Iason! Stop! Iason!..."
But before any of them could stop him, Iason was squeezing himself round the side of the rock. He was out all but one leg, when a stone bigger than any of those that had been thrown before, bounded against the rock, and struck him on the side of the head. He fell forward with a smothered "Ah!" and the others with a scream of fear rushed to the blocked entrance.
Iason was lying half in and half out, and the short fair hair was dabbled with blood.
Nikias and Pavlo were for trying to push out the rock, but Andromache stopped them.
"No! No!" she cried, "we can drag him in without that." And by combined pulling and pushing they succeeded in getting Iason safely inside. He opened his eyes and said, "It is nothing," but he closed them again.
Chryseis lifted his head to her knees and looked round desperately.
"We must wash the place in the water from the stream," she said, "but I have no handkerchief."
Andromache, the practical, lifted up her frock and tore a big strip from the white petticoat underneath.
"Here, this is better, and there is plenty more," and she dipped the rag in the running water and washed off the blood that was trickling down over Iason's ear and neck, while Chryseis raised his head higher.
Nikias was at the entrance trying to push his thin little body round the rock.
"I will get out now," he said, "and shout for the officers."
"Nikias!" cried Chryseis, her voice shrill with terror, "come back at once! You must not get out! I tell you, you must not! Pavlo! Pavlo! Stop him!"
But she looked around in vain; Pavlo was not there. He seemed to have completely disappeared.
"The coward!" exclaimed Andromache, in furious indignation. "The coward! He has managed to slip out somehow, and left us here all alone!"
But she was quite wrong.
The moment poor Iason had been pulled back into the cave, Pavlo suddenly remembered the speck of light in the wall that he had noticed as they were coming out, and without saying a word to anyone, he ran back into the depths of the cave to see if he could find the spot. Almost at once he came upon it, like a little white star in the dark wall of the cave.
Now Pavlo's mind was of the kind that grown-up people call "logical," which means that he knew that something could not exist without a reason for it; therefore he argued that if there was a light, there must be an opening; and even if the opening were only large enough for a head or even a hand to be passed through, it might be useful.
So he began feeling all over the rough damp wall with both hands.
He felt and he felt for some time in vain, then suddenly when he had nearly given up, he came upon a hole.
Kneeling, he felt that a little barrier of stone divided the hole from the floor of the cave, and that it was more than wide enough to admit him. He scarcely hesitated a second before he climbed over the barrier and found himself in a narrow tunnel at the end of which the speck of light was shining.
Pavlo advanced a few steps very slowly. It was a dark, damp, up-hill passage, and so narrow that he could feel the walls on either side without stretching his arms.
Suddenly he gave a violent shudder.
Something alive, something that felt heavy and cold, a rat perhaps, or a toad or a lizard, ran over his foot. Still he kept on. If the light, which was growing larger, should prove to be a side opening to the cave, he would run back for the others, and they would all get out that way, managing somehow to carry Iason between them if he could not walk, while the man went on throwing stones and waiting for them at the big entrance. The idea of the man waiting there perhaps all day, appealed to Pavlo, and he laughed a little to himself as he got nearer to the light.
He found, as he had expected, that it came from a small hole in the rock which led out to the hillside, and was almost quite hidden by hanging creepers.
The opening was not large, but they could easily crawl out. In fact it would have been safer had it been a smaller hole.
Pavlo could see the purple flowers of an osier bush waving in the open air before he quite reached the opening. He was just on the point of crawling out to make quite sure of his discovery before returning by the same way, when his eye caught sight of some sort of a white rag, fluttering above the osier bush. He drew back and, lying flat on the ground of the passage so as to see better, peered cautiously out.
What he saw made him nearly scream out aloud with terror, in fact it was really the horrible nightmare-ish sort of fear which came over him, that prevented a sound escaping from his lips.
The fluttering white rag was a fold of the red-bearded man's foustanella!
His back was turned towards the narrow opening, and he looked gigantic as he stood there in the light, a big stone poised in his hands ready to fling over the rocks down on the ledge before the entrance of the cave.
Pavlo lay in the dark passage, shaking all over and not daring to move hand or foot lest he should be heard. What should he do? Oh, what should he do? Suppose he were simply to wriggle back the way he had come and tell the others what he had seen; what was the good? They could never crawl all five out of this side tunnel while the shepherd was standing so close to it. Poor Iason's mishap had proved that it was not possible to get through the blocked entrance without being struck by the falling stones. What then? Must they stay in the cave till the man was wearied out? All night perhaps? But what more probable than that when the shepherd found that his stones were falling harmlessly, he should discover this opening so close to his feet, and creep slowly through it till he got to them? Pavlo shivered coldly all over.
Then a horrible thought came to him.
It might be possible for one alone to creep out very softly the first moment that the shepherd moved a little off. It would not be difficult to creep silently on all fours, till one was at a safe distance!
The next moment the thought turned him really sick. What! Leave them alone? Leave them with Iason wounded and useless? Leave them and let this horrible man creep on them unawares? On Chryseis who had been so good to him? On all the brave bright little comrades? Oh, no! No! No! No! The good old Zamana blood, weakened though it might be, turned in revolt at the cowardly thought.
Just then the man outside in the light stooped to pick up another stone, and as he did so, Pavlo saw the gleam of a long curved knife in his belt. The Turks, thought the poor boy, the terrible Turks of the times of the Revolution must have looked just like that. Oh, if it only were in those days! If the dreadful man were a real Turk and Pavlo's great-grandfather or one of his brave companions were in hiding as he was now! How they would spring out on him and seize him. But no! If they were unarmed they would not "spring" out. They were wise as well as brave, those old Greeks.
What would they do?
Palvo's mind worked quickly.
They would creep slowly, slowly on all fours out of the hole, and while the Turk's back was turned they would seize hold of his ankles and pull back, ... pull hard.
The attack would be unexpected, and the "Turk" would fall forward on his face. He would have to fall so; he could not fall in any other way. And once he was on his face, it would be easy, before he could see who had attacked him, to wrench back his arms and tie them. It would be the best way! The only way!
Suppose he tried it!
No! No! Oh, no! It was brave men who feared nothing who did such things, not little terrified boys.
Then a very curious thing happened.
Pavlo did not feel as though he were making up his mind to anything, but quite suddenly he unwound a thin knitted belt which he wore round his waist, and held it between his teeth, then he crawled noiselessly out of the hole and looked around him with a look in his eyes which no one had ever seen in them before.
Had he been in a street in Athens, the man who stood there would have been simply a villainous looking peasant, and he, Pavlo, a small boy half dead with fright. But now, on this calm Poros hillside, the man became a Turk, a Turk of 1821 armed to the teeth with yatagan and scimitar, and he, the little terrified boy, was a brave patriot of the times of the Revolution, ready to do or die.
"Let us pretend," had its uses; and Pavlo had not lived a week in vain with the Four of the Red House.
He crept closer, closer still. His body was not brave at all; in fact it was shaking and trembling in every limb, and the cold sweat trickled down his face; but at that moment his heart was very brave, and because the heart is greater than the body, there was a sudden lightning spring forward, and two desperate little hands clutched the shepherd's bare ankles and pulled backwards, pulled strongly, and swiftly.
There was a helpless grasp at the empty air, a howl of dismay, and a loud thud as the tall man's body fell flat, face down, on the ground.
Pavlo with an excited, triumphant little shout rushed forward, and caught hold of one outstretched arm which he pulled back with a jerk, but already the shepherd was groaning, swearing, and moving, and how could Pavlo hold the hand he had already seized, and manage to reach the other one also?
"Children!" he screamed aloud, not knowing whether they could hear him or not, below in the cave. "Children! Come quick! I have got him!"
And help came, though not from the children.
There were running footsteps behind him and many cries.
"Hold well! Hold fast! We are here!"
And in a moment Pavlo was surrounded by linen-clad, white-capped officers, and someone's arms had lifted him off the prostrate shepherd, and stronger, though not braver hands than his had securely tied the arms of the struggling man behind his back.
In the meantime the hours had gone by, and the afternoon was drawing towards evening, and the grown people in the Red House, the father and the mother of the Four, and Pavlo's uncle, who had arrived that morning and was to leave the next day, had been getting very anxious; for there was no sign of the children, though they had promised to be home early. And the Four got into plenty of mischief, but they kept their promises.
So the mother of the Four walked from one window to another and could not keep still, and Kyria Penelope wrung her hands and shook her head, and Deko rushed about after them; whining and yelping and limping on his bad foot, till they shut him up in a room upstairs, and he had to stay there; and Athanasia the cook stationed herself at the gate near the sea to watch for the children, and Anneza the serving maid tore up through the pines to the top gate to see if they were in sight on the hill.
The doctor and the master of the Red House were pacing nervously up and down the terrace.
Suddenly the latter sent up a big shout.
"There they are!"
Everyone, from the mother of the Four to Yanni the boatman, rushed down to the little landing stage.
"They are in that," said the master of the house, pointing to a puffing little steam launch which was fast approaching. "I heard their voices shouting, and saw one of the girls' frocks, but how the little rascals got there is beyond me. I only hope they have not been in any mischief."
The steam launch had stopped alongside, and he caught sight of a bandaged head.
"... or in any danger!" he gasped.
When everyone had landed, Iason looking very pale under his white bandage but walking without help, there was at first such confusion, so many speaking all together and such a tangle of officers and children and dogs, that it was very difficult for the grown-ups to get any clear idea of what had occurred. But the mother of the Four gathered at last that something out of the common had certainly happened, that the children had certainly been in some peril, and that the officers had rescued them and brought them home. So she tried, though her voice shook a little, to thank the Chief.
"You must not thank us," said the gray-haired admiral standing cap in hand, before her. "We did nothing but arrive at a lucky moment, and bring the children home. It is another you must thank, another who deserves your deepest gratitude; one who by his presence of mind and coolness saved them all in a moment of great danger, ... of very real danger. This is the boy!" he said, putting his hand on Pavlo's shoulder. "This is a real Zamana, who when he grows up will be an honor to his glorious name! And in the meantime I for one, am proud to know him!"
Oh, how they shouted for him when they heard it all! And while the mother of the Four was holding him very tight to her, and while the master of the house and Pavlo's uncle were shaking each other's hand as though they would never stop, Deko, who had been set free, limped nimbly down all the steps, and leaped upon Chryseis, and licked her hands, and whined for joy, and caught hold of her skirt and shook it so hard that he tore it.
But he was forgiven that time.
And joy followed for Pavlo as well as glory, for though his uncle was obliged to leave for Athens the next day, no one in the Red House felt as if Pavlo could be spared. So his uncle was persuaded to leave him behind; to leave him indefinitely, till it should be autumn, and school time, and everyone returned to town.
So it came to pass, that when the doctor was being rowed across the bay the next morning, in the boat that was taking him to the steamer, the Four and Pavlo stood all together on the little landing stage and waved good-by to him.
They waved and waved, till he was a speck in the blue distance, and then they turned and ran with cries and whoops of joy, back into the pine woods, back to the sea, back to the hillside, back for a whole long summer to all the manifold delights of the Red House on the Hill.
ALEXANDER THE SON OF PHILIP
On a very hot morning in May, at the corner of the Hotel de la Grande Bretagne, in the Square of the Constitution, in Athens, a dirty little boy with a sheaf of unsold newspapers under his arm was sitting on a shoeblack's box, alternately munching a piece of bread and wiping his eyes with the back of his sleeve.
Another boy, not so dirty, stood beside him, with one foot on the edge of the box, watching the people in the square. He was fair for a Greek boy, with light hair which showed through the many holes of his cloth cap.
There was a tug at his ragged tunic:--
"Aleko! Aleko! You are not listening!"
"What is it? I hear." But he did not look down at the grubby little fellow who continued sniffing:--
"I dreamt, I tell you, as truly as I see you here I did, that I went away somewhere, and that I found a great big sweet shop, bigger than Yannaki's or Doree's, ever so much bigger, and in the shop there were dishes and jars and trays, and trays, and trays all around of chocolates, and baklava, and kourabiedes, and little cakes with pink and green and white sugar all over them; and there were piles of comfits, and caramels,--oh, and heaps of other things; and ..." warming to his description, "bottles and bottles of cherry syrup and lemonade, and I dreamt that the man of the shop waved his hand--so,--over everything and said 'Please,'--Aleko, do you hear? 'Please eat all the things you want.' And then," with a savage tug at the tunic, "then you came and waked me!"
Aleko looked down at him for a minute:--
"Did I want to wake you? It was time to get up. The big one sent me. And what are you crying about now, any way? For the sweets you never had?"
The small boy, Andoni, gulped down a sob.
"I only sold two newspapers; the other boys got before me; and the big one will beat me when he sees all these left."
Aleko shrugged his shoulders.
"You will cry when he beats you; what is the use of crying now?" Then he looked out again, over the square.
Watching people and things always kept him very busy. There were so many things going on at once. Two coachmen, on the side of the square where the carriages stand, were swearing at each other, and they were using swear-words quite different from those Aleko had heard in his village. A man from Rhodes was trying to sell his embroidered bags to some foreigners, of those who walk about with little red books in their hands, at double the price he usually asked for them. Some men were carrying big trunks down the steps of the hotel, and three ladies with bright coloured sunshades were going towards the street of the shops.
Two men, an old white bearded one and a fat one who walked with his legs wide apart and his hands behind his back, passed in front of the two boys.
"Ah, my friend," the older one was saying; "you are quite right, but gnôthi seauton, know thyself, is a very difficult thing."
Suddenly Aleko stooped and pushed Andoni off the box.
"Run!" he said, "they have no newspapers; run after them!"
The dirty little boy picked up his sheaf of papers and rushed after the men, who had already turned the corner.
In a few minutes he returned, jingling some copper coins in his hand.
"They bought three," he said, "the old one took the Acropolis and the fat one the Embros, and the Nea Himera. Why did you not sell them yours? You have some left."
"Because I am waiting here for a man whose shoes I black every morning. He always comes at this time, and I wait for him."
"Do you mean," asked Andoni eagerly, "a big man with a beard, who wears a soft gray hat?"
"Because I saw him now at the corner where the flower boys stand. Yoryi, the one who squints, had just polished his boots for him, and the gentleman was paying him."
Aleko wasted no words. He seized his box, and ran round the corner of the square with such speed that his feet raised a cloud of dust all around him.
A group of shoeblacks and flower boys were standing about the end of the Kiphissia Road, but there was no sign of a client of any sort.
Aleko rushed up to a boy much bigger than himself, with squinting eyes, and caught hold of his arm:--
"Did you clean the boots of the man with the black beard?" he asked. "Do you not know he is my client?"
The elder boy shook him off roughly.
"You, with your clients!" he muttered.
The other boys sniggered.
"You are late, you see, to-day, Aleko; another got before you."
The lad's face reddened.
"He always asks for me, and I was waiting for him just there."
"Oh," said one of the flower boys, tying up a big bunch of scarlet carnations as he spoke, "your client asked for you all right, but Yoryi here, told him that you had been sent on a message and that he was your partner."
Yoryi laughed noisily.
"That is how I do business."
But his laugh broke off in the middle. Aleko had come close to him, and with one well-directed kick had sent the big shoeblack's box flying into the middle of the road.
Brushes flew here and there, bottles of yellow and black polish were broken and their contents spilt in the dust, and round metal boxes rolled in all directions. Yoryi seized hold of Aleko by the neck and struck him savagely on the head.
"A bad year to you!" he shouted, as blow followed blow. "Did you not know that you would eat stick if you played those tricks on me? Did you not know it? Take that then! And that! And that! Did you think you could touch me and go free?" and the blows came down like rain. At last he flung the smaller boy away from him and began sullenly collecting the scattered contents of his box.
Aleko picked himself up, staggering a little as he stood.
"Oh, I knew!" he shouted, staunching a bleeding nose on the sleeve of his tunic. "Of course I knew. Do I not eat stick every day? Am I not the smallest? But it was you who did not know! You who thought you could cheat me and be safe! You did not know that your box would be all over the road, that your bottles would be broken, that all your things would be so spoiled that you could not steal other lads' clients this morning again! Pick them up then! Stoop! Yes, stoop in the dust and pick them up!"
The other boys were laughing at Yoryi now.
"He has played you a good trick, the little one!"
"Did you think," shouted Aleko, "that you could touch me and go free?" and before Yoryi, furious now with rage, could catch him a second time, he doubled, and ran round the corner of the University Road.
Being fleet of foot, he left Yoryi far behind him, and running up one street and down another and across a third, he soon arrived safe and unpursued at the top end of Stadium Street and back again in Constitution Square.
A sound of music came from the direction of the Palace and he looked up eagerly. The guard was changing; he could hear the measured tread of the soldiers. Though he had been in Athens nearly two years the spectacle had never lost its charm for him.
Pushing, stooping, dodging, he elbowed his way to the edge of the pavement and waited.
On they came, the officer, the band, the marching men, the beautiful blue flag held aloft by a white-gloved sergeant. Aleko knew all about it, for a soldier had told him one day that you had to be a good-conduct man to be allowed to carry the flag, and that you had to wear white gloves: and the boy had long ago decided that when his time came to serve as a soldier, he would always carry the flag.
Up sprang all the officers who happened to be sitting at the little café tables in the square, and stood saluting. Civilians who were passing stopped and uncovered; coachmen stood up on their boxes bare-headed; Aleko pulled off his tattered cap in imitation and stood with the hot sun shining on his tumbled fair hair.
An old man looked down on him and smiled. Then, catching sight of the dust and smears of blood on the boy's face, he remarked with a chiding gesture:--
"Ah! you have been fighting."
"No," answered Aleko, "I have been beaten." Then emboldened he asked, "Tell me, why do people take their hats off?"
The old man stared at the question.
"Why, to the flag, of course."
"Yes, I know; but why?"
"Why? To show respect to the flag, of course."
"Why does it show respect when one takes one's hat off?"
The old man answered by another question:--
"From where are you my lad?"
"Ah, you do not see flags there, do you?"
"At Easter, and on the twenty-fifth of March, there was always a flag put up at the Town Hall but no one took his hat off."
"Well, in Athens you will learn many things," said the old man walking away. Aleko looked after him.
"I do not think," he muttered, "that he knew why. How many people do not know things when you ask them." Then he ran up the steps of the Hotel Grande Bretagne where one of the head servants, standing on the verandah, had beckoned to him to clean his boots.
"Make them shine well," said the man, putting his foot on the little inclined rest of the box.
"Be easy," answered Aleko, "you will see your face in them."
He scraped, and rubbed, and polished vigorously; then when one foot was changed for the other, he suddenly asked without looking up:--
"What does 'Know thyself' mean?"
"Where did you pick up that fine phrase?"
"One man who was passing said it to another, and he said it was a very difficult thing. What does it mean?"
"If it be difficult how should I know it?" answered the head servant. "Do poor folk have time to go beyond the municipal classes at school?"
"Does he know?" and Aleko with a backward jerk of his thumb indicated another servant, stout and gray-haired, standing within the portal of the hotel.
"He! He can scarcely read the newspaper!"
"Then who knows?"
"Do you not go to the Parnassos School every night?"
"Of course I go."
"Well, ask your schoolmaster."
"Oh, he has no time; we are many boys. You see I thought as you stand here so often doing nothing, if you knew you would have time to tell me."
The man scowled.
"Enough words! There are your ten lepta. Go about your business and leave me to mine."
Aleko slung his box over his shoulder and descended the hotel steps slowly. He was beginning to feel sore all over and his head ached. He decided that he would go home and have a sleep. Home meant the cellar which he shared with the other boy, Andoni, and with the older shoeblack, "the big one" who had brought them over from Megaloupolis, and for whom they worked, till such time as they should have earned enough to set up for themselves.
Bells were ringing for noon, and after that no one would be out in the sun-blaze of the streets to want boots cleaned; there would be no work again until the sales of the evening newspapers began.
He trudged rather wearily up the steep streets towards the Square of the Kolonaki, near which he lived; and as he went, he wondered once more why so many people did not know things when you asked them.
There were so many things he wanted to find out.
Who lived in the Academy with the two statues on the tall columns, which he passed two or three times a day, and what did people do inside it? What was in the red books which the foreigners held in their hands when they looked up at the old temples? What was that statue in the Zappion Gardens where a woman was putting a crown of leaves on a man's head? And most of all, what made automobiles go without horses when the driver turned that round wheel? The whole town was one great "Why" to him.
When he reached the street behind the Kolonaki Square, and went down the steps to the cellar, he found it empty. From a shelf in one corner he took down the half of a loaf of bread, and a piece of white cheese wrapped in a sheet of paper. His mother was renowned in Megaloupolis as one of the tidiest housewives of the place, and it was from her that he had learned not to leave food about uncovered; this was also probably the reason why his face and hands were generally less grimy than those of most of the other shoeblacks.
Nearly all the boys he knew were shoeblacks, or newspaper sellers and messenger boys, or they combined the three trades; and nearly all came from Megaloupolis in the charge of an older boy of eighteen or twenty years old, "the big one," as they called him. He paid them a yearly wage and, except what was necessary for food, all their earnings went to him. Aleko was paid one hundred and fifty drachmæ a year; next year he was to have two hundred. Later on, he would work for himself, and doubtless when he was old enough he would in his turn employ smaller boys. He had no father, and the money was required to help his mother and the two small sisters in Megaloupolis. How could they live else?
After he had eaten, he sat down and pulled out his morning's earnings from the breast of his tunic. The copper coins and nickels amounted to one drachma and thirty-five lepta; of these, he put aside thirty lepta for his supper, and screwing up the rest in a piece of old newspaper pushed it underneath a painted wooden chest to give to "the big one" when accounts were made in the evening. Then he threw himself on his mattress, doubled his arm under his head, and slept till the loud barking of a dog on the pavement outside awoke him with a start.
He rushed up the cellar steps which led to the pavement of the narrow street, banging the door behind him, and nearly fell headlong over a fox-terrier busily occupied with the rubbish tin of the next house. The little dog yelped sharply as Aleko stumbled over him, and abandoning the rubbish tin, trotted quickly off towards the square.
"Solon!" called Aleko. "Here Solon! Why do you run away? It is only I."
Solon stopped short, listened for a moment with uplifted paw, and then with a series of little joyful barks ran back towards the boy.
Aleko stooped, and catching him up by the middle of his well-fed, white little body tucked him under his arm.
"You little rascal! What do you mean by rooting in the rubbish? Have you not enough to eat in your house? I should be glad to have your luck."
Two little ears were cocked on one side of Aleko's arm and a short tail wagged frantically on the other.
"I wonder how it happens that you are out alone? Has Anneza lost you?"
Just then, coming out on the Kolonaki Square, Aleko descried a young woman carrying a basket, who was looking all around her and peering under the bushes of the enclosure seemingly in great distress. He put his fingers to his mouth and whistled sharply.
"Anneza! Eh! Here is your dog! It is I who have him!"
The young woman wheeled around and came rapidly towards him. She was pretty, with black hair and a big white apron crossed over a pink cotton frock.
"Do you not feed him enough?" Aleko asked her as he put down the dog. "I found him in my street with his nose in the rubbish tin."
"Feed him, indeed?" snorted the young woman, "he has of the best. If all poor people fared as he does, it would be well. The master is so fond of him he fears lest the wind should blow or the rain should drop on his body. He often comes himself into the kitchen to see what I give him to eat. But all the same the dirty dog is always grubbing in the rubbish tins. When I take him out he is always straying and making me go cold with fright for fear the 'boya' should catch him."
"The 'boya' only takes dogs who belong to no one. He would not take yours," said Aleko, turning Solon over on his back with his foot as he spoke.
"Do I know? Now, in this hot weather when dogs go mad, they say that the 'boya' gets paid one drachma for every dog he catches; and all he can lay hand on are thrown into his cart. If I had my way the dog should never stir out, but the master says he must have exercise, and if he sees me out without Solon, bad luck for me!"
"Take your dog now," said the boy, "I must go for my newspapers."
"Come to the house in the morning; there are some curtains to beat."
"I will come." Then, as he turned to go, he added, "Keep the dog by you! Do not let him stray again."
"I have no strap," answered Anneza.
Aleko was already some way off, but he called back over his shoulder:--
"You need not tie him. Talk to him."
Anneza looked after the boy, whose bare feet were raising a cloud of dust as he ran, and tapped her forehead.
"A good boy," she murmured, "but ..."
It was nearly sunset when Aleko came up to the Kolonaki again with his evening papers, after having sold all he could in the big squares and at the little tables outside the cafés and confectioners' shops where people sit to eat ices and look at the passers-by.
He was walking slowly up the long straight street, dotted here and there with trees, which leads out of the square, dragging his feet as he walked, for the day had been long and hot. There were not many papers left in his sheaf but every now and then he raised his piercing cry:--
"Astrapi! Hesperini! Hestia!" These were the names of his newspapers.
Suddenly from a narrow side street which he had already passed he heard an answering call.
He turned on his steps and looked down the alley. At the door of a low house stood an old man leaning on a stick. He did not beckon nor make any sign but continued to call, "Newspapers! Here!"
Aleko ran up.
"Which do you want?"
"Have you the Embros?"
"No, that is published in the morning."
"I know it, but I thought you might have one left. I always take the Embros, but no one passed here this morning."
"I have only the evening papers."
"Well, give me the Hestia, then."
Aleko picked out one of his three remaining Hestias and held it out, but the old man made no movement to take it. He was tall, straight, and gray haired, and somehow it was not easy to imagine his face as ever having been young. He wore shabby gray clothes, very frayed and stained.
"Here is your Hestia."
"Put it down here on the step beside me. Take your five lepta," and from an inner pocket the old man produced a copper coin, but as he held it out, his stick came into sharp contact with Aleko's elbow. The boy gave a little cry and began to rub it.
"I have hurt you, my lad," said the old man, bending forward and dropping his stick with a clatter. "You must forgive me! I cannot see; I am blind."
Aleko stopped rubbing his elbow and looked curiously into the old man's face. The wide open brown eyes seemed to be looking at him. He remembered an old blind woman who used to go about asking for alms in Megaloupolis, but her head was always sunk on her chest, and her eyes were closed.
"Are you quite blind?"
"Your eyes do not look blind."
"But they are."
Aleko held up his hand, high above his head.
"Can you not see how many fingers I am holding up now?"
"Not even that you have lifted your hand; not even that you stand before me."
"That is a pity you should be blind," said the boy slowly. "You are not very old yet. Have you been blind long?"
"Two years now."
"That was before I came to the town. And how did you lose your light?"
"I had a bad fever for many months, and afterwards my eyes never got well; then they grew worse and worse, till the darkness fell. There is a good man who was once my pupil and who is rich now, and he took me to the best oculists; but they said they could do nothing."
Aleko passed his fingers through his hair and hesitated; but his curiosity got the better of him.
"Tell me, master, why do you buy a newspaper if you cannot see to read it?"
"It is read to me."
"Your children read it to you?" queried the boy.
"No, I have no children. There is a young man,--a student, who lives in the next house,--and every day at noon I give him ten lepta to read the whole newspaper to me. One must know the news and what the outside world is doing." Then half to himself he added, "Though the eyes be blind the mind must see."
But Aleko frowned.
"What! Pay lepta to have the news read to you! That is a sin! Better keep the good money for bread. In our village, he who can read reads aloud, and the others listen, but no one pays."
"In the town it is different," sighed the old man. "In small places people are kinder. I know, for I taught school for many years at Lixuri in Cephalonia and one helped the other when there was trouble."
Aleko looked up suddenly.
"Give me your name, master."
"My name is Themistocli."
"Listen, then, Kyr Themistocli; now, with the sun-blaze, no one comes out to have their boots cleaned after noon, so there is no work before the evening newspapers are published. I will keep you an Embros every day, and at two, or at three, after you have had your sleep, I will bring it and read it to you, and then you need not spend your lepta."
"But, my child ..."
"Oh, I can read. I can read without stopping at the big words. Also I do not sing when I read. It is not I who say so; it was one of the members of the Parnassos at our examinations, when we all read out aloud. He said to the master, 'That boy there, with the yellow hair, is the only one who can read without singing.' Shall I come, Kyr Themistocli? Shall I come to-morrow?"
The old man groped with his hand until he found Aleko's arm and patted it gently.
"You are a good boy to a poor blind man."
"No," said Aleko wriggling a little, "I like to read, and since you were a schoolmaster perhaps you will know things when I ask you."
The old man, stooping, felt for the newspaper on the doorstep and turned towards the house.
"Come inside with me for a minute, my lad."
Aleko followed him through a narrow passage and into a little living-room, containing a round table covered with a red and white checked cloth, two cupboards, a high one and a low one, and three odd chairs. On the floor were two or three torn newspapers, and on the low cupboard was a pile of unwashed plates. The dust lay thick everywhere.
Just as they entered, a door leading to another room opened and a stout woman with a dirty blue apron tied round her, looked in; she held a pan in one hand and a plate of salad in the other.
"Your soup is ready," she began, then catching sight of Aleko she added quickly, "A loustro has followed you in. What does he want?"
"I brought him," answered Kyr Themistocli. "Sit down, my child."
But Aleko had been taught that one should never stay when people are about to sit down to a meal.
"With your permission, master, I go to eat bread, and I shall return."
"No, do not go. Stay and take your soup with me."
The stout woman muttered something about a rat whose hole was too small for him, but who would drag a pumpkin in as well.
"What is it, Kyra Katerina?" asked the old man sharply. "Is there not sufficient soup for two?"
"As for that, yes, there is sufficient."
"Then pour it into two soup plates, and stay ... there was a dish of potatoes left...."
"Those are for to-morrow," said the woman sullenly.
"I wish for them to-night."
The woman said nothing. She pushed the red and white cover half off the table and put down the pan and the plate of salad on the yellow oilcloth underneath. Then, opening the low cupboard, she produced two soup plates and the half of a ring-shaped loaf. Then she poured the thick rice soup into the plates: it was red with tomato and smelt very good. Lastly, she took the empty pan into the back room and returned with a dish of cold potatoes and a pitcher full of water.
"I have served," she said. "Is there perhaps anything else you want?"
Her voice sounded angry, but Kyr Themistocli took no notice of it.
"No, there is nothing. You can go."
The stout woman pulled down her sleeves, and untying her apron threw it on the top of the unwashed plates.
"As you like." Then, as she opened the door, she added, "A nice work it will be in the morning to have to clean the floor after a shoeblack's dusty feet." Then she passed out and shut the door quickly before Kyr Themistocli could answer.
"Eat your soup, and do not mind her," he said to Aleko.
"I do not mind her," said Aleko, taking a big spoonful of soup; and after swallowing it, he added sagely, "Women always make much noise."
The blind man ate slowly and did not always find his mouth exactly. Aleko saw, now, why there were so many stains on his clothes. When he had finished he pushed his plate back.
"Tell me, now, what do they call you?"
"They call me Aleko."
"My mother lives in Megaloupolis, and I was born there and the little ones, but my father was not from there."
Kyr Themistocli noticed the past tense.
"He is dead, your father?"
"Yes, it is two years ago that he died."
"And from where was he?"
"Ah, a Macedonian! And what was his name?"
"So your name is Alexandros Vasiliou?"
"Alexander of the King! Alexander the son of Philip! Your master has taught you about him at school?"
"Of course," said Aleko frowning.
The old man smiled. "There is a story about him which you have not heard perhaps. Do you know how Alexander the King got the Water of Life?"
Aleko shook his head: "We have not reached such a part."
"Well, I will tell you about it. Listen:--
"When Alexander the King had conquered all the Kingdoms of the world, and when all the universe trembled at his glance, he called before him the most celebrated magicians of those days and said to them:--
"'Ye who are wise, and who know all that is written in the Book of Fate, tell me what I must do to live for many years and to enjoy this world which I have made mine?'
"'O King!' said the magicians, 'great is thy power! But what is written in the book of Fate is written, and no one in Heaven or on Earth can efface it. There is one thing only, that can make thee enjoy thy kingdom and thy glory beyond the lives of men; that can make thee endure as long as the hills, but it is very hard to accomplish.'
"'I did not ask ye,' said the great King Alexander, 'whether it be hard, I asked only what it was.'
"'O King, we are at thy feet to command! Know then that he alone who drinks of the Water of Life need not fear death. But he who seeks this water, must pass through two mountains which open and close constantly, and scarce a bird on the wing can fly between them and not be crushed to death. The bones lie in high piles, of the kings' sons who have lost their lives in this terrible trap. But if thou shouldst pass safely through the closing mountains, even then thou wilt find beyond them a sleepless dragon who guards the Water of Life. Him also must thou slay before thou canst take the priceless treasure.'
"Then Alexander the King smiled, and ordered his slaves to bring forth his horse Bucephalus, who had no wings yet flew like a bird. The king mounted on his back and the good horse neighed for joy. With one triumphant bound he was through the closing mountains so swiftly that only three hairs of his flowing tail were caught in between the giant rocks when they closed. Then Alexander the King slew the sleepless dragon, filled his vial with the Water of Life, and returned.
"But when he reached his palace, so weary was he that he fell into a deep sleep and left the Water of Life unguarded. And it so happened that his sister, not knowing the value of the water, threw it away. And some of the water fell on a wild onion plant, and that is why, to this day, wild onion plants never fade. Now when Alexander awoke, he stretched out his hand to seize and drink the Water of Life and found naught; and in his rage he would have killed the slaves who guarded his sleep, but his sister, being of royal blood, could not hide the truth, and she told him that not knowing, she had thrown the Water of Life away.
"Then the king waxed terrible in his wrath, and he cast a curse upon his sister, and prayed that from the waist downward she might be turned into a fish, and live always in the open sea far from all land and habitation of man. And the gods granted his prayer, so it happens that to this day those who sail over the open sea in ships often see Alexander's sister, half a woman and half a fish, tossing in the waves.
"Strange to say, she does not hate Alexander, and when a ship passes close to her she cries out:--
"'Does Alexander live?'
"And should the captain, not knowing who it is that speaks, answer, 'He is dead,' then the maid in her great grief tosses her white arms and her long golden hair wildly about, and troubles the water, and sinks the ship.
"But if, when the question comes up with the voice of the wind, 'Does Alexander live?' the captain answers at once, 'He lives and reigns,' then the maid's heart is joyful, and she sings sweet songs till the ship is out of sight.
"And this is how sailors learn new love songs, and sing them when they return to land."
When the old man ceased speaking Aleko waited a moment and then said slowly,--
"That is not true--but I like it."
"Do you know, my lad," said Kyr Themistocli, "that with a name such as yours you ought to grow up a great man."
"But if one cannot?"
"That is only if one is not born so," said the old man shaking his head, "but if one is born with brains, and will, one always can."
"No!" burst out Aleko, "without learning one cannot and when one is poor how is one to get learning?"
"We live in a country, my boy, where learning is free."
"And must not one live while one is learning? And must one not keep one's mother and the little ones who cannot work?"
"Did you not say that you go to the Parnassos School?"
"Of course I go, but already I am in the third class, next year I shall be in the fourth, which is like the first Hellenic class in municipal schools, and after that, there are no more classes at the Parnassos."
Kyr Themistocli thought for a moment.
"How old are you?"
"In August, on the Virgin's Day, I close my twelve years."
"Why are you in the third class if you have only been here two years?"
"Oh, the first is only for those who cannot read, I did not pass through it at all."
"You could read already, when you came from your village?"
"Long before that."
"Who taught you?"
Aleko shifted from one bare foot to another and thought for a moment.
"I do not know," he said at last. "My father had three books, and there were newspapers which the coffee-house keeper threw away, and ... I learnt."
"If you finish the fourth class of the Parnassos, you will know a good many things."
"What will be the benefit? When there is no more night school and I have to work with my hands all day, as the years pass I shall forget all they have taught me, and I shall be an unlearned man. The member who spoke at the examinations last year, told us that an unlearned man is like wood that has not been hewn."
The boy pushed back his chair and stood up.
"Why do they say such things to us? Can we help it if we are poor? It is bad to know only the beginning of things! It is worse I think than to know nothing. Sometimes I am sorry that I went to the Parnassos!" And Aleko turned towards the window and began drawing his finger over the dust on the pane. But the old schoolmaster called him:--
"Find the Hestia," he said, "and read to me, will you?"
So Aleko read for some time by the fading light. He read of many things, and amongst others of how a great big warship had been launched and was soon to be brought to Greece ... the Averoff.
"Why do they call it the Averoff? What does it mean?"
"It is the name of a very good, and very rich man, who gave the money to build it."
"Will it fight the Turks?" asked Aleko eagerly.
"Good grant it, my boy! And may I be alive to hear of it."
"When it does, I will read all about it to you."
"Thank you," said the old man very seriously.
Then Aleko went on reading till he could see no longer.
"You read well," said Kyr Themistocli slowly. "Will you come again? you will give me pleasure."
"I will come every day." Then Aleko got up and began carrying the plates off the table into the kitchen at the back. He returned with a lighted candle.
"Now," he said, "I will tidy up a little so that the cross woman will not have so many words to say to-morrow. As for her floor ..." and he looked at it with disgust, "it is so dusty that anyone who walks over it will take dust away instead of adding any! Does she come every day?" he asked suddenly.
"Yes, she cleans and cooks for me."
"And you pay her?"
"Kyr Themistocli, you must find another woman who will have a little conscience; this one, because you cannot see ... she lets you live in dirt." He took up the cover and shook it vigorously out of the window. "But what dust! It is a sin to take money for such dirty work! Ah," he continued, polishing the window panes with a piece of torn newspaper, "you ought to have my mother to work for you! Then you would see what your house would be like!"
"Your mother is a good housewife?"
"She is the best in Megaloupolis; all say it. What would she say if she saw this room? And my clothes also," he added, looking at them ruefully. "But when one works, what can one do?"
When he had finished, he blew out the candle. "Since it is useless to you," he remarked, "why should it burn in vain?" Then he came close to the old man and laid his hand on his knee.
"I thank you for the good food. To-morrow, then, I shall come at three."
The old man stood up and felt for Aleko's head.
"I want to see how tall you are. Ah, you are well above my shoulder, that is a good height for twelve. Are you strong? Do you have gymnastics at the Parnassos?"
"Yes, in the square outside. I know all the movements; and there is one member--not the one who comes to the lessons, another who has been abroad--and he is teaching us boxing."
"Boxing?" echoed the old man. This was new for him.
"It is how to fight with your hands; and he says that I shall learn well and soon."
"That is not real learning," objected Kyr Themistocli, "that is play."
"I do not know," answered Aleko, "but it is very useful for me, because there are some of the boys who will not understand things unless you explain with your fists. Now I go," he added. "I must be at the school at eight o'clock. Good night, master."
"Good night, my child."
But from the door he rushed back again.
"What is that statue in the Zappion Gardens, of the man who stands at the woman's knee; she who is putting a crown of leaves on his head?"
Kyr Themistocli put his hand to his forehead in a bewildered fashion.
"At the Zappion? A crown of leaves? Oh, I see; you mean Byron. Well, he was a great poet--a stranger--and because he left his own country and came and fought for us against the Turks, and helped us, and sang about us, and loved us, the woman, who means Greece, is crowning him with laurels."
"Is it like when you take your hat off--to the flag--to show respect?"
"Well, in a way, perhaps," said the old man smiling.
"Is he dead now, that poet?"
Aleko thought for a moment.
"I will fight for his country when I grow up if they want me."
Then he ran very fast because he was afraid he would be late for school. In winter the hours were from seven to nine in the evening, but in summer they were from eight to ten, for the members of the Parnassos who arranged all about the night school, knew that the little shoeblacks and newspaper boys could find work in the streets much later, now that the days were long and people dined at such late hours.
Aleko rushed through the Kolonaki Square and all the length of the street called after the brave Kanaris, into Academy Road, crossed it, and tearing down two narrow streets one after the other, came out into Stadium Street; this also he crossed, dodging in and out between the tram-cars and the streams of people, and only slackened his pace when he got into the short street that leads to the Church of St. George and the building of the Parnassos.
He pushed open the big door, and dumping down his shoeblack's box in the outer hall beside a long line of others, was in the class room and seated in his place, just one moment before the master took his.
Two members were present this evening. One of them heard the boys' grammar and arithmetic lessons, and commented on them; the other, a young man with a small dark moustache, leaned against the wall and looked on without speaking. Just before the books were closed he crossed the big room and exchanged a few words with the master, who smiled, nodded his head, and gave up his place on the platform to him. The whole class looked up with astonishment; members never took the master's place except to make speeches on the twenty-fifth of March, or on examination day. This member was very tall, his back was very straight, and his eyes were always laughing.
He leaned carelessly across the desk.
"Listen to me, boys!" he said. "Some people have been blaming me for teaching you boxing. They say you are ready enough to fight without being taught any more about it. So I want to explain, here, why I think it such a good thing for you. Now--until all men become saints, and I believe that we, at least, shall not see that day--a boy will always need to defend himself, or his people, or his things, by fighting, sometimes. Well, boxing makes a fine healthy animal of him, ready to face anything that may happen."
Some of the older boys scowled at the word "animal," and the young member saw it.
"I am sorry you do not like being called 'animals,'" he continued, "because in reality, you are far worse off than animals when it comes to fighting, and that is why you must learn how to use your strength, so as not to be at the mercy of any who choose to attack you. Why, many insects, even, are stronger than you are!"
The boys laughed out loudly.
"An ant," continued the young member gravely, "can bear nearly a thousand times the weight of its own body over it, without being crushed. How many times your own weight do you think you could carry? But science can supply what nature has denied to us. We can make our fists be to us just what its horns are to a bull, or its claws and its teeth to a lion; only, you see, we have to learn how to do this carefully, and systematically. When a horse kicks, or a dog bites, no one in the world can teach them to do it better, but most men have no idea how to hit straight from the shoulder with all the strength of the body behind the blow. A boy who has learned how to defend himself will be a thousand times less molested by others, and more independent. When grown men, in a fit of passion, pull out a knife to avenge an injury, it is, nine times out of ten, because they have not learned the use of their fists."
Then the young member, suddenly leaving the platform, came down amongst them.
"Who will learn?" he asked smiling.
Not a boy but came pressing around him. Benches were pushed against the walls, and the lesson began.
He made the boys who were to fight take off their tunics and roll up the sleeves of their more or less ragged shirts. He placed them in the correct attitude of defense, the right fist closed and held near the body and the left slightly extended. He showed them how to thrust straight from the shoulder for the right-hand stroke, and for the left-hand stroke; then how to parry the right-hand stroke with the left arm raised and slightly bent, and how to parry the left-hand stroke with the right arm bent forward and protecting the face. He showed them how to take their opponent's head prisoner, and he showed the imprisoned one how to get free.
"Now, Kosta!" he cried, "straight out from the shoulder! Follow your blow! Come with it! Come with it! Be ready, Aleko! Raise your left arm. There you see.... That is the way!"
When the lesson was over and the boys had shouldered their boxes, Aleko lingered until the two members came out down the steps into the street smoking their cigarettes. He stood himself right in the way of the younger member.
"Tell me, Kyrie, if you please, when you strike straight out from the shoulder and the other one does not know how to parry the blow, what happens?"
The member laughed.
"Why, he will see stars, my boy, especially if your blow lands on his chin."
"Ah!" said Aleko. "Yoryi who squints shall not take my client from me again!"
"Does Yoryi 'who squints' come to school?" asked the member.
"Then I certainly think your client will remain yours."
"Good night, Kyrie."
"Good night to you, my lad."
Then as Aleko ran off, the younger member turned to the older one.
"I wish a few more of the boys had his spirit."
"How fair he is! From what part does he come, I wonder?"
"Oh, they all come from Megaloupolis, but I believe that this one's father is originally from Macedonia."
"Ah, a good race," said the older man. "One of our best."
The next day, early in the afternoon, Aleko duly took the Embros to the little street off the Kolonaki Square, where the old, blind schoolmaster sat waiting for him, just inside his door. The boy sat down on the doorstep and read out all the news to him. Then he told him all about his boxing lesson, and left only when it was time for the evening newspapers to come out. And after that, the afternoon readings became a regular thing. Sometimes the boy was tired after the long, hot, hard-working morning, and would have willingly thrown himself down on his mattress for an hour or two, but he never failed the old man.
Of course the readings were frequently interrupted by questions, for Aleko soon discovered that Kyr Themistocli was of those who "knew things when you asked them."
"What is an 'agonistes'?" he asked one day, after reading of the death of an old veteran.
"An 'agonistes' is one who fights; but now it has come to mean one who has fought in the Revolution of 1821. My father was one."
The newspaper fluttered down on the doorstep and Aleko was on his knees beside the old man, his eyes eagerly fixed on the sightless ones above him.
"Your father! Did he kill Turks himself? Did he blow up a Turkish ship? Did he come down from Souli with Marcos Botzaris? Did he see Kanaris and Miaoulis? Did he fight at Missolonghi? Was he there when the Turks passed the stake through Diakos?"
"Stop, stop, my child! you want the whole of the Revolution at once!"
However, he was very patient, the old man, and Aleko heard many of those things which never get into the history books, at least into those from which he read at school. Little incidents of the many battles and sieges, tales of the misery and the hardships, and of the braving of all the misery and the hardships, for the sake of freedom. Of the Christian children who were stolen and turned into infidels! Of the boys who were taken as babes and brought up to hate and to fight against their own people; of the girls who were made slaves in the harems; of the bloodshed, and the tortures, until at last the day came at Navarino when even strangers joined in arms against the cruel oppressors.
"I am afraid," said Kyr Themistocli, "that you cannot quite understand yet, how it all came to pass."
"There is only one thing I cannot understand," said Aleko slowly.
"When they had the strangers to help them, why they did not go everywhere, and cut off all the Turks' heads so that none should be left."
The old man leaned back in his chair and laughed aloud.
"He is terrible, the little one!" and he tried to explain, but Aleko remained rather unsatisfied on this point.
"Now, will you find me some water to drink. I have talked much."
Aleko found the water, and was just putting the pitcher back in its place, when he heard a series of short sharp barks in the distance. Instead of passing out of the house door, before which the old man was sitting, he vaulted out of the low kitchen window and went tearing down the street.
"Aleko!" called Kyr Themistocli who heard the clatter. "Aleko! Where are you?" But there was only silence. He sighed and leaned back in his chair crossing his hands.
"Of course the boy cannot stay long; it is well he comes at all," and he sighed again.
Suddenly he felt something warm, and soft, and alive on his hands. He was startled.
"What is it?"
"It is only Solon," said Aleko. "Did you not hear me return? He was barking down the street and I knew he had strayed again from the cook--Anneza--and I brought him for you to see."
Kyr Themistocli always talked of "seeing" and Aleko had got into the same habit.
"Put your hands over him,--so,--Is he not soft? And clever! as clever as a Christian! Whatever I tell him he understands."
Kyr Themistocli smiled.
"He is not yours?"
"Mine! No! He belongs to the big house higher up, the one which has the garden. Do you know it? Someone lives there who is called 'Spinotti.'"
"Kyrios Spinotti, the banker; he is a very rich man."
"Is he?" said Aleko indifferently. "Well, Solon is his dog, and he is so fond of him that he fears lest the wind should blow or the rain should drop on his body; and he often goes into the kitchen to see what he eats, and Anneza says that if all poor people fared as well as this dog does, it would be well. So that is why he is so fat, you see! And when Anneza goes out, her master says she must take the dog with her for exercise, and if she does not ... bad luck to her! But he is always straying. She is a stupid woman and Solon will not stay with her. Some day she will lose him and never find him again, and then there will be trouble. Now I must take him back."
"His master," said the old man slowly, "is so fond of the dog because it was his wife's dog, and she is dead."
Aleko, with Solon contentedly tucked under his arm, stopped short.
"You know him then?"
"This house in which I live, is his, and because of that, I pay very little rent for it. He, Nico Spinotti, is my old pupil from Cephalonia, of whom I told you; he who took me to the oculists. Once, a long time ago, when I first came to Athens, when I could still see, I went to his house. His wife was alive then--a beautiful woman, of one of the first names of the island--and as she was talking to me and smiling, she had the little dog, who was but a puppy, in her arms. She died--God rest her soul--of typhoid fever. Since then I have not seen Nico often, but he never forgets his old master."
"Of course not," said Aleko, "why should he?"
"Many would, my boy; many would. But he is a good man; take his dog back to him that he may not be anxious."
After Aleko had left Solon at the big house, it was already dark. He hurried down the Kiphissia Road and through the Square of the Constitution, thinking he would have more chance of selling the few papers he still held, if he went to school by that way.
It was getting cooler, and the streets were filled with people pouring out of all quarters of the city to breathe the night air after the weariness of the day spent behind closed shutters.
Crowded street cars and carriages crossed and recrossed, carrying family parties down to Phalerum and the sea.
The little round tables at Yannaki's, Doree's, and Zacharato's were all occupied, in fact those of the latter had spread right out across the square. All around rose the hum of summer night noises, of music, of the cries of the café waiters, the tinkling of many glasses and spoons, and the distant whistle of the Kiphissia train.
Groups of men lounged past, talking and laughing.
A man in one of the groups beckoned to Aleko, a young man with a small dark moustache:--
"Here! Have you any newspapers left?"
Aleko looked up into the pleasant, laughing eyes of his boxing master.
"Oristé!" he cried eagerly. "Certainly, all you want."
"Ah, is it you, Aleko! Good evening to you! Well, give me the Hestia, the Astrapi, the Hesperini--and the Romios, if you have it."
Then, when he had gathered them up, he asked laughingly:--
"Now, as we are old friends and I have bought so many newspapers, surely you will take off a discount for me! What shall I give you?"
Aleko, being of pure Greek blood, answered in the good old Greek fashion:--
"Whatever you please to give."
The young man laughed and held out a five lepta copper coin, the value of one newspaper alone.
"Suppose then I please to give only this."
Not a muscle moved in Aleko's face.
"You shall give it," he answered, then taking the coin he dropped it into his pocket, and was turning away, when the young man called him back.
"Here! Stop! Did you take it seriously?" and while he was searching for more coins, he asked, "Do you boys not have to account for all the papers you sell?"
"Of course; the 'big one' keeps count of everything."
"Well then, what would you have said when the 'big one' as you call him, found fifteen lepta too little?"
"He would have found his money right."
"How could he?"
"I would have put it there from my supper money."
The young man looked at Aleko rather curiously, and two of the other men who were with him laughed. The one of them, an older man, said:--
"This is an original little specimen!" and the other, an officer, asked:--
"And why should you be taking from your supper money to make this gentleman a present of three newspapers? Do you not think he is richer than you?"
"That does not matter at all," answered Aleko. "My father told me that it is a shame always to take, and never to give, however poor you are. He ..." pointing with his thumb backwards, "has given me much; may I not befriend him with three newspapers?"
"Ah, that of course alters the question," remarked the officer.
"I assure you," began the young man, "that I have never given the child a single thing!" Then turning to Aleko, "Are you thinking of the 'tsourekia' and red eggs at Easter? but that was from all the members of the Parnassos, not from me alone."
"No," said Aleko, "I mean that you have taught me many things, and that is more than things which are eaten and finished."
"Oh, ho!" laughed the officer, "this is a philosopher we have here."
"No," said Aleko gravely, "I have not enough learning; perhaps if I could go to school all day, I might be one, some time."
The older man shook his head.
"That is the way of the world. My son can go to school all day, and every day, and his one object is to stay away."
"What do you want to be when you grow up?" asked the officer of Aleko.
"I do not know ... yet," he answered slowly. "I want to learn how to do many things, and then to go and do them."
"You could not wish better," said his boxing master. "I think you will be a man anyway. Here is your money, and run off to the Parnassos; I am not coming this evening; it is too hot for boxing." Then turning to the officer he quoted smilingly:--
hôs charien esth' anthrôpos hotan anthrôpos ê
Aleko heard him, though he did not understand; and as he ran down Stadium Street, he kept repeating the words to himself for fear of forgetting them, and when he sat down in his place in the class, the first thing he did was to borrow a stump of a pencil from his neighbour, and write the words on the fly leaf of his reading book. Of course they were spelled and accented all wrong, but they could be read quite plainly. The arithmetic lesson came last, and Aleko was the last pupil called up to the blackboard, so that when the boys were leaving the class he ventured to show his sentence to the schoolmaster.
"What does this mean, master?"
The schoolmaster took up the book.
"Why do you write on your school books?" he asked sharply.
"I had no paper. What does it mean?"
The master read the sentence slowly.
"This is ancient Greek," he said. "You have not done any yet: you could not understand it. Even next year in the higher class, you will only do Æsop's fables, and a little Xenophon. Better leave it," he added laughing. "Do not trouble your head! It is not for you!"
But Aleko put his book into his shoeblack box to take away with him.
The next day it was four o'clock before he went up to the Kolonaki and found the blind old man seated on a chair outside his door, waiting for him patiently. The daily newspaper was read, but without the usual stopping for questions. When the reading was over Aleko opened his box and pulled out his book. Then he flung himself down and resting the book on the old man's knees opened the tattered, scribbled-over blue paper cover.
"Master," he said, "these are ancient Greek words; I heard a man say them to another, and I wrote them down. What do they mean?" and he read the words aloud slowly:--
hôs charien esth' anthrôpos hotan anthrôpos ê
"Ah, my child!" and the old man's voice trembled a little, "they knew so much, those old forefathers of ours,--
hôs charien esth' anthrôpos hotan anthrôpos ê
"Yes, that is from Menander. How shall I tell you? It means so many things and so many different things at different times. Sometimes, I think, it may mean simply, that it is a duty to be a man and not a brute. Let me explain...."
"I know!" broke in Aleko, whose eyes had been fixed on the entrance of the narrow street. "You mean, to be like you and not like that fruit-seller over there who is kicking his donkey because he has laden it too heavily, and it cannot walk." Kyr Themistocli smiled.
"Well, ... yes, if you like, my boy ... yes. Sometimes it means that it is a glorious thing to be all that a man can be! to be afraid of no evil talk, to hold your head very high, to remember that we have sprung from a race which has given light to all the civilized world, to become all that an ancient Greek of the best might have been. I do not mean that there were no bad men among them! Which race has been without? There were Ephialtes ... Antipater ... and many others. But to approach the noblest, ... to touch the hem of their garment ... who would not be proud? Sometimes, Aleko, it means that like Socrates, one must give work, and strength, and patience, and forgiveness to others, and look for nothing in return. Sometimes it means that a man, to be a man, must give the thing that is hardest to give of all--his life even!"
"But ..." began Aleko hesitatingly.
"What, my child? Ask all that you wish."
"If a man--a great man, and a good man as you say--gives his life, then it is finished; he cannot help anyone, or be great, or strong, any more."
"Ah, no! Many people have said that, little one, but I must make you see further. There are those who will say, if this man had not done this deed of sacrifice, if he had kept his own valuable life, he might have done many more great things later on. Ah, but they forget...." and the blind man stretched out his arms as though appealing to an unseen audience. "They forget that all the useful and good things which he might still have done, are as nothing before the wonderful example he has given, before.... Oh, how shall I tell you, my child? ... before the way in which he has made thousands of men's and women's hearts beat with noble thoughts,--before the way in which he has made the little children of his land lift up their heads, and say, 'I, too, will be like him some day!' No, Aleko, no! What he has done lasts through the years; and the bravery of great men of whom you will read some day, such a deed for instance as that of Paul Melas in our own time, makes all the world nobler and stronger for them, even after their names come to be forgotten!"
There was silence for some minutes, then Aleko said:--
"When I am twenty-one years old, and my time comes to serve in the army, if there be a war while I am a soldier, then I may be very brave and perhaps ..." his eyes brightened as he spoke, "they may print it in the newspaper, and someone will read it to you, and you will say, 'That is Aleko, I know him.' But if there is no war, ... then what can I do?"
"It is of your age, my child, to think that only in fighting can one be brave; but I could fill a big book with all the different kinds of courage."
"Tell me, then! How could I be brave if there were no war?"
The blind man groped for the boy's hand and held it for a moment.
"I think you are brave now."
"But that is impossible; I have done naught."
"Suppose that next year when you finish the highest class of the Parnassos, you were to get the first prize?"
"Yes," assented Aleko, "I shall get it."
"Very well; how much is it?"
"Three hundred drachmæ."
"Would that sum not be sufficient to keep you for a year at least without working, if you wished to go to a higher class in the Municipal School?"
"It would be sufficient for me alone, but who would send money to my mother and the little ones, if I did not work?"
"That is just what I meant; you go on working for them, instead of getting more learning for yourself, as you would like to do. Well, that is a brave deed!"
"But, no," said the boy, his face puckered with perplexity, "that is not brave. I do not like it at all!"
"But you do it."
Aleko got up from his knees.
"I do not do it; it does itself. How can I help it?" then, as he shouldered his box to go, he asked, "After I have read to-morrow, will you tell me about some more great men?"
"I will tell you all I know; ... only come!"
And as the days became hotter and hotter, as May melted into June and June into July, Kyr Themistocli got to depend more and more on the boy's daily visits, and as he was an old man and had lost many things in his life, he would tremble sometimes at the thought of losing this new joy. For it was a joy as all creating and all planting is a joy. In all the years he had been a schoolmaster, it was the first time he had come across an intellect where all seeds once sown bore fruit; where there were no barren spots.
But Aleko never failed him; every day he would bring the newspaper and read it all through to the blind man. When the heat was intense, and the white light in the streets was blinding, they would sit indoors behind closed shutters, and when it became cooler, late in the afternoon, the old man's chair would be placed outside the house, and Aleko sat on the step below him, and asked all the questions that crowded into his mind. He had more time now, for examinations were over and school was closed until September again. One evening, when the sounds of passing guitars and men's voices singing, floated up to the narrow little street, mingled with the cries of boys racing and calling to each other, the old man asked him:--
"Do you not want to run with the other lads, Aleko?"
And Aleko answered:--
"I run all day; now it is good to sit. Tell me about some great men, Kyr Themistocli."
And the old schoolmaster, well content, tilted his chair back against the sun-baked wall of the house, and told him many things.
He told him of the old, old times even before the ancients, when men were almost like brutes, but with something manlike in them which set them apart from the wild beasts; when they made weapons of stones, and lighted fires by the rubbing of sticks; when they crossed over the barrier of water by hollowing boats out of trees. He told him of the terrible wild animals which existed in those days, so monstrous that the heads of some would reach up to the third floor windows of a house; and how they would long ago have devoured all the men if these had not used their brains to defend themselves. How men followed men through the centuries and how, little by little, their brains grew cleverer and cleverer through much using, until at last, from those wild men sprang the minds, and the hearts, and the hands, of Socrates and Plato, and Aristotle, the philosophers, and Leonidas, the warrior, and Pericles, the statesman, and Phidias and Praxiteles, the sculptors. Then, he went on to tell him of all the poor boys through many ages who had the spirit of the old cave dwellers in them--who would not stay as they had been born. He told him of Æsop, who was only a poor slave boy, so ugly and deformed that people laughed and jeered at him; and yet his fables have been translated into all languages of Europe, and even into Arabic and Chinese; of Christopher Columbus, the son of a poor comber of wool in Genoa, who discovered America; of the shepherd boy Giotto, who drew pictures on stones whilst watching the sheep, and who grew up to be a celebrated painter; of Lully, the musician, who was a cook-boy; of Metastasio the Italian poet, who as a boy recited verses in the streets of Rome; and to come to our own days, he told him all he had read before he lost his sight, of Edison, the American, who was a poor boy, and--like Aleko--had at one time sold newspapers to earn his bread, and of what wonderful things he had invented, and how there were few in the world who were not indebted to him; he told him of others--of all he could remember; then he tried to explain to him, a little, how hard all these men had worked, each in his own way, and how they had not only wished to do great things, but had willed it very hard, and had gone on willing it every moment of their lives, and how it was this great will that had made them conquer all obstacles, and all discouragement. He told him also how it was not enough to work, and to be brave, in order to grow up into a great man, or even simply into a good and just one, but how he must think as well; how he must always look for the cause, always ask himself the why and the wherefore, of everything....
"Of course," interrupted Aleko, "I know that. If you do not you are stupid. Yesterday, the drawer of a boy's box would not open; you know the drawer, where all the shoe-polishes and rags are kept; and this boy--Dino--he pulled, and he pulled, and he could not get it open, and he was very angry, because a man got tired of waiting for him to clean his boots and went to another boy's stand. Then I looked at Dino's box, and I pulled a little, and it was one side only of the drawer which stuck, so I turned it to the light, and I found that a little nail had fallen between the side of the box and the drawer, and jammed it, and when I pulled it out with a bit of wire it opened as before."
"And Dino was glad?"
"He was glad, but he did not look why the drawer had stuck, and when another nail falls in he will be stupid again; he will not know how to open it. His head is stuffed with straw!"
Then Aleko got up from the step, and gathered his remaining newspapers under his arm.
"The good hour be with you, Kyr Themistocli!"
"You are going?"
"Yes, I want to go and see if that Anneza has found the dog yet."
"What? She has lost him again?"
"Since noon to-day, and she was trembling with fear of what her master would say."
"You will remember, Aleko, to bring the coffee to-morrow afternoon."
"I will remember. Be easy! I have the money you gave me safe here." Then as he turned to go, he said, "You have sufficient for the morning?"
"No," answered the old man, "it is all finished; but for one day it does not matter if one eats one's bread dry."
"For you it matters," pronounced Aleko. "I shall bring the coffee in the morning, ready ground."
"Do not trouble, my boy; in the mornings you have no time."
"I shall have time, and I shall bring it when I come with the newspapers for the Spinotti house," and without waiting for further objections he ran down the street and up the wider one, till he came to the railings of the Spinotti garden.
Anneza, leaning out of her kitchen window, was explaining something vehemently to the next-door cook.
"Have you found the dog?" asked Aleko.
"If only I could find him, I would give twenty drachmæ out of my wages, that I would! The master was like mad when he heard I had lost him; he says the dog must have been stolen, and he has gone now to put it in the newspapers."
"Did he give it to you badly?" asked the next-door cook curiously.
Anneza became tearful.
"He scolded me," she said, "till I have been trembling ever since."
"He did well," pronounced Aleko as he turned away, "if your head were not fixed on, you would lose it every day."
"Wait a moment!" shouted Anneza. "Wait till I get the jam stick to you!" but Aleko was already out of sight.
When he got back to his cellar home he folded the left-over newspapers to be returned on the morrow, and looked doubtfully at his mattress; Andoni, the other boy, was already fast asleep in the farther corner. But it was stiflingly hot in the cellar and there was bright moonlight outside, so he sauntered up the steps again and looked about him. There were few passers-by, and the shadows of the houses lay in deep blue-black patches on the moonlit street.
Farther down, outside a closed fruit shop, were some empty baskets, and on one of these he sat down, his elbows on his knees, and his face cupped in his hands. A cooling breeze came from one of the side streets leading up to the first slopes of Mount Lycabettus, and though Aleko drowsed a little as he sat there, he did not feel inclined to return to his cellar.
Suddenly, behind him came a soft patter and something sniffed at his bare ankles.
He jumped up, overturning the basket.
And Solon it was, not smooth and white and clean as usual, but muddy, and draggled, and gray with dust.
"You bad dog! How did you find yourself here? Do you know that your master is searching for you in all the town? Do you know that he has paid money to have it printed in the newspaper that you are lost? Are you not ashamed then? Bad dog!"
Solon did not like this tone of voice so he sat up and begged with his dusty little forepaws. All at once, Aleko saw that a broken piece of coarse string was tied round the dog's neck.
"Bah! Your master was right then that you had been stolen! Some one tried to tie you up, and you must have broken the string and run away. You are a very clever dog! Bravo, Solon!"
Solon opened his mouth very wide and curled up his tongue in a long yawn.
"Come, I will carry you home so that you may not stray again." And Aleko stooped to pick him up; but as he did so, a man who was coming along the other side of the pavement some distance off, a tall man wearing a Panama hat, called out loudly:--
"Who is there? What are you doing with that dog?" and hastened his steps. He crossed the road to Aleko's side, and stooped over him to see what he held.
Suddenly Solon gave a shrill, joyous bark and the man snatched him out of Aleko's arms, at the same time giving the boy a violent push which sent him staggering against the closed shutters of the shop.
"You young scoundrel, you! So I have caught you, have I? Do you know that this is my dog?"
Aleko looked up. It was the man he had often seen coming out of the big house in the garden; it was Solon's master.
"Yes," he said, "I know; but you need not push people in that way. I was going to bring the dog to your house. Now that you have found him, you can take him yourself."
And turning his back he was walking off. But Nico Spinotti had been searching for his dog for the whole long hot afternoon; he had walked up and down likely and unlikely streets; he had visited most of the shops at which Anneza dealt, he had been to the police station, and to three newspaper offices, and now that he thought he had found the culprit, and that this culprit was mocking him, his fury knew no bounds. He put Solon down and darting forward seized Aleko by the arm and brought down his walking stick with force across the boy's shoulders.
"You young limb!" he shouted. "You thieving little blackguard! From where did you steal that dog? Tell me! Tell me or I will pull your ears off!" and each word was accompanied by a fresh blow. The poor boy twisted and writhed, but he had no chance in those strong hands.
"Leave me!" he screamed. "Let go! Why do you strike me? Leave me, I tell you! I never stole your dog.... I found him.... He knows me.... He came to me!"
"You can tell those lies to others! They will not pass with me," cried the furious man, pushing Aleko away at last and stooping to pick up Solon. "How should my dog know a ragamuffin like you?"
Aleko, who had fallen on his knees beside the overturned basket, put up his arm to ward off further blows.
"But he does! It is I who bring the newspapers to your house, and he sees me every day. Ask Anneza if it be not true?"
"So much the worse if you know him! I suppose someone has put you up to steal the dog. Now, hark you! You are not to dare to come to my house or anywhere near it, and if ever I see your dirty face in our neighbourhood again, I shall hand you over to the police. So now you know!" and picking up the little dog under his arm he turned to go.
"The street is not yours!" burst out Aleko with sudden fury, rubbing his shoulder. "And I shall sell my newspapers there every day!"
"You will! Will you? Very well, when you want any change out of the beating you got just now, you can come to me for it! Do you hear?"
"Well, remember it then!" and turning on his heel he walked quickly down the street.
Aleko was sore all over, sore in body and sore in mind. Wearily he staggered back to his cellar, threw himself on his mattress, and there in the dark, dropped his head on his arms and sobbed himself to sleep.
Next morning, when he got up, part of the bodily soreness had disappeared, but his indignation was, if anything, greater.
"Just let him wait and see!" he kept muttering to himself as, carrying his morning newspapers, he waited in a little grocer's shop while Kyr Themistocli's coffee was being weighed. "Just let him wait! The next time I find his dog straying--and that will be to-morrow or the day after, unless he turns Anneza away--I will take it and give it to someone else, to someone who lives very far away, where he will never find it again. May they never call me Aleko again if I do not!" As he was leaving the shop with the bag of coffee in his hand, he found outside the door an empty petroleum tin which he kicked viciously right out into the middle of the square. It fell bounding and rebounding with tremendous clatter against the curbstone, and the noise did him good.
However, he was not to wait even until to-morrow for his revenge, though it did not happen exactly as he had planned it.
Before the clang of the falling tin had ceased, he saw at the end of the square, just where the street car tracks come into it, a little flash of something white tearing along at full speed. In hot pursuit, but very far behind, came Anneza, with a packet of macaroni in one hand and two cucumbers in the other. At first Aleko could not understand why she seemed in such terrible haste, but in another second he had understood.
From behind the corner of a chemist's shop a man darted out, a man armed with an open bag of thin knotted rope mounted on a long stick, something which looked like a monstrous butterfly net; and this net came down with a dexterous swoop, born of long practice, and rose again into the air, carrying with it the little white, squealing, wriggling bundle which was Solon.
Anneza, in the distance, gave a loud shriek, and one of her cucumbers fell unheeded to the ground. On she rushed, her apron strings flying behind her; but the man was quicker.
The iron cage on wheels, with its load of barking, snarling prisoners, stood behind him; with one hand, he lifted up the little spring door at the top of it, and with a twist of the other he emptied poor Solon on top of the other dogs. Then he dropped the lid and whipped up the horse.
"Stop!" panted Anneza, waving her arms wildly, "stop I tell you!"
She was close to the cart by this time; but just at that moment, the street car which was going up towards the Maraslion met the one which was coming down, at the corner, and for a moment there was a block. Anneza, trying to squeeze herself between the two, was pushed here and there by mounting and descending passengers, and by the time she got clear the man with the iron cage was out of sight.
But Aleko had been quicker. He had wheeled round as soon as he saw the dog caught, and running down a short cut had met the cart as it came out on the street below. He stood right in its way and signaled to the man.
"The little dog you have just taken," he cried, "is not a stray dog. He belongs...."
"Stand out of my way," shouted the man savagely, "or I will bring my whip down on your head!" and he brandished a heavy whip dangerously near the boy.
Aleko jumped aside only just in time, and the cart went rattling down the steep incline with a clatter of its iron laths which drowned the barking of its occupants.
Instinctively Aleko ran back to the square.
Anneza was gone.
"Do you know," he asked of a woman who was weighing some purple figs at the door of a fruit shop, "where the serving maid has gone who was here just now?"
"Anneza, from the Spinotti's, you mean?" answered the woman. "The 'boya' took her dog away in his cart, and she has run back to the house to tell her master."
"By the time she finds him," said Aleko, "it will be too late." And he tore across the square and down the street leading to Academy Road. A street car was passing. He leaped on the platform dragging his box after him. The conductor looked at him angrily.
"Do you not know that you cannot sell your newspapers while the car is in motion?"
"I am not selling anything," answered Aleko with dignity; "I am riding." And he produced ten lepta from a pocket inside his tunic.
He got off the street car at Patissia Road and turned to his right. When he came to a large house, standing somewhat back from the road, he stopped short. An older boy, also with a shoeblack's box beside him, was leaning against the railings of the enclosure.
"Is this the Central Police Station?" inquired Aleko.
"Does the Chief of the Police live here?"
The older boy stared at him.
"He does not live here, he has a fine house of his own near the Palace, but he comes here every day. I know, because this is my stand, and I see him when he comes and goes."
Then Aleko asked another question.
"Does the 'boya' bring the dogs he catches here?"
"He brings them here first, to be counted, and then he takes them down there." And the strange shoeblack jerked with his thumb over his shoulder towards the Homonoia Square.
"Far down the Piræus Road."
"What does he do with them there?"
"Puts them into a room which kills them."
"How can it kill them--a room?"
"Do I know?"
"When does the cart come here?"
The elder boy looked up at the sun.
"Now, any minute."
"Listen," said Aleko, "the 'boya' has taken just now up at the Kolonaki a dog that is not a stray one. It is a very good dog, and it belongs to someone who counts for something. If I wait here, and show the Chief of the Police which it is, will he give it to me?"
"Are you mad?" asked the strange boy contemptuously. "Do you think the Chief himself sees the dogs, or that he will listen to you?"
"Then what shall I do?"
"If you want the dog, go down to the place in the Piræus Road, and find the 'boya' alone. Now, these hot days, they are afraid of mad dogs, and they pay him one drachma for every dog he catches: so, perhaps, if you were to give him more...."
"Where is the place?"
"I have never been there. Go down the Piræus Road and ask."
Aleko started off towards the square at a good pace. The heat of the day had begun and he had eaten nothing yet. But he wiped his forehead with the back of his sleeve and plunged into the Piræus Road. The strange boy had told him that the place was "far down," therefore it was no good inquiring before he reached the Gas Works. It was a long way; if the "boya's" cart only stopped a few moments at the Police Station, it might almost be there before him; so he hurried on, quickening his pace, and now and then breaking into a little run.
He must get there in time! He must! Poor little Solon! Poor little warm, white creature, so full of life! "As clever as a Christian," as he had told Kyr Themistocli the other day. At this point, he looked at the paper bag of coffee still unconsciously clutched in one hand.
"The old man will eat his bread dry this morning after all; well, what is to be done? It is a small evil."
After passing the Gas Works he began to ask his way; but most of the passers-by seemed vague.
"Somewhere down there," they said. A carter told him the place was after Phalerum, but a second man contradicted him.
"What are you saying, brother? It is far closer than that!"
Aleko remembered that his father used to say:--
"By asking one can find the way to Constantinople." And as it was not to Constantinople that he wanted to go, but only to the "boya's" place, to the "room that killed" he went on asking.
At last an old woman directed him.
"Go over those fields there, where the goats are; and behind that wall you will find a small house with an iron door; that is the place."
Aleko ran across the dreary, stony fields which were neither town nor country, and climbed over the wall.
A small house stood alone on a bare plot of ground, with two closely shuttered windows, and an iron door. Aleko tried the door and found it locked. There was no sign of life anywhere about; the cart had evidently not arrived yet. He was in time!
As he stood there, on the coarse down-trodden grass, he gave a little gasp of dismay and felt in his pocket.
The boy had said, "They pay him a drachma for each dog--perhaps if you were to give him more...."
And Aleko, thinking of the dog's master who would willingly, gladly, pay so very much more, had raced off confidently, not remembering that he himself had no more than three five-lepta pieces on him at this moment.
Just then he heard the clatter of the iron cage rattling in the distance, and the deep bark of a big dog. The "boya" was coming.
Well, he must promise him the money, that was all. Surely, if he told him that the master of the dog would pay him well, the man would bring it up to the house himself, even if he did not trust Aleko to take it away.
The clatter came nearer and nearer, and now Aleko could distinguish the two-wheeled cart with its monster iron cage, between whose flat bars dogs' heads and paws of all shapes and sizes were thrust out.
Behind the cart ran the usual following of ragged urchins who always seem to spring up about the "boya's" route.
Aleko was grasping the bars of the cart before it came to a stand-still. He thought he had seen something small and white at the farthest end of the cage. And as he got round to the back there was a shrill bark which rose above the rest, and the something small and white sat up inside the cart and begged very piteously.
Aleko suddenly felt a wave of fury go over him.
He forgot all his pre-arranged plans; all the promises he was to have made.
The man had stopped the cart, and was raising his arms in a prodigious yawn. Aleko caught hold of his sleeve, and pulled him towards the rear of the cart.
"Open it!" he cried. "Open it this minute! I want that dog! That little white one there, with the black patch over the eye. You took it from the Kolonaki, and it was not a stray dog. You took it while the woman who had it was in a shop! You had no right to touch it! Give it to me! Give it to me quickly!" and the more Solon inside the cage heard the familiar voice, the more vigorously his little paws shook up and down.
The man, a short, sickly-looking man, with an evil, lowering face, dragged his sleeve away from the boy's grasp.
"Give it to you, indeed!" he shouted, "and from where have you sprung to be giving me orders? Now clear off!"
"I tell you," persisted the boy, seeing that he had angered the man, "I tell you it will benefit you to give that dog to me; it belongs to a rich man, and he is so fond of it he will pay you much money to have it returned to him; more than you can get for all your other dogs together."
"I do not listen to such lies! You cannot cheat me!"
"I am not cheating you. Give me the dog and you will see! Or if you do not believe me, bring him yourself! I will show you the house."
"And have I no other work to do than to be running to people's houses?" snarled the "boya." "Those who want their dogs safe can keep them indoors."
"I tell you," said Aleko flushing very red, "that if you do not give me that dog you will find trouble. It belongs to Kyrios Spinotti and...."
"If it belonged to the King I would not give it!" shouted the man. "What goes into the cart stops there!"
"Keep the dog somewhere safe, then," pleaded Aleko, "and I will bring his master down here to pay you!"
"No," said the man, unlocking the iron door. "The dogs are going in here; and," he added with an ugly laugh, "yours shall go in first of all!"
Aleko seized hold of his arm.
"Keep him till noon!"
"He shall go in first, I tell you. Now, leave go!"
"Keep him just one hour!"
"You, with your hours! Clear off this minute unless you want your face smashed!"
But these last words were the man's undoing. If he had not talked of smashing faces, Aleko might not have thought of it, but as he stood there, his head thrown back, his blue eyes glittering with rage, some familiar words flashed across his mind.
"Straight out from the shoulder, Aleko! Follow your blow! Come with it!"
All encumbrances were flung aside; newspapers were carried away by the breeze, a shower of coffee fell on the ground from a burst paper bag, and straight as a dart, and steady, and strong, the boy's fist flew out from his shoulder with all the weight of the sturdy little body behind it, and landed with crashing force on the man's chin.
The man staggered back, striking his head against the iron bars of the cart, and went down like a tree that is felled.
In the meanwhile Kyr Themistocli had dragged his straw chair outside his door, where, as the house faced west, there was shade for some hours in the morning, and sat waiting. In his hand, he held a piece of bread, but he was not eating it. Not because it was dry, there being no coffee to drink with it; but because for the first time Aleko had not come when he had said he would.
It was long past the hour for morning newspapers. Other boys had cried them up and down the street, but now they had ceased.
Two or three times the old man muttered to himself:--
"He is a child! May he not forget sometimes?" but in a moment he would rise from his chair, and feeling with one hand for the wall of the houses, he would advance slowly down the narrow street and listen to the noises that came from the wider one and the square beyond.
Fish was being cried, fresh from Phalerum, and summer vegetables of all kinds, greens for salad, and fruit.
"Cool, cool mulberries!" cried a man with a good tenor voice, making a song of the words. "Black are the mulberries! Sweet are the mulberries! Buy mulberries! Cool, cool mulberries!" Then an old voice quavered out, "Pitchers from Ægina! Pitchers for cold water! Big pitchers! Little pitchers!"
But no one cried newspapers. The hour for them was long past, and slowly, and stumblingly, Kyr Themistocli found his way back to his straw chair. The sun was gaining on the shade.
"He will not come now before the afternoon," muttered the old man; but still he did not go indoors.
Suddenly, a voice hailed him close at hand.
"Good day to you, Kyr Themistocli!" It was not Aleko's voice. It was a man's voice; a voice he knew.
"How is it that you are sitting outside at this hour? The sun will be on your head in a moment."
The old man stretched out a groping hand in the direction of the voice.
"Is it you, Nico? You are welcome. Yes, I will go indoors just now. But you? How come you here at this time? How is it you are not at the Bank?"
"I have no head for business this morning, Kyr Themistocli; I saw you sitting here as I passed by the end of the street and I came to wish you good morning."
"Are you not well, Nico?"
"I am well; but from early morning I cannot rest. Perhaps it will seem a small thing to you--but to me it is a great one--I have lost my dog!"
"The little white one? The one you call 'Solon'?"
"Yes. Twice this week he has been lost and found. Those who believe in such things are right it seems when they tell you to beware of the third time. I am a fool, Kyr Themistocli, about this dog. I ... I love him as I would a man. Some tell me it is a sin to care so much for an animal. But when I think how she...."
"It is no sin," said the old schoolmaster, "there are dogs that understand one better than men, and when old memories are mixed up with the caring ..." he broke off suddenly. "But do not vex your heart! You will find him."
Nico Spinotti shook his head.
"The 'boya' took him. He was out with my cook, and while she was in a shop the dog was picked up. She ran after the cart in vain; and then she returned weeping to the house to tell me. It was well she had that much sense at least."
"But why are you staying here?" asked Kyr Themistocli excitedly. "Why do you not run to the Police Station? They will give him back to you. Even should there be any difficulty, if the dog was not muzzled, as it writes in the newspapers that they must be now, you can always pay the fine, and as much more as the 'boya' wants...."
"My secretary went at once; and the man-servant also--if only they are in time! I could not go myself; I dared not! If I were to see the man who caught the dog in that net, and threw him into that vile cart ... I ... I could have killed him! I know myself; when I think of anyone ill-treating Solon or indeed any animal, I lose consciousness of what I do. Why, only last night I gave the boy who had tried to steal him such a beating that it will be days before he forgets it."
"A boy stole him?"
"Yes, a newspaper boy with fair hair; and those shoeblacks and newspaper boys are generally so honest; but this one it seems came to my house regularly with newspapers, and knew the dog; and someone, I suppose, must have paid him well to steal it. I found him just preparing to carry it off under his arm. Well, he got his year's beating from me any way, and I forbade him to show his face in this neighbourhood again. I told him I would give him to the police if he did!"
The old man had risen from his chair and his blind eyes were wide open and staring.
"You.... You ... hurt the lad!" he burst out wildly. "You drove him away! You.... You...."
But his sentence was never finished.
At that moment there was a patter of running feet at the entrance of the narrow street, a sudden flash of something white in the sun, and Solon, taking a flying leap from Aleko's arms, made a bee line for his master.
There was a bewildered cry of,--"Solon!" and then a mingling of shrill barks of joy and of broken words:--
"Why, the poor little dog! Why, Solon! My poor one!"
In the meantime Aleko went straight up to the old schoolmaster.
"Kyr Themistocli," he began, "your coffee is all spilt. It fell from my hand and the bag burst, but this afternoon...."
But the blind man did not wait to hear what was to happen that afternoon, his arms groped for the boy and finding him, clung about his neck, and the old head fell forward on Aleko's shoulder.
"I thought I had lost you.... I thought that you would never come back! My boy!... My son!..."
The banker looked from the old man to the boy, with bewildered eyes.
"Why?" he gasped, "I never knew.... Is he yours?"
"Mine? Makari!" exclaimed Kyr Themistocli.
Now when a real Greek says "Makari," it means so many things that no single word in any other language can translate it. It means, "If only it could be so!" it means, "I could wish for nothing better!" it means, "It is too good to come true!" it means, "Such a thing would be perfect happiness!" It means all this and much more. Some think the word a corruption of "makarios," meaning blessed, some believe it was taken from old Italian. It is not a dictionary word, but it expresses so much that the old schoolmaster dropped into common speech and said "Makari," with all his heart.
"But then ..." said Nico Spinotti looking from one to the other, "I do not understand. How came the dog here? Is this the boy...?"
Kyr Themistocli left his hand on Aleko's shoulder, and drew himself up to his full height.
"Yes," he said, "this is the boy you ill-treated, whom you called a thief; and it is he, I am sure, who has saved your dog and brought him back to you. Tell us, Aleko--what happened?"
"I saw the 'boya,'" related Aleko, "pick up the dog. It was while Anneza, who never knows what is being done around her, was in the shop; I ran after him but he drove me off with his big whip; so I took the street car to make more haste, and went down to the Central Police Station; there, a boy told me where the 'boya' takes all the dogs after they are counted, far down the Piræus Road, to a 'room that kills.' So I went there and found the place and waited for the cart. When it came I told the man that the dog was his ..." pointing to Spinotti, "and that he would pay him well, but he would not listen. I asked him to bring it up himself if he did not believe me, or, to wait till noon or even for an hour ... and he ... he ... jeered at me."
"And did you not call some one of the police?" asked Kyr Themistocli.
"No," said Aleko, and he laughed a little, "I remembered what the gentleman at the Parnassos told us: that if you have the science and the other has not, you need not fear one twice your size, so I gave him the straight blow from the shoulder under the chin, the one that makes you see stars."
Nico Spinotti laughed out delightedly.
"Bravo! And did he see them?"
"Yes," said Aleko quietly, "because afterwards, he lay in the dust and saw nothing."
"Then I opened the cart and let all the dogs out."
"What ... all?"
"Of course. Since it had happened that I was there, it was for the good luck of all the poor creatures. The boys who were there helped me; we held open the door at the top of the cage; the big dogs jumped out alone, and we lifted the little ones. I took Solon, and if the 'boya' wants the rest again, he will have another day's run for them!"
"And what became of the man?"
"Do I know?" said Aleko with sublime indifference.
Then the banker came a step nearer to Aleko.
"If I were to speak till to-morrow, my boy, I could not tell you how indebted I am to you; and I am terribly ashamed to think that you, whom I accused of being a thief, and ill treated only last night, should have saved my dog for me to-day."
"It was not for you that I did it," answered the boy shortly, "it was the dog for whom I was sorry."
"I understand that. Still you knew that he was mine, and another boy might have let the dog be killed, to be revenged on me."
"What you did," said Aleko, averting his eyes, "was not the dog's fault. Why should he suffer?"
"You have saved me also from great suffering; greater, perhaps, than the dog's would have been. I thank you with all my heart, also I ... I ask your forgiveness." And he held out his hand.
Aleko frowned. At that moment for some inexplicable reason, Solon sat up on his hind legs and began energetically sawing the air with his forepaws as though pleading for his master.
Aleko looked at him and his face relaxed a little. Then he wiped his hand carefully on his clothes and laid it in the banker's, saying gravely:--
"You are forgiven."
"And now, will you tell me what I may do for you to show my gratitude?"
"May I bring the newspapers to your house again?" asked Aleko, his eyes brightening.
The banker laughed.
"Do you like to sell newspapers?"
"It is my work," answered Aleko.
"Is there nothing else you would prefer to do?"
"He wants to study, Nico," cried the old man, "he wants it as none of you, my old pupils, ever wished it, and he cannot, because he must work all day to keep himself, and to help his mother and his little sisters."
The banker gathered his eyebrows together thoughtfully.
"What are your earnings, a year, do you know?" he asked Aleko.
"The 'big one' sends one hundred and fifty drachmæ to my mother; he feeds me, and I give him all I earn."
"What would you do if you were free?"
"I want to learn."
"To learn what?"
"To learn many things."
"And out of the many," said the old schoolmaster, "will grow the one; the one that fills the life of a man. It is well. Let him learn 'many things.'"
"If," said the banker slowly, "if I were to send three hundred drachmæ every year to your family, and if you were to go to school all day and live with Kyr Themistocli here, who should have three hundred more to keep you and help you with your lessons when you returned from school in the evenings, would you be pleased for the present? Later on we shall see again."
But it was the old man who thanked and blessed Nico Spinotti, who stretched out tremulous hands to him, while tears of joy filled his sightless eyes.
Aleko stood still with wide open eyes. His wildest day dreams were coming true, and the magnitude of the joy suddenly made him feel faint. His heart seemed to be beating up in his throat, and he felt as though the throbs would choke him. His hands grew moist, his knees trembled and speech failed him utterly.
To the hard work that lay before him, he gave never a thought; the daily discipline to which his free and untrammeled boyhood must bend seemed a necessary trifle. Nothing mattered any more! He only knew that the smiling faces of the two men beside him seemed quivering in a golden mist, he only knew that the words he had just heard were making music in his brain; for the lad in whose veins ran the blood of the old scholars of Greece, had come into his inheritance.
NOTES FOR "MATTINA"
No. 1, Kyra. A title of respect or a prefix before the name, used to old women of the people. You would say "Kyra Sophoula" or "Kyra Calliope" if the women were old or elderly, instead of plain "Sophoula" or "Calliope." It corresponds I fancy to "Dame" which was used in England in the middle ages, or even I think they sometimes used "Goody."
Kyr is the masculine equivalent for old men. Sometimes "Barba" meaning "uncle" colloquially is instead, as it is with you in the South I think for old negroes.
Kyria is simply "Mrs." or "Madame" and is used either before the name as, "Kyria Dragoumis" for instance; or alone if you do not use the name as, "Yes, Kyria" for "Oui, Madame."
No. 2, Monastery Road. The Monastery on the hills in Poros is an old one of the Byzantine epoch restored about a hundred years ago. It has a beautiful little chapel with a wonderfully carved wooden "templon" (the screen which separates the altar from the body of the church). There are a few old monks left but not many.
No. 3, Sponge-divers. Some Greeks earn their living by diving for sponges. The best sponges in Greece are found in Hydra, but the sponge-captains often take their divers to the north coast of Africa.
No. 4, The Naval School of Poros is for sailors, not for officers (the Naval School for the latter is quite near Piræus). The sailors come to the School in Poros for the first six months of their service, and after they are well drilled they are drafted on to the war ships. There is a high grade officer as Director of the School, and younger officers are in residence to drill the men.
No. 5, The "Great Week" means the Holy Week before Easter.
No. 6, Methana. A little village on the sea (Saronic Gulf) known for its natural sulphur springs. People suffering from rheumatism and eczema, etc., go there for baths.
No. 7, Ægina. The well-known island sixteen miles from Athens in the Gulf of Ægina. It was a very celebrated place in the ancient days of Greece. The population now of 10,000 was then 600,000. Ægina contributed thirty warships to the battle of Salamis against the Persians. There are the ruins now of a temple to Venus and those of one to the Pentelic Jupiter.
No. 8, Piræus. The port of Athens: population about 27,000: five miles to the southwest of the city, to which it used to be joined in antiquity by the famous Long Walls built by Themistocles and Pericles.
No. 9, Phalerum. One of the three ports of ancient Athens, about three miles from the city; it is now a much frequented seaside resort, with hotels, and private villas. In the hot summer days, people go down from Athens, morning and evening, for sea baths.
No. 10, The Theseum. A temple consecrated in 470 B. C. in Athens, to Theseus, the national hero of Attica. In ancient days it often served as a sanctuary for slaves. It is situated on a low hill, northeast of the Acropolis, and is a fine monument in very good preservation. It is a peripteric, hexastyle temple, in Pentelic marble. Any children wanting to know more about Theseus, have only to read "The Minotaur," in Hawthorne's Tanglewood Tales.
No. 11, Monastiraki. One of the stations of the Athens Piræus railway line.
No. 12, Drachma. Worth one franc; about 20 cents in American money.
No. 13, Oke. A measure of weight equal in English weight to 2 lbs., 12 oz.
No. 14, Lepton. The one-hundredth part of the drachma: one centime. The smallest coin in Greek money is of five lepta.
No. 15, Kiphissia. A country place about half an hour by train from Athens: takes its name from the ancient river Kephissos or Kiphissos: a very wooded, pretty, green place full of hotels and country houses, much cooler than Athens in the summer, and consequently much frequented.
No. 16, The Kolonaki. A small square in Athens, behind the Kiphissia Road; the little bootblacks congregate there a good deal.
No. 17, The Zappion. A large handsome building in the ancient style of architecture, built originally for exhibition purposes by two rich brothers called Zappa (hence its name), situated on a height, and commanding perhaps the most beautiful view in the whole world, certainly in Europe. It comprises the columns of the temple of Olympic Jupiter in the foreground, the Acropolis to the right, the Stadium to the left, and in the distance Phalerum, the sea, and Salamis. The Zappion terrace and gardens are a very favorite walking place for children, babies, and their nurses.
No. 18, Acropolis. The immortal Rock bearing the Parthenon, the Propylæa, the Erechtheum,--It is an isolated rock of oval form, inaccessible except from the west. It is entered to-day by the famous "Porte Beulé". There is too much to be said about the Acropolis, I can only quote Rennell Rodd, that perfect modern singer of Greece:--
"Here wrought the strong creator and he laid The marble on the limestone in the crag, Morticed the sure foundations line to line And arc to arc repeating as it grew; Veiling the secret of its strength in grace, Till like a marble flower in blue Greek air Perfect it rose, an afterworld's despair."
No. 19, Stadium. The stadium was in ancient days the oblong foot-race course of the length of one stadium (equivalent to about 606 English feet), hence its name. The present Stadium in Athens was restored in marble for the Olympic Games of 1896.
No. 20, The Plaka. A populous quarter in Athens inhabited mostly by the poorer classes.
No. 21, Aubergines. An aubergine is a vegetable belonging to the family of cucumbers and vegetable marrows. It is of a rich dark purple colour when ripe. "Aubergine" is the English name for this vegetable, and is always used by cooks and greengrocers in England. In America it is called egg-plant.
No. 22, Moussaka. This is a dish made of slices of aubergines, mincemeat, butter, eggs, etc.
No. 23, Pastas. Rich cakes, or portions of cake, made of almond paste, or of sponge cake sandwiched with jam, or cream, and iced over with chocolate, or with various coloured icings. They are sold at all confectioners, and often eaten at the shops between meals, or bought to serve as a dessert course. They are like the French "petits fours," only larger.
No. 24, Nauplia. Sea town of Argolis in the Peloponnesus: about 10,000 inhabitants. It was the capital of modern Greece until 1834.
No. 25, The Palamidi. A large prison at Nauplia.
No. 26, "Manitsa" means "little mother." A diminutive of "Mana" which means "mother" in peasant Greek.
No. 27, Loukoumi. A kind of sweetmeat made of starch and sugar, which in England they call "Turkish delight." It is principally made in Constantinople, and in Syra.
No. 28, Caique. A long narrow boat.
No. 29, Touloumi means really a skin-bag; so that "touloumi" cheese is a sort of white Greek cheese, so called because it is transported in bags of skin from place to place.
NOTES FOR "THE FINDING OF THE CAVE."
No. 1, Missolonghi. A maritime town of central Greece; it is principally celebrated for the part it played in the War of Independence of 1821. It was three times besieged by the Turks, in 1822, 1823, and 1825. In 1822 it resisted successfully against Rechid-Pasha and Omer-Pasha. In 1823 it was fortified on the instance, and by the advice, of Lord Byron (who died there in 1824), and bravely defended by Botzaris; it was besieged by the terrible Omer-Vrioni, and relieved by Mavrocordato. In April, 1825, Rechid-Pasha reappeared with 35,000 men before Missolonghi, which at the time had only 4,000 defenders. Protected by the Turkish fleet, and afterwards helped by Ibrahim Pasha's army, Rechid-Pasha after a long siege brought the defenders to their last extremity, and rather than fall into the hands of the Turks, they blew themselves up with gun-powder, with their women and children.
The war of 1821 was the war of independence, in which Greece threw off the Turkish yoke.
No. 2, Botzaris or Botzari. One of the greatest heroes of the War of Independence, born in 1788, died in 1823.
Palamas, Pappaloukas, Tricoupis, Razikotsikas, Kapsalis, all brave fighters and defenders of Missolonghi.
"Zamana" is an imaginary name.
No. 3, Pilaf. A national Turkish dish much eaten in Greece: it is made with rice, butter, and tomatoes. It is a popular saying that "pilaf" is the only good thing we ever got from the Turks.
No. 4, Keftedes. Flat, round, meat cakes made of mince-meat, eggs, etc., and fried in butter.
No. 5, Acropolis. See notes for "Mattina" No. 18.
No. 6, Hermes. Otherwise Mercury; the son of Jupiter, messenger of the gods, and god himself of Eloquence and Commerce. Nathaniel Hawthorne in his delightful Tanglewood Tales, talks of him often, calling him "Quicksilver."
No. 7, Yaourti. A sort of curd, or thick, sour milk: much eaten in Greece, and of late years introduced into France, and I believe into England, under the name of "Lait Bulgare" and much recommended by doctors.
No. 8, Louki Laras. An interesting book on the life of a young boy, in the Greek War of Independence, written by Demetrius Vikelas. It has been translated into French and I believe other languages.
No. 9, Halva. A sweet, made of flour, butter, milk, and honey.
No. 10, The King's Summer House. A little summer residence or lodge belonging to the King, situated just inside the Piræus harbour.
No. 11, Themistocles. The great Athenian general, born about 525 B. C. At the time of the invasion of Greece by the Persians, he commanded the Athenian fleet. It was he who persuaded the Greeks to give battle at Salamis. The Spartan Eurybiades, general of the confederate forces of Greece, being of the contrary opinion to Themistocles, raised his rod of commander as though to strike him, and it was then that Themistocles calmly answered the furious Spartan by the famous words: "Strike but listen!"
No. 12, Salamis. An island ten miles to the west of Athens, celebrated for the naval victory which the united fleet of Greece gained over the Persians in 486 B. C.
No. 13, Tettix. A sort of cricket which in hot weather chirps all day long, in trees and bushes.
No. 14, Batti. The afternoon breeze which comes from the open sea.
No. 15, The Seven Mills. A place on the heights, opposite Poros, on the Peloponnesus, so called because seven water mills were placed at intervals up to the top of the hill.
No. 16, Miaoulis (Andreas). Greek admiral, born in Euboea, in 1768, died in Athens in 1835. Between the years 1822 and 1827 he had the supreme command of the naval forces of the country in the War of Independence.
No. 17, Galata. Small village of the Peloponnesus, opposite the island of Poros.
No. 18, Trata. The dragging the sea by a big net which gathers in all the small fish. The net is cast from boats and then the men stand in two lines on the shore and drag it in. I rather fancy this is called a seine-net and seine-fishing in English.
No. 19, Foustanella. The short linen pleated kilt reaching to the knees, which is part of the national Greek and Albanian costume. It is worn by the Royal Guards and by certain troops called the "Evzones."
No. 20, Glitsa. A tall crook used by shepherds; it very often has a carved handle.
No. 21, Tagari. A woolen bag, generally bright-coloured, carried by peasants to transport fruit, or nuts, or any small objects.
No. 22, Stania. A sheep fold, generally on the hills.
No. 23, Ouzo. A strong spirit which is drunk mostly by the poorer classes and peasants.
No. 24, Skaltsounia. A sort of almond cakes made principally in the islands; something like German marzipan.
No. 25, Yatagan. A Turkish or Arabic curved sword.
NOTES FOR "ALEXANDER THE SON OF PHILIP"
No. 1, Baklava. A kind of sweet made with pounded almonds between very thin layers of paste soaked in honey.
No. 2, The Twenty-fifth of March. The Anniversary of Greek Independence.
No. 3, Boya. A Turkish word meaning "executioner"; generally applied in Athens to the man who seizes stray dogs in hot weather and takes them away in his cart to the pound.
No. 4, Loustro. Literally "a shiner"; applied to shoeblacks originally and now used for all newspaper sellers, errand boys, etc.
No. 5, Alexander the Great. Born 356 B. C., died in Babylon, 323 B. C. The most famous warrior and captain of antiquity. His father, Philip II of Macedonia, confided his education to Aristotle, the greatest philosopher of that age. Alexander, after his father's death, succeeded in making himself general-in-chief of the Hellenes at Corinth, in 335 B. C., where he was surrounded by the most illustrious men of the nation. He crossed the Hellespont to penetrate into Asia with an army of 30,000 foot and 5,000 horse soldiers. He crossed the Taurus, penetrated into Syria, crushed the innumerable army of Darius, treating the vanquished king and his family with noble clemency. His many conquests would take far too long to enumerate. He always endeavoured to consolidate his conquests by good and wise treatment of the conquered provinces. At Babylon he received ambassadors from all points of the then known world. He was in the midst of new projects of conquest and exploration when he died in a few days of a fever (June, 323 B. C).
No. 6, Kanaris (Constantine). Hero of the War of Independence; born in 1790, died in 1877. He was captain of a merchant ship when Greece rose against the Turks. In the night of the 18th to to the 19th of June, 1822, helped by a companion, he burned two Turkish vessels. In the following November he burned the admiral's ship of the Turkish fleet in the port of Tenedos. He continued his work of destruction, always at the extreme peril of his life and the lives of his brave companions, at Samos and Mytilene, and during all the duration of the war fought valiantly at the side of Miaoulis. He is the hero of one of Victor Hugo's celebrated "Orientales."
No. 7, Souli or Suli. Site in the province of Jannina in Epirus; celebrated in the War of Independence for the heroism of its inhabitants and for the death-dance of its women who, on the approach of the Turks, danced for the last time their national dance on the plateau of the mountain of Zalongos, and then, one by one, flung themselves and their children over the precipice. Rennell Rodd in The Violet Crown has a beautiful poem about this episode called "Zalongos. The last fight of Suli." The last words, as far as I remember, are:--
"... thus beneath Zalongos side The mothers and the children died That Suli ne'er might breed again A race of less heroic men."
The word "Suliote" is almost synonymous in Greece with hero or heroine. If anyone is asked to undertake any very daring or desperate deed, the answer often is, "Do you think I am a Suliote?"
No. 8, Diakos (Athanasius). A Greek hero before the War of Independence. Born 1788, died 1820. He led several successful attacks against the Turks but was at last taken prisoner by them and put to death by impalement.
No. 9, Oristé. Literally "Command me," used in the sense of, "Yes, at once. At your service!"
No. 10, Tsourekia. Cakes, made principally for Easter, of flour, eggs, butter and sugar.
No. 11, Ephialtes. The traitor who guided the Persians to the Pass of Thermopylæ.
No. 12, Antipater. The betrayer of Demosthenes.
No. 13, Paul Melas. A young officer in the Greek army, of one of the best families in Athens, who left wife and children and career, a few years ago, to go to Macedonia and with a handful of brave men protect the helpless villages against Turkish tyranny and cruelty. He was killed at Siatista in Macedonia in the month of October, 1904, and his name has remained as that of one of the pioneers of Macedonian liberty.
No. 14, Mount Lycabettus. A rock rising in the middle of the plain of Athens, from which there is a beautiful view of all the town below. On the summit is a small chapel of St. George.
No. 15, Homonoia. "Concord," in Greek. It is the name of one of the principal squares near the Piræus Road.
 Kyra means Dame, or Goody: thus, Goody Kanella was Mattina's aunt. At the end of the book there are notes marked 1, 2, 3, 4, etc., explaining the meaning of the Greek words used, and describing briefly certain events in Greek history.